Category Archives: poetry

Lent, Day 32

“Lent, Day 32”
A reflection on John 8:56-58
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
©️2022 by Gloria M. Chang

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” So the Jews said to him, “Now we are sure that you are possessed. Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? Or the prophets, who died? Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ You do not know him, but I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word. Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad. So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.

John 8:51-59

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Fire-Tried Gold

Fiery furnace by Toros Roslin, Mashtots, 1266 (MS No. 2027, Fol. 14 V.)

Fifth Week of Lent, Wednesday

Daniel 3

Iconic images and words in the Bible interconnect to form a constellation that radiates to the “edges” of infinity. The episode of the three Jews thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image summons iconic connections from Genesis to Revelation.

The Hebrew word for “image” (tselem) recalls the Garden of Eden where humankind is made in God’s image. King Nebuchadnezzar turns Eden upside-down by playing God and ordering his subjects to worship a golden image (tselem) he has set up. In the process, his visage (tselem of his face) is distorted and bent out of shape. On the flip side, the faithfulness of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refines and purifies the true image of God as fire-tried gold.

Daniel also presents Nebuchadnezzar’s idolatry as an attempt to reverse the curse of Babel. The story of the golden statue takes place in the “land of Shinar,” the ancient name for Babylonia where the infamous tower was built (Genesis 11:2; Daniel 1:2).  

From the food test in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in the first chapter of Daniel, to the refusal of the three Jews to test God or worship an idol, a type of the three temptations of Christ in the desert can be discerned (see footnote 4). Divine assistance is given in both trials.

The following poem is written in twelve stanzas in honor of the twelve tribes of Israel. The dodecasyllabic tercets honor Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. In the fourth stanza, their Babylonian names are used, but in the twelfth, their Hebrew ones (see footnote 12 for an explanation). The quatrain in the eleventh stanza celebrates the mysterious fourth figure in the furnace who “looks like a son of God” (Daniel 3:92 in the New American Bible Revised Edition).


King Nebuchadnezzar set up in Babylon
A golden statue calling every echelon
To worship with flute, lyre, bagpipe, and trigon.

Officials of every tribe, language, and nation
Fell down before the tselem in adoration,1
Vainly striving for Babel’s unification.

Humans in God’s tselem sculpted on the sixth day2
To a sixty by six cubit god gave away
Their glory to a tselem made by hands of clay.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego dissented.
The tselem of the king serpentinely twisted.3
Straight stood the three, and to their sentence consented.

Live or die, we will not test Adonai our king,4
Whether or not he saves us from the fire blazing.
Your gods we will not serve, nor the gold engraving.

Seven times hotter heat the furnace, charged the king.5
Seven times seven cubits high rose the flaming—
An oblation of fire-tried gold, God embracing.6

Azariah prayed while walking in the blaze.
Blessed be your name, O Lord God; we give you praise.
Jerusalem you judge when she hides from your gaze.7

For your name’s sake, O Lord, void not your covenant.
Remember Abraham, your beloved servant,
From whom seed like countless stars will be descendent.8

A cool, spring breeze whistled like dew through the furnace;
An angel of the Lord brought succor and solace.9
A glorious hymn of praise rang out from three voices.

God of our fathers, we bless you with one accord.
Angels in the heavens, all creatures, bless the Lord.
From the abyss of death, his sons he has restored.10

Nebuchadnezzar rose, hearing their melody. 
Turning to his nobles, he cried, Four men I see!
A shining son of God is walking with the three.
Powerless was the fire to singe hair or body.11

Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah
Refused to bow to all but Adonai (shachah).
Your God lives, blessed the king of Babylonia.12

-GMC


Footnotes

1 The Hebrew word tselem is translated as “image” or “statue” in Daniel 3:1 and throughout the passage referring to the golden idol. Click phonetics for the pronunciation of tselem

2 The word tselem is also used of the image of God in Genesis 1:26: “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image (tselem), after our likeness.” Cf. Romans 1:23. In the Bible, the number six symbolizes human weakness, imperfection, and sin. The statue’s dimensions reflect the Babylonian sexagesimal (base 60) number system.

3 Daniel 3:19: “Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression (tselem) on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” Idolatry distorts the image of God.

4 Hebrew readers do not pronounce the divine name, YHWH, out of reverence. Instead, they say “Adonai” (Lord) in place of the Tetragrammaton.

The response of the three Jews was perfected by Christ in his forty days’ temptation in the wilderness.

Nebuchadnezzar challenged:

Now, if you are ready to fall down and worship the statue I made, whenever you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, double-flute, and all the other musical instruments, then all will be well; if not, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace; and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?”

