There were three of them who lived about 600 years before Jesus was born. They lived at the time King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon overtook Jerusalem and took captive many Israelites. Among those who were forced to leave their home were the three young men and their friend and leader of the pack, Daniel, whose story is told in the Old Testament book of Daniel. Their names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. After they were taken into Babylon, their names were changed to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Daniel and his three co-captives excelled above their peers in wisdom and knowledge. So much so that they got the attention and favor of King Nebuchadnezzar. The King engaged them to be his counselors. God blessed Daniel with the talent of interpreting dreams. That talent won him a promotion when he was the only man in the kingdom capable of interpreting one of Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmares. Daniel was in charge of Babylon and at Daniel’s request, the king appointed the three as administrators under Daniel.
The King had built a huge golden image and commanded all the people to fall down and worship it. The routine was that whenever his musical Herald was played, the people were to bow down and worship the image. There was no such thing as freedom of worship in the King’s realm. The stiff penalty for anyone who refused to bow and worship the image was a blazing furnace.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faced with a choice that was not of their own making. They did not ask to be exiled to Babylon. They probably would have traded all they had in Babylon, including their positions in the King’s administration, to be back at home in Jerusalem. But it was what it was and they had to decide to follow the King’s command and avoid the furnace or worship the one true God only. By faith, they stood up to the King and bowed to God’s wishes. They left it in God’s hands as to the outcome of whether they lived or died.
According to Daniel 3:16-18:
16. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
17. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
18. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
Their statements did not melt the King’s heart any. Nebuchadnezzar got along well with those who did what he expected of them but had no tolerance for those who didn’t. It didn’t matter to the King what the three’s reason was for not bowing to his order. The King whose ego had been bruised was so angry that he commanded the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than normal. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were bound and cast into the flames. The furnace was so hot that it even killed the soldiers who had escorted them.
But as King Nebuchadnezzar gave in to his curiosity and peeked into the furnace, he got an unexpected surprise. The three he had put in the furnace were there, but their bodies were not charred. They were walking around in the midst of the fire as pretty as they pleased.
If that wasn’t startling enough, there were four instead of three. Who was the extra person? The King noted the extra one looked different than the three. The fourth had the appearance of the Son of God. Upon seeing the seemingly impossible, the King called the three to come out of the furnace. The three emerged without a single burn on them, with not even a strand of their hair singed or the smell of smoke on their person.
It was too incredible of a miracle for even King Nebuchadnezzar to deny. He had a change of heart about the three and their God. He admitted that God had sent His angel and delivered the three who had put their faith in God by worshipping only Him. The three and the rest of the Israelite captives were granted freedom to worship and protection from harm by the king’s decree. The actions of these three resulted in obtaining religious freedom for their fellow captives, but at the moment when they had to make a choice, it was their choice alone to make.
Who can relate to the story of the three? I think most of us can. Life affords us opportunities to sometimes make difficult choices. I have never walked into a fiery furnace, physically speaking; but I have felt at times like I have, emotionally speaking. A fiery furnace can be a literal one, or it can be the day-to-day grieving over the loss of a loved one. It can be living with a debilitating illness or that of a loved one. It can be the loss of a job and the ongoing, up-and-down roller coaster ride of finding another. It can be living up to the conviction of one’s heart, such as heeding a call to go into the ministry or some other calling and receiving less than enthusiastic support from one’s inner or outer circle.
On the autism spectrum, a meltdown can feel like walking into a fiery furnace. For most of my life, I didn’t know what they were. I just knew they came like a storm cloud over me and then left. I knew the cloud would visit again and again. I’m thankful to the Lord for the diagnosis so I am no longer in the dark about this storm cloud. I can’t keep it from coming, but I can pray my way through it instead of bowing down to it.
I don’t know how much control we have on a fiery furnace coming into our lives. If it were up to me, there’d be no fires to put out but I know that’s not realistic. I do have a lot of say of how I cope with them though. I can lean on the Lord or myself.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego looked to the Lord as they faced the furnace and came away from it untouched. It gained them the freedom to worship God and freedom not to bow down to any man-made image. Oh, and by the way, they got a job promotion too.