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Jesus in Our Fires

Fiery Furnace

By Dennis Pollock

The book of Daniel is a fascinating study. It contains twelve chapters and you are probably most familiar with the first six. These are the adventure chapters. They tell the stories of how Daniel was brought to Babylon and refused to eat the traditional Babylonian food at the risk of his life, the story of Nebuchadnezzar losing his mind and living like an animal until he recognized that the God of the Jews was the true and only God, and of course, the story of Daniel being thrown into a den of lions. If you have a church background you were probably taught these stories in your Sunday School classes, or if you are as old as me, you might have had them visually represented on a “flannel-graph.” (I realize millennials won’t have a clue what that is, but you might say a flannel-graph was a primitive precursor of animated videos!)

In this study we will look at one of those adventure stories, considering God’s miraculous deliverance of the three Hebrew young men known as Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego. It begins with a building project by King Nebuchadnezzar, a hothead given to rash judgments. Nebuchadnezzar was a dangerous man to be around. He could promote you or kill you at a whim, and he had lots of whims. He serves as one of Scripture’s most bizarre characters, and through the writings of Daniel we come to know him pretty well. In fact, he has the honor of being the only Gentile whose writings make up an entire chapter in the nearly all-Jewish Scriptures. The fourth chapter of Daniel is written by Nebuchadnezzar, where he tells unashamedly of losing his mind, living like an animal, and coming to recognize that the God of the Jews is the only true God.

But this was before all that, and Nebuchadnezzar was still an idol-worshiper. He authorized his builders to create a huge golden statue and set it upon an enormous base. The entire structure reached ninety feet into the air, and the king was extremely proud of his creation. He scheduled a dedication ceremony requiring attendance both by all his leading officials and the palace musicians. At a set time the musicians were to begin playing their instruments, which was to serve as a cue for all present to fall to the ground and worship the king’s brand-new god. The ceremony was a smashing success. The statue was greatly admired, the musicians played their best and everybody fell down in reverence to the king’s creation.

The Three Exceptions

Everybody, that is, except for the king’s three Hebrew advisors, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego. These devout men had been taught from their youth that there was only one true God, and He was invisible. All representations of deity made with men’s hands were an abomination and were nothing more than wood and stone (or in this case, gold).

One of the mysteries to this story is: “Where was Daniel in this?” The only apparent answer is that he was away on assignment in some other part of the kingdom. Even though this story was written by Daniel, Daniel plays no part in it. His name is not mentioned, and therefore we can only assume that he was not present at this dedication ceremony.

When a large crowd of perhaps thousands are fallen prostrate to the ground, three lone men standing would not be difficult to notice. And they were indeed noticed. For many, this was a mystery. Were these men not counselors to the king? Why were they not bowing? Most didn’t give it too much thought, but for some this was outrageous. These Jews were so different, so odd, and now this! This must be reported to the king!

The Bible tells us that “certain Chaldeans” came to the king and reported:

There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.

The King’s Rage

Nebuchadnezzar was not irritated, annoyed, or aggravated – he was furious. He ordered the three young men to be brought to him immediately and commanded them to either bow down to the image or else be burned in his enormous furnace. To my thinking, the reply of these young men is really the most important aspect of this entire story. Yes, the deliverance that came later is powerful and awesome, but their reply is what grabs me even more. The young men answered:

O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 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 3:16-18).

I like their opening line: “We have no need to answer you…” To put it in today’s jargon: “This is a no-brainer.” The idea of bowing down to an idol was so completely opposed to all they believed and the God upon whom they had based their lives, it was unthinkable to even contemplate such an action. If their lives were cut short by fifty or sixty years, so be it. To follow the king’s command was simply out of the question.

Next, they declared that the God they served was well able to deliver them if He chose. Nebuchadnezzar’s authority, the strong men who were his guards, the fact that they were from a little nation, Israel, that had been swallowed up by the powerful empire of Babylon… none of this mattered. They were entirely confident that God’s sovereignty and authority were absolute, and that for Him to deliver them from a death sentence imposed by the most powerful man on the earth would be a simple thing.

