The Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the church, offers a rich feast of psalms, canticles and readings from scripture for morning and evening prayer. Prayers of the three young men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, from the Book of Daniel 3, 14f are frequently found in the church’s morning prayers.
The three young men were bound and thrown into a fiery furnace by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar because they won’t worship a golden idol he set up. But the fire doesn’t destroy them, “Unfettered and unhurt” they walk freely in the fire, protected by an angel. They’re unharmed, saved by their faith in God.
The young men in the furnace belonged to a Jewish community in exile, with no priest, prophet or leader, no temple to offer sacrifice, but they willingly shouldered the world they lived in, which had become a fiery furnace.
They have sins and mistakes of their own, but the young men believe in God who promised offspring like the stars in the sky and the sands of the sea. “We follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and seek your face. Do not put us to shame.”
A good prayer for days and a world that become a fiery furnace. With hope in God’s promises, trusting and uncomplaining, we can walk freely in the fire too, “unfettered and unhurt.” Azariah’s (Abednego) prayer for mercy. is found on Tuesday morning Week IV.
The second prayer from the Book of Daniel is long prayer that’s the canticle for Sunday morning in the 1st and 3rd weeks of the Liturgy of the Hours (Daniel 3, 51-90). A shorter form of the canticle is found in Sunday morning prayer for the 2nd and 4th weeks. (Daniel 3,54-57)
It’s a prayer of thanksgiving. When King Nebuchadnezzar saw the three young men walking unharmed in the fiery furnace he ordered the furnace heated seven times stronger than before. “But the angel of the Lord went down into the furnace with Azariah and his companions, drove the fiery flames out of the furnace, and made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it. The fire in no way touched them or caused them pain or harm. Then these three in the furnace sang with one voice, glorifying and blessing God:
“Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord,
You heavens, bless the Lord,
All you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord.
Sun and moon, bless the Lord;
Stars of heaven, bless the Lord;
Every shower and dew, bless the Lord;
All you winds, bless the Lord;
Fire and heat, bless the Lord;
Cold and chill, bless the Lord;
Dew and rain, bless the Lord;
Frost and chill, bless the Lord;
Ice and snow, bless the Lord;
Nights and days, bless the Lord;
Light and darkness, bless the Lord;
Lightnings and clouds, bless the Lord;
Let the earth bless the Lord,
Mountains and hills, bless the Lord;
Everything growing on earth, bless the Lord;
O Israel, bless the Lord;
Priests of the Lord, bless the Lord;
Servants of the Lord, bless the Lord;
Spirits and souls of the just, bless the Lord;
Holy men of humble of heart, bless the Lord;
Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
For he has delivered us from Sheol,
and saved us from the power of death;
He has freed us from the raging flame
and delivered us from the fire.” (Daniel 3, 51-90))
This is a resurrection prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving. We pray the canticle from Daniel on Sunday because it is the Lord’s day, the day of his resurrection. We’re not the only ones promised resurrection. All creation has that promise, and so we call all creation to bless the Lord.
The three young men and their prayer in the fiery furnace was a story early Christians greatly admired. They frequently placed the representation of the three young men in the catacombs as a reminder that God hears us in the fiery furnace, whether it’s the fiery furnace of life or of death. God not only promise us life. God promise all creation resurrection and life.