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Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Hebrew Children in the Fiery Furnace


The Hebrew Children in the Fiery Furnace



The date was around 608 B.C. and the Jews who lived in and around Jerusalem had recently been captured by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies and carried away to Babylon as slaves. There was much moaning and crying among these Jews as they were being forced to live in a foreign land so far from home. They missed their old traditions and they missed their homeland so very much.  


Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were four Jewish teen-agers who had come to Babylon with their families.  Shortly after they arrived they were chosen to serve as eunuchs in the king’s palace and later promoted to higher governing positions.  Scripture says: “the king set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon: but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.”  (Daniel 2:49b)  


At this time in history the powerful King Nebuchadnezzar ruled most of the known world- and ruled it with an iron hand. He wanted his new Jewish subjects to forget about Jerusalem and become Babylonians.  And he wanted them to forget their God and worship the Babylonian gods and idols.


Scripture says that Nebuchadnezzar ordered his artisans to create a huge golden image- a statue.  After the image was finished he had it set up on a slope just outside of Babylon.  And then the king called for everyone in Babylon to come to the dedication of his giant golden image. When all of the people had assembled and were standing before the large idol, the king’s heralds shouted out a new order or command for all the people to obey. 


And this is what it was:  “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony …you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up: and whoever does not fall down and worship the idol shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”  (Daniel 2:4b-6)


After this every few days the king would have his musicians play together and all of the people in Babylon would immediately stop whatever they were doing and run to the golden image and fall down and worship it. No one wanted to take the chance of being thrown into the king’s fiery furnace!


After a month or two had passed, Scripture tells us that a group of Chaldeans showed up at the palace to speak to the king.  These Chaldeans had been spying on the Jews and had noticed that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not obeying the king’s order.  When the music played, these three young men did not run to the golden idol and fall down and worship it. The Chaldeans didn’t like the Jews anyway and they wanted to get them in trouble with the king.


When King Nebuchadnezzar heard that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not obeying his order and bowing to his grand idol, he flew into a rage.   How dare these Jews not obey him!  Didn’t they know that he was ruler of the whole world?  He ordered his soldiers to arrest these young men and bring them to him on the double.


As the soldiers were bringing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the palace, King Nebuchadnezzar ran to the door and met them screaming out orders for them to go and worship his idol that very minute. They must prove their loyalty to his idol while he watched. And he shouted out his threat one more time. And if they did not instantly bow down to his idol they would be thrown into the flames and burned up that very hour.  He would heat up the furnace seven times hotter than it had ever been heated just for good measure. And then his last words to the young men were: “And who is the god that will deliver you from my hands?”  (Daniel 3:15b)


Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were facing a terrifying challenge. It was either turn or burn!  Turn from God or burn to death. Couldn’t these boys just compromise a little - pretend to worship the king’s big idol and avoid the scary furnace?  They could keep on believing in God secretly, couldn’t they?  Give in a little? They knew that God had commanded His people not to worship idols, (Exodus 20:4) but surely God would forgive them under the circumstances!  The three teen-agers stood frozen before the angry king for a few minutes not saying a word.


And then all three spoke together at the same time and this is what they said:  “O Nebuchadnezzar, if that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.  But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”  (Daniel 3:17-18)  These boys belonged to God all the way, whether they lived or whether they died. No turning back!


At this King Nebuchadnezzar flew into a violent fury. He swore and yelled and flashed his sword. He shouted out orders for his servants to heat up the furnace seven times hotter than usual. And he called for his soldiers to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace immediately.  As the soldiers were dragging the three boys to the door of the furnace, the flames shot out and burned up the soldiers. Then the three boys were pushed in and fell down into the flames on the furnace floor. 


King Nebuchadnezzar fumed and paced back and forth outside the furnace room, glad that the boys who had dared to defy his command were in there burning and dying.  Finally he peeked into the furnace, knowing that by now the young men would be burned to ashes.  But instead of seeing ashes the king saw something else!  He couldn’t believe his eyes!  How could this be? “Didn’t you throw three young men into the furnace?” the king shrieked at his men.  “Yes”, they answered. “Then why do I see four men in the flames?”


“‘Look!’ the king answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the middle of the fire: and they are not hurt!  And the form of the fourth man is like the Son of God.’ ” (Daniel 3:25) King Nebuchadnezzar’s knees knocked together and his whole body trembled and shook.  Never had he seen anything like this!  This fourth man must be protecting the boys.  Maybe he should worship this God too!


King Nebuchadnezzar’s hands were shaking as he threw the furnace door open and called in to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to come out. The three young men climbed out smiling since the fire had not burned them at all.  Scripture says that their hair was not singed and even the smell of fire was not on their clothes. The amazed king called his wise men together and soon the word spread throughout the land that the God of the Jews had saved these boys when they went through the fire.


King Nebuchadnezzar praised and blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and praised that fourth “man” who had been there in the fire with the boys. Nebuchadnezzar congratulated Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for staying true to their God and then he promoted them to higher positions in his government. And the king also made a decree that all of the people in the land should never say a bad word against the God that these young men worshipped, otherwise they would be punished.  


What do we learn from this story in the Bible?  Perhaps we can see that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s separation to God – their absolute refusal to bow to the image - offers an inspiring example for us to follow.  Their commitment to God presents us with the challenge to never worship or bow down to any other god except the Christian God and never compromise, conceal or pervert our testimony for Jesus Christ. 


Most of us will never be asked to either give up our Christian faith or face the threat of death. But throughout history many Christians have been put to death for refusing to renounce their faith.  We have records of many thousands of Christian martyrs down through the ages–people who took a stand for God and paid the price with their lives.


Hebrews 11 is a chapter naming some of the many people throughout history who have been faithful to God.  Some were saved miraculously by God like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.  But some of those faithful ones named in Hebrews 11 died horrible deaths and did not visibly see the protection that was surrounding them until they got to heaven.  They had to live by faith and not by sight in this life. And they will be given the highest honors. (Hebrews 11: 38-40)


In our Bible story, King Nebuchadnezzar saw four men walking through the fire when he looked into the fiery furnace.  And he reported that the fourth man looked like the “Son of God.”  We believe that the fourth man in the fiery furnace was indeed the Son of God - Jesus Christ.  The Son of God walked with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego through their fiery trial.  And the Son of God – Jesus Christ will walk with us through our trials too. (Matt.28:20)


We probably will never have to face a real fiery furnace, (let’s hope not!) but we may have to go through a fiery-furnace testing in our lives.  And we can know at that time that the Lord’s protection and deliverance will be there for us like it was for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  That “fourth man” Nebuchadnezzar saw walking through the fire with the boys will also be there with us when we walk through the fire. 


We need to believe that God will equip us to prevail in adversity.  And we need to be willing, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to endure fire and death rather than to deny God. God was glorified because these young men stayed true to Him.  And God will be glorified in our lives if we stay true to Him too.  Having done all to stand, we stand. (Eph.6:13b-14a) 














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