The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, held many of the Jews in exile after conquering them, and pressed several nobles into service in his government. Among them were Daniel, Hannaniah, Mishael and Azariah (better known by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego). Daniel and his three friends distinguished themselves in service to the king, and rose to positions of authority. Other Babylonian officials were jealous and wanted them gone.
That set the stage for what takes place in the book of Daniel, chapter three. Nebuchadnezzar has an image crafted of gold – 90 feet tall and nine feet wide. He decrees that everyone in all of Babylon must worship this image when they hear “the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music.” When the band plays, the people must bow and worship the idol of gold. This poses a huge problem for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who are faithful Jews, who believe there is only one true God, and who are commanded by that God not to worship idols.
Some Babylonian leaders turned them in for their failure to participate. They ratted them out to the king. And Nebuchadnezzar was less than pleased that his edict was disobeyed. Nebuchadnezzar likes these guys. They have been faithful and served with integrity. But this is disobeying a direct order, and he cannot stand for it. Here is the ultimatum the king gives them:
“Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (Daniel 3:15 NIV)
But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are not intimidated, because they are standing firm in their faith. Here is their response:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 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.” (Daniel 3:16 NIV)
Our God is able to deliver us. But even if He does not, we will not worship your golden image. So there.
The response is predictable. Nebuchadnezzar loses it. He orders the fire to be heated up seven times hotter than normal and has them tied up and thrown in the blazing furnace. The fire is so hot, according to Scripture, that the soldiers who were tasked with throwing them into the furnace die from the flames in doing so! What Nebuchadnezzar did not count on was what his eyes told him God did.
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.”
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.” (Daniel 3:24-25 NIV)
Three were bound and thrown into the furnace. Four were freely walking around in the fire! I believe the fourth man in the fire did not only look like a “son of the gods,” but was, indeed, the Son of God. Theologians have a word for the pre-incarnation appearance of Jesus Christ in history: theophany. Here you have it. Jesus showed up and protected them in the fire. He did not quench the flames. He did not make them float above the furnace instead of falling in. He made them fireproof and walked around in the flames with them!
Nebuchadnezzar calls them out of the furnace:
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, 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. (Daniel 3:26-27 NIV)
There you have it. They not only came out of the furnace alive, they were not singed or scorched and didn’t even smell like smoke. God delivered them. And God can deliver us.
There is a worship song by Hillsong United that assures us we are never alone in the fire or the flood:
There is another in the fire
Standing next to me
There is another in the waters
Holding back the seas
And should I ever need reminding
What power set me free
There is a grave that holds no body
And now that power lives in me
I walk in the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. I am determined not to worship anyone or anything but the one, true God. I know He can deliver me from any attack. But even if He does not, I will follow Jesus, because I know there’ll be another in the fire. I know there is a grave that holds no body, and now that power lives in me! The enemy of my soul can get the upper hand in this life, but Jesus stands with me, no matter what. The world can oppose or vilify or persecute or even martyr me, but it cannot destroy me. The One who conquered the grave holds my eternity. And that is enough.