Daniel 3 – After Nebuchadnezzar subdues the large empire he was to conquer, he creates a huge golden statue and demands that everyone prostrate themselves before it or be “thrown into a blazing furnace” (3:6). Everyone obeys the king – everyone except the Jews Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, whom he had put in charge of the province of Babylon (3:12).
Furious with them, the king orders that they be brought to him. He tells them he’ll give them “one more chance to bow down and worship the statue . . . But if [they] refuse, [they] will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace” (3:15). They say to him, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you . . . that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (3:17-18).
The king becomes so angry with these Jews that he makes the furnace seven times hotter than usual and consigns Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego [Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah] to the flames. The fire is so hot, it kills the soldiers who throw the three men in, but the three do not burn. Nebuchadnezzar yells that he can see “four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” (3:23).
The Jerusalem Bible notes that there is in the Aramaic version of the text a passage that is not in all versions of the story. It is a prayer of Azariah [this is the Hebrew name of Abednego, one of the three young Jews Nebuchadnezzar threw into the fiery furnace]. He is supposedly in the flames when he gives this prayer. The prayer is very interesting. He is asking for God’s deliverance – not a personal deliverance for him and his two companions, but deliverance for all his people. The Jews are in exile and everything God had instituted to bring holiness to his people is now gone – monarch, prophets, temple sacrifices and offerings – everything. So in the absence of these things Abednego offers up what they have to give – contrite hearts and unreserved obedience:
“All honor and blessing to you, Lord, God of our ancestors,
may your name be held glorious for ever.
In all that you have done your justice is apparent;
Your promises are always faithfully fulfilled. . . .
Lord, how we are the least of all the nations,
now we are despised throughout the world,
today, because of our sins,
we have at this time no leader, no prophet, no prince,
no holocaust, no sacrifice, no oblation, no incense,
no place where we can offer you the first-fruits
and win your favor.
But may the contrite soul, the humbled spirit be as acceptable
As holocausts of rams and bullocks,
As thousands of fattened lambs:
Such let our sacrifice be to you today
And may it be your will that we follow you wholeheartedly,
Since those who put their trust in you will not be
Mother Teresa said in the movie about her life that once you decide you will accept with gratitude anything God sends your way – whether it is wealth or poverty or suffering or whatever it is – then you are free. These three young men are free, and their freedom enrages the worldly tyrant who loves to exercise power over others.
Another long hymn follows in the Septuagint Bible – it is of the three men giving glory and praise to the Lord forever.
Nebuchadnezzar decrees that “if any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!” (3:29).
The two version of this chapter that I am using – the Jerusalem Bible and the New Living Translation are vastly different in what they have included in the chapter. The number of verses in the Jerusalem Bible text goes up to 100. The chapter of the NLT version ends with verse 30.
From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
From the day we moved to the new house my uncle had found for us to live in, God moved the very center of my life and consciousness. The traumas I had experienced – the loss of my mother to mental illness and the death of my grandmother – had started a brief period in my life where I really had little taste for the reality I lived in. I found myself lying to all my friends about everything – I told them my parents were up on a farm in Vermont, that I was only here with my grandfather because they wanted me to go to a good school and there were no good schools near the farm we lived on. I had a painting on my wall of a Vermont farm and made up elaborate tales of all that went on there when I was there. After telling lies non-stop for a few months, I didn’t want my friends coming over to our apartment. Some of the lies might come out.
The move permitted me to start things over again. In as solemn a moment as I have ever had in my life, I swore to God that night - the first night in our new residence - that I would never lie again. I would never again try to make myself or my life anything other than what I was, what it was. It was a very rash thing to promise such things at the age of nine, but I didn’t realize that then. If you were to ask me if I kept the promise, I would have to admit that I have not—not perfectly. But I can honestly say I have never lied at any time since that night in even the smallest thing without feeling an immediate reproach, without remembering the promise I made.
That night was the first of many times that I felt God’s presence and influence in our new home. It was just a rented space in a beautiful old “dependency” on an estate in Irvington, NY – once owned by Alexander Hamilton’s son – that was being used as a summer day camp, but was a quiet, lovely spot all the rest of the year. Everything about the place inspired me and gave me strength. It is hard to describe. Even physically, I felt secure and empowered here. I learned to be a gymnast here, did somersaults in the open fields without spotters or mats. I rode horses. I explored and relished every nook and cranny of the estate grounds. The natural features of the land—the open fields, the rocks and wooded hills behind the estate, even the air and light seemed special here. But while I loved the new place and most everything I met with in the new town—my friends, my new school—there were also continued tensions in our home. The persistent alcoholism of my uncle and aunt was a constant stress, the sense that we were never one family but two dwelling very much apart in one house, and the growing hostility I began to feel toward my aunt and uncle for various reasons made for many tears and hard days. The sense that somehow I was not as loved by my father as my two half-sisters, not as much a part of his life, also started to grow in me at this time. These were painful things. But mostly, it is the good I remember—the beauty, the sense of God’s presence in my life, and the sense that every day was new and promising.