Three Boys in the Fiery Furnace

Another case where events from Israel’s past foretell the future of the world.

After Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722BC all that was left of Israel was a small portion around Jerusalem called Judah. In spite of the judgment experienced by their cousins in the north, Judah also fell into a state of idolatry and so the Lord permitted Babylon to conquer them as well (Jer. 25:8-9). In his first siege of Jerusalem in 605BC the King of Babylon took hostages from the Royal family to his capital in an effort to assure the compliance of those he left in place as vassals to govern Judah according to his wishes. (This plan was ultimately unsuccessful and so in 586BC after 2 more sieges, he completely destroyed Jerusalem including the Temple Solomon had built and carried off all its inhabitants into slavery.)

Among the royal hostages were Daniel, a future prophet of Israel whom the King renamed Belteshazzar, and three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah renamed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These four were given training and education in the ways of Babylon and otherwise prepared to serve the King in his court (Daniel 1:1-7). They proved to be excellent students and within a few years, following Daniel’s interpretation of a dream that had troubled the King, were appointed to positions of administrative authority over the Province of Babylon (Daniel 2).

You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me

Sometime later the King decided to have a gigantic golden statue of himself placed in a prominent place on the plains of Dura outside the city. It was sixty cubits (90 ft.) tall 6 cubits wide and according to tradition stood on a pedestal six steps high and here you have the first clue of what’s really going on in this children’s story (666). The King required all his subjects to bow down and worship the statue and decreed that anyone refusing to do so would be thrown into a fiery furnace and burned alive (Daniel 3:1-7).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had maintained their covenant relationship with the God of Israel and refused to bow down and worship anyone other than Him. This act of disobedience was reported to the King and though fond of them he was furious. When they rejected his offer of a 2nd chance to comply with his command, saying that their God was able to rescue them but even if He didn’t they still wouldn’t worship anyone else, he had them bound and thrown into the furnace (Daniel 3:16-23).

Apparently this furnace was constructed in a public place so that the punishment could be witnessed by all, because the King saw his three disobedient subjects in the fire. But he was shocked to see a 4th figure in there as well; one who looked like “the Son of God”, and all four were walking around in the fire unbound (Daniel 3:25). The King called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to come out of the furnace and to his utter amazement discovered that they were totally unharmed, not even the smell of smoke on their clothing, and the only things burned up were the ropes that had bound them. The King gave praise to the God of Israel and decreed that from that time on anyone who said anything against Him would be executed “for no other god can save in this way” (Daniel 3:28-29).

Types And Shadows

In addition to recounting an actual event from Israel’s history and being a favorite of children for ages, this story prophesies of a time yet future to us. One day soon another world ruler will make an image of himself and require that every one in the world bow down and worship before it on pain of death (Rev 13:13-18). The King of Babylon therefore becomes a model for the antichrist, and the fiery furnace represents the Great Tribulation. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fore shadow the remnant of Israel preserved through the judgment (Rev 12:13-14) and freed from the bondage of their religion for a closer walk with their Messiah (Zech. 12:10-11)

Any Questions?

The often-unasked question regarding this story is “Where was Daniel?” Daniel and the King of Babylon had developed a special relationship starting from the time he had interpreted the King’s dream. It was at Daniel’s suggestion that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given positions of responsibility (Daniel 2:49). He was their benefactor and like them had remained faithful to his covenant with God. Yet he appears nowhere in this story. Daniel is one of only 2 Biblical characters about whom nothing critical is ever said (the other is Joseph) so it’s unlikely that he bowed down and worshipped the statue. And since he had really embarrassed the other “wise men” in the King’s court by being the only one who could interpret his dream, it’s also hard to believe that they would let him get away with disobeying the King’s command.

The only plausible explanation is that Daniel had gone away during this time, and perhaps it was his absence that gave the others the courage to report Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for their non-compliance. If so then Daniel becomes a remarkable type of the church whose disappearance before the tribulation begins removes us from the time and place of judgment (Rev. 3:10) releases the restraint against evil in the world (2 Thes. 2:7) and begins the time of Israel’s greatest persecution (Matt 24:21).

You can’t base a pre-tribulation rapture doctrine on this, but if you’re already so inclined, the story of the three boys in the fiery furnace takes on added meaning. It becomes another one of those beautiful models the Lord has built to instruct and encourage us with events from Israel’s history. For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Rom. 15:4).

And now you know the adult version.