11 Nov 2015
A glimpse into the furnace…
Out in the plain of Dura, a great statue of solid gold was erected. All the officials of the kingdom were summoned. The administrators, the governors, the satraps, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, and the magistrates; they all came before the great golden object. A herald cried: “TO YOU IT IS COMMANDED!
AT THE SOUND OF THE HORN, THE LYRE, FLUTE, AND PSALTERY, YOU WILL FALL DOWN AND WORSHIP THIS GREAT IMAGE.” “WHOEVER DOES NOT FALL BEFORE THIS GREAT IMAGE WILL BE CAST IMMEDIATELY INTO THE BLAZING FURNACE!”
Immediately, the whole assembly of officials quickly bowed low and prostrated themselves before the great image of Gold. How immaculately it was crafted, shimmering brilliantly in the brazen sun. In the great kingdom of Babylon, there were many beautiful spectacles to behold. The Jews had recently been subdued and carried back (along with a decent amount of plunder from the temple to their god). The Jews now resided in the land of Babylon, and many were chosen to serve in the king’s court.
Days before, a Jew stepped forward to expound upon the dream of the great king Nebuchadnezzar. He was among those chosen to serve the king in a royal apprenticeship. He boldly stood before this giant of conquest and valor. He showed a confidence that the magicians, the astrologers, and the sorcerers could not. This Jew revealed something about the power of the god that he (and his people) served.
Earlier yet, this same Jew had shown great courage (or ignorance) as he defied the king’s offering of decadent foods and festivities. He and three other Jews, who were known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego revealed before the court and the king that there were none in appearance like them.
Today, after serving as overseers of the affairs of the provinces, (by the request of their friend Daniel) they were summoned to bow before this great image. Daniel, their friend and loyal ally serving intimately under the king, had told them of the dream king Nebuchadnezzar had. This image must have been inspired by the head of gold at the top of the statue in the dream. Many Jews were greatly intimidated by the sovereign power of Nebuchadnezzar. These three did not appear to be.
As all the officials of the province fell to their faces before the massive image of the king, little consideration had to be made. Ananiah looked at Azariah, Mishael looked at Ananiah, and their resolve was sure. They remained standing. A Chaldean observed them and approached the king’s throne. “Sire, your servants have not prostrated themselves before the great image!” “Bring them before me”, said the king. The three Jews stood in an array in front of an elaborately decorated mobile throne made especially for these circumstances. King Nebuchadnezzar looked at his dependable servants. “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that you have not worshiped my gods, nor prostrated yourselves before the great image? It is merely a demonstration of superiority; All must submit to a superior, or there would be rebellion and chaos in my kingdom. So you see, do this thing now and life may continue as it has here.”
Ananiah looked up and met the gaze of the king unfazed by his authoritative tone. “Oh king, what you have ordered is clearly in violation of our covenant with our God. We trust Him to deliver us from the fury clutch of the furnace, but even if He does not – we will not worship your gods or this great image.” The king merely stared at Ananiah, then he shifted his gaze to the other servants to see if they agreed with his resolve. They all shared an equal look of resolve in their eyes. The king aggressively stood up, and reached for his nearest loyal servant. He spit out orders in Akkadian and pointed in the direction of the furnace. Two hustled to carry out his will. He then turned back to the three Jews standing in front of him with a dark, cold stare. “YOU WILL BURN FOR YOUR DEFIANCE OF MY AUTHORITY! HOW WILL YOUR GOD SAVE YOU FROM THAT?” He pushed four more of his large body guards into the Jews, quickly spouting their sentence, and their proper bindings. The bodyguards hurried the Jews in tight grasps’ toward the furnace.
The large furnace was wrought out of solid Basalt stone, with a high ceiling, and only one entry point. The existence of the furnace was one of many Babylonian wonders, capturing the attention of the surrounding inferior nations. The three were taken to a nearby fabric-laden chamber and swiftly bound with thick rope and compelled forward by spears at their backs to approach the fiery furnace, now blazing with a wild intensity, and gruesome heat. Their guards then hoisted them and brought them near to the entrance from the side of the opening. The heat was so intense, the guards fatally collapsed after their kings’ command was carried out.
All the while, the hearts of Ananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were secretly afraid; they knew what they had done was right; yet they had never experienced death, and certainly not like this! As they approached the furnace, their lips evoked numerous prayers they had learned from childhood, recalling the promises God had made to their forbearers. When the guards finally had heaved their bodies into the furnace, they were fully prepared for whatever eternity may bring. They lay there in the midst of fire, of darkness, of incredible cracking. It was not less then 10 complete minutes before they realized their unusual predicament. They were still alive! They considered eternity for a moment, it was darker then each had expected. No one dare speak in such a reverent place, but as they peered around the furnace, it became clear – their God had indeed held back the flames promised to take them into eternity. And then, as if from the very essence of the atmosphere, a vapor materialized, grew thicker, and taller, until it formed the shape of a large man.
Azariah knew thought he recognized him, his loving father from childhood, whom he was separated from when the nation was taken captive from Israel. But it was not. Misrael saw a slightly different picture of the emerging figure. He saw the flames mold into a shape held by a wind blowing inwards from some unknown source. The shape was indeed a man, but of such noble and excellent purity that he shivers shot up and down is spine. Ananiah, thirdly, saw yet a different perception of the strange materializing shape in the center of the exquisite and mysterious fiery of the furnace. If he had looked towards the entry, he might have seen the Chaldeans gawking at their now-moving forms, but it was merely a passing thought, because the form of a man took shape from the very heat of the atmosphere, as though the smallest particles of substance were held in place by some supernatural law. And then Ananiah saw the face of the form. It was the most beautiful face he had ever seen. Not because the face was handsome or comely, but simply because it embodied a majestic purity never embraced prior.
All three stood fixated on the face of this most mysterious man form. Instead of speaking, the form caught their eyes as if to lead them in chorus. They sang, long, and extravagantly. They shared high notes and low notes with meticulous precision. They smiles as they passed on from stanza to stanza. They sang from Tehillim (Psalms), and they exchanged encouraged glances of honor for HaShem. It appeared time had ceased. It was as though this event could itself be done for all eternity. Each song resounded with more beauty and intensity, and each carried with it a solemn peace not experience at any other point in their lives. This was, unquestionably, the highest moment they could have experienced while still on earth under heaven. They marveled when they reached the end of the last Psalm. They had sang them all! It would have taken days to do this otherwise, but they had dashed through the whole of Tehillim in one sitting!
The form wordlessly embraced each one, holding a all-captivating gaze as he moved from Ananiah, to Azariah, to Mishael. The form dematerialized as it had come, evaporating in all directions of the furnace atmosphere. From some distance place, the voice of the king Nebuchadnezzar resounded through the entry way, and the men realized they had witnessed something greater then even Moshe himself would have witnessed in the desert before the burning bush, or the view of the back side of HaShem in the cleft of the rock on the frightful day. They made their way out of the furnace, trying not to be too confused by the state Heshem permitted them to be in.
“A MOST EXCELLENT EVENT YOU HAVE SHOWN US HERE TODAY. CLEARLY YOUR GOD IS WORTHY OF THE WORSHIP YOU PRESERVE FOR HIM! FROM NOW ON, THE GOD OF SHADRACH, MESHACH, AND ABEDNEGO WILL BE WORSHIPED, AND HIS SERVANTS WILL BE GIVEN HIGH HONOR WITHOUT QUESTION FROM NOW ON!”
Daniel approached his friends and they exchanged excited glances. Daniel knew there would be little sleep this night, as the story of the dance in the furnace was recounted by his dear friends.