Surviving the Fires of Life
Thought for the Day: 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[c] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego has always amazed me especially when I first heard it as a child in Sunday School. I didn’t have nightmares about men burning in a furnace after hearing the story. Why? Because I had been taught when these brave men encountered the fiery furnace for believing in God and not denying Him before the King, the Lord actually came and walked in the furnace with them. Even as a child, I was comforted.
The third chapter of Daniel is one that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Taken from their defeated homeland of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar due to their youthful strength, it was the King’s intention to teach them the ways of Babylon. The story tells us from scripture:
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia[a] and put in the treasure house of his god.
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility--4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.[b] 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
Sadly, the names Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are not their given Jewish names, but their Babylonian names. The King decided to give them foods and beverages available to royalty in order to increase their strength and ability to learn. But they refused the King’s food and drink and asked instead to be given vegetables and water for the next ten days and then compare them to the others being given the King’s provisions. Of course, at the conclusion of the ten days, the young Israelite men looked superior to those eating the King’s portions.
But the day approached when they were expected to bow down and worship an image made at King Nebuchadnezzar’s request. The consequence for not doing so was to be thrown into a fiery furnace. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not comply the King was furious, probably due to their non-compliance reasoning. Scripture reads, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[c] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
So, the King decided to give a few additional directives. “He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.”
But what happened next is the most amazing part of the story.
24 “Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”
25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”
30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.”
Why would I list so many verses of scripture? Because the story is just too good to adlib! Here’s why. These young men had no idea of the final result when they ignored a mighty King’s edict. Oh, they had probably heard about the fiery furnace, but they had made up their minds they would not abandon their belief in God. Regardless of the outcome, they were ready to die for their faith in God.
Did you read the part where the soldiers that bound Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were killed due to the intensity of the fire? And yet as the King sat back to watch them burn to death, he was given a sight he probably remembered for the rest of his life on earth. Four men were walking around in that fire. King Nebuchadnezzar commented that the men “looks like a son of the gods”….little did he know it was the Son of God!
Here’s another part of the story that has come to mean a lot to me. They came out of that furnace not even smelling like smoke. And still from my childhood to adulthood, that has stuck like glue to my mainframe. Here’s why. In 2003 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a tumor removed and had to undergo radiation treatments. The tumor was located on the left side of my body not far from my heart. I had been counseled before the radiation began which was to be given five days a week for six weeks that my skin could experience a burning. Being blonde and blue-eyed, I figured my chances would be higher for burning, but if I could not do consecutive treatments and had to take a break, I would need to have the treatments begin all over again.
That’s when I received a note from a dear friend with these verses attached. Taken from Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
I made that my verse each day as I lay in a room all alone with the radiation machine running. I prayed that God would lay His hand over me, so I would not be burned, and He would protect me as He did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Just as those men did not even smell of smoke I asked that my body not be burned by the radiation and He would be with me. Even though I had some traces of irritation, I was able to go through my thirty treatments with an additional three boosters, as they are called, with no lapse in treatment. That is a miracle of modern day just as in the days of old. So, I consider Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego my personal friends whose story gave me hope and courage to face a fiery furnace of my own. I look forward to swapping adventures with them one day in heaven!
Closing Comments: We have all experienced a fire or two or three in this life. As you reflect on what you have undergone, did you rely on the Lord to walk with you through the circumstance?
What enabled you to maintain resilience in your faith? Did you waver? What caused your hesitation?
In our Christian walk, what might we entertain doing to help in those times of doubt, concern or shaky faith moments?
How might we assist others during times of uncertainty?
Lord, thank you for these great stories of old that we can bring with us on our journey. They represent an ointment of balm in times of skepticism, questioning and reservation regarding our faith. Help us, Father, not to ever give up, but to be strong and of courage as Moses reminded the Israelites when he was nearing the end of his earthly journey and turning it over to Joshua. Times change, people change, situations change, but you, O Lord, never change. You are not like sifting sand. You are our Rock, our Tower, our Refuge! In whose name I pray, Amen!