THE FIERY FURNACE
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Memory Verse: Isaiah 41:13
Further Study: Daniel 3; Prophets and Kings, 503-513; The Bible Story, vol. 6, pp. 33-43
The pastor announced Sabbath that four members had lost a parent that week. I know two young mothers who are fighting serious brain tumors. Another man died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. A teenager committed suicide. A man, in a serious car accident, mangled his legs. A church administrator serving for only a few months in his new position didn’t wake up one morning. A baby born four months too soon struggles for his life.
This long list of unfortunate incidents happened in the same year all within two weeks. Each circumstance involved Christians. We’re not surprised when we live in an evil world where stuff happens. But we are shaken when it happens close to home.
We’re not surprised when we live in an evil world where stuff happens. But we are shaken when it happens close to home.
If allowed, I could easily rewrite the story of the three Hebrews. In my story, they would have gotten lost on their way to the plain of Dura. Or they would have woken up with the flu. Or the furnace would have unexpectedly broken that morning. Or a mighty wind from nowhere would have blown over the statue and the event canceled. Any of these would have prevented the young men from being where they were, standing between a hotter than hot furnace and an exceedingly angry king.
If we’re going to compare Bible stories, I much prefer the one with Elisha opening the eyes of his servant to reveal the army of angel chariots surrounding the city. I want to believe that everywhere I go, things will be OK because I’m a follower of Christ; that evil loses every time because we’re surrounded by a circle of angels. Yet bad things do happen. All those I mentioned are facing a fire. Maybe you are too.
Bad things do happen. All those I mentioned are facing a fire. Maybe you are too.
John Calvin, the famous theologian, gave a partial explanation when he wrote: “He [Jesus] saved them in the fire, not from the fire.” While I might have wanted to rewrite the story, Jesus didn’t. The Hebrew young men were a witness to a pagan king and the Babylonians. Being thrown into fire isn’t what anyone would choose, but they were saved in their experience.
Notice I said, “partial explanation.” Sometimes we aren’t saved from the fire. Sometimes cancer wins. Sometimes people don’t wake up. Sometimes accidents are fatal. And it seems as if the fire is the winner after all. But we know it isn’t because of what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego say before being thrown into the furnace—we serve a God who is able to save us from the fire, but even if He does not . . . .
We serve a God who is able to save us from the fire, but even if He does not…
We can agree that angel chariots are preferable to fiery furnaces. But at some point in our Christian walk on this sinful planet we have to accept God as all-knowing and all-powerful. We choose to serve Him in spite of our circumstances. Even if what happens causes incredible pain, we accept His plan. We may get tossed into the furnace, but we are never alone. When we choose to serve Him, Someone is always walking in the midst of the fire. That’s reason enough to be renewed.
Nebuchadnezzar’s behavior is interesting as he is confronted by the three Hebrews who did not bow down when the music was played. Notice that he commands them again to bow down when the music plays by asking a long and detailed question. Some commentators believe that the king was simply using time. His problem was not what they believed at this point, but that they were not conforming to his demand. Also note that by verse 15, the challenge is not now about the young men’s behavior, but to their God by asking, “what god will be able to rescue you?”
No second chance is given to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because of their response. Not only will they not bow down now, but they will never bow down. Heating the furnace seven times hotter (which makes no sense because a slow burn is more painful), the king moves quickly to execute them.
A document has been found listing 50 officials of King Nebuchadnezzar. Bill Shea, an Adventist scholar, has identified three of them that correspond closely to the three young men. “Hanunu,” chief of the royal merchants (corresponds to Hananiah); “Mushallim-Marduk,” overseer of the slave girls (corresponds to Mishael); and “Ardi-Nabu,” secretary of the crown prince (corresponds to Abednego).
Making it Real
This week’s story is challenging particularly if you or someone you know/love is facing a fire. Prayer is helpful, but what can you do to help someone who is facing challenging circumstances? Can you visit? Prepare a meal (or buy a gift card)? Write an encouraging note? Make a call? Choose someone who is challenged by a “fire” and help them this week.
Merle Poirier writes from Silver Spring, Maryland, where she works as the operation manager for Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines as well as the designer for KidsView, a magazine for 8-12-year-olds. She enjoys spending time with her family including being the grandmother of two active little boys, who greatly enjoy Starting With Jesus.