Daniel’s three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar had made. The Chaldeans reported that to Nebuchadnezzar and in his fury, he ordered them to be cast into the furnace, seven times hotter than usual. In Room 55 in the British Museum today, you can witness a beautiful- glazed brick panel of a lion that would originally have been in Nebuchadnezzar’s II’s throne room in his palace.[i] The men who carried out those orders were killed by the fire, yet Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego amazingly survived and there was a fourth person present walking in the midst of the fire. Who was that Man?
In Daniel 3:19 Nebuchadnezzar asked the same question, “Who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” He was astonished when he saw the mysterious fourth person and drew that to the attention of his high officials. He was initially confounded with the identity of this man because of his pagan pantheistic worldview.[ii] Remember this section of Daniel 2:4-7:28 was written in Aramaic in the original and the term he used was ‘bar elahin’ referring to the gods of Babylon or a celestial being sent by the gods.[iii]
Various interpretations have been offered concerning who accompanied Daniel’s companions in the fire. Rashi equates this angel with the same angel of the Lord in 2 Kings 19:35[iv] who slew the 185,000 Assyrians, which stands to reason, but does not help with establishing the precise identity. Don Isaac Arbabanel put forward the view that it could have been Daniel,[v]though surely if that were the case, it would have become immediately apparent afterwards.
The other view which the author presents here, is that the fourth man was the preincarnate Son of God. If we establish a midrash on this unit, there are many similarities especially with regard to fire theophanies. In Exodus 3, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire from the midst of the bush (Exod. 3:2) and the Lord called from the same bush (Exod. 3:4). In Judges 6, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and fire consumed the meat and unleavened bread and He was amazed that he had seen God and survived (Judges 6:21-23). Even more strikingly in Judges 13, the Angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of Manoah’s offering (Judges 13:19-20) and similarly he expected to die since he had seen God (Judges 13:22).
Psalm 34:7 tells us ‘The Angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him and delivers them.’ This not only fits with the other verses mentioned but demonstrates the attributes of the power, presence, and knowledge of the Lord.
The Lord led the children of Israel in the cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:21). In The vision of the high priest and when Satan sought to accuse Joshua before the Angel of the Lord, the Lord said, “Is this not a brand plucked from the fire (Zech. 3:2).” Interestingly Joshua would be clothed with clean clothes and a clean turban and the bodies of Daniel’s friends and their garments and turbans were not affected and neither did they smell of fire (Daniel 3:27). This also reminds us of Isaiah’s prophecy to Israel, “When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burnt (Isaiah 43:2).” Why? Because “I will be with you.” We are left with the conclusion that the Son of God, Yeshua in His preincarnate form, was with Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace.
A change occurred in Nebuchadnezzar’s life after this incident when he blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and threatened terrible punishments towards those who might dare to speak against their God (Daniel 3:28-29). He recognised their God. Yet he trusted and gloried in himself (Daniel 4:30). It was not until at least seven years later when he had been humbled and ate grass like an ox for seven years, that He finally recognised the God of heaven and honoured and praised Him who lives forever (Daniel 4:1-37). Sometimes a person can hear the gospel presented yet they are not fully changed until they recognise who the Lord is, approach Him in humility and turn to Him and trust Him.
Daniel’s three friends endured severe testing, yet their faith was a tremendous witness to the Lord that they served. They knew that God could deliver them, though even if He did not, they would not serve false gods (Daniel 3:17-18). Many believers endure awful suffering today though secular media rarely reports on that. Sometimes the Lord saves us from our trials and at other times He enables us to endure them. Babylon was not a welcoming environment for the Jewish people and for those who trust in the Lord we should not be surprised if the world is hostile to the gospel.
This study shows that Jesus the Messiah appeared on several occasions in the Tanakh (Old Covenant) and His deliverance and presence were of immense help to those whom He saved and reassured them with His appearance. Yeshua means ‘Saviour’ and in the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy He would be called ‘Immanuel’ God with us. The Lord Jesus came to earth as fully God and fully Man and dwelt meaning ‘tabernacled’ among us (John 1:14). He is the promised Messiah and though He ascended to heaven, he has left His Holy Spirit who will abide with us forever (John 14:16).
Yeshua is the Saviour of Israel and the whole world. Like the burning bush, Israel survived Egyptian slavery and the survival of the Jewish people is a miracle and only possible since God has preserved them. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego entered the fire they were bound and fell into the midst of it but then there were four men who were loose as they walked with the Lord. The Lord Jesus is the way the truth and the life and the truth shall make you free (John 14:6; 8:32). When we face hard challenges and trials, turn to the Lord. For those who trust in Him, He will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
[i] Curator’s Corner A Loan from Berlin: A Lion from Babylon https://blog.britishmuseum.org/a-loan-from-berlin-a-lion-from-babylon/
[ii] KJV Prophecy Study Bible Edited by Grant Jeffrey (Zondervan, Grand Rapids; 1998), p959
[iii] Merrill Unger Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (AMG, Chattanooga; 2002), 1624-5