Daniel 3:15

The tempter in the desert similarly challenged Jesus from the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: 

‘He will command his angels concerning you’
and ‘with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”

Matthew 4:6 (cf. Luke 4:9-12)

Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah responded:

“If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, you should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”

Daniel 3:16-18

Jesus responded:

“Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” 

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”

At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:

‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve.’”

Matthew 4:7-10 (cf. Luke 4:5-8)

In the first chapter of Daniel, the four men of Judah underwent a food test that threatened to annihilate their identity as sons of the Hebrew covenant. Christ’s first temptation in the desert also centered on food.

Jesus’ response from Deuteronomy 8:3 placed him in continuity with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and the Mosaic tradition:

“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

Matthew 4:4

These three temptations (food, testing God, and idolatry) can ultimately be traced back to the trial before the tree of knowledge in Genesis. 

5 Daniel 3:19; 47. Seven is the number of perfection and completion in the Hebrew Scriptures. The detail of the flames rising “forty-nine cubits above the furnace” comes from the apocryphal additions to the Book of Daniel, inspired additions to the Aramaic text found in Greek translations. Click here for a sample of English Bibles that contain the verse. In the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition), it is verse 24 of the Prayer of Azariah inserted within Daniel 3. 

6 “Fire-tried gold” is an image of proven faith in both the Old and New Testaments (Malachi 3:3; 1 Peter 1:7). In this poem, the true gold of the image of God is contrasted with the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar.

7 Daniel 3:24-31 (NABRE). In the protological account of Genesis, Adam and Eve “hid” from the face (panim) of the Lord God after the transgression (Genesis 3:8). Cain “went out from the face (panim) of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16).

8 Daniel 3:34-36. 

9 Angels also ministered to Jesus in the desert (Mark 1:13; Matthew 4:11).

10 Daniel 3:52-90.

11 Daniel 3:90-94. The ascension of the three Jews from the inferno is a type of the resurrection.

12 Daniel 3:95-97. The Hebrew names of the three Jews in the last stanza celebrate their fidelity to the God whose name they bear. Their Babylonian names, imposed on them by the regime, pay homage to foreign gods.

Daniel means “God is my judge.” 
Hananiah means “God has been gracious.”
Mishael means “Who is what God is” or “Who is like God?”
Azariah means “God has helped.”

Belteshazzar means “Bel protects” or “favored by Bel,” referring to Baal, the supreme god of the Babylonians.
Shadrach means “the command of Aku,” the Sumerian moon-god.
Meshach, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, probably refers to the name of a Chaldean god.
Abednego means “servant of Nebo,” the Babylonian god of literature and science. Nebuchadnezzar’s name is derived from the same god and means, “Nebo, protect the crown!”

Shachah, the Hebrew word for “bow down,” is used here in the context of worship (e.g. Psalm 29:2). Click phonetics for the pronunciation of shachah. The word is also found in the context of paying homage to a non-divine subject, such as an angel or a powerful person (e.g. Genesis 18:2; Esther 3:2). The Latin word latria (an act of adoration or worship due to God alone) approximates the meaning of shachach used in this stanza. 

Lamps in the Light

Fourth Week of Lent, Thursday

Exodus 32:7-14; John 5:31-47 

He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me… For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me.

John 5:35-36, 46

The children of Moshe Rabbeinu (“Moses our Teacher”) had difficulty accepting the Messianic claim of Jesus of Nazareth. Wonders and signs failed to convince; teachings in the synagogue alienated. Mysterious references to his invisible, inaudible Father “who testified on my behalf” eluded not only his adversaries but even his friends (John 5:37; 14:9).

The tablets of the Ten Commandments were akin to the tree of life for Israel, guarded in the ark of the covenant by two cherubim as at the gates of Eden (Exodus 25:18-22). The word of God, living and active, fed the Israelites in the desert of exile as a refreshing, spiritual drink. Yet Jesus called into question the confidence of those who prided themselves as faithful keepers of the law shaped by the divine word.

…and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.

John 5:38

Jesus’ lamentation was devastating, for to be void of the word of God meant death and destruction.

You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40

The first statement may also be read as an imperative: “Search the scriptures, because you think that you have eternal life through them.”1 Moving from the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures) to the man, Jesus, required a gigantic leap of faith. 

The awe-inspiring, wholly transcendent God of Mount Sinai spoke to Moses “face to face” from between the two cherubim over the ark in the tent of meeting (Numbers 7:89). The ark represented the ultimate manifestation of God’s physical presence on earth (shekinah). For a man to claim to be God in the flesh was the height of blasphemy.

