With Us in the “Fire”

PAUL WROTE, “BY FAITH … they quenched the violence of fire,” in reference to the experience of the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace. (Heb. 11:34) Faith is “the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) Certainly Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, from the natural standpoint, could ‘see’ no way of escape from the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar in the event that they should defy his command to worship the golden image he had set up. But their faith in God’s ability to care for them took the place of sight, so they were determined “to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) One “like the Son of God” (Dan. 3:25), took his place with them in the fire and delivered them from what would have been certain death.

Jesus taught that his followers should “render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21) The Apostle Paul wrote that we should be subject to the powers that be. (Rom. 13:1; Titus 3:1) However, with the servants of God in every age, there have been times when their allegiance to God has prevented them from rendering unqualified obedience to earthly rulers, and they have had forced upon them the necessity of deciding what belongs to God and what could properly be rendered to ‘Caesar.’


This was the position in which the three young Hebrews found themselves when confronted by Nebuchadnezzar’s demand that they worship the golden image which he had caused to be erected. This was an especially severe test which had been thrust upon them, for it came soon after they had been given high positions of trust in the government at the personal request of their great friend and brother in exile, Daniel. From the standpoint of their own personal interests and advantage, it would have seemed much better for them to have obeyed the king’s edict to worship the image.

The Lord often tests his people by permitting circumstances to come into their lives which offer an easier way to serve him, and with plausible reasons why the way of fewer hardships would be better. It could easily have been so reasoned by the three Hebrews. Certainly their exaltation to positions of authority in the kingdom had been the result of Divine overruling, and it seemed evident that the Lord wanted them in these strategic positions for the purpose of rendering some special service to him and to his people. This being true, from the standpoint of human reasoning, it would seem foolhardy to take a stand against the king which would destroy this advantage, and cost them their lives as well.


These ardent servants of God, however, did not take this view of the situation, for a very definite principle was at stake. The law of their God clearly stated that they were not to worship other gods, neither were they to bow down to images, and these facts overshadowed every other consideration in reaching their decision. To them, no matter what good might result, or what advantages might be gained by yielding to the king’s demand, to do so would still be disobedience to Divine law; and, like the Apostle Paul, they did not believe that they should do evil that good might follow.—Rom. 12:17-21

It is much easier and more pleasing to the flesh to fall in with the crowd, especially when the conformists are hailed as heroes and receive the blessing of the powers that be. This was the alluring opportunity offered to the three Hebrews, but they chose to be nonconformists, thus refusing the “deliverance” that was offered to them in return for obedience to Nebuchadnezzar. (Heb. 11:35) The issue was clearly stated, for a ‘herald’ or spokesman for the king announced to the gathered representatives of the kingdom, “O people, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”—Dan. 3:3-6

It must have taken considerable time to erect the golden image which stood for Babylon’s gods; and the three Hebrews, being highly placed in the government, would be aware that sooner or later they would have to face the issue of loyalty to their God as against bowing down to this ‘graven image.’ It was not something which had been forced upon them suddenly when the band began to play. Undoubtedly they had made up their minds in advance what they would do when the crisis came, and they could not be swayed from their position, either by the emotional appeal of the ‘musick,’ or by the mass hysteria of heathen worshipers.


Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego trusted in the Lord. They knew that he was able to deliver them, and would if he chose to do so. They did not know ‘how’ their God would intervene to save them. Faith does not need to know ‘how’ or ‘when’ God will make good his word on behalf of his people. It is enough to know that he is ‘able,’ and that his infinite wisdom directs the time and manner in which his grace is made to abound toward those who put their trust in him.

Neither Daniel nor these three young Hebrews were popular among the other officeholders of the realm, who were always glad when they could find or even make an opportunity to discredit them in the eyes of the king. And here was just such an opportunity. Doubtless the three Hebrews were especially watched by the others to see if they would bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image when the band began to play, and when they did not, were quick to report their disobedience.—vs. 12

The king was understandably angry. He was a dictator over his empire. He was not accustomed to having his decrees ignored or flouted. But he was in a peculiar position. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been especially honored by the king at the request of Daniel, and he felt under some obligation to Daniel because of the wonderful service rendered in the recalling and interpretation of his dream in which he saw himself as the golden head of a great image. Perhaps it was because of this, and despite his ‘rage,’ that he gave the disobedient Hebrews a ‘second chance.’


Seemingly, the king spoke personally to the three, and asked them if it were true that they deliberately had not bowed down to his image. The Marginal Translation reads: “of purpose.” The king did not doubt the report that had been given to him, but he wanted to make sure whether the Hebrews had willfully refused to obey, or whether it had been merely a case of misunderstanding. To decide this he said: “Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”—vs. 15

The issue was now clear-cut. Nebuchadnezzar had not only threatened the three Hebrews, but had defied their God. The faith and courage reflected in their reply to the king are somewhat obscured by a poor translation. The King James Version reads, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” (vs. 16) The Hebrew word rendered ‘careful’ could more properly be translated “no need,” as the Revised Standard Version renders it, while the word ‘answer’ is from a Hebrew word meaning “come back.” It is rendered “restore” in Ezra 6:5. A free translation of the thought would seem to be: “We have no need to reply in a manner to restore ourselves to your favor in this matter.”

