Once upon a time King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
When they were all standing before the statue the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.”
Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in. Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But whether or not we are delivered, we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
The Fiery Furnace
Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, and ordered the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. So the men were bound and thrown into the furnace of blazing fire.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?”
They answered the king, “True, O king.”
He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”
Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.
Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
SKIT: In the fiery furnace
Shadrach: G’day Mesach, Abedgnego.
Mesach: How are ya Shadrach? How’s it going Abednego?
Abednego: Shadrach, Mesach, Good to see you guys.
Shadrach: Boy it’s crowded here at Tim’s today eh? Lucky we got a seat.
Mesach: Yep, Tim’s is the place to be if you want to be a part of the scene in this town.
Abednego: There’s a scene in this town?
Shadrach: Anybody who’s anyone knows that Tim’s coffee is the only coffee worth drinkin and Tim’s is where it’s happenin and no where else is even worth talkin about.
Mesach: But the preacher said last Sunday that we should all be drinking Fair Trade Coffee. That coffee beans were a major source of exploitation in the third world – a product of Empire.
Abednego: Empire? Is that like in Star Wars 3? You know where the Empire Strikes back? (does a Darth Vader imitation) “Luke, come over to the Dark Side son. It is your destiny”
Shadrach: No, no, no that’s just a bunch of left wing-nut crap they talk about over at that internet café where they have sixteen types of coffee with fancy names in biodegradable cups and comfortable chairs and sell local baked goods and support local causes and all that other kind of silly stuff. I can’t handle having more choices for my coffee than small, medium or large – regular or double double – that’s good enough for me and my friends. We’re not into having all these different “choices” shoved at us. This is a free country y’know.
Mesach: But isn’t that a part of the subtle, systematic, seduction of corporate Empires that lure us into a global monoculture by apparently making life simple while in fact trapping us in a complex web of economic vertical integration with ever more consolidated wealth sustained by military coercion effectively reducing our choices and increasing our fear of the grassroots hard work that alternatives to Empire require?
Abednego: Have you tried the new Nutmeg Christmas donut. It’s only available for a limited time y’know.
Shadrach: But if we start getting our coffees over there with those folks people might start thinking we’re some of those fringe, creative, intellect types who’re always talking bout community and ecology and children. I might have to change barbers. I don’t think I’m ready for the fiery furnace of public opinion turned in my direction.
Mesach: A good fire can burn away a lot of impurities and refine the metal in ya. You sing the same hymns I do. Songs about the new hope the birth of Jesus brings to the poor, the forgotten, the people waiting in the dark for a new day. You think those songs might be about coffee growers waiting for a Fair price for their labours – enough to send their kids to school and get medical attention? Would you be willing to stand in that fiery furnace if it meant standing with the people Jesus stands with?
Abednego: That reminds me – I gotta go feed the woodstove. Things get pretty hot for me if the missus gets cold y’know. See ya this afternoon?
Shadrach: Same time as usual?
Mesach: Same time, New place? Out on the fringe?
Abednego: That place ain’t new to me. I go there all the time. I’ve got more friends than just the two of you y’know. Plus they got wheat free brownies. I’m gluten intolerant eh.
When was your faith last tested in the fiery furnace of public opinion?
When did you find that the small persistent voice within was more powerful than the roar of the flames in your ears? Flames you knew would burn away your mask of safety. The mask that maintains the façade of peace and contentment with your neighbours and co-workers and pew sitters at all costs. When was the last time the death defying presence of Jesus Christ caused you to expose your naked backside to ridicule and persecution at the cost of your pride and what passes for the illusion of peace?
How else, until we enter the furnace, will we discover the joy of dancing free of fear with the immortal source of courage that no lick of fire or coal of furnace can touch?
Hear these last verses from the Jubilee poem of Isaiah 61
10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for GOD has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
GOD has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up among all the nations.