The three men in the blazing furnace Daniel 3:1-30

Here is one of the best-known stories from the Old Testament. How God saved Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego from the blazing furnace. It was an inspiration at the time for the Exiles in Babylon learning to sing the Lord’s Song in a strange land. And it has given courage to believers ever since whenever they have been facing persecution. These events are even celebrated in the New Testament as examples of true faith.
Hebrews 11 32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
It was indeed an amazing miracle that saved these three courageous believers. And it is their faith which has continues to be an inspiring example. The heart of the story lies in verses 17 and 18. Nebuchadnezzar threatened them,
, 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?’
Shadrach, Meshach and Adbednego replied to Nebuchadnezzar in one voice,
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 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.’
Their faith expressed itself in two ways: confidence in God’s protection, and at the same time refusal to sin by breaking the first and the second of the Ten Commandments.
Confidence in God’s protection
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 from Your Majesty’s hand.
Psalm 91 promises God’s protection to his people who put their trust in him.
Psalm 91:1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’
3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
When it comes to being thrown into the blazing furnace, centuries earlier, God had promised through the prophet Isaiah that he would protect his chosen people.
Isaiah 43 43 But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
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. 3 For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;
Precious promises of God’s protection for the Exiles. Perhaps the three had those very Scriptures in mind when they put their trust in God to deliver them.
Faith in the God who protects his chosen people. And then determination not to sin by breaking the Commandments.
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 Bible is always realistic about what awaits those who stand firm for God in the face of persecution. Sometimes God rescues his chosen people from terrible dangers. Sometimes he does not and they become martyrs in his name. Shadrach Meshach and Abednego were ready and prepared to face that terrible end. The first and second of the ten commandments are clear about the sinfulness of worshipping false gods and graven images.
Exodus 20 And God spoke all these words:
2 ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 ‘You shall have no other gods before me.
4 ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would rather die than compromise and break God’s law. They knew God’s love would protect them even beyond death. Job showed a similar faith in God.
Job 13 14 Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands?
15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.
Unswerving trust in God’s protection and a commitment to purity without compromise. And God did indeed save them in a dramatic and miraculous way from the blazing furnace which was heated seven times hotter than usual, and even killed the guards.
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisors, ‘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.’
So who was this mysterious fourth figure, looking like “a son of god”? We could say it was just an angel taking human form. But Christians through the ages have seen this as more than just an angel. They have described this as a theophany, or a Christophany, an appearance of the Son of God himself in human form before the incarnation. There are other possible theophanies or Christophanies throughout the Old Testament.
God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3.
God meeting with Abraham in Genesis 18 and Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32.
In Joshua 5, Joshua met the “Commander of the army of the LORD”. Joshua saw this “Commander” holding a sword, and He accepted Joshua’s worship, something that angels always refuse to do. A figure called “the angel of the Lord” also appeared to Gideon and Manoah. Some people think that these were the Son of God himself appearing in human form before the incarnation. Whether it was Christ, or whether it was some angel, God rescued Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace without even the smell of smoke on them.
And this miracle accomplished more than encouraging Jews in exile. Remember how Nebuchadnezzar reacted when Daniel interpreted his dream at the end of Daniel 2.
47 The king said to Daniel, ‘Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.’
While that shows that Nebuchadnezzar was becoming more open to the God of Israel, it was only superficial repentance at best. But the deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had an impact not only on Nebuchadnezzar but also on the whole Babylonian Empire. Here we see true repentance.
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.
Nebuchadnezzar recognized the faith and the commitment of our three heroes.
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.’
So God’s intervention in the blazing furnace was not just a blessing to our three heroes of faith, but to all Jews in Exile spread out all over the Babylonian Empire. A wonderful, inspiring miracle which can inspire us when we are struggling!
To help us experience this event afresh we are going to read a passage now which comes from the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha is a collection of books which the Roman Catholic Church includes in their Bible but Protestants since the Reformation have not. This passage doesn’t appear in the Hebrew or Aramaic text of Daniel but they do appear in the Septuagint, the Greek Translation of the Old Testament which some Jews in Jesus time used and which the first Gentile Christians used as their Old Testament. These verses appear in Daniel 3 between what we call verses 23 and 24. So here is a passage from the Apocrypha in a book called
The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews (from the Apocrypha)
1 They walked around in the midst of the flames, singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord. 2 Then Azariah stood still in the fire and prayed aloud:
3 “Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and worthy of praise;
and glorious is your name forever!
4 For you are just in all you have done;
all your works are true and your ways right,
and all your judgments are true.
5 You have executed true judgments in all you have brought upon us
and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our ancestors;
by a true judgment you have brought all this upon us because of our sins.
6 For we have sinned and broken your law in turning away from you;
in all matters we have sinned grievously.
7 We have not obeyed your commandments,
we have not kept them or done what you have commanded us for our own good.
8 So all that you have brought upon us,
and all that you have done to us, you have done by a true judgment.
9 You have handed us over to our enemies, lawless and hateful rebels,
and to an unjust king, the most wicked in all the world.
10 And now we cannot open our mouths; we, your servants who worship you, have become a shame and a reproach.
11 For your name’s sake do not give us up forever,
and do not annul your covenant.
12 Do not withdraw your mercy from us,
for the sake of Abraham your beloved
and for the sake of your servant Isaac and Israel your holy one,
13 to whom you promised to multiply their descendants like the stars of heaven and like the sand on the shore of the sea.
14 For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any other nation,
and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins.
15 In our day we have no ruler, or prophet, or leader,
no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense,
no place to make an offering before you and to find mercy.
16 Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted,
17 as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls,
or with tens of thousands of fat lambs;
such may our sacrifice be in your sight today,
and may we unreservedly follow you,
for no shame will come to those who trust in you.
18 And now with all our heart we follow you;
we fear you and seek your presence.
19 Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in your patience
and in your abundant mercy.
20 Deliver us in accordance with your marvelous works,
and bring glory to your name, O Lord.
21 Let all who do harm to your servants be put to shame;
let them be disgraced and deprived of all power,
and let their strength be broken.
22 Let them know that you alone are the Lord God,
glorious over the whole world.”

This entry was posted in Daniel.

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