Then they gave the reason—and what a wonderful reason! “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” (Dan. 3:17,18) The king had endeavored to frighten them by saying that their God would be powerless to interfere with what the king proposed to do. But this did not cause their faith to waver in the slightest.

‘Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us.’ This the three Hebrews knew. What they were not sure of was whether it would be His will to deliver them from the fiery furnace, but even if it were not, they did not propose to accept deliverance on the conditions offered by Nebuchadnezzar. While they did not understand God’s great plan of salvation as his people are privileged to know it today, they did believe that they would be raised from the dead—that death was not the end of their experience. Thus, while they were confident of God’s ability to thwart Nebuchadnezzar’s purpose to destroy them, yet if this were not his will, they would still be faithful to him and thus prove worthy of deliverance in a “better resurrection.”—Heb. 11:33-35


When Nebuchadnezzar learned that the failure of the Hebrews to worship his image was by design, and that they could not be frightened into changing their minds even when another opportunity was afforded, he was “full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against” them. (Dan. 3:19) He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual, and commanded that the “most mighty men” (vs. 20) in his army be used to bind these disobedient ones and cast them into the furnace. The heat of the furnace was so intense that even these ‘most mighty men’ were killed as they cast the three Hebrews into the flames.

The king had made good his threat. As dictator of the realm, there was no other course he could take. He had satisfied the demands of his ‘fury,’ and perhaps relaxed quite pleased with the thought that nothing could interfere with the supremacy of his rulership. Through Daniel he had learned something of the ability of Israel’s God, in whom Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had such abounding confidence. But he had caused them to be cast into the fiery furnace, and their God had not interfered.

Seemingly the king was not wholly at ease, for he had defied Israel’s God, the God who enabled Daniel to recall and interpret his dream when all the wise men of the kingdom had failed. It was not a reassuring thought. Under ordinary circumstances, probably a king of Babylon would not be especially concerned over the fate of criminals he had condemned to death. But this was not an ordinary circumstance, and it would seem that as soon as the heat of the furnace subsided sufficiently to permit inspection, Nebuchadnezzar went personally to peer into the flames.

We do not know, of course, the thoughts which went through the king’s mind, nor why he troubled himself to look into the furnace. However, had he been sure of his position, he would have known that there would have been little or nothing to see in that furnace, except the flames. But he was “astonied” (Dan. 3:24, Hebrew, ‘amazed and alarmed’) by what he saw. Daniel’s God, and the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had delivered them, not by removing them from the fire, but by preserving them alive in the flames.

The king called his counsellors and inquired of them concerning the number who had been cast into the furnace. He was told it was three; but now, as he said, he saw “four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (vs. 25) What occurred then is what we should logically expect. The three Hebrews were bidden to leave the fiery furnace; a proclamation was issued by the king forbidding anyone in the whole empire to speak against Israel’s God; and Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abednego were promoted to even higher positions in the government than they had formerly occupied.

Many have wondered about Nebuchadnezzar’s reference to the ‘Son of God.’ In the Hebrew text, however, there is no definite article to warrant the translation of the word ‘the.’ The expression would be more properly translated ‘a Son of God.’ In verse 28, the king identifies this fourth one in the furnace as an “angel” whom the God of Israel sent to deliver his servants. The expression ‘the’ Son of God, does not appear to have been used earlier than the New Testament, where it is applied to the Only Begotten of the Heavenly Father. In the New Testament, angels are referred to as ‘sons’ of God. For example, the “angels which kept not their first estate.”—Jude 6; I Pet. 3:19,20; II Pet. 2:4,5; Gen. 6:2

However, the important consideration in this reassuring illustration is that God is able to deliver his people from the hands of their enemies. To Moses, God said, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” (Exod. 33:14) This does not necessarily mean that Jehovah would be personally present with Moses at every step of the way, but simply that he could be assured that the Lord would know of his needs and supply them, of whatever nature they might be. In a beautiful statement concerning God’s care over ancient Israel we read, “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: … and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.”—Isa. 63:9

The word ‘angel’ is used in the Scriptures to denote a messenger. In the majority of cases it does undoubtedly refer to heavenly beings, as in Hebrews 1:7, which reads, “Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.” (Ps. 104:4) And again, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” (Ps. 34:7) On the other hand, any agency or instrument the Lord might use to accomplish his purposes, is scripturally referred to as an ‘angel’ or messenger, and while it is interesting to know just how God may be showing himself strong on our behalf, it is well to look beyond the ‘angel’ and recognize God himself as the one whose presence gives us deliverance, peace, and rest. Nebuchadnezzar saw a ‘Son of God’ in the fire with the three Hebrews, but realized that God was the actual deliverer, for he had ‘sent his angel’ for this purpose.

All God’s people may be assured that whatever fiery trial may befall them, a ‘Son of God’ will be with them. This experience by the three faithful Hebrews is a picture of the loving care supplied by the Heavenly Father through his Son, Jesus, his many agencies, and heavenly angels.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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