by Rev. Dale L. Sattgast
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, 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” (Dan. 3:17–18 NIV).
The story, from Daniel chapter 3, of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the burning fiery furnace is not included in the Scripture readings appointed to be read on any Sunday of the Church Year. As a result, it seldom serves as a text for sermons. Most of us are familiar with the story either from Sunday School lessons or from our personal devotional readings. But it is a story that is most appropriate for each of us.
Although God gives the assurance that He knows every one of our days before even one of them comes to be (Psalm 139:16), none of us knows what experiences await us during the coming year. King David reminds us that the Lord “satisfies (our) desires with good things” (Psalm 103:5). We will experience blessings during this year–far more than any of us will recognize or deserve. If the only blessing we were to receive was the forgiveness of our sins, that would be enough. Happily, there will be many others that God will provide. But the Bible also reminds us that it is through “many tribulations” that we enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). That’s part of life in a world that has been corrupted by sin.
The hymn asks the question, “Have we trials and temptations?” Sometimes, I’ve wanted to stop singing right at that point and exclaim, “Yes!” Perhaps you have thought the same.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego certainly faced their “fiery trials.” When King Nebuchadnezzar ordered that everyone in his kingdom should worship his golden idol, these men refused. They knew the true God of Israel. Worship of anyone or anything else was idolatry. Yet to refuse to worship the Babylonian king’s idol meant being thrown bound into the burning fiery furnace and certain death. The trials we will face in this coming year and throughout our lives may not be quite as dramatic as faced by those three sons of Israel in a foreign land two-and-a-half millennia ago. And yet, our trials tend to burn their ways into our lives. At times, they may even obscure our ability to see God’s presence in our lives and especially in our trials.
God does not promise that there will be no trials in our lives if we are people of faith. The Bible and the history of the Christian Church attest to the fact that God’s people will face an abundance of trials. But throughout His Word, God promises that, even in the very midst of our trials, He will be present to strengthen us, to help us and bring us through.
Perhaps Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew one of those promises from God spoken by the prophet Isaiah over a hundred years earlier: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. . . . When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Is. 43:2b).
Miraculously, when those three men walked through the fire–which was so hot it even killed the Babylonian soldiers–someone walked with them, and they were not burned. King Nebuchadnezzar described the one who walked with them both as “a son of the gods” (v. 25) and as an “angel” (v. 28). Some biblical scholars suggest that the fourth figure was an angel sent by God to protect them. Others believe that the fourth figure was, indeed, the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. Either way, God Himself was with these men, bringing them through.
One of the great New Testament promises we may hold securely during the coming year is this: “No trial has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your ability, but with the trial, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13–14). (Note: Many translations use the word temptation rather than trial. The original Greek word peirosmos may be translated either way.)
That verse reminds me of God’s faithfulness to those three men long ago who faced their fiery trial in the furnace. But it also reminds me of God’s enduring faithfulness to me and to you today and tomorrow as we face our trials, whatever they may be. He will bring us through them–all of them. And He will strengthen us as well.
Perhaps you are familiar with these words of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” (LSB 728:4).
When through fiery trials your pathway will lie,
My grace, all sufficient, will be your supply.
The flames will not hurt you; I only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
May God’s all sufficient grace, secured by Jesus Christ who was tested in every way as we are yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15), strengthen and keep you throughout each day of the coming year and always.
About the author: Rev. Dale L. Sattgast is president of the LCMS South Dakota District.