Jesus, a Jew among Jews, understood the trauma and dissonance surrounding his person and work. Thus he appealed to the testimony of John the Baptist, his Forerunner, and especially to Moses, Israel’s foundational teacher and lawgiver. The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus at the Transfiguration ratified his status as the true Messiah and Son of God.

The following poem is a reflection on Jesus’ appeal to his witnesses in John 5:31-47.

The lamp of the law given to Moses2 
Illumined prophets, priests and kings.
Pharaoh’s rival esteemed Christ’s reproaches
More than Egyptian glitterings.3

Elijah’s word burned like a blazing torch, 
Calling fire down from the heavens.4 
John prepared the way for the fan to scorch,5 
The Lamb’s lamp waking to penance.6

Dim was the lamp in the Light of the Word
Born in the beginning with God.7 
Hearts filled with the word recognize the Word,
Acknowledging the love of God.8

He who has seen me has seen the Father9 
Though his form is invisible.10 
Alone I am not, but from my Father—
His charaktér made visible.11

Moses, Elijah and I are aflame—
Lamps in the triple Light of God.12 
The Torah and Prophets proclaim
That I AM WHO I AM, your God.

-GMC


References

1 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to John 5:39

2 Psalm 119:105.

3 Hebrews 11:26.

4 Sirach 48:1, 3.

5 Luke 3:17.

6 John 1:29; 5:35.

7 John 1:6-9; 1:1-2.

8 Inverse of John 5:38, 42.

9 John 14:9.

10 John 5:37; 1:18; 6:46.

11 Charaktér from Hebrews 1:3: image, stamp, or imprint. Click phonetics for the pronunciation of charaktér.

12 Transfiguration of Jesus: Mark 9:1-8; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36. Triple Light refers to the epiphany of the Holy Trinity.

Wine, Woman and Wakening

Wedding Feast at Cana

Fourth Week of Lent, Monday

John 4:43-54 

Then he returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.

John 4:46

The Gospel of John calls special attention to Cana, the location of the first and second “signs” (sémeion) revealing Jesus as the Messiah to Israel. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, the wedding feast at Cana (first sign), and the healing of the royal official’s son (second sign) are all connected in the Gospel.

In the light of the protological account of Genesis, the three episodes can be seen as the renewal of the primordial waters of creation, the transformation and divinization of all flesh in Christ (water into wine), and the restoration of a son to a father (Abel to Adam). 

Cana and Cain are etymologically related, and it is in this town that Jesus revealed his glory at the instigation of “Woman.” Jesus and Mary, the new Adam and new Eve, are the archetypes of Man and Woman (Ish and Ishshah in Hebrew) at the dawn of creation. 

Jesus addresses Mary as “Woman” twice in John’s Gospel—at the wedding feast at Cana and at the foot of the Cross (John 2:4; John 19:26). The appellation recalls Adam’s acclamation when presented with Eve: 

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of man this one has been taken.”

Genesis 2:23

In the recreation of the world, Ish is taken out of Ishshah in the Virgin birth of Christ. Jesus and Mary redeemed the world as “one flesh,” the former as God, and the latter as the Mother of God, chosen by grace. 

The following poem expresses these ideas. 

The First Sign of Jesus in the Light of Genesis

John 2:1-11

Water churning and bubbling 
In the beginning of time… 
Hovering was the Spirit 
Over dark and oozing slime.1

Speaking, breathing and molding
In six days of creation…
Ish and Ishshah God made flesh—
A wedding celebration!2

Churning and bubbling water
Of the Jordan near Cana…
Ish from heaven purified
For the wedding fiesta.3

On the third day his mother
Came to the marriage banquet.
Mercy moved her heart to solve
A problem unexpected. 

“They have no wine,” Mary said.
“What is that to us, Ishshah?”4
“Do whatever he tells you.”5
The servants obeyed Ima.6

Bubbling and churning water
In six ceremonial jars…
Hovering was the Spirit,
Making yayin for the bars.7

“You saved the best wine for last!”
Cheered the master of the feast.
Thus the Bridegroom was revealed:
King of glory, the High Priest.

The Second Sign of Jesus in the Light of Genesis

John 4:43-54

The first father mourned his son,
The first victim of the curse;
Christ’s second sign at Cana
Cain’s calamity reversed.

Like Adam, the little king8
Ached to have his son restored.
Seeking Jesus with faint faith,
A home visit he implored.

“Your son lives,” said Christ, “Go home!”
“Yes, he lives!” servants confirmed.
At the seventh hour he revived,9
In the instant Christ affirmed.

