Tag Archives: Song of the Three Young Men

Tempted but the truth is discovered

Your hand will lay hold upon all your enemies; *
your right hand will seize all those who hate you.
You will make them like a fiery furnace *
at the time of your appearing, O LORD;
You will swallow them up in your wrath, *
and fire shall consume them. (Psalm 21:8-10)

It’s so tempting, isn’t it? To want victory in the same terms as our “enemies” enjoy it. To believe that victory means power and control over others.

Immediately after we read Psalms 20 and 21, we finally reach the climax of the opening chapters of the Book of Daniel that we’ve been reading all week. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel’s Hebrew companions at the court of the king of Babylon, refuse to worship the great gold statue that Nebuchadnezzar has erected, so they are thrown into a fiery furnace.

The Book of Daniel probably came later in the compilation of the Hebrew Bible — it seems to reflect a post-Exile sensibility — but I’m tempted to believe that the Psalmist is wishing to have victory like the Babylonian king, victory that everyone can see, victory that burns up his enemies.

After our reading from the Book of Daniel, we respond with Canticle 12, appointed for Saturday mornings (BCP 144). Canticle 12 is known by three names: “A Song of Creation,” the Latin first line Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, and the descriptive title Song of the Three Young Men.

Yes, those three young men. What were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego doing in the fiery furnace? They were praising the God of creation.

Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord, *
O heavens and all waters above the heavens.
Sun and moon and stars of the sky, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew, *
all winds and fire and heat.
Winter and Summer, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever. (BCP 88)

The mighty king of Babylon is astonished. His power has no effect on these young men. It even looks like they are walking around in the furnace with a fourth figure. An angel?

He yells at them, “Come out, come here!”

And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. (Daniel 3:27-30)

What is victory?

Is it burning your enemies up in a fiery furnace? Is it winning control? Is it having power and prestige?

Or is it praising God in all circumstances? Is it yielding up your body rather than serve any power but God?

The three young men seem to know the answer. Jesus, meeting the devil in the wilderness after his baptism, seems to answer temptation in the same way.

Truth is, for us whose faith is formed by the Hebrew Bible and given flesh in Jesus and powered by the Spirit, victory means yielding ourselves, not lording over others.

Truth is, victory is “to worship the Lord [our] God, and serve only him” (Luke 4:8).

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Teach your children well

I am at HIMSS, the annual meeting and trade show for healthcare IT, meeting clients and colleagues both in my company’s booth and after the day’s show is ended.

Yesterday I reconnected with a friend and former colleague, who shared with me a recent experience of “house church” when he and his wife told the parable of Jesus and the rich young man (Luke 18:18-30), and their children reenacted the story. The 18-month old played Peter, naturally, tugging on Jesus’ sleeve: “But what about us, Lord?”

The psalmist this morning underscores the importance of teaching the faith to our children:

That which we have heard and known,
and what our fathers have told us,
we will not hide from their children.

We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord,
and the wonderful works he has done.
(Psalm 78:3-4)

At the Lenten Retreat I recently attended, Phyllis Tickle spoke of how the Biblical story is told in tent and synagogue and Temple. For Jews, the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD focused their faith and practice on the synagogue and home.

She suggested that as the institutional church (Christianity’s Temple) is becoming less prominent in people’s lives, it becomes even more important to share the stories of faith in small groups (synagogue) and at home (in the tent).

Even during difficult times — times of persecution or the loss of cherished traditions — the people of God recount the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord so that their children will learn about the faith.

It was entirely appropriate, then, that the Canticle following the Old Testament lesson this morning was drawn from the Song of the Three Young Men, who though they were thrown into Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, sang songs of praise to God (Daniel 3).

Their song, recounted in the Apocryphal book known as the Prayer of Azariah, has formed part of the Church’s daily prayers for centuries now (Canticles 12 and 13 in our BCP).

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers;
you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name;
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
(BCP 90)

Whatever your circumstances may be, share your praise of God with your children so they will learn about the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord.