ANGELS: When You Walk Through Fire by Martin Shannon

Loving & Learning From Angelic Messengers

When You Walk Through Fire by Martin Shannon

From: All God’s Angels

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.”

While the fire of Isaiah 6 is holy and purifying, the fire of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace is purely unholy, set for a single evil purpose, to put to death three young men who refuse to break the first commandment: I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.  For their “crime” of faithfulness to God, they are condemned to be burned alive.

“Who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?” asks the Babylonian king, convinced that nothing could resist his own power and that of the fiery furnace, (Daniel 3:15).  In the visible world, this may be true.  There are any number of forces that can undo us.  But if what we can see is as far as we can see, won’t we miss seeing the hand of God?  Under God’s rule there is always more than meets the eye.  The faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego compels them to look beyond the king and beyond the furnace to another power, to an as-yet unseen source of protection.  “If it be so,” they declare, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace,” (Daniel 3:17).  They know God can save them; whether he will makes no difference in their decision to remain steadfast.  The unseen God – the true and only irresistible power in the universe – will preserve them one way or another.  Of this they are supremely confident.

Who, then, is this fourth “man” walking in the midst of the fire and having such power over the flames that not even the smell of smoke is left on the garments of his three young wards?  Christian tradition has sometimes identified him with Christ – a hint at the incarnate presence of God, which would come generations later into a world smoldering in sin.  Nebuchadnezzar identifies the man as God’s angel – who “has the appearance of a god” – come to deliver his servants from death and to protect them from all harm.  In order to do so, the angel descends directly into harm’s way, appearing as just another victim offered to the flames.  Such is the way of God’s Heavenly rescuers.  They follow the example of their Master, who always says, “I will be with you.”

The men were prepared to let flames consume their bodies rather than be unfaithful to God.  He who has power over fire and heat, frost, and cold, preserved their bodies by the hand of his angel.  The Song of the Three Jews includes further detail to the story, describing the young men walking around in the midst of the flames, praying, singing hymns, and blessing God for his goodness.  From those writings the ancient church derived its practice of singing a canticle every morning that puts these lines into the voice of the divinely protected men.

Bless the Lord, you angels of the Lord;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Bless the Lord, fire and heat;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
(The Song of the Three Jews, 37, 44)

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