Deliverer in the Furnace
Dad (Benny) continued our series "Age of Heroes" with the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the three men thrown into a fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar. As Dad explained, the story is a story of faith on trial.
The context of the story is the exile of the people of Israel. A remnant had stayed in the Promised Land, but most had been taken into exile and were living in Babylon. The people of God were in mourning, devastated by the fact that what they had envisioned as an unending reign from King David to the promised Messiah was being interrupted. They were now displaced, living in a foreign land under a foreign rule. Psalm 137 captures the weight of their mourning.
"By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there, we hung up our lyres, For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill."
This was the state of the people of God in exile. In the midst of this, Daniel and some of his companions followed the advice of Jeremiah in 29:4-7 to settle down in Babylon and seek to prosper, and to see the city prosper. They gained influence as they followed God’s law, but Daniel, as well as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, attracted the anger of the Babylonians as they loyally kept the law of God. When Nebuchadnezzar ordered everyone to bow and worship an image of his creation, they refused. They were given a chance to save their lives by recanting their position and bowing, but they responded by saying:
"O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
Where did these men get the courage for that type of response? It didn’t appear from just anywhere. They already had proven faith. It is safe to say if they had not passed a previous test (as it related to upholding Jewish dietary customs) they would not have been prepared for the furnace. By passing that test they demonstrated their faith. They proved they were ready for a bigger test. This is a reminder to all of us to be faithful in the seemingly little things. Faith is not something that shows up when we are in crisis. Faith is to be our response no matter how much heat our circumstances bring. Heat (the vicissitudes of life) is inevitable. Our circumstances will, at some point or another, challenge us. However, heat is not determinative. If you knock over a cup, you don’t determine what type of liquid comes out of the cup. What comes out of the cup is whatever was in the cup, it doesn’t have anything to do with you knocking the cup over. Our circumstances don’t cause fear, faith, or any other reaction. What we have built into our hearts is simply drawn out by circumstances. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had built faith into their hearts, and that’s what the heat revealed.
One other thing about heat; it reveals need. It shows us that we are not in control, that we need a deliverer. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego recognized they weren’t getting themselves out of the fiery furnace. They needed someone else to do that. The Son of Man, in a powerful picture of companionship through trial, stood in the fire with the three men, protecting them, until he delivered them from the fire.
If you are walking through the heat of circumstances and you don’t see a way out of the trial, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego should be an encouragement to exercise faith in the one who is there with you in the fire, who absorbed the burning and searing flames so that he can ultimately deliver you from the fire with your head unsigned, your cloak unburned, and with no smell of fire on you.