Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego served as advisers to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. What lessons can we learn from their experiences?
The biblical story of three Jewish lads—whose Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah—and their friend Daniel begins with the four of them being taken captive. They were taken from their homes in Jerusalem in 605 B.C. during a siege by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
All four were intelligent, good-looking young men at the time of their capture, and they were likely of the royal family or nobility of Judah.
“Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:3-4).
Daniel and his three friends chosen for a three-year training program
Unlike most victorious kings, who typically only allowed people of their own ethnicity to rule while enslaving all subjugated peoples, King Nebuchadnezzar determined to train for governmental service those with the best minds among the people within his kingdom, regardless of their race.
On this basis, Daniel and his three friends were selected by Ashpenaz, the chief court official, for a three-year program in which they would be taught the language and literature of the Babylonians.
The meanings of Daniel’s and his three friends’ Hebrew and Chaldean names
One of the first things that happened to these four young men was the changing of their names (verse 7).
As Matthew Henry notes in his commentary, “Their Hebrew names, which they received at their circumcision, had something of God, or Jah, in them: Daniel—God is my Judge; Hananiah—The grace of the Lord; Mishael—He that is the strong God; Azariah—The Lord is a Help.
“To make them forget the God of their fathers, the guide of their youth, they give them names that savour of the Chaldean idolatry. Belteshazzar signifies The keeper of the hidden treasures of Bel; Shadrach—The inspiration of the sun, which the Chaldeans worshipped; Meshach—Of the goddess Shach, under which name Venus was worshipped; Abed-nego—The servant of the shining fire, which they worshipped also” (comments on Daniel 1:1-7).
Diet: a test of their faith
While there were others in this training program (verses 10, 19), Daniel and his three friends soon stood out because of the food and drink they wished to consume. Although Daniel was apparently the first to resist the king’s food and drink (verse 8), Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego are soon shown to have the same mind-set (verse 10).
We aren’t told specifically why Daniel didn’t want to “defile” himself with the king’s provisions (verse 8). It was likely because the king’s food may have included the meat of animals that God said were not to be eaten (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14), or it could have included some animal fat, which God said was not to be eaten either (Leviticus 7:23).
As to why Daniel and his friends would have refused wine, which was permitted by God to be consumed in moderation, it could have been because part of the wine may have been used as a drink offering to a heathen deity (Soncino Commentary).
Although the Babylonian overseer was reluctant to grant Daniel and his three friends’ request to not eat the king’s daily provision for them, he granted them a 10-day trial on the food and drink they proposed. Because they appeared healthy at the end of this test period, they were allowed to eat the diet of vegetables and water that they had requested.
“And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies. Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables” (Daniel 1:15-16).
There is an important lesson to be found in this first documented test of these young men’s faith. It would have been relatively easy for them to have reasoned that since they were now captives in a foreign land, they should just go along with the king’s program instead of trying to retain the standards of conduct they had followed while in Jerusalem. But they didn’t abandon their faith.
Real faith means obeying God even under difficult circumstances. As we will soon see, this relatively small test of faith laid the foundation for more difficult ones that would soon follow.
“Ten times better”
At the end of the three-year program, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego had their oral exams before King Nebuchadnezzar. Based upon these interviews, the king considered them the brightest and most capable among all his wise men, and they entered into the service of the king (verses 18-20).
“And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm” (verse 20).
Their success was not solely due to their own abilities. God also assisted these men. As the scriptural account explains, “As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (verse 17).
Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream
The second chapter of Daniel records a serious development within the Babylonian system of government that threatened the lives of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. The king had a dream that greatly “troubled” him and he was “anxious” to know its meaning (Daniel 2:1, 3). So he called for his magicians, wise men and counselors to interpret his dream (verses 2-3).
Making the situation especially dire, the king would not tell what his dream was to those he summoned to interpret it. He demanded that they both tell him his dream and interpret it or they would be destroyed (verses 4-9).
Of course, the king’s magicians and wise men could not fulfill his request. As a result, the king gave a command to “destroy all the wise men of Babylon”—which included Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego (verse 12).
