Another Fire Story

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King 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 deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.  So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace.  The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

  • Daniel 3:16-27

“The fire in the furnace reveals Christ in the midst of His people, sharing their fellowship.  The flame of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace did not overcome the fragrance of God’s presence.  Imagine the joy of those men in the flames.  There is no joy comparable to that joy of being in a place where God joins you in sweet fellowship.  Never in the marketplace.  Never on the mountain top.  Remember Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration.  He wanted to set up a couple of tents, forget the rest of the world and enjoy fellowship with God.  But the value of the mountaintop experience is revealed in the valley below in which we must tread.

“The revelation of God is the fruit of the flame.”

  • A. W. Tozer, The Crucified Life

Note:  A few of the dates in this post come from Wikipedia, but the majority of the dates come from a history of steelmaking, written by a former employer, Bricmont, Inc.  The company has been purchased and no longer exists by that name, but the history of steelmaking was rejected by the new owners as being too boring and too off topic.  So, I will give credit to the originators, or at least my source.

On Monday, I wrote about the Fire Within.  I was being drawn to this story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but as I wrote the post, the Scripture above did not fit.  I wondered why the Holy Spirit was drawing me to this Scripture.  Then I read The Crucified Life by A. W. Tozer.  His final Biblical illustration for the crucified life was the story above, actually, the entire chapter.  God must have been preparing me to get my geek on.

Tozer boiled down the concept of the crucified life into three points.  First, we remain obedient to God.  The three young leaders of the exiled Jews were obedient to God when Nebuchadnezzar tried to force everyone to bow down to his golden statue, a statue that was 90 feet (or 27 meters) high and 9 feet (or 2.7 meters) wide.  It was an impressive statue.  It would make you weak in the knees looking at it, but these three young men did not bend a knee to it.  Of course, other leaders tattled on them, and they went before Nebuchadnezzar for their punishment.

Tozer’s second point is to surrender.  As Tozer wrote, “The essence of surrender is getting out of the way so that God can do what He wants to do.”  That does not mean that there was a 100% guarantee that they would survive the furnace.  There have been many martyrs for Christ in the past 2,000 years.  Some may have thought God would rescue them, but they knew God would welcome them into Heaven if not rescued.  They won regardless of the outcome.  The three young men surrendered to the authorities and told Nebuchadnezzar that God could rescue them.  Note the words “is able to.”

Then the final stage of the crucified life is revelation.  There were four men dancing in the furnace, but only three had been tossed into it.

Being the incurable engineer, I read this Scripture and I focused on one verse, Daniel 3:19.  Being a measurement purist, I doubt if the fire was seven times hotter.  They knew nothing of temperature measurement.  That was a discovery attributed to Galileo around 1592AD.  Nebuchadnezzar died around 562BC, over 2100 years earlier.  Even in Galileo’s time he knew nothing of the modern scales of Fahrenheit and Celsius.  Each of which have negative numbers, yet something at a negative 40 degrees, in each of those scales, contains heat.  Thus, degrees Rankin or Kelvin must be used when multiplying.  (I used negative 40 degrees because at that temperature, the Fahrenheit and Celsius temperatures are the same.)

So, what could Nebuchadnezzar mean by seven times hotter?  He might be referring to HOW the flame gets hotter.  When you mix fuel and air, it simply burns.  But what happens when you blow on the piece of wood in the campfire?  It glows.  It gets hotter.

The iron age was ushered in by the Hittites in about 2000BC.  These are the Hittites mentioned 58 times (NIV) in the Old Testament.  Many of those times (at least all eight times in 2 Samuel) referring to Uriah the Hittite, husband of Bathsheba.  As late as 1400BC, they made various grades of iron, learning how to create alloys by mixing carbon, from the charcoal fire, with the iron – making some steel easier to shape and other steel harder.  They were making steel but did not know it at the time.  The Hittites made what is now called “Damascus Steel” around 1200BC.  Legend has it that each Damascus Steel sword obtained its final quench (rapid cooling of the glowing hot steel) by running it through one of the Hittite’s slaves.  Being a Hittite slave back then was not an easy job.

While the first double action bellows was not invented (invented by the Chinese) until 300 years after Nebuchadnezzar was gone, there were forms of mechanically blowing on the flame prior to this.  What the Chinese invented in the early 3rd century BC was a mechanism that used two bellows.  As one was expanded, the other was being compressed.  Thus, the blowing of air onto the fuel was continuous.  No waiting time to expand the bellows anymore.

My thought, and it is just my thought, is that Nebuchadnezzar had a furnace that obtained a hot flame using a simple fire with a single bellows.  But to teach these three Jews a lesson, he hooked up seven bellows to the furnace.  That would mean that at least two bellows were blowing onto the fuel at all times, thinking that expanding the bellows by hand might take longer than compressing – another guess, but with some personal experience applied here.

With a flame fanned to this extent, Nebuchadnezzar probably could have melted steel.  The Indians are credited with using melted steel to pour into molds around 400BC, but that does not mean that there had not been molten steel two hundred years before.  They just could not figure out how to work with it in the molten state.  We are looking at furnace temperature at about 2500-2750F (1370-1510C).  If we had a much hotter furnace, the brick walls of the furnace would start melting, considering the probable construction materials of the time.

Since there was a lot more air blown into the furnace than usual, the stack (chimney) would not be designed to handle the load of gases going out.  This creates a positive furnace pressure, meaning that the excess gases will go out the door where the three young Jews were thrown in.  Thus, sting-out occurred.

I have suffered from sting-out from furnaces near this temperature.  Everything around you is hot, but to have those extra-hot gases leaking from the furnace, the first sign that you are in trouble is when your nose hairs, and for me the mustache, starts to burn.  Believe me, the smell of singed hair stays with you for weeks afterwards if you are lucky to still be breathing.

But this is not a joking matter.  I was on top of a furnace one time and the bricks of the roof were in bad repair.  We were walking on a steel structure above the bricks.  My boss turned to me and warned me to stay on the steel.  If my foot slipped, it would go through the loose bricks into the furnace.  My foot would be gone in a few seconds, but I was not to worry.  The wound would be instantly cauterized.

This may be a bit of exaggeration to get my attention, but it provides evidence that the guards would indeed be consumed, although they never entered the furnace.  They were consumed by gases being blown out from the furnace.  They were consumed by sting-out.

All that this science and history discussion does is add plausibility to the Biblical story, but it says nothing of the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  It says nothing of their dance with a fourth person in the furnace.  To paraphrase what Tozer writes above, you would dance too if you were still alive – no garment, or beard hairs, singed, not even lung damage from breathing the hot gases (what should have killed them before they were totally burned) – and you were in the presence of almighty God.  I have two left feet.  I am a horrible dancer, but I would sure be ‘cutting the rug’ if I were there with them.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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