Summary: An Old Testament lesson of what Jesus teaches in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12.
They stared into the flames. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego watched as the soldiers who had brought them to this place fell over dead due to the overwhelming heat. Can you imagine what must have gone through these three men’s minds as they heard the crackling of the fire, felt the intense heat, and saw its effects on the soldiers who once stood along aside them? How did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego find themselves in this terrifying situation?
It was around the year 600 BC and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were among some of the first Jews who had been deported by the Babylonians when they invaded Judah. The Babylonians were masterful in their conquests. Realizing the difficulty that came from ruling a land from hundreds of miles away, they usually began their conquests by deporting or shipping back to Babylon some of the most influential and intellectual people from the lands they conquered. These deportations accomplished a couple of things. First, it left very few people who were capable of leading a revolt in the conquered nation. Second, the Babylonians were able to take advantage of the skills and abilities of the people they conquered to benefit Babylon and make it stronger. Third, by providing the exiles with opportunities to use their abilities and advance their careers, the exiles quickly saw the benefits of being loyal to the Babylonians.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego along with a man named Daniel (the man who would later be thrown into the lion’s den) were among the first of the Jews that the Babylonians had deported when they invaded Judah. They were among those people who fit the qualifications that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was looking for, “Young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace” (Daniel 1:4). What King Nebuchadnezzar hoped to accomplish through his taking some the brightest and best of Judah back to the Babylon was nearly realized. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego used their God-given intellect and abilities to serve within the Babylonian government and quickly advanced to powerful positions within it. We’re told, “Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wisemen. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon” (Daniel 2:48,49).
Now imagine for a moment what it must have been like to live in Babylon during this time. You have all these different people from all of these different nations who had been ripped away from their homes, forced to leave their friends and families and to live in Babylon. All of these people have their own languages, their own customs, their own religions. So King Nebuchadnezzar comes up with what seems to be another brilliant idea to unite the people of Babylon. We’re told, “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits (90 ft) high and six cubits (9 ft) wide, and set it upon the plan of Dura in the province of Babylon…Then the herald loudly proclaimed, ‘Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace’” (Daniel 3:1,4-6). Suddenly, God’s people faced a truly life-or-death decision. Up to this point, things seemed to be going just about as good as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego could have hoped. They had become some of the most powerful and influential members of the Babylonian government. But those prominent positions also painted a target on their backs by those who were jealous. Certainly, these men would not be able to “fly under the radar” and think that the Babylonians wouldn’t notice what they were or were not doing. What would they do? Would they bow down and worship a false and powerless god, or would they continue to claim the Lord God of the Bible as the one and only true God and reap the consequences for doing so?
For Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego it didn’t seem to much of a choice. They stood before an infuriated king with quiet confidence and respect and boldly explained, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, the we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17,18). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego trusted the Lord completely. They believed that God was going to deliver them one way or another. Either the Lord would perform a miracle and protect them from the blazing inferno that had already claimed the lives of the soldiers who brought them there, OR the Lord would deliver them from the blazing inferno through death, delivering them to the home of heaven that God promised. One way or the other, they believed that God would deliver them.