“Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?
Look! I see four men, unbound, walking around inside the fire, and they aren’t hurt!
And the fourth one looks like one of the gods.”
Daniel 3:24, 25 (selected portions)
Three Hebrew men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, are cast into a burning, fiery furnace at the command of Nebuchadnezzar, a dictator. Stalwart nonconformists, these men refused to bow to pressure that they worship at the pleasure of the king, refused to worship an idol raised in the town center for the people’s devotion. They stood up for their faith in the face of terrific pressure. There was a strength of character present in them that would not permit them to bend or bow to the pressure of the empire. Why? Because they had a robust faith. It is this faith that provided strength and stamina when they faced capital punishment. They drew on superhuman resources.
Nebuchadnezzar is astonished to look into the furnace and see not the three he ordered placed there but four, “Didn’t we throw three men into the fire? “Look! I see four men, unbound, walking around inside the fire, and they aren’t hurt! And the fourth one looks like one of the gods!” This must rank as one of the best short stories in all the world’s literature.
This story is a superb parable for today. It’s meaning is that life demands courage – often a courage that is uncommon except for the presence of the Holy. Safety may be a desired commodity but is something that life, with sin and death in it, does not offer. And playing it safe in life’s hard decisions only reveals a life that has not been strengthened by reliance upon another power – power borne from a relationship with God. Ultimate strength and security is spiritual, the deep understanding that we are not alone, that God is with us as an abiding presence.
A detail that should not be missed in this story is that there are three men, not one. They were to one another a church, a community of faith. A robust faith as theirs is often present in a community that shares testimony of God’s mighty acts and provides powerful support for one another. It is the strength we derive from our membership in the church. When doubts assail us and our own convictions fade, when the light in our own souls fails, we look to the community of the church to encourage us, to remind us of God’s presence and to strengthen us. It is the church that ultimately provides an unconquerable faith to face the tumult and hardships each one of us must face.