Indestructible Covenant

Fiery furnace by Toros Roslin, Mashtots, 1266 (MS No. 2027, Fol. 14 V.)

Third Week of Lent, Tuesday

Daniel 3:25, 34-43

Shadrach (Hananiah), Meshach (Mishael), Abednego (Azariah), and Belteshazzar (Daniel) managed to preserve their Israelite heritage intact in the midst of Babylonian power and prestige. Uprooted from their homes by force to serve the Gentile king, the four young men kept the Mosaic law and remembrance of the covenant alive in their hearts. Babylonian names, dress, and official positions did not erase their core identity as sons of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. 

Refusal to worship the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar landed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the king’s white-hot furnace, a consequence they calmly and fearlessly accepted.

They walked about in the flames, singing to God and blessing the Lord. Azariah stood up in the midst of the fire and prayed aloud:

For your name’s sake, do not deliver us up forever,
or make void your covenant.
Do not take away your mercy from us,
for the sake of Abraham, your beloved,
Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one,
To whom you promised to multiply their offspring
like the stars of heaven,
or the sand on the shore of the sea.

Daniel 3:24-25, 34-36

Azariah’s appeal to God began with his promise to Abraham, the father of many nations and the patriarch of the Hebrews. His prayer flowed from the relationship initiated by God with his people. God’s friendship with Abraham was rock solid and imperishable, a covenant built on the steadfastness of divine love and fidelity.

As the prayer of Azariah intensified, the flames rose higher and higher, “burning the Chaldeans that it caught around the furnace.” But an angel of the Lord “made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it” (Daniel 3:48-50). Then the trio broke into one of the most sublime and heavenly songs in all of Sacred Scripture, blessing God and calling upon the angels, heavens, waters, sun, moon, stars, wind, fire, frost, mountains, seas, birds and beasts to bless the Lord and exalt him forever (Daniel 3:52-90).

As chaos and mayhem raged outside the furnace, unearthly peace emanated from within. An angelic vision pacified the king’s rage and stoked his wonder.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was startled and rose in haste, asking his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” “Certainly, O king,” they answered. “But,” he replied, “I see four men unbound and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”

Daniel 3:91-92

Patristic commentators identified the fourth, godlike figure as Christ, but most interpreters leave the vision enigmatic, like the angelic figure who wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32:25). In any case, God’s presence was manifested in visible form and divine protection was complete: “not a hair of their heads had been singed, nor were their garments altered; there was not even a smell of fire about them” (Daniel 3:94).

In awe and amazement, King Nebuchadnezzar added his own line of praise following the “Hymn of the Three Holy Children”: 

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants that trusted in him.”

Daniel 3:95

God’s covenant with Abraham 
Stamped upon the heart,
No idol of Babylon nor
Fire can take apart.

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