Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are figures from chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel, three Hebrew men thrown into a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, when they refuse to bow down to the king's image; the three are preserved from harm and the king sees four men walking in the flames, "the fourth... like a son of God".
The first six chapters of Daniel are stories dating from the late Persian/early Hellenistic period, and Daniel's absence from the story of the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace suggests that it may originally have been independent. It forms a pair with the story of Daniel in the lions' den, both making the point that the God of the Jews will deliver those who are faithful to him.
SummaryKing Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image in the plain of Dura and commanded that all his officials bow down before it. All who failed to do so would be thrown into a blazing furnace. Certain officials informed the king that the three Jewish youths Hanania, Mishael, and Azariah, who bore the Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and whom the king had appointed to high office in Babylon, were refusing to worship the golden statue. The three were brought before Nebuchadnezzar, where they informed the king that God would be with them. Nebuchadnezzar commanded that they be thrown into the fiery furnace, heated seven times hotter than normal, but when the king looked he saw four figures walking unharmed in the flames, the fourth "like a son of God." Seeing this, Nebuchadnezzar brought the youths out of the flames and promoted them to high office, decreeing that anyone who spoke against God should be torn limb from limb.
Composition and structureMaccabean era. Modern scholarship agrees that Daniel is a legendary figure. It is possible that the name was chosen for the hero of the book because of his reputation as a wise seer in Hebrew tradition. The tales are in the voice of an anonymous narrator, except for chapter 4, which is in the form of a letter from king Nebuchadnezzar. Chapter 3 is unique in that Daniel does not appear in it.
Daniel 3Daniel 3 forms part of a chiasmus within Daniel 2–7, paired with Daniel 6, the story of Daniel in the lions' den:
- A. – A dream of four kingdoms replaced by a fifth
- * B. – Daniel's three friends in the fiery furnace
- ** C. – Daniel interprets a dream for Nebuchadnezzar
- ** C'. – Daniel interprets the handwriting on the wall for Belshazzar
- * B'. – Daniel in the lions' den
- A'. – A vision of four world kingdoms replaced by a fifth
Genre and themesThe legendary nature of the story is revealed by the liberal use of hyperbole – the size of the statue, the use of every kind of music, the destruction of the executioners, and the king's rage followed by his confession of the superiority of the God of Israel. The plot is a type known in folklore as "the disgrace and rehabilitation of a minister," the plot of which involves a man in a state of prosperity who is sentenced to death or prison by the plots of his enemies but vindicated and restored to honour.
When Nebuchadnezzar confronts the defiant Jewish youths who refuse to submit to his will he asks them what god will deliver them from his hands. Their reply is the theological high point of the story: without addressing the king by his title, they tell him that the question is not whether they are willing to bow before the king's image, but whether God is present and willing to save. When the three are thrown into the furnace the king sees four men walking in the flames, the fourth like "a son of god," a divine being.
InterpretationDaniel's absence from the tale of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego suggests that it may originally have been an independent story.
The Hebrew names of the three youths were Hananiah, "Yah is gracious", Mishael, "Who is what El is?" and Azariah, "Yah has helped", but by the king’s decree they were assigned Chaldean names, so that Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach and Azariah became Abednego.
The Chaldean names are related to the Hebrew ones, with the names El and Yah replaced by Babylonian theonyms:
Šaḏraḵ may reflect Šudur Aku "Command of Aku ",
Mêšaḵ is probably a variation of Mi-ša-aku, meaning "Who is as Aku is?", and Abednego is either "Slave of the god Nebo/Nabu" or a variation of Abednergal, "Slave of the god Nergal."
The word "Dura" means simply "plain" or "fortress" and is not any specific place; the Greek historian Herodotus mentions a golden image of the god Bel in Babylon, but the gigantic size of this statue might suggest that its origins lie in folklore. The statue's dimensions are linked intertextually with those of Ezra–Nehemiah's Second Temple, suggesting that the king's image is contrasted with the post-exilic place of worship for faithful Jews like Daniel.
Christian liturgyThe Greek version of Daniel 3 inserts "the song of the three youths," two psalms, connected by a narrative emphasising their miraculous salvation. The song 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.
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.
The Latin canticle Benedicite Dominum is based on the "song of the three youths". It is used at Lauds for Sundays and feast days.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the feast day of the three youths, along with Daniel, is 17 December. The Orthodox also commemorate them on the two Sundays before the Nativity of Christ.
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod also includes Daniel and the three youths in the Calendar of Saints on 17 December.
- 1963: Martin Luther King Jr. references them in his Letter from Birmingham Jail
- 1915-1974: Bertie Wooster, a central character in many novels and short stories by British comic author P. G. Wodehouse, makes occasional reference to the three figures, having learned about them in school in the course of winning a prize for scripture knowledge.
- 1952: by Louis Armstrong
- 1930s–1962: "Shadrack" by Robert MacGimsey
- 1955–1956: Gesang der Jünglinge by Karlheinz Stockhausen
- 1968: "The Fourth Man in the Fire" by The Statler Brothers, and Johnny Cash
- 1974: "Loose Booty" by Sly and the Family Stone
- 1976: "Abendigo" by The Abyssinians
- 1977: "La La Bam-Bam" by The Congos
- 1979: "Survival" by Bob Marley and the Wailers
- 1980: "Never Get Burn" by The Twinkle Brothers
- 1989: "Shadrach" by Beastie Boys
- 1999: "Never Bow Down" by Third Day
- 2004: "Blazing Fire" by Steel Pulse
- 2007: "Burn Us Up" by Shane and Shane
- 2009: "Shadrach, Meshach, And Abednego" by Asylum Street Spankers
- 2012: "Meditation is the Practice of Death" by Om