By Anthony Parker
What started out as a national disaster, turned out to be an opportunity for advancement for three young men – Hananiah, Mishael, and Azriah. When Jerusalem was plundered by the Babylonian army, they, along with the king and other members of noble families were taken to Babylon.

The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, ordered that the best of these exiles be educated in the language and literature of the Babylonians so that they could serve in the royal palace. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were chosen among these. They were given new Babylonian names – Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego – the names we use for them today.

Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego excelled in their training. After three years, the king recognized their abilities and counted on them, along with their colleague Daniel, as valued advisors. Eventually they were promoted to be provincial rulers. These exiles, who had become immigrants, were climbing the political ladder, and the sky seemed to be the limit.

The problem with these kinds of ladders, however, is that there is always someone higher, and those on the ladder are expected to follow the lead of those above them. If not, they risk being pushed off the ladder. That can happen in politics, in business, in education – in almost any field you can name.

It’s even more difficult when the person above you has a gigantic ego, and constantly needs to be assured that others are following him. That was the case with King Nebuchadnezzar. His ego was twenty-seven meters high – at least that was the size of the solid gold statue that he had erected to himself. To assure himself of the loyalty of everyone in his government, he ordered that all his political officials bow down and worship the image. He even prepared huge furnaces in which anyone who failed to acknowledge his absolute rule would be exterminated.

The problem for Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego was that they worshipped Creator God, who, because he had created the whole world, claimed authority over it, including the land of Babylon. God had forbidden worship of any rival powers. To even pretend to worship any image would be to deny his rightful sovereignty.

Aids quickly brought to the king’s attention that three of his most valued officials – Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego – had refused to bow down to his image. Such insubordination outraged the king. He again threatened the three men with being thrown into the fiery furnace and proudly asked, “What god will be able to save you from my power then?” Nebuchadnezzar mistakenly believed that he was at the top of the ladder.

Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego did not flinch. They said,

“The God we serve is able to save us from the furnace … But even if God does not save us, we want you, O King, to know this: We will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

These guys had no death wish. They trusted God to deliver them. But standing for what they believed, for the sovereignty of God over the entire world, was more important to them than life itself.

They were indeed thrown into the blazing furnace. The flames were so hot that they killed the guards who threw them in. As the king looked into the furnace, he was amazed. “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?,” he asked. His aids assured him that was the case. “Then why,” he asked, “do I see four men unbound and walking around in the fire? And the fourth – he looks like some sort of divine being!”

The king summoned the prisoners out of the fire. Only three men emerged – three men whose hair had not been singed and who did not even smell of smoke.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s twenty-seven meter high ego tumbled down. He had seen with his own eyes that God remains with his people even in desperate circumstances. Because they are assured of his presence, God’s people can stand with integrity. The king was forced to concede, “No other god can save his people like this.”

Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego were able to maintain their integrity, even in the face of intense pressure. They could have said, “We’ll pretend to go along with the king. We’ll be able to have more influence for good that way.” Instead, they left a legacy that has stood through the centuries.

Maybe you are also on the way up a ladder. You’re expected to follow the lead of those ahead of you. Learn a lesson from these three men -- look to the true King who is not merely at the top of the ladder, but who created the ladder and controls all the movements on it. Follow His lead.

But what about that fourth person in the fire? What happened to him? One song, recorded by a family who has sung Christian music since the 1920s, gives this answer:

He’s still in fire, and he’s walking in the flame

And he’ll be there to help you when you call upon his name

And he can still deliver by his Almighty Power

While here below, it’s good to know

That he’s still in the fire.

The song takes a few liberties with the biblical story, but the point is clear. God is still with his people through the fiery ordeals of life, when we have the integrity to stand for Him.
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