Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are men recorded in the book of Daniel Chapters 1–3, known for their exclusive devotion to God. In particular, they are known for being saved by divine intervention from the Babylonian execution of being burned alive in a fiery furnace. They were three young Jews, of royal or noble birth from the Kingdom of Judah, who, along with Daniel, were inducted into Babylon when Jerusalem was occupied by the Babylonians in 606/605 BC, under the campaign of Nebuchadnezzar II, during the first deportation of the Israelites.
|Chapters of the Book of Daniel|
1: Induction into Babylon
Their Hebraic names were Hananiah (חֲנַנְיָה), Mishael (מִישָׁאֵל) and Azariah (עֲזַרְיָה). It was probably by the King’s decree that Chief Official Ashpenaz assigned Chaldean names, so that Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach and Azariah became Abednego.[Dan.1:3,7]
In view of the possible foreign religious connotations attached to their names, commentators have questioned why the Bible seldom uses their original Hebrew names. It is speculated that they are identified mostly by their Chaldean names to maintain the accuracy of the dialogue given in the text. Since it would have been confusing to have the writer call them one thing and the King call them another, the story primarily uses their Chaldean names instead.
All three Hebrew names are theophoric:
- Hananiah means "Jah who is gracious"
- Misha'el means "Who is like God?”, also means "to feed" or "to provide"—as in how a husband provides for his family
- Azariah appropriately means "Jah has helped"
It has been asserted that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's names all pertained to pagan Babylonian gods.
- Shadrach possibly is derived from Shudur Aku "Command of the moon god"
- Meshach is probably a variation of Mi•sha•aku, meaning "Who is what Aku is?", and may have been an alteration of his Hebrew name Mishael
- Abednego is either a corrupted or deliberate use of Abednebo, "servant of Nebo/Nabu," or Abednergo, a variation of Abednergal, "servant of the god Nergal"
Induction into Babylon
In Daniel (Daniy'el) Chapter 1, King Nebuchadnezzar wanted select men from Judah to learn the language and literature of Babylon. This would be a three-year training course to qualify those selected to serve in the King’s Palace. Those chosen were to partake of Babylonian royal food and wine. [v.3-5] Among these men of Judah were Daniel (Belteshazzar), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. [v.6, 7] Because Daniel did not want to defile himself with the King’s food, he requested from his appointed guard to provide them vegetables and water for ten days. After the ten day trial, the four appeared better nourished and healthier than all the others who partook of the royal food. Thus they were awarded the freedom to regularly have vegetables and water. [v.8-16] Upon the King’s review, he also found them to be “ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm”. [v.20]
Daniel spoke highly of the three to the King whenever opportunity afforded itself, so that they could also have honorable positions in the Province of Babylon.[Dan.2:48,49]
In Daniel Chapter 3, the narrative of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego describes how they were sent into a blazing fiery furnace because of their stand to exclusively serve their God alone. By God’s angel, they were delivered out of harm’s way from this order of execution by the King of Babylon.
During the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II, of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar had a nine-storey high statue, made of gold, stand erect in the Plain of Dura[v.1] (The region around present day Karbala, Iraq). The statue was either an image of himself or possibly of the Babylonian god of wisdom, known as Nabu. When the project was complete, he prepared a dedication ceremony to this image ordering all surrounding inhabitants to bow down and worship it. The consequence for not worshiping the idol, upon hearing the cue of instruments, was execution in a fiery furnace.[v.2-9]
During the dedication ceremony of the golden image, certain officials noticed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego not bowing down to the idol. Thus, Nebuchadnezzar was immediately notified.[v.10-12] The King was enraged and demanded that these three men come before him.[v.13] Nebuchadnezzar knew of these very men, because it was not too long ago when Daniel had petitioned the King to assign Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon.[Daniel 2: 48, 49] Daniel was also very special to the King because he was able to interpret his dreams unlike any of the Chaldean wise men.[Daniel 2: 24, 25] So it is of no surprise that the King would offer one more chance for these three Jews, who held honorable positions to the King, to show their patriotism to Babylon.[v.14, 15]
Their response: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 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."[v.16-18]
Nebuchadnezzar demanded that the execution furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Valiant soldiers of the King’s army were ordered to firmly bind the fully clothed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and cast them in the blazing furnace. Upon approaching the mouth of the furnace, the fire was so hot that the soldiers perished while attempting to throw in the three tightly bound Jews (who then fell in).[v.19-23]
Execution in the form of burning was a typical practice of Babylonian rulers. According to Jeremiah 29:22, Nebuchadnezzar burned to death two men named Zedekiah and Ahab. Burning as a penalty for certain crimes appears twice in the Code of Hammurabi, the system of law set forth by the Babylonian king in the 18th century BC. Another early Babylonian monarch, Rim-Sin, also used burning as a form of execution.
When the King saw what appeared to be four men in the furnace, unbound and walking about, he called to them to come out. King Nebuchadnezzar then acknowledged the power of their God, even going as far as to make a decree, whereby any nation who says anything against the God of the Jews is an act of war. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were then given promotions to their positions over the province of Babylon.[v.24-30]
In Christian tradition, one interpretation of identifying the fourth man in the furnace is that of Christ[v.25], although he is more often shown in the arts as the Archangel Michael. The pagan king reasoned that the being in the fire was divine. There are inscriptions found in excavations of ancient Ugarit (Ras Shamra, on the coast of Syria), that use the expression “a son of the gods”.
