“The Other Fiery-Furnace Story”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

Many of us can remember studying, even in childhood, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace in Daniel 3.  Indeed, in the Joliet church building, there was a semi-permanent fiery furnace constructed out of moving boxes and brightly hued construction paper.  It was sized so that preschoolers could walk into the furnace (through the crepe-paper flames) and admire the angel at the back.

However, most of us are not as familiar with the other fiery-furnace story in the Bible.  Indeed, preacher that I am, I only noticed it myself a year or two ago.  It appears in Jeremiah 29. 

Contextually, the Jews who have already been carried off to Babylon have a problem with false prophets (surprise!).  Two of them in particular, Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, have been leading the people astray with lying “words of the Lord” while practicing adultery on the side.  God is not best pleased with them and pronounces judgment upon them.

However, Jeremiah 29:22 contains some interesting information about the form their doom will take.  It reads, “Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon, ‘The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire.’”

This is worth considering for a couple of reasons.  First, it corroborates the historicity of the book of Daniel, despite the scoffing of the liberal-theologian crowd.  Even the most rabid form critic thinks that part of Jeremiah 29 dates from the time of the exile, and it confirms that, yes, Nebuchadnezzar was in the habit of incinerating people he disapproved of.

Second, though the text doesn’t explicitly say so, one imagines that to a point, the experience of Zedekiah and Ahab was similar to the experience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Zedekiah and Ahab might not have mouthed off and made the furnace extra-hot, but down the hole they went regardless.  At the bottom, they found not salvation, but no angel, no protection, and no hope.

All of us have fiery furnaces in our future someplace.  Maybe it won’t be because we refuse to bow to an image set up by a Babylonian monarch, but there is some trial waiting for us that will try us to the depths of our being.  In the heat of that trial, one of two things will be true.  Either we will go through it as faithful servants of God, or we won’t, and that distinction will make all the difference.

Sometimes, the difference won’t be obvious to worldly eyes.  In 2 Timothy 4, Paul anticipates being executed for the cause of Christ, and he was almost certainly right.  However, 2 Timothy 4:18 points out that Paul, though dead, would be rescued.

Zedekiah and Ahab were just dead.

The furnace will reveal the truth about who we are and what we have done.  If we have been righteous like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the furnace will expose that.  If we haven’t been, well, the furnace will reveal that too.