Through the Fiery Furnace
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah lived exemplary lives in a very evil time. While most Israelites were busy bowing down to idols, offering up their children to the pagan god Molech, and generally ignoring everything God said, these three young men were pursuing the One True God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
Israel’s high-handed defiance of God ended as you might expect. God disciplined his wayward people by allowing the Babylonians to defeat them in battle, who then deported the best and brightest citizens of Israel back to Babylon to be King Nebuchadnezzar’s servants and slaves.
But what may surprise you is that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, the three young men who lived such exemplary lives, were deported to Babylon just like everyone else. Living for God didn’t exempt them from hardship. King Nebuchadnezzar took them to Babylon, made them servants in his royal court, and gave them new names that were more to his liking: Shardrach, Meshach, and Abednego!
Two years into their service in Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar decided to fashion a 90 foot image made of pure gold and set it up on the plains of Dura, where everyone could see it, glistening in the sun. His plan was to call all of his key leaders and servants to that plain, command the royal band to strike up a rousing version of Hail to the King, and have all of his leaders and servants bow down in unison, worship the image, and swear their allegiance to him as their king. It was going to be a great day!
But then someone asked, “What if there’s a holdout? What if someone refuses to bow to your image?” And in a stroke of evil genius, Nebuchadnezzar determined that a blazing furnace should be built near the golden image so that anyone who refused to bow down to his image could be thrown alive into the blazing furnace and die a terrible death. There! Now no one would dare defy his order!
But when the big day came, and all of Nebuchadnezzar’s leaders and servants showed up on the plains of Dura to bow down to his 90 foot image, not even the threat of a terrible death in a blazing furnace was enough to make Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego bow down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image. So when the royal band played, a sea of bodies prostrated themselves in the sands of Dura; but three lone figures remained standing.
The king flew into a rage and demanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought to the furnace and given a second chance to comply. But the three young men assured the king that no matter how many chances he gave them to avoid death; they would not dishonor the One True God by bowing down and worshipping a golden image — no matter who made it.
The king stoked the furnace seven times hotter than normal to see if that would change their mind. But these three young champions told king Nebuchadnezzar that they were confident that their God was able to save them from this fiery death. But even if he didn’t, they would not bow down.
That was the last straw. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were bound and thrown into the furnace alive. The blaze was so hot that the soldiers who tossed them into the furnace died from the heat.
But when Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, he didn’t see three dissolving corpses; he saw four men walking in the flames: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — and a fourth person who looked like the son of some god. Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t go in and get the three men, so he asked them to come out of the furnace — and when they stepped out of the flames and onto the plains of Dura, their bodies and clothes were unscathed.
But why did these three men stand and do the right thing when everyone else bowed to save their necks? Why didn’t the threat of a fiery death melt their faith and resolve? Their exemplary lives didn’t keep them out of this mess, so what made them think that God would help them through this hardship?
They simply believed that the same God who walked with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the same God who took them through their hardships was now walking with them and would take them through this crisis. And even if God didn’t deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, they had this promise from God in their go bag: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me... and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:4, 6).