Prayer of Azariah
In the "Prayer of Azariah", an apocryphal passage of the Septuagint, Azariah (Abednego) confesses their sins and the sins of Israel, and asks their God to save them in order to demonstrate God’s power to the Babylonians. It is followed by an account of an angel who came to make the inside of the furnace feel like a cool breeze over dew. An extended hymn of praise to their God for deliverance is found in the "Song of the Three Young Men".
Eastern Orthodox observance
The song of the three youths is alluded to in odes seven and eight of the canon, a hymn sung in the matins service and on other occasions in the Eastern Orthodox Church, where their feast day is December 17 (along with Daniel). The Orthodox also commemorate them on the two Sundays before the Nativity of Christ. The reading of the story of the fiery furnace, including the song, is prescribed for the vesperal Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Orthodox on Holy Saturday. Likewise, the three are commemorated as prophets in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on December 17 with Daniel.
References and portrayals in popular culture
- Sir Charles Laughton's recounting of the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was a well-known recording in the 1950s
- Martin Luther King Jr. references them in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
- The 1955 electronic work Gesang der Jünglinge by Karlheinz Stockhausen takes its title and some words from the story
- The Burning Fiery Furnace is one of the three Parables for Church Performances composed by Benjamin Britten, dating from 1966, and is his Opus 77
- The 1930s song "Shadrack" written by Robert MacGimsey
- The story of the fiery furnace is chronicled in the Johnny Cash song named The Fourth Man in the Fire, appearing on the albums The Holy Land and Unearthed
- There are numerous references in reggae music, e.g. The Viceroys' song "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo", the Twinkle Brothers' "Never Get Burn", the Abyssinians "Abendigo", Bob Marley & the Wailers' "Survival", The Congos' song "La La Bam-Bam" and Steel Pulse's song "Blazing Fire" on the album "African Holocaust"
- The author Robert Silverberg wrote a Science Fiction novel named Shadrach in the Furnace
- The VeggieTales episode "Rack, Shack, and Benny" tells a version of the biblical Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with Bob the Tomato, Junior Asparagus and Larry the Cucumber, respectively, playing the title roles of Rack, Shack, and Benny
- The Beastie Boys song "Shadrach"
- In 1999, the cartoonists Howard Mackie and John Byrne created a Spider-Man foe after Shadrac, that is a character cursed by being a "human torch" who never dies or burns up.
- Sir P. G. Wodehouse often referred to Shadrach, Mechach, and Abednego in his novels and short stories - thus using a humorous and somewhat irreverent hyperbole to describe the typically minor difficulties or mental turmoil faced by the characters in his stories.
- The story of the furnace is referenced in the Bastille song, "Daniel in the Den" in the line, "And you thought the lions were bad, well they tried to kill my brothers".
- Shadrack is a character in the novel Sula by Toni Morrison.
- List of Hebrew Bible events
- The Burning Fiery Furnace, a performance
- The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children, an apocryphal text
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fiery furnace.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1897 Easton's Bible Dictionary article Shadrach.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1897 Easton's Bible Dictionary article Meshach.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1897 Easton's Bible Dictionary article Abednego.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Abednego.|
- Barker, Kenneth (Editor); Donald Burdick, John H. Stek, Walter Wessel, & Ronald F. Youngblood (1995). The NIV Study Bible 10th Anniversary Edition. The Book of Daniel: Zondervan Publishing House. pp. 1291–1295.
- JewishEncyclopedia.com, "Shadrach"
- Easton's Bible Dictionary, "Abednego."
- Apologetics Study Bible-HCSB, commentary on p. 1273 (3-1): “Ancient rulers commonly constructed large statues, such as the Great Sphinx in Egypt, and the statue of Bel (Marduk), a solid gold statue that stood 18 feet high in Babylon.”
- Compare Old Testament Map #5. Plain of Dura with Map of Karbala, Iraq
- The Zondervan Corporation (2005). Archaeological Study Bible. The Book of Daniel (under the archaeological commentary): The Zondervan Corporation. p. 1389.
- Apologetics Study Bible-HCSB, B&H Publishing Group, 2007, (ISBN 1586404466, ISBN 978-1-58640-446-8), p. 1274 (3-6)
- Apologetics Study Bible-HCSB, 2007, p. 1275 (3-25)
- Compare: Genesis 18:1-10
- Track 5, side 1 on the album Satta Massagana, released by The Abyssinians in 1976 on Penetrate Label.
- Bible Stories for Kids – The Fiery Furnace, modern Christian telling of the story for children
- Biblical Art on the WWW, illustrations of the story
- Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya – The Fiery Furnace. From Talks and Tales by Nissan Mindel at Chabad.org
- Lessons on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Teaching the Story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
- October 1998 Scientific American Magazine
- Map 9: The World of the Old Testament, See #5. Plain of Dura
- The height of the golden image, (60 Cubits = 90 feet; 90 ft. = 9 stories)