Azariah to Abednego

Pastor Josh Combs

“And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: …Azariah he called Abednego…” Daniel 1:7

With a “furious rage,” Nebuchadnezzar commanded that the rebellious government officials be brought immediately to the throne room. The scene of Daniel chapter 3 is tense, as three young Hebrew exiles stood before the most powerful man on the planet. King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian dictator, dared these defiant Jews to further test his patience. “If you do not worship,” the king warned, “you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15). The king had set up a grand idol in his honor, and these men had defied his command, challenged his authority, and, by default, confronted his prideful actions.

Standing before the king were three exiled Hebrews: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Upon arriving in Babylon, each of their names had been changed to reflect their new identities and supposed new allegiances. Azariah’s name was changed to Abednego, which means “Servant of Nebo,” the Chaldean god of vegetation. But here in this moment of crisis, no false god of vegetation was going to provide any help or courage. Azariah’s given, Hebrew name meant “The Lord is my Helper” and that is exactly what these men needed. In an extraordinary display of dedication and courage, they respectfully spoke to the king:

“Oh Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out your hand, O King. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16–18).

Upon hearing this, the Scripture says the king “was filled with fury and the expression of his face was changed…” (Daniel 3:19). The word anger and any of its synonyms seem to fall desperately short of describing the emotional state of this scorned royal. Consumed with rage, he commands the furnace to be “heated seven times more” (verse 19) and these three rebels to be immediately thrown into the flames for what promises to be a swift, excruciating, and hopeless execution. Nebuchadnezzar is going to make an example of these men and send a clear message to the Babylonian kingdom: “Serve me or die.”

Because of the irrational order of the king, the heat of the furnace became uncontainable. The men marching Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to their death were overtaken by the flames and perished in the power of the inferno. As the three God-fearing and God-serving men fell into the furnace, the rage of the king seemed to subside.

But what promised to be a certain and swift execution was the exact place where God intervened and “The Lord is my Helper” rang true. Nebuchadnezzar abruptly rose from his throne, counting not three men in the flames, but four. In his blind rage, he sought the confirmation of a nearby counselor, asking, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?… I see four men, unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt…” (3:24-25). The God of Azariah was present.

If we are the servants of Christ, we can be assured of the same hope. We can endure the fiery trials of this world, knowing that the Lord promises in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” But please take note of the response to that promise in verse 6: “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper;  I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

During trials is one our greatest opportunities for fellowship with the Lord. Our Helper is present in our pain. He is near in the nightmares. He is close in catastrophes. Do not shun difficult seasons, because “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3). So, “let steadfastness have its full [life-giving, faith-growing, trust building] effect” (James 1:4).

Today’s Bible Reading: Daniel 3:16-25; Hebrews 13:5-6; James 1:2-4, 12

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