God changed water into wine,
And gave life back to a son,
Infused flesh with breath divine—
Signs of earth’s recreation.

-GMC

1 Genesis 1:1-2; 2:1-7.

2 Ish and Ishshah are man and woman in Hebrew, from Genesis 2:23. The two are “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Click phonetics for the pronunciation of ish and ishshah

3 Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan: Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34. In Middle Eastern culture, the bride and bridegroom prepare for the wedding with a special bath.

4 John 2:4 in Greek: “What [is that] to me and to you, Woman?”

5 John 2:5.

6 Ima is mom in Aramaic/Hebrew. Click here for the pronunciation of Ima.

7 Yayin is wine in Hebrew. Click phonetics for the pronunciation of yayin

8 The “royal official” (basilikos) in John 4:46, literally translated from the Greek, is “little king.” In the story of Genesis, Adam (a type of Christ) is also a little king. 

9 The Gospel writer specifies the “seventh” hour as the time when the fever left the boy (John 4:52). According to HELPS Word-studies, hébdomos (seventh) is a figure of God’s perfect, finished work. The New American Bible (Revised Edition) loses the religious significance by translating it, “one in the afternoon.”

The Strong Man

A medieval illustration of Jesus healing the Gerasene demoniac

Third Week of Lent, Thursday

Luke 11:14-23

He was driving out a demon [that was] mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute person spoke and the crowds were amazed. Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons. If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Luke 11:14-23

Division destroys.
Even demons unify
To execute ploys.

Evil Inc. was going bust;
Jesus broke their vicious trust.
Demons skidooed left and right;
Mute men spoke, the blind gained sight.

Beelzebul’s work, slurred some,
Pointing fingers with venom.
Blind and deaf guides, look and hear!
The finger of God is here.

Sentries drop their palace shield;
Musclemen to Christ must yield.
Satan’s gang can’t beat the Son
Foiling hell’s operation.

-GMC

Christ, the Living Stone

Ten Commandments, licensed by Oren neu dag under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Third Week of Lent, Wednesday

Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Matthew 5:17-19

Now therefore, Israel, hear the statutes and ordinances I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. In your observance of the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am commanding you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.

Deuteronomy 4:1-2

The two stone tablets of the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai contained everything humankind needed to live a holy and blessed life. Rabbis, scholars, and faithful Jews down the centuries meditated on the law “day and night… like a tree planted near streams of water” (Psalm 1:2-3). 

The Ten Commandments are profoundly relational in essence. The rabbinic tradition teaches that the “first tablet” concerns our relationship with our creators, both divine and human (worship of God and honor of parents, who are co-creators), and the “second tablet” concerns our relationship with our neighbors. Ethics and social justice (horizontal relationships) flow from metaphysics (the vertical relationship of Creator and creation, mirrored in the parent-child relationship). The foundation for fraternal justice, human rights, and dignity is the imago dei: human persons are made in the image of God.1

The Decalogue contains the first ten commandments of the 613 commandments given by God to the Jewish people. According to Hebrew scholars, all 613 are reducible to the Ten Commandments, and the Decalogue itself is reducible to a single precept.

A Gentile asked Rabbi Hillel (c. 110 B.C. to A.D. 10) to teach him the entire Torah while he, the inquirer, stood on one foot. The rabbi answered, “What you yourself hate, don’t do to your neighbor. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary.”

Rabbi Akiva (c. A.D. 50-135) summarized the Torah with Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus proved himself to be a first-rate rabbi in a conversation with a kindred scribe:

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Mark 12:28-33

Love of God and neighbor are two sides of a single coin (the dime of the Decalogue). The imperishable law (Psalm 119:89) is “sweeter than honey” and a life-giving balm (Psalm 119:103). To become a walking, living Torah was the aspiration of a true son or daughter of Abraham.

Jesus, who grew up hearing and chanting the Torah of his beloved people, had the utmost reverence for the law and the prophets. 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.

Matthew 5:17-18

In the Sermon on the Mount, the new Moses delivered the heart and kernel of the Mosaic law, summed up in the Golden Rule:

Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12

In the Mosaic tradition, law keepers are children of God. Conformity to the law is love of God and neighbor. Jesus raised the bar higher than any teacher before him. No rabbi had ever said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Rabbi Jesus said, Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” or in Luke’s version, “Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful” (Matthew 5:48; Luke 6:36).

The nation of Israel produced some of the wisest sages the world has ever known. Kings and queens of foreign nations flocked to Solomon’s temple and palace to hear the wisdom of Israel as Moses predicted:

Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people.”

