Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Fiery Furnace



If you're a high-ranking official serving a dictator, what do you do when your conscience won't allow you to obey the latest dictat? Much will depend on where your true loyalties lie. Whose interests are you really serving? How effective is your indoctrination into the prevailing culture? How courageous are you? Are you prepared to take the consequences of disobedience, whatever they may be?

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were provincial rulers in ancient Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. They were Hebrews from Jerusalem. They'd been head-hunted, or more accurately conscripted. They'd had 3 years intensive training in Babylonian culture and language. Even their names were changed from their Hebrew ones.

To stengthen his power the King wanted to create unity in his multicultural kingdom. He organized a worship event on a grand scale which all the dignitaries and officials had to attend. It was the dedication of a 90 foot high statue . He decreed all must fall down and worship the golden statue or be thrown into a blazing fire. I think that's what you might call a 'no-brainer'. Faced with torture or execution many people choose life and compromise their beliefs or principles in order to survive. But some do what they know to be right in spite of all the odds.

In obedience to God, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the statue the king had erected, although they were well aware of the consequences. Their loyalty to God and their courage is astonishing. They didn't even try to present a defence when called before the king. They simply told him that if God was able to save them them, then so be it. But even if God would not save them they would not serve the king's gods and wouldn't worship the golden statue.

In the book of Daniel from which this story comes, we also read how Daniel was thrown to the lions for refusing to stop praying to God. There are many other examples in the Bible, in history and the contemporary world of prisoners and martyrs of conscience. Many died for their faith. Some were saved. By all the laws of physics, Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego should have died when thrown bound into the furnace. The king must have been terrified when he saw the three of them walking about in the the fire and a fourth person with them who "had the appearance of a god". He called Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego to come out. And they did, unharmed. God had saved them. Why save them and not other people Nebuchadnezzar murdered? I don't know. But their story is an inspiration for people of faith going through fiery furnace experiences of many kinds.

In the post 'Marathon Running' I wrote about the great cloud of witnesses who are inspiring role models of faith. Many of these died in dreadful ways. The perfect role model, Jesus, was no exception. In this Passiontide, am I really prepared to follow him in the way of the cross?


Image credit: watercolour by Margrit Roussos

This post is the 34th in a series of daily Lenten reflections based on a Bible reading from the Common worship Lectionary of the Church of England. This one is based on Daniel 3: 14-28 the first reading for a weekday Eucharist.

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