What were they thinking?? What were they feeling?? Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, were cast into the furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar, and lived to tell the tale; but the Bible doesn’t actually let us hear themtelling the tale. Eleven verses describing one of God’s most impressive miracles, but we know more about how Nebuchadnezzar was feeling than we do Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego.
What does peace feel like, when you are facing a tough decision? Nebuchadnezzar, who apparently had serious self-esteem issues, had set up a 90-foot golden image of himself. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego knew the law. They knew the consequences of disobeying the law. But they didn’t complain to the king, and they didn’t murmur to each other about the unfairness of it all. Without making a big deal, without picketing in front of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, or writing letters to the editor, they simply didnotdo what God had told them not to do.
When the brown-nosing Chaldeans tattled on them – and could we please just mock these fellows for a minute? “O king, live forever! … These men, O king, have not paid due regard to you! They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up!“ You can practically hear the whining, can’t you? And it has exactly the effect they desired. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego are called before the king, and he very generously gives them another chance. “If you are ready, when you hear the music, if you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.”
What does peace feel like when you don’t know what the future holds? Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego said to the king, in verse 17 “… our God, Whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.” Do you hear peace there? How about verse 18, “But if not…” In other words, if it’s God’s plan for us to die from this, and this is the last time we have a chance to talk to you: “let it be known, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Do you hear peace there? Do you hear trust there? “I don’t know which way God’s gonna handle this… but I’m okay with whichever He chooses. Either He delivers us from the furnace, or He delivers us from earth to heaven. I don’t know what He’s thinking, but I know what I’m thinking.”
Their refusal, and possibly the peace they show, infuriates Nebuchadnezzar. Peace can be very frustrating to witnesses; to those who don’t understand it. Nebuchadnezzar has them bound, in their coats, their trousers, their turbans and their other garments; and he has the furnace heated so hot that it kills the men who escort them up there. What does that feel like? What does peace feel like when there’s no escape, and you’re watching those around you weaken, or fall, from a trial you are facing?
Verse 23: Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego fell down, bound, into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. And make no mistake about this: every time chapter 3 refers to it, that’s what it’s called – the burning fiery furnace. But immediately, Nebuchadnezzar is astonished. And verse 25 tells us what he saw — verse 25 tells us what we look like when we are in the burning fiery furnace.
They were not bound. They were not hurt. And they were not alone.
Chapter 3 takes us through the rest of the story, from Nebuchadnezzar’s point of view. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego are called out of the midst of the fire. Nebuchadnezzar and his weasely, spineless satraps, administrators, governors and counselors see that the fire had no power over them. The hair of their heads was not singed, nor their garments affected, not even the smell of fire was on them. And any reporter worth their weight in salt would have run to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego and asked them, “How do you feel? What was it like??” But God does not tell us. I wonder if it’s because it’s too hard to describe. Because people who don’t know the peace of God read this book, too, and they just wouldn’t get it. Many of us have experienced that kind of peace during trials, and even we can’t find words for it. Philippians 4 says we can’t even understand it. St Thomas Aquinas said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
No, God doesn’t tell us what Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego were thinking or feeling… perhaps because He knows we’ll find out when we experience it for ourselves. Because we will most likely never know the extremes we see in Daniel, we have all been in situations that threaten our sense of peace — and we will again. But in Isaiah, God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not hurt you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
We might feel the heat, but we will not be bound; we will not be hurt; and we will not be alone.