Daniel Chapter 3 contains one of the most intriguing moments in the Bible apart from the obvious big events like Creation, the Flood, parting of the Red Sea, the 10 Commandments, David & Goliath, Jesus miracles, Crucifixion, Resurrection, etc. Daniel in the Lion’s den gets most of the headlines in this book, but this moment recorded in Chapter 3 really causes my heart to skip a beat and my spirit to leap. The moment that I am referring to is from our devotional last week when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to bow down to a false God. When they are thrown into the furnace, something miraculous happens, something that is beyond extraordinary. The fact that they survive is almost beyond belief, but there is more to it. It seems that they have an uninvited guest inside the furnace with them.
Before we jump to that, I just wanted to hit some details that lead up to this moment, a couple of things that I didn’t have room to dig into last week.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniel’s “three amigos” have risen from mere slaves and palace servants to leaders in Babylon. Sure, they got there partly by riding on Daniel’s coat tails, but remember these young men were part of an elite group hand-picked to serve the king for a reason. They weren’t just handsome or of royal blood. It wasn’t because of entitlement. Daniel 1 tells us that they were chosen because of their “aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.” (Daniel 1:4 NIV). The fact that it says they were “qualified” says a lot. They were sharp dudes in every way, and after the king’s dream in chapter 2 was deciphered and interpreted they were on the fast track to greater things. God had shined on them and watched out for them. Not just for being smart or handsome. God wasn’t giving them a participation trophy. God’s favor was given because they were obedient and faithful, and they were about to be given the ultimate test of loyalty, one that very few have faced.
I can’t imagine the terror that I would have felt in this situation. Fear is one thing, but this is terrifying. It recalls what Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested, tried, and crucified. As Jesus prayed 3 times for a merciful alternative to what he knew would befall Him in the next few days, Luke says, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:43-44 NIV). Have you ever awakened from a nightmare, so real and so terrifying, that you were drenched in sweat, screaming, and struggling to catch your breath?
Just to give us an idea of what these three were facing, Daniel gives us this description of the circumstances and the “fiery furnace”.
“19Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.” Daniel 3:19-23 NIV
The furnace was so hot, heated seven times hotter than usual, that even the guys throwing them in were killed. Besides drowning or being buried alive, I think being burned alive would be one of the worst ways to go, and yet this is how the author describes Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s state of mind just before they are thrown in.
16Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17If 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. 18But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18 NIV
Wow! I can’t fathom this kind of faith. Maybe the Lord gives a special measure of grace and comfort to those who are about to go through something like this. One can only hope. Making a comparison to the way Jesus met His end doesn’t seem right, but what these three young men did should rank pretty high on our top ten list of heroes of the faith. They aren’t even mentioned among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, but apparently, they got “someone’s” attention, so much so that He joined them in the furnace. Remember the fourth guy in the furnace walking around in the flames with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?
24Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” 25He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:24-25 NIV)
According to this passage, this forth guy looks like a “son of the gods”. I know it could have been just an angel sent by God to show moral support, but what if God the Father was so impressed with these three young men that He sent his own son, the Son of God. God didn’t send a low-level lackey. He sent “the” Son of God.
As we asked last week, how is this possible? Jesus hasn’t been born yet, right? I know that some scholars/theologians may dismiss this theory as pure speculation, but I’m convinced that this is Jesus and here is why.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. John 1:1 NIV
John, the Apostle, and disciple of Jesus begins his Gospel in an unusual way. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s historical and genealogical introduction to Jesus, John takes it in another direction. It seems that he wants to make it clear that Jesus was more than just a man with historical and genealogical human beginnings. According to John, Jesus or “the Word” is God and He has always been there since the beginning of time. John continues in verse 14.
14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NIV
This “Word” that was in the beginning becomes flesh and dwelt or lived among us, but this may not be His first appearance. In fact, Jesus may have made several appearances in the Old Testament. They are called “Christophanies”, or “preincarnate” appearances of Jesus. It’s possible that God sends Jesus in disguise or under another title. For example, “THE” angel of the Lord, as opposed to just “AN” angel of the Lord, is mentioned on several occasions in the Old Testament. It may refer to a visible/physical representation of God Himself. This “Angel of the Lord” speaks in the first person on several occasions like this one from Genesis 16:10 when He speaks to Haggar saying, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” (NIV). How can “an” angel make this kind of statement or claim that he will do anything? Who does he think he is? Why didn’t He just say, “the Lord will increase” instead of “I”? It does make one wonder, doesn’t it?
If Jesus, “the Word”, is God and was with God in the beginning, if He is a member of the Trinity (3 in one: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), then is it too much of a stretch to believe that He made “pre-incarnate” appearances?
Are you having fun yet? This is exciting stuff. I realize I’m going a little long here, but I wanted to close with a story. When I was about 10, my family attended a weekend family retreat in Chattanooga at Precept Ministries. While we there I got sick and was running a high fever. My mom was really worried about me, and she prayed that the Lord would heal me. After her prayer, a man walked into the bunk house, laid his hand on me, prayed, and walked out. A couple of hours later my fever went down, and I was okay. My mother didn’t see that man again the whole weekend, and she really looked for him to say thank you. Okay, I’m not saying it was Jesus or an angelic being, but she believed it was an angel. I believe that God is always there and does show up “in person” from time to time. We may not recognize Him when He does, but He shows up, even in fiery furnaces.
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!!!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC