Three Holy Youths

"Mishael" redirects here. Mishael is also the name of a minor Biblical figure.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are men recorded in the book of Daniel Chapters 1–3, known for their exclusive devotion to God. In particular, they are known for being saved by divine intervention from the Babylonian execution of being burned alive in a fiery furnace. They were three young Jews, of royal or noble birth from the Kingdom of Judah, who, along with Daniel, were inducted into Babylon when Jerusalem was occupied by the Babylonians in 606/605 BC, under the campaign of Nebuchadnezzar II, during the first deportation of the Israelites.[1]


Their Hebraic names were Hananiah (חֲנַנְיָה), Mishael (מִישָׁאֵל) and Azariah (עֲזַרְיָה). It was probably by the King’s decree that Chief Official Ashpenaz assigned Chaldean names, so that Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach and Azariah became Abednego. [Dan.1:3,7]]

In view of the possible foreign religious connotations attached to their names, commentators have questioned why the Bible seldom uses their original Hebrew names. It is speculated that they are identified mostly by their Chaldean names to maintain the accuracy of the dialogue given in the text. Since it would have been confusing to have the writer call them one thing and the King call them another, the story primarily uses their Chaldean names instead.

Hebrew etymologies

All three Hebrew names are theophoric:

  • Hananiah means "Jah who is gracious"
  • Misha'el means "Who is like God?”, also means "to feed" or "to provide"—as in how a husband provides for his family
  • Azariah appropriately means "Jah has helped"

Chaldean etymologies

It has been asserted that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's names all pertained to pagan Babylonian gods.

  • Shadrach possibly is derived from Shudur Aku "Command of the moon god"[2]
  • Meshach is probably a variation of Mi•sha•aku, meaning "Who is what Aku is?", and may have been an alteration of his Hebrew name Mishael
  • Abednego is either a corrupted or deliberate use of Abednebo, "servant of Nebo/Nabu," or Abednergo, a variation of Abednergal, "servant of the god Nergal"[3]

Induction into Babylon

In Daniel (Daniy'el) Chapter 1, King Nebuchadnezzar wanted select men from Judah to learn the language and literature of Babylon. This would be a three-year training course to qualify those selected to serve in the King’s Palace. Those chosen were to partake of Babylonian royal food and wine. [v.3-5]] Among these men of Judah were Daniel (Belteshazzar), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. [v.6, 7]] Because Daniel did not want to defile himself with the King’s food, he requested from his appointed guard to provide them vegetables and water for ten days. After the ten day trial, the four appeared better nourished and healthier than all the others who partook of the royal food. Thus they were awarded the freedom to regularly have vegetables and water. [v.8-16]] Upon the King’s review, he also found them to be “ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm”. [v.20]]

Daniel spoke highly of the three to the King whenever opportunity afforded itself, so that they could also have honorable positions in the Province of Babylon. [Dan.2:48,49]]

Daniel 3

In Daniel Chapter 3, the narrative of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego describes how they were sent into a blazing fiery furnace because of their stand to exclusively serve their God alone. By God’s angel, they were delivered out of harm’s way from this order of execution by the King of Babylon.

Golden image

During the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II, of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar had a nine-storey high statue, made of gold,[4] stand erect in the Plain of Dura [v.1]] (The region around present day Karbala, Iraq).[5] The statue was either an image of himself or possibly of the Babylonian god of wisdom, known as Nabu.[6] When the project was complete, he prepared a dedication ceremony to this image ordering all surrounding inhabitants to bow down and worship it. The consequence for not worshiping the idol, upon hearing the cue of instruments, was execution in a fiery furnace. [v.2-9]]

Fiery furnace

During the dedication ceremony of the golden image, certain officials noticed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego not bowing down to the idol. Thus, Nebuchadnezzar was immediately notified. [v.10-12]] The King was enraged and demanded that these three men come before him. [v.13]] Nebuchadnezzar knew of these very men, because it was not too long ago when Daniel had petitioned the King to assign Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. [Daniel 2: 48, 49]] Daniel was also very special to the King because he was able to interpret his dreams unlike any of the Chaldean wise men. [Daniel 2: 24, 25]] So it is of no surprise that the King would offer one more chance for these three Jews, who held honorable positions to the King, to show their patriotism to Babylon. [v.14, 15]]

