Facing the Fiery Furnace


Feeling pressure to compromise your standards? Take courage from the story of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.

Facing the Fiery Furnace

Have you ever noticed how some people seem to always make right choices? Even when enticing alternatives are available, they seem to go on unaffected. We know they have trials and temptations, but they have every appearance of being happy and eager about life. How are they able to meet the challenges of life so well?

Several ideas for achieving this kind of success may be found in the Old Testament book of Daniel.

Friends from an Early Age

Our story begins in the kingdom of Judah about 620 B.C. Jeremiah and other prophets were preaching in the streets of Jerusalem, warning the people that they must repent or face destruction. The threat of a Babylonian military invasion hung over the land.

Into this society four boys were born, reared, and nourished in the secular and religious truths and traditions of the day. Their parents undoubtedly instilled a deep commitment to the Lord in their hearts and minds. Then about 605 B.C. the forces of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came up against Judah and laid siege to Jerusalem. Jehoiachin, king of Judah, soon surrendered and “all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, … and all the craftsmen and smiths … and the mighty of the land, those carried [Nebuchadnezzar] into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon” (2 Kgs. 24:14–15). Among those taken to Babylon were Shadrach (Hananiah), Meshach (Mishael), Abed-nego (Azariah), and Belteshazzar (Daniel) 1 (see Dan. 1:6–7).

A Test of Faith

The king of Babylon soon decided that he wanted several young Jewish boys “of the [Israelite] king’s seed, and of the princes” to serve in his court. He asked his chief officer to select the young men and train them for three years. The king wanted only young men “in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science” (Dan 1:3–4). Among those chosen were these four boys.

As the four of them sat for their first meal in the king’s cafeteria, Daniel called to the chief officer and, speaking for the four of them, asked that they be excused from eating the food and drink provided by the king. It would be a violation of their religious beliefs to eat such food, he said. This made the king’s chief officer very nervous, for the menu had been specifically set by the king. So the four young men, who must have become friends by now, proposed a 10-day test of their kosher diet versus the king’s diet: “Let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants” (Dan 1:13). The chief officer agreed. The Lord rewarded the young men for their faith, courage, and obedience to His dietary laws by blessing them in their school studies, giving them “knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom” (Dan. 1:17; see also D&C 89:18–19).

When their schooling was finished, the king invited the entire graduating class to appear before him. He interviewed and questioned them, and from among them he “found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,” for they were 10 times wiser than all the wise men in his whole kingdom (Dan. 1:19). So Daniel and his friends became advisers to the kings of Babylon and served for more than 60 years.

A Trial of Faith

When more challenges came, Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego, and Daniel prayed for each other. Their first trial came less than a year later, when King Nebuchadnezzar ordered the execution of all his advisers. He was angry because he thought no one could interpret one of his dreams. When the commander of the king’s guard came to kill him, Daniel promised that if he was given a little time he could give the dream’s interpretation, even though at that moment he knew nothing about it.

Daniel returned to his house and counseled with his friends. Together they prayed, asking God to reveal the dream and its meaning to them. That night the Lord showed Daniel by a “night vision” all he needed to know. In the morning the four young men rejoiced together. Daniel then went to the palace and explained the dream to Nebuchadnezzar. “Then the king … fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel” (Dan. 2:46). Daniel became a ruler in Babylon and chief adviser to the king. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were also made rulers in Babylon.

“We Will Not Serve Thy Gods”

Some time later a prideful King Nebuchadnezzar commanded that everyone in his kingdom fall down and worship his 90-foot (27-meter) image. This edict was in direct conflict with the beliefs of all Jews (see Ex. 20:3–5). Some of the king’s men informed him that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego “have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image” (Dan. 3:12). Nebuchadnezzar was furious and ordered that they be brought before him. “Is it true?” he asked. “Do not ye serve my gods? … If ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:14–15).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego answered with some of the most honest and decisive words of faith and courage recorded anywhere in scripture: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” The three friends wanted the king to know that they were ready for his question and had made up their minds on what to say. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace. … But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods” (Dan 3:16–18). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego testified to the king that they served a God whom they knew could deliver them from the fiery furnace. But they also knew that even if God chose to let them burn on this occasion, to them it did not matter. They would not worship a false god! This expression of absolute trust in God reminds us of the 2,000 stripling warriors, who though “they never had fought, yet they did not fear death” (Alma 56:47).

“I See Four Men Loose”

The king was absolutely infuriated and demanded that the furnace be made seven times hotter. Into the blazing fire the three were cast as the king watched with satisfaction. Suddenly the king leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers: “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? … Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt” (Dan. 3:24–25). Shouting into the blazing furnace, Nebuchanezzar said, “Ye servants of the most high God, come forth” (Dan. 3:26). Out walked the three friends without having even a hair of their heads singed. The king blessed the name of Jehovah and promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in power and influence in his kingdom.

Though the Enemy Deride

The pressure to participate in immoral and lewd acts, indecent language or music, scenes of violence and anger, and violations of the Word of Wisdom is particularly challenging today. “Everyone else does it,” “You can repent later,” or “Do it if you want any friends,” are words that bully and provoke us. Humiliation, mockery, fear, and rejection by others are some of the potential effects of these temptations. We must look, as did these righteous Hebrews, beyond the momentary pressures, into eternity, with faith in God and without fear of man. The power and influence of the Holy Ghost can be with and strengthen us, like the fourth person in the fiery furnace. The words of a hymn remind us to cast our insecurities aside:

Fear not, though the enemy deride;
Courage, for the Lord is on our side.
We will heed not what the wicked may say,
But the Lord alone we will obey. 2

Have you ever noticed how some people seem to always make right choices, even when enticing alternatives are available? The examples of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego show us that like-minded, valiant friends; faith in God and an abiding trust in His will, even unto death; and the protective power of the Holy Ghost can help see us through any trial or temptation. They will guide us in our search for happiness and will help us cultivate an optimistic eagerness about life.

More on this topic: Sharon G. Larsen, “Standing with God,”Ensign, May 2000, 88–90; Howard W. Hunter, “Standing as Witnesses of God,”Ensign, May 1990, 60–62; Neal A. Maxwell, “Willing to Submit,”Ensign, May 1985, 70–73; Marion G. Romney, “We Need Men of Courage,”Ensign, May 1975, 72–74.

[illustration] Painting by William Maughan

[photo] Photo by Jed Clark

[illustration] Detail from Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann

Terry W. Call is a member of the Hobble Creek Ward, Meridian Idaho North Stake.

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    Notes

  1.   1.

    Names listed first are the Chaldean names given to these four men after their arrival in Babylon. The names in parentheses are their Jewish names.

  2.   2.

    “Let Us All Press On,” Hymns, no. 243.