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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 29:20-23

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Two Men in the Fiery Furnace
20 Therefore hear the word of the LORD all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon. 21 The LORD of Armies, the God of Israel says about Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie in my name: I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will put them to death before your eyes. 22 All the exiles from Judah who are in Babylon will use this curse because of them:
     May the LORD treat you like Zedekiah and like Ahab,
      whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire.

23 This is because they have done sinful things in Israel. They have committed adultery with their neighbor’s wives, and they have spoken lies in my name, things I did not tell them to do. I am the one who knows. I am the witness, declares the LORD.

In Daniel chapter 3, King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to burn three men alive. Normally when we read that story about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we are instructed about the way God took care of his people while they were in exile. But that story also teaches us something historical. Nebuchadnezzar was astonished when those three men went into the furnace and survived. Why? Because he used it all the time as his preferred method of execution. He burned people alive in that terrible thing all the time. His soldiers didn’t need to ask how to go about throwing anyone in. They knew their grisly business well. So it should be no surprise at all for us to learn that these false prophets, Zedekiah and Ahab, were executed in this terrible way by the king.

We don’t know whether Zedekiah and Ahab died before or after Daniel’s friends were rescued from the furnace. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were made administrators over Babylon when Daniel became a special advisor to Nebuchadnezzar in the second year of his reign, 603-602 B.C. (Daniel 2:1). Some time after that, Nebuchadnezzar made the 90-foot high statue which led to Shadrach and his companions to be cast into and then rescued from the furnace (Daniel 3:1 ff). Zedekiah and Ahab were executed with the same (or a similar) furnace, but when? Jeremiah only says: “after Jeconiah… had gone into exile” (Jeremiah 29:2). Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) was exiled in 597. Even allowing for a year’s difference in calculating the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel follows the official Babylonian dates, but Jeremiah uses the dates of the Kings of Judah), Shadrach and company might have been spared years before or years after the deaths of Zedekiah and Ahab.

There might be different applications of the “two men in the fiery furnace” depending on when they died. If they died earlier, then Shadrach and his companions would have had a very real example of men they had known personally who suffered the terrible agony of that furnace, and yet they stood up for their faith no matter what was in store. On the other hand, if Ahab and Zedekiah were threatened later than the Shadrach incident, then perhaps Ahab and Zedekiah thought that they might be miraculously preserved from death in the same furnace.

But God preserved Abednego, Meshach and Shadrach because they were showing their faith even to the point of death. God spared their lives as a sign, first to Nebuchadnezzar that he, God, is the one truly in control, and secondly as a witness to the exiles that the true faith is the faith of men like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel and Jeremiah.

Ahab and Zedekiah were guilty of other sins besides false prophecy, although that by itself was enough to warrant a death sentence from God. The Lord also says that they were liars, and also adulterers. If they hoped God would spare them despite their unrepentant and rampant sins, they discovered the truth as their souls were transmigrated from their burning, dying flesh to their eternal burning torment in the flames of hell.

God wants us to be faithful. He doesn’t always spell out what the alternative is, because he doesn’t want us to run to him because we’re scared of hell. Instead, he offers to us the blessings of heaven, blessings that are certain because we trust in our Savior Jesus. This is the faith that saves, and this faith is God’s gift to you.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.