The King has spoken. Three chisel-faced, handsome, and well-built young men march forward like pilgrims. Clothed in robes, trousers and turbans, they would be mistaken for royalty were it not for the ropes binding their hands. Trained in the King’s Court for three years, they still exude the palace’s majesty nonetheless. Adept with Babylonian Literature, and exuding aptitude for every kind of learning, the three men were highly favoured by the King but now the tables have turned.
Coming from royal families and nobility, regal is not a new phenomenon to them, only this time they are captives, serving in a foreign land- one filled with magicians and enchanters and all sorts of mysticism. These well-gifted men however are striking and highly esteemed, as the King finds them to be ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters. In fact, one of them recently rose to fame for interpreting the King’s dream when all sorcerers, astrologers and magicians had failed.
As the men walk towards a fate prepared for them, they reflect the events leading them here. It was during a State event when it all began, when all Palace Officials including Governors, Judges, Magistrates, Advisers and Provincial Officials were called to gather at the Plain of Dura in the Babylonian Province for a dedication ceremony. A ninety feet high gold statue stands before them demanding instant veneration as everybody cranes their necks to catch glimpse of that which towers above them and at first sight. At nine feet wide, the figure blurs all other things out of sight demanding sole devotion.
At the King’s order, a decree is issued for all people to bow down and worship the massive figure that has inspired awe. Everyone in the King’s Court is moved to reverence for the immense figure, but the three young men remain unmoved. For them, it is not a surprise as this must be the millionth image the Babylonians are worshipping. When news reaches the King that some men have defied his decree, he is filled with fury and summons them, immediately commanding them to worship the image he created backing with threats if they don’t.
The three men choose not to. Immediately, the King’s attitude toward them change. It didn’t matter that they served excellently over the Kingdom and seemed to give up their identities for his service. It did not matter that one of the men interpreted his dream when all magicians and sorcerers failed, and talked about a ‘God in Heaven who reveals mysteries’. Silly boy, he thought, how can the vast Universe simply have but one God?
The King held back his doubts then and ultimately when the young man interpreted the dream with perfect clarity, he had to acknowledge indeed that his ‘God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries’. That is the closest he would ever come to spiritual exclusivity, he vowed. All other gods still remained and he would in fact make bigger gods of all sorts from his gold storehouse to be worshipped. And these men who defied him must face the punishment that awaits them.
As the three young men approach their awaited doom, the atmosphere changes. The air becomes hotter, like a fresh volcano spewing magma. The soldiers that engulf them do not make things better and their robes and turbans seem to fan the heat, but there is simply nothing they can do about it. They approach their fate like animals being led to a slaughter.
As they draw closer, the heat increases and before they know it, the soldiers that had surrounded them are all bones, consumed by the raging heat as they push them in a blazing furnace. In the furnace, though the fire blazes, the heat seem to evaporate and they feel it no more. It is as if they are watching at a distance but the red and orange around them makes them see them otherwise. Then they see Him. A Fourth Man who unbinds them and walks with them through and round about the fire.
Eventually, when the King’s advisers see the Fourth Man who looks like the ‘Son of the God’, they run to report to the King who is filled with awe and approaches the opening of the blazing furnace which for some unexplainable reason has stopped emitting any heat. The King calls out the only three names he knows and commands them to come out. As they came out of the fire, the King notices that though the fire was made seven times hotter, it had not touched their bodies nor the hair of their head singed. Their robes are not even scorched and there is no smell of fire on them whatsoever.
Surely, this defies magic and the King recalls the three men’s words, ‘If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to serve us from it… 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 had set up’. Then, the King was angry and dismissed it as foolish, delusional talk knowing well that no one ever survived the furnace. Looking at the three men in front of him, still royal and well-kept, he could but only proclaim, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants.’
As I reflect on this real Bibilical story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the first thought that comes to mind is how scary it must have been for them, because fire consumes. But as continue to ruminate on the passage, I see that fire also refines and reveals. The fire made the image of the one who was with them visible all along. In fact, all could clearly see the Fourth Man and it is amazing how even the idol worshipers at the King’s Court recognized the ‘Son of God’ before he was even revealed to mankind through human form. Although God would have prevented them to suffer this sought of punishment, He instead let them go through the fire just to showcase who He was.
The Fourth Man also perfectly embodies the Scriptures, ‘When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze’ (Isaiah 43:2) and ‘nothing will by any means harm you’ (Luke 10:19). What also strikes me besides their faith and belief is that although they are led in the fire, no one helped them out but they simply came out of the furnace. It is as if the fire had made them stronger. Just like Jesus Christ who was nailed on the cross by Roman soldiers, no soldier helped him get down- only in this case He is the Fourth Man.
Whatever fire you may be going through in your life, your faith, belief and response will determine the heat you feel amidst the flames. If you are rooted in God, then you will not feel the heat though those around you are consumed. In the heat, always remember that God is present with you and that in flames, that is when His glory radiates most for all to see. Though people put you in the burning furnace, never expect them to be the ones to take you out, but that you have been given power to rise again.