“But If Not…”

Then we come to what, in my mind, is the most powerful statement of all: “But if not… we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image…” “But if not…” I love that! “Even if God chooses not to rescue us, there is no way we are going to obey you and become idol-worshipers as you are.” These three men were not aged men. They were still in the prime of their young adulthood. But they had developed a courage and faith through walking with the God of Israel and no doubt studying His word. They were, in every sense, true believers. Out of the abundance of their hearts their mouths spoke, and the words that came forth were words of faith, courage, and spiritual maturity beyond their years.

Nebuchadnezzar could hardly believe what he was hearing. Nobody talked to him that way. He had probably felt that they would quickly recant and apologize, and instead they were, to use a modern phrase, “doubling down” in their determination to stay true to the God of their fathers. The astonished king was outraged, and we read:

Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.

Anger tends to cause us to lose our ability to reason well, and this was surely the case here. If it was the king’s intention to punish these men severely for their “impertinence,” heating the fire seven times hotter would be the last thing to do. The hotter the fire, the quicker the death, whereas a much smaller fire might cause them to stay conscious longer and suffer far more. But the king was hardly in a mood to contemplate such things. In his mind, the hotter the fire, the better, and so he ordered it, and so it was done. These Hebrews would pay the price for daring to contradict and disobey their king!

Furnace Time

With the fire so hot, even the men who carried them to the hole at the top of the furnace were overcome by the heat and died before they could get away from the intense flames. Shadrach and his buddies fell into the furnace, as had been ordered. And so they quickly perished and became martyrs for their God – at least that is how we would expect the story to end. But it did not end that way, not at all! Instead the flames had no effect upon them. And by no effect I really mean no effect whatsoever: none at all. They arose and quickly realized that what should be happening was not happening. They were not even hot, not even a little bit.

Through a lower opening, hot-headed Nebuchadnezzar was watching and waiting for the flesh of his three Jewish advisors to quickly turn black and become ashes. But it did not happen. As the king stared into the fire his rage turned into curiosity and his curiosity became awe. The three men were standing around, walking a bit, and what’s more there was an additional figure in the fire whom he did not recognize. The king cried out:

Look! I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God (Daniel 3:25).

It would appear that Jesus Christ Himself, or at least one of His representatives, was in the fire with the Hebrews. I would love to know what they talked about, but that shall remain a mystery until we get to heaven and interview them. But surely it must have been a comfort to have the Lord of glory right by their sides in the midst of that terrible fire, creating for each of them an invisible shield which kept them from all harm. Nebuchadnezzar called them to come out, and the Bible tells us that when they did: “the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.” It was as though they had been for a walk in the park on a beautiful spring day! The fire not only didn’t harm them; there was no trace of its smell on them, nor any evidence they had ever been anywhere close to a fire.

Kingly Repentance

King Nebuchadnezzar immediately praised the God of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego, promoted the three friends, and issued a decree that anyone who spoke a word against the God of the Hebrews must be killed and their houses turned into an ash heap. The three Hebrews had declared that “if it be the case” their God was able to deliver them, and it had been the case indeed.

There are multiple lessons in this amazing story of faith and courage but allow me to focus on what I consider the major theme. God had not kept them from the fire. He could have. He could have instantly struck dead the men who bound them, and surely the king would have gotten the point. But instead God allowed His servants to go straight into that fire, but so preserved them that it was as though the fire did not exist. Beyond that, Jesus appeared with them and experienced the fire alongside of them.

Our Own Furnace Time

So it is with the children of God today. We are not always kept from life’s fires, large or small. Sometimes it seems to be the will of God that we spend time in our own personal fires. But we find that as we put our trust in Jesus, He will join us for intimate fellowship in the midst of our fires, and His presence is so powerful, so healing, and so life-giving that when we emerge from those fires, we find that the smell of fire is not even upon us. Not a hair has been singed, and if we did encounter some wounds, they have been so thoroughly healed that it feels as if we had never experienced any fire. Like the three Jewish friends, it is as if we had instead been for a pleasant walk in the park.

This is the amazing grace of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Savior. As we read in the Bible, “He does all things well.” He saves, He bestows eternal life, He preserves, He upholds, and He joins us in our own personal fires in order to make sure that no harm comes to us.



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