The Hebrew scriptures are rich with imagery and wisdom and provide some of my favorite metaphysical lessons. The story of an angry king and 3 rebellious teens is no exception.
King Nebuchadnezzar was a megalomaniac who declared that whenever the people heard “…the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music,…” that they should fall down and worship the gold image he had commissioned.
At the time of this decree, the Jewish people were among the residents of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and worshiping a golden statue was not compatible with living as a religious Jew. This meant that Jews had to either pretend, or face the consequences. And Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria* had decided that pretending wasn’t their style.
As the story goes, someone reported Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria to the king, who summoned them to his court. He questioned them, reminding them that if they did not follow his rules they would be “…cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”
The young men replied that they had no interest in worshiping the golden idol, and added that “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.”
This “thanks-but-no-thanks” on the idol worship offer was not well-received by the king. Nebuchadnezzar so was enraged with their refusal that he ordered the furnace be heated to 7 times its normal level. Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria were bound and thrown into the middle of the burning fiery furnace.
The fire in the furnace had been stoked so hot that it killed the men who marched them into the flames. We can almost imagine the scene: the angry ruler, the crying families, and the terrible smell as the furnace consumed the soldiers who had marched Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria into the flames.
To Nebuchadnezzar’s great surprise when he looks into the fire that has just claimed several of his men, he sees 4 men walking around, seemingly undisturbed by the inferno.
He asks his counselors: “did I not throw 3 men into the fiery furnace?”
They confirm that yes, it was 3 men. But Nebuchadnezzar sees 4 men walking around, unbound and unharmed: Hanania, Mishael, Azaria and a 4th man that appeared to be otherworldly (some translations describe him as a son of the gods or an angel).
Nebuchadnezzar is intrigued. These 3 Hebrew youth had stood firm in their faith when he threatened them, and now something truly miraculous appears to be in play. He went to the edge of the furnace and called out to them: “Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!”
The 3 young men came out from the midst of the fiery furnace. To the great surprise of the governors and king’s counselors gathered at the site, not one hair of their heads was singed, their clothes were not burned, and they did not even smell of fire. Indeed, the fire intended to punish them (and serve as a lesson for others who might get an idea to defy the king) had been shown to have no power over them.
The rich metaphysical lesson of this story is one that we should all write down and carry with us. The physical laws working at the time Hanania, Mishael, Azaria were tied up and thrown into the furnace should have meant that they were immediately consumed. Indeed, the men charged with marching them into the furnace were killed almost immediately, and yet these 3 young men of faith were saved – not just from death, but they came out of the inferno without a scratch.
This story reminds us that REGARDLESS of what the textbooks say, what has happened to others, what the “scientific facts” or prognosis may be: when we walk with the faith and knowing with which Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria walked into that furnace, we can come through anything unscathed.
We can defy the odds and completely heal from a frightening disease; we can beat a monumental financial setback; we can overcome legal, physical or other challenges that everyone says are insurmountable because like Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria in that furnace – we are never alone.
When faced with difficult times, it is easy to get caught up in fear and statistics. The story of Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria reminds us that there is no enemy so great that we are outside of God’s protection & grace.
It’s also important to note that the 3 young men did not fight – they did not try to talk their way out of their death sentence. They stood in the knowing that they were under God’s protection and spoke their Truth – even as they felt the heat of the furnace:
“…our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand.”
All of us face “fiery furnaces” at some point in our lives. We can live in fear and dread, or we can learn the lesson in the story of Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria who faced what appeared to be an inescapable fate: they were bound and tied, and thrown into a fire that was made 7-times hotter than normal. And yet they walked away without one hair of their heads singed; without their clothes being burned, without even the smell of fire on them.
Stand firm in the knowing that the “burning, fiery furnaces” have no power over you; that you are not alone – not even in your darkest hour; and that like Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria – you will walk out of the fire untouched.
And so it is.
* the Babylonian names of the 3 Jewish youth were: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
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