Growing up, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was my absolute favorite. There was something spectacular about knowing there was a God who could deliver me from fire… aaaand Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were the coolest Bible names ever lol.
I’ve been meditating on the story and I’ve known there was a message in there I wanted to share, but it was one I was in a battle with myself, so I shoved to the back of my mind. Yesterday, I was reminded of it, and I just have to share.
Some background for those who don’t know the story:
Around 605BC, Babylon under the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to Jerusalem, destroyed it, and took many Israelites captive- among them the youth of royalty, including Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (these were their names before they were taken captive). The Bible says:
The king told Ashpenaz, head of the palace staff, to get some Israelites from the royal family and nobility—young men who were healthy and handsome, intelligent and well-educated, good prospects for leadership positions in the government, perfect specimens!—and indoctrinate them in the Babylonian language and the lore of magic and fortunetelling. The king then ordered that they be served from the same menu as the royal table—the best food, the finest wine. After three years of training they would be given positions in the king’s court.
So the idea was to take the creme-de-la-creme of the Israelite youth, and turn them Babylonian. But as we read on we find that Daniel and his friends chose not to defile themselves with Babylonian traditions and rituals- they chose to live set apart even though they couldn’t live separate. Because of their loyalty to God, He gave them favor:
God gave these four young men knowledge and skill in both books and life. In addition, Daniel was gifted in understanding all sorts of visions and dreams. At the end of the time set by the king for their training, the head of the royal staff brought them in to Nebuchadnezzar. When the king interviewed them, he found them far superior to all the other young men. None were a match for Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And so they took their place in the king’s service. Whenever the king consulted them on anything, on books or on life, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his kingdom put together.
And so the story goes on with Nebuchadnezzar and his wacky dreams, but in chapter three something interesting happens.
The King decides to erect this huge idol (these people clearly had nothing better to do with their precious minerals), and demands that whenever the band plays, everyone bow down to it. Talk about a game of musical worship right? lol. So what happens? The band starts playing and the King’s advisors notice that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are unfazed. And they were shocked because the King had decreed that anyone who refused to bow down to the idol when the music began to play would be thrown into a fiery furnace.
And so, of course, jealous of these three exceptional foreigners in the King’s court, they play tattletale and tell the King of their disobedience. The King sends for the three and questions their motives. He likes them- they are some of his most brilliant leaders- so he offers them a second chance: bow down the next time the music plays and we’ll act like all this never happened, because you’ll burn for sure if you don’t.
The three respond:
“Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king.”
We read this and throw fist pumps and do our praise dance. We believe this statement whole-heartedly! We serve a God who delivers, so who cares what you TRY to do to us? He will rescue us! He’ll show up! He’ll provide, deliver, heal, strengthen, open doors and encourage!
But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego weren’t finished. They continued:
“But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”
“But even if He doesn’t…”
Wow. That is a statement that hit me over and over again the first time I read it. I don’t think I’ll ever fully get over how powerful it is.
We can trust that God is God and He is able to do God-things, but what is our response when He doesn’t? What is our response to the possibility that He doesn’t heal or save or deliver or provide or rescue? I don’t know about you but the idea that God will not show up when I think I need Him most scares the crap out of me, so I have to wonder how these men were so confident- confident to say “But even if He doesn’t save us, we will still not disobey Him… we will still stand firm….” Like Esther, these men were basically saying, I am going to do God’s will, and if I perish, I perish.
And guess what? God didn’t show up. There was no rush of wind or angels that carried them away. The Israelite army didn’t suddenly remobilize and rescue them with God’s hand.
They were thrown in the fire.
Nebuchadnezzar, his face purple with anger, cut off Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace fired up seven times hotter than usual. He ordered some strong men from the army to tie them up, hands and feet, and throw them into the roaring furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, bound hand and foot, fully dressed from head to toe, were pitched into the roaring fire. Because the king was in such a hurry and the furnace was so hot, flames from the furnace killed the men who carried Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to it, while the fire raged around Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
“But even if He doesn’t…”
“But even if He doesn’t give me that job I want…”
“But even if He doesn’t get me into that program…”
“But even if He doesn’t heal my mother…”
“But even if He doesn’t give me that distinction…”
“But even if He doesn’t get me out of this position…”
“But even if He doesn’t give me this relationship my heart desires…”
“But even if He doesn’t…”
Can we confidently make those statements? Can we trust in a God who may very well leave us to be thrown into the fire? Or are we quick to write Him off as unfaithful because we find ourselves in the fire?
The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago didn’t end there- and it never does with God:
Suddenly King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm and said, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound hand and foot, into the fire?”
“That’s right, O king,” they said.
“But look!” he said. “I see four men, walking around freely in the fire, completely unharmed! And the fourth man looks like a son of the gods!”
Nebuchadnezzar went to the door of the roaring furnace and called in, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the High God, come out here!”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked out of the fire.
All the important people, the government leaders and king’s counselors, gathered around to examine them and discovered that the fire hadn’t so much as touched the three men—not a hair singed, not a scorch mark on their clothes, not even the smell of fire on them!
Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued his servants who trusted in him! They ignored the king’s orders and laid their bodies on the line rather than serve or worship any god but their own.
“Therefore I issue this decree: Anyone anywhere, of any race, color, or creed, who says anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be ripped to pieces, limb from limb, and their houses torn down. There has never been a god who can pull off a rescue like this.”
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
A few things stand out to me in these passages:
1. The fire didn’t burn the three, but it DID burn some people. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were unharmed by the fire because they were made of different substance than everyone else. What might consume someone else will not consume you as a child of God because you are made up of something different. You need not fear the fire.
2. God could have delivered them way before they had to be thrown into the furnace. He let them be thrown in because He knew the King and all these distinguished leaders were watching, and they would come to revere the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
3. God knew that it was only in leading them through the fire that they would be promoted.
The Bible says in Isaiah 43:
But now, God’s Message,
the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
the One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you.
God doesn’t promise us everything will go exactly the way we expect things to go, but He does promise that He redeems. He promises that He will be in the fire with us. He promises that we won’t be consumed by it. And He promises that our fiery furnaces are meant to be tools for our promotion. If we could, for even a moment, take our eyes off of where we want to be, and the flames raging around us, and keep our eyes planted firmly on the promise, we’d find ourselves not overcome by our circumstances, and eventually, with our feet planted on much higher ground than we could have ever imagined.