Daniel is considered a major prophetic book (it’s fairly lengthy) and contains apocalyptic visions (making it similar to Revelation). The first part of the book contains six stories which emphasize the rewards of being faithful to God, even at the expense of disobeying a foreign king. They are written in the