Deuteronomy 4:6

Yet Jesus baffled his audience with a new vision of “righteousness” beyond that of their most illustrious members:

I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20

Jesus baffled and eluded the world right up to the Cross and even to the present day. Without the Holy Spirit, who can understand him or even say, “Jesus is Lord”? (1 Corinthians 12:3)

The Golden Rule engraved on tablets of stone
Revived in the valley as a breathing bone.2

-GMC


References

1 The Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions have different enumerations of the commandments given in Exodus 20:1-17. See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnotes. The rabbinic tradition, of which Jesus was a part, gives the following order:

  1. I am the Lord your God
  2. No idolatry
  3. Do not take God’s name in vain
  4. Honor the Sabbath
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. Do not murder
  7. No adultery
  8. Do not steal
  9. Do not bear false witness
  10. Do not covet

2 Ezekiel 37:1-14.

Indestructible Covenant

Fiery furnace by Toros Roslin, Mashtots, 1266 (MS No. 2027, Fol. 14 V.)

Third Week of Lent, Tuesday

Daniel 3:25, 34-43

Shadrach (Hananiah), Meshach (Mishael), Abednego (Azariah), and Belteshazzar (Daniel) managed to preserve their Israelite heritage intact in the midst of Babylonian power and prestige. Uprooted from their homes by force to serve the Gentile king, the four young men kept the Mosaic law and remembrance of the covenant alive in their hearts. Babylonian names, dress, and official positions did not erase their core identity as sons of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. 

Refusal to worship the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar landed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the king’s white-hot furnace, a consequence they calmly and fearlessly accepted.

They walked about in the flames, singing to God and blessing the Lord. Azariah stood up in the midst of the fire and prayed aloud:

For your name’s sake, do not deliver us up forever,
or make void your covenant.
Do not take away your mercy from us,
for the sake of Abraham, your beloved,
Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one,
To whom you promised to multiply their offspring
like the stars of heaven,
or the sand on the shore of the sea.

Daniel 3:24-25, 34-36

Azariah’s appeal to God began with his promise to Abraham, the father of many nations and the patriarch of the Hebrews. His prayer flowed from the relationship initiated by God with his people. God’s friendship with Abraham was rock solid and imperishable, a covenant built on the steadfastness of divine love and fidelity.

As the prayer of Azariah intensified, the flames rose higher and higher, “burning the Chaldeans that it caught around the furnace.” But an angel of the Lord “made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it” (Daniel 3:48-50). Then the trio broke into one of the most sublime and heavenly songs in all of Sacred Scripture, blessing God and calling upon the angels, heavens, waters, sun, moon, stars, wind, fire, frost, mountains, seas, birds and beasts to bless the Lord and exalt him forever (Daniel 3:52-90).

As chaos and mayhem raged outside the furnace, unearthly peace emanated from within. An angelic vision pacified the king’s rage and stoked his wonder.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was startled and rose in haste, asking his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” “Certainly, O king,” they answered. “But,” he replied, “I see four men unbound and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”

Daniel 3:91-92

Patristic commentators identified the fourth, godlike figure as Christ, but most interpreters leave the vision enigmatic, like the angelic figure who wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32:25). In any case, God’s presence was manifested in visible form and divine protection was complete: “not a hair of their heads had been singed, nor were their garments altered; there was not even a smell of fire about them” (Daniel 3:94).

In awe and amazement, King Nebuchadnezzar added his own line of praise following the “Hymn of the Three Holy Children”: 

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants that trusted in him.”

Daniel 3:95

God’s covenant with Abraham 
Stamped upon the heart,
No idol of Babylon nor
Fire can take apart.

-GMC

Naaman’s Journey of Faith

Plaque of the Healing of Naaman the Syrian, Meuse River Valley, c. 1150 (British Museum)

Third Week of Lent, Monday

2 Kings 5:1-15; Luke 4:24-30

Man of valor Naaman commanded infantries,
But was overpowered by a vile skin disease.
A little girl’s faith—the size of a mustard seed—
Sent the chief to Israel with surefooted speed.

The carnal king of Israel tore his robe with wrath.
The Arameans, he cried, were on the warpath.
Elisha, man of God, accepted Naaman’s plea:
“Let him come to me, prophet of the Almighty.”

Worldly-wise Naaman rejected his prescription,
Dismissing the river Jordan with revulsion.
The faith of servants—the size of a mustard seed—
Lowered him in the Jordan and from his plague freed.  

Leprous flesh became the flesh of a little child;
A doubting heart believed and a scoffing mouth smiled.
A mustard seed of faith can move mountains and trees1
From Israel to Syria—no boundaries.

-GMC

Reference

1 Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6.