"Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!"
I first heard the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego at a young age in church. In fact, they were, in a sense, part of the young church boy's contingent of original superheroes. Before I knew about Batman, Superman or Spiderman, I knew about Shad, Mesh, and Ab.
I knew about Moses, Joseph, Ezekiel, and, my personal favorite, Joshua.
The beauty of the Bible is that, it is a book that can apply to just about every situation an individual may face today. It is a book about humanity. Many people find it inspiring because they can relate.
People also crave freedom.
Have you ever wished, desperately, to be free of something? I have.
Whether it is sexual tendencies, anger, bitterness, pain, jealousy, the need to control, or just about anything else, for many there is a continual dark corner in our lives that will not relinquish its hold on our soul.
Have you ever had something in your life that you felt was controlling you; scratch that, take it one step further...something that was enslaving you?
The Bible is full of stories of freedom.
This particular story, found in the book of Daniel, is about three men from an exiled nation refusing to conform to the standards of the enslaved.
Because the Israelites at this point were enslaved. They had been conquered by the Babylonian empire, and many had been brought to Babylon to be educated in this particular empire's customs and traditions. They were being made to forget all that made them God's people, and many of the Israelites were ok with this.
Can you imagine? I dare you to try.
Say the United States (or England respectively) was conquered by a foreign power. You have not only been exposed to your homes being burned, your place of worship destroyed, your loved ones killed, or taken away, and your pet cat was eaten by hungry soldiers...
Can you imagine the intense heartache these Israelites felt? Not only had they lost everything they knew, but the were in a foreign country being taught to forget everything that set them apart as a nation prior to this!
Can you imagine being taught to forget your heritage?
Your values that were instilled within you from an early age?
Your faith, even?
This was an oppressive time for Israel as a nation, and many were beginning to forget. They were ok with conforming to slavery. They were fine with their new Babylonian education, and diet. Their stomachs were full, and the conflict was low.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego resisted.
They wanted to be free from this slavery.
They wanted freedom.
And freedom cost them. Big time.
By refusing to acknowledge the king Nebuchadnezzar as a god, they were stripped of their titles and arrested. They were sentenced to death. Death by burning.
Can you imagine anything worse? I have always hated the thought of dying in a fire.
The natural question to ask here is, where is God in all this?
These are men who truly believe in him, and they are standing up to defend him, while everyone else is bowing down to slavery! What's the deal? He's just going to let them die a horrible death for their convictions?
They were cast in to the king's furnace, tightly bound so that they couldn't even make a feeble effort to shield their faces before being consumed in flame and death.
But something happened...
Then 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.”
He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
They weren't alone?
God was with them in the fire?
See, the first thing that I choose to believe when I feel beaten down by the things which enslave me is to believe that God is absent. It is especially easy to do, because I'm a very physical person. I feel love through the comforting hug of a friend, or an encouraging pat on the back... but God isn't here, in the flesh, right now to pat me on the back every time I need a little love.
But that is why faith is so important.
I'm sure Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had plenty of doubt about God's presence as they were standing before the furnace, but he was there.
And here is something to think about...
They were thrown into the fire bound, but they came out freed. They didn't smell of smoke, nor were they singed in the least, but the one thing they left in that fiery furnace was the things that were keeping them tied.
I don't believe in coincidences.
It was, in that very moment, that these men found themselves freer than the whole nation of Israel. They faced that which was holding them in slavery, and God brought them forth free. Because God is in the business of liberation. He knows that there is so much more to life than a full stomach, materialistic possessions, power, control, sexual indulgence, and complacency.
Ask yourself, is it possible that the fire you face right now has the potential to bring you freedom? Is it possible, even though all our human conventional wisdom points in a different direction, that God is actually here, right now?
That he walks with us always?
That he frees us within the fires of slavery, doubt, and uncertainty?
Do you believe it is possible to be free once again?