Most of us have heard the story of the three Hebrew boys and how they were thrown into a fiery furnace after refusing to bow to the idol. (Daniel 3) We read about their obedience to God, being thrown in, the guards dying from the heat, the king seeing them and the fourth man walking around, and them walking out of the fire not even smelling of smoke. But let’s pause for a moment. What about while they were inside? What happened…from their perspective?
The first thing they would have noticed, beyond the fact that they were still alive, was that the very fire intended to destroy them had, instead, burned away their bonds. They were thrown into the fire held captive and bound, but were likely loosed before they even hit the floor. Yes, they were still in the fire, but they could stand up, may have even playfully pulled each other up, and they could walk around as they liked. In truth, they were more free than they had been for a while.
Many times in our lives, we find ourselves anticipating potential outcomes with dread, perhaps with such a fear that it binds us, holding us captive and keeping us from moving forward. Statistics say that what we fear almost never even happens. Think about that. How much time do we waste letting the fear of something that will NEVER HAPPEN hold us captive to the point that we can’t even move?
But the thing is that, once we’re thrown into the fire, that fear is burned away. The worst has already happened and, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we can look up from the floor of the furnace and realize, “Hey! I’m still here! I survived!”
I can imagine their surprised joy in that moment. They had dared declare God’s power to the king, assuring him that the One they served was more than able to deliver them. And He had. You know that special laughter that comes with joy? I can almost hear it. I can also see them turning to look through the flames, out the door, at the outside. Perhaps in the midst of their astonishment they wondered what they should do next. And then, just maybe, from behind them…
They heard a chuckle. Can you see them whipping around in even more shock and amaze? The king said the fourth man in the fire looked like the son of God. Presumably, he was right. They wouldn’t have known Him as “Jesus,” but their hearts would surely have recognized Him.
Now their backs are to the exit, the fire that surrounds them is pretty much forgotten, and their eyes are firmly focused on their first ever glimpse of the One they’ve offered their lives for. Though they have no way of knowing it, everything – literally everything – has changed.
What words would Jesus have spoken to them? Did they ask all of the questions that had burned in their hearts for years? Did He… I can’t really even begin to propose what He might have said. We do know this, though. They spent some time in there.
We don’t know how much time, but it was enough that the king eventually realized what he was seeing, pointed it out to his companions, and called out for the three to come out. Given the raging fire, and how loud it would have been, it seems to me that either the fire was allowed time to burn down or Jesus told them, “Hey guys, the king is calling.”
Regardless, stepping back inside with the kids… While I was homeschooling, I wrote an essay entitled “The View from Inside the Furnace,” and at this point I suggested that they, instead of being in the worst time of their lives (what it looked like) were actually on the field trip of a lifetime.
As they walk around, I imagine Jesus explaining exactly how this furnace works, how it is used to harness the destructive nature of fire and cause it to change things, transforming soft clay into usable, even valuable, vessels. Then I imagine Jesus sharing a few secrets about how He is going to use their time in the fire to do far more, not only to change them, making them more useful and valuable, but also change the world. I imagine…quite a lot, actually.
Can you see the disappointment on their faces when either they finally hear the king calling or Jesus announces that their visit is over? The very thing that was at one time the ultimate threat has now become a refuge, a place they’ve been seeking their whole lives – a secret place where it is just them and Him. In all honesty, if it were me I’d have been like a child begging for “just one more story.”
Actually, I have been. I wrote the essay I referred to earlier during one of the hardest times of my life. I intended it for friends who were worried about me, and with good reason. In the midst of the fire I learned things I could never have learned anywhere else, and I developed an intimacy with God that I had never known. As I shared with God in prayer at the time, I would never wish that fire on my worst enemy, but I desperately desired to take the intimacy with me when I walked back out of the flames.
Those three boys had to feel the same way, but for them I think it almost had to be a harder walk to take, because Jesus came out of that furnace with me, staying always by my side, and they had to leave the fourth man behind, knowing they would likely never see Him face-to-face again.
And, as I imagine Jesus promising, their world changed – and not just for them. Yes, they were promoted and given all honor, but even more importantly God was promoted, and the king himself ordered that He be worshipped. Yes, our God was merely added to the list of gods they already worshipped, but it was a beginning.
So I leave us (Yep, this is a reminder for me.) with this. Serve God with all your heart and don’t fear the fire. Jeremiah 29:11 assures us that He has great plans for us, and Romans 8:28 promises that He can cause all things to work together for our good. Even a walk in a fire-filled furnace, though terrifying to face, can be an amazing experience that prepares us for an astounding future.