You've probably heard of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. You probably know that they refused to bow down to a statute that King Nebuchadnezzar made and ordered the people to worship. You might even know that it was the jealousy of other wise men who were not so promoted that got the King's attention in the first place. And of course, you know that when King Nebuchadnezzar threw three men into the fire (killing his servants who got close enough to open the doors for the condemned), he soon saw four men walking around, untied and unscorched.
Yes, this story is quite well-known. It's even oft-quoted. "But if my Lord does not..." But have you ever paid attention to the way that it ends?
King Nebuchadnezzar is sitting there watching this whole thing unfold. He's just watched his servants die attempting to execute his orders (and his enemies). The bodies are probably still lying there because if these men were close enough to the heat to die just by being where they were, there are certainly not a lot of volunteers to retrieve them at this point. And he sees with his own eyes four men in the fire.
Then, King Nebuchadnezzar calls out, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - come out of there!"
He comes, we know, to have a rekindled respect for the God of the Jews, who has saved His faithful men from certain death. He is impressed by the personal care of this Lord who showed up for three no-name guys in a foreign land. He is willing to declare the goodness of this God.
But did Nebuchadnezzar just miss a chance to meet Him?
There are four men in the fire. The King sees that with his own eyes. He knows three of them; in fact, he knows them very well. They are the administrators of the inmost province of his kingdom. And when, awestruck by what he sees, he only calls the three men he already knows out of the fire. He wants the men he threw in to come out. But he doesn't call out the fourth man, and he doesn't even ask his three men to bring their friend out with them.
It's hard to know how many times I've read this story (or heard it or seen it dramatized) without realizing that Nebuchadnezzar doesn't bother to speak to the fourth man, the man he himself says looks like a son of the gods. He doesn't bother to call out this man who somehow ends up walking around in a fiery furnace and protecting everyone else in the fire. He doesn't seem to even think about asking everyone to come out of that furnace; just the men he threw in.
Now, I find myself wondering if it was because he was scared to have the fourth man come out or if he just didn't think about it or if he didn't think it was possible that the fourth man, the son of the gods, would listen to him.
It's an important piece to the story that we can't afford to miss - as both a faithful people of God, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and as a people prone to our own arrogance, like King Nebuchadnezzar. Coming from both of these angles, we can get pretty tied up into this story. This week, we'll look at untying some of it to see what we can learn from the simple little fact that the king only called three men out of this fire, when there were clearly four who would have something to say about it.