Faced with this predicament, Daniel asked the king for time to fulfill his demand. Daniel then “made the decision known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, that they might seek mercies from the God of heaven concerning this secret, so that Daniel and his companions might not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon” (verses 17-18).
God reveals secrets
God then revealed the secret to Daniel in a night vision (verse 19). The king’s dream was of a human image that represented four world-ruling empires followed by the Kingdom of God.
As for this last kingdom, Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar: “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
“Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold—the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this” (Daniel 2:44-45).
After revealing the king’s dream and its interpretation, Daniel was promoted within the empire. Having received this advancement, Daniel “petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king” (verse 49).
The king angrily summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego and commanded them to bow down to his idol. If they would not do so, they were to be thrown into the fiery furnace.These initial tests of faith prepared Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego for the trial they would become best known for.
For additional study on dreams, visions and messages from God, see the article “Interpretation of Dreams.”
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego in the fiery furnace
In the third chapter of Daniel we find a third great test for Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. While the two previous incidents included their friend Daniel, he is not included here. Scripture does not say why Daniel is not mentioned. The implication is that Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego faced this trial without the support and counsel of Daniel.
This test occurred over the worship of a golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had built in the plain of Dura. The king’s command was for all of his subjects to bow down in worship of this image. Anyone who would not do so was to be thrown into a fiery furnace (verses 5-6).
Because Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego would not violate the Second Commandment by worshipping this image, Babylonian officials reported these men’s lack of compliance (verses 8-12). The king then angrily summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego and commanded them to bow down to his idol. If they would not do so, they were to be thrown into the fiery furnace.
Taunting them, the king said, “And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” (verse 15).
The three men responded, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (verses 16-18).
Angered by their answer, the king had the furnace made seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of his mighty men of valor to bind and throw these noncompliant subjects into the burning flames (verses 19-20). But several strange things soon transpired.
While the men who threw Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego into the furnace were killed by the heat, the fire only consumed the bindings of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. The three men then miraculously got up and walked around unharmed in the fire.
King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished by what he saw. Not only were the three Jewish men walking free and unhurt within the fire, the king saw a fourth person whose form was “like the Son of God” (probably better translated “a son of the gods” [Nelson’ NKJV Study Bible margin] or a divine being) also walking in the fire (verse 25). This fourth person may have been a manifestation of the being who later became Jesus Christ.
Having witnessed this miraculous protection of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, the king called them out of the fire and made a decree that people were not to speak “anything amiss” against the God who had saved these three men (verses 26, 29).
Daniel’s three friends’ enduring lessons of faith
While Daniel 1:21 tells us that Daniel continued to serve in the Babylonian court until Cyrus, the first ruler of the Medo-Persian empire, came to power, the Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego after they survived being thrown into King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. The biblical record covering these three men’s lives ends in Daniel 3.
However, Hebrews 11, which documents examples of many Old Testament people of faith, includes what appears to be a reference to these three. While their names are not specifically mentioned, verse 34 speaks of people who “quenched the violence of fire.”
Whether this is who the author of the book of Hebrews had in mind or not, the three recorded tests of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego provide the following valuable lessons in faith for us today:
- To have faith to obey God in big trials, we need to prepare in advance by being obedient in lesser trials. Life’s challenges sometimes escalate in intensity and potential consequences. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego’s decision to not defile themselves with the king’s food and drink seems to have been a test of obedience that prepared them to be faithful when the stakes were much higher. It is important for us to be faithful now in preparation for trials that may come in the future.
- Tests of faith often focus on resisting the world’s influence. Even though Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego faced intense pressure to conform to Babylonian customs, they refused to disobey God. Christians today are likewise admonished to not be of the world (John 15:19; 17:15). God’s call to His people throughout the ages is to come out of the world (Acts 2:40; Revelation 18:4).
- Our tests of faith will ultimately determine whether we will receive eternal life. The physical lives of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego were on the line in at least two of the three tests they faced. In the bigger picture, our spiritual lives are on the line. What we do with the knowledge God reveals to us will determine whether we will live forever with Christ and God the Father in the Kingdom of God or cease to exist.
To assist you in developing your faith in God, we recommend the article “What Is Faith?”