Only a few people close to the royal platform could see and hear what happened next, but everybody tried to. While the great golden statue still towered above them, the crowds surged forward to catch a glimpse of the three young men who had dared to defy the king. Many a little boy, I am sure, climbed on his daddy’s shoulders to get a better view of what was going on.
“Is it true . . . that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?” Nebuchadnezzar asked Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Then he offered them one more chance, for he had liked these young men from the first time he had seen them. The band would play again. If they would fall down before the image, everything would be all right. If not, they would be thrown into the blazing furnace. “Then,” asked the king, “what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
It was an awful moment for the three young men. Nobody likes to be burned alive. They could see smoke rising from the furnace which the king would use to punish people like them, and they knew very well that Nebuchadnezzar would do exactly as he had said if they disobeyed him again.
They could have said to themselves, “Well, just bowing down once won’t matter very much. We wouldn’t really be worshiping the statue. We would just do it to please the king who has been so good to us.” But they did no such thing. They remembered the commandment of God, “You shall not make for yourself an idol. . . . You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” * And they decided that they must obey God rather than man.
“O Nebuchadnezzar,. . . ” they said respectfully, “the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
At this the king became furious and could hardly contain his rage.
“Heat the furnace!” he roared. “Make it seven times hotter than it ever was heated before!”
Servants ran to obey. Some started to throw more fuel on the fire. Others worked the bellows to fan the flames to white heat. Meanwhile the strongest men in the king’s army were called to tie up the three young men with ropes.
Hotter and hotter grew the fire, until the king and the whole royal party could feel the heat of it. Now the problem arose as to how to get the young men into it. It was too hot. Nobody could get near it. Even the mighty men who had bound Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego drew back, wondering what to do next.
“Throw them in!” yelled the king in his wild anger.
The soldiers obeyed. Picking up the three young men, they moved forward, three them into the furnace, then fell to the ground and died from the terrible heat.
Nebuchadnezzar did not care. His foolish jealousy was satisfied. Nobody would dare disobey him again. As for the three young Hebrews and their God, at this point he was glad to be rid of them.
Suddenly a cry was raised. “Look! There’s somebody in the fire!”
“What!” cried the king. “Impossible!”
But there was. Wide-eyed with amazement, Nebuchadnezzar gazed through the open doors of the blazing furnace.
Yes, there was somebody inside it. Two people in fact. No, three, four!
Others were looking now, everybody who could get close enough to peer in.
“Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” cried the king.
“Certainly, O king,” said those about him.
“Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
Forgetting his royal dignity, forgetting the tens of thousand so eyes that were upon him, Nebuchadnezzar left his throne and hurried as near as he dared to the door of the furnace.
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego!” he cried. “Servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
They came. They were not burned in any way. Their clothes didn’t even smell scorched. The fire had burned only the ropes that had bound them.
Everybody gathered close to see the astounding sight. “The satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.”
How much the vast crowd saw of all this we do not know. But we can be sure that the amazing story was told and retold 10,000 times that day. Nebuchadnezzar was quite overcome by the experience. He never said another word about his great golden idol. Instead he declared to all about him, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
“Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”
It was a wonderful deliverance, and God used it to cheer the hearts of His people in the days of their captivity. It must have been a comfort to them to know that He was willing to walk in the fire with those three dear faithful young men!
Perhaps He will do the same for you someday.