Their response: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." [v.16-18]]

Nebuchadnezzar demanded that the execution furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Valiant soldiers of the King’s army were ordered to firmly bind the fully clothed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and cast them in the blazing furnace. Upon approaching the mouth of the furnace, the fire was so hot that the soldiers perished while attempting to throw in the three tightly bound Jews (who then fell in). [v.19-23]]

Burning in the form of execution was a typical practice of Babylonian rulers. According to Jeremiah 29:22, Nebuchadnezzar burned to death two men named Zedekiah and Ahab. Burning as a penalty for certain crimes appears twice in the Code of Hammurabi, the system of law set forth by the Babylonian king in the 18th century BC. Another early Babylonian monarch, Rim-Sin, also used burning as a form of execution.[7]


When the King saw what appeared to be four men in the furnace, unbound and walking about, he called to them to come out. King Nebuchadnezzar then acknowledged the power of their God, even going as far as to make a decree, whereby any nation who says anything against the God of the Jews is an act of war. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were then given promotions to their positions over the province of Babylon. [v.24-30]]

In Christian tradition, one interpretation of identifying the fourth man in the furnace is that of Christ, although he is more often shown in the arts as the Archangel Michael. The pagan king reasoned that the being in the fire was divine. There are inscriptions found in excavations of ancient Ugarit (Ras Shamra, on the coast of Syria), that use the expression “a son of the gods”.[8][9]

Prayer of Azariah

In the "Prayer of Azariah", an apocryphal passage of the Septuagint, Azariah (Abednego) confesses their sins and the sins of Israel, and asks their God to save them in order to demonstrate God’s power to the Babylonians. It is followed by an account of an angel who came to make the inside of the furnace feel like a cool breeze over dew. An extended hymn of praise to their God for deliverance is found in the "Song of the Three Young Men".

Eastern Orthodox observance

The song of the three youths is alluded to in odes seven and eight of the canon, a hymn sung in the matins service and on other occasions in the Eastern Orthodox Church, where their feast day is December 17 (along with Daniel). The Orthodox also commemorate them on the two Sundays before the Nativity of Christ. The reading of the story of the fiery furnace, including the song, is prescribed for the vesperal Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Orthodox on Holy Saturday. Likewise, the three are commemorated as prophets in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on December 17 with Daniel.

Hat Honour

In 17th century England, Quakers used the Bible Story of the Fiery Furnace to justify their campaign against the deference required by the judiciary, which they called "Hat Honour".

George Fox: Journal, 1656: When we were brought into the court, we stood a while with our hats on, and all was quiet. I was moved to say, "Peace be amongst you." Judge Glynne, a Welshman, then Chief-Justice of England, said to the jailer, "What be these you have brought here into the court?" "Prisoners, my lord," said he. "Why do you not put off your hats?" said the Judge to us. We said nothing. "Put off your hats," said the Judge again. Still we said nothing. Then said the Judge, "The Court commands you to put off your hats." Then I spoke, and said, "Where did ever any magistrate, king, or judge, from Moses to Daniel, command any to put off their hats, when they came before him in his court, either amongst the Jews, the people of God, or amongst the heathen? and if the law of England doth command any such thing, show me that law either written or printed." Then the Judge grew very angry, and said, "I do not carry my law-books on my back." "But," said I, "tell me where it is printed in any statute-book, that I may read it." Then said the Judge, "Take him away, prevaricator! I'll ferk him." So they took us away, and put us among the thieves. Presently after he called to the jailer, "Bring them up again." "Come," said he, "where had they hats, from Moses to Daniel; come, answer me: I have you fast now." I replied, "Thou mayest read in the third of Daniel, that the three children were cast into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar's command, with their coats, their hose, and their hats on." This plain instance stopped him: so that, not having anything else to say to the point, he cried again, "Take them away, jailer."[10]

References and portrayals in popular culture

See also


External links

  • Bible Stories for Kids – The Fiery Furnace, modern Christian telling of the story for children
  • Biblical Art on the WWW, illustrations of the story
  • Lessons on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Teaching the Story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
  • Magazine
  • Map 9: The World of the Old Testament, See #5. Plain of Dura
  • The height of the golden image, (60 Cubits = 90 feet; 90 ft. = 9 stories)
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