Over the last couple of days, for reasons that are not important here, the names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have come up a couple of times. This caused me to read from the book of Daniel, where they are discussed. With the disclaimer that this is only a summary of certain parts of the first four chapters of Daniel, it goes something like this:
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, laid siege to and ultimately took Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar ordered one of his chief civil servants to gather up some Israelites from the royal family and nobility and bring them to the palace and train them so that they could enter into the king's service. Among those that were gathered were Daniel (who the Babylonians renamed Belteshazzar), Hananiah (renamed Shadrach), Mishael (renamed Meshach) and Azariah (renamed Abednego). They were to be given a daily amount of wine and food from the king's table, but they refused to defile themselves with this food and wine and asked to be fed only vegetables and water. At the end of a ten day test period, they looked more well nourished and healthier than any of the others.
Ultimately, all four entered into the king's service. After Daniel interpreted the king's dream of the statue, the king made Daniel ruler over the province of Babylon. At Daniel's request, the king made Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators.
From there, we get to the most famous part of their lives. Nebuchadnezzar had an idol made of gold - ninety feet high and nine feet wide - placed it on the plain of Dura and ordered that at the appropriate time, everyone should "fall down and worship the image of gold." Daniel 3:5 He commanded that whoever did not do this would "immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace." Daniel 3:6
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the idol. The king was furious. He called them - his trusted administrators - before him and essentially told them that they had better do what he said and worship the idol, or he would have them thrown in the furnace to burn to death. Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego told the king:
"If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
Wow. Talk about standing up for what you know is right and what you believe in. The king was very clear that he was going to throw them into the fiery furnace where they surely would burn to death. All they had to do to save themselves was fall down and worship the statue. But they refused. They refused to do it because it was not right and - this is the important part to me - although they believed God would save them, they were willing to give their lives if He did not.
I've always admired that quality in people. I particularly think about people involved in the Civil Rights movement in our country. They risked everything, and many gave their lives, to stand up for what was right. I think about the man in Tiananmen Square in 1989 who stepped out to stand in front of the advancing tanks. I have often wondered if I would have the strength of faith and character to do that. I think I generally try to stand up for what I believe in and that I do not just decide that it is too hard to stand in the way. I hope if ever truly put to the test, I would show the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The faith to believe that the God that I serve would rescue me, but the willingness to say that even if He does not, I will not do what I know to be wrong. I also hope and pray that we are able to raise our children in a way that they recognize the importance of doing the right thing and standing up when necessary.
It seems worth sharing the rest of the story here for people that do not know it and who do not have the time to pull out their Bible and read it.
Not surprisingly, the king grows even more furious with this reaction and orders that the furnace be made seven times hotter than usual and that his strongest soldiers tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the furnace. The furnace is so hot that the flames kill the soldiers and the three fall into the furnace. Looking into the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar jumps to his feet and yells to his advisers that although they threw three men into the fire, there are now four there walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed - "and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." Daniel 3:25 Nebuchadnezzar calls for the three to come out and all who were there "saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them." Daniel 3:27
As Nebuchadnezzar said:
"Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, who 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."
I can't think of a better way to end today than that - Praise be to God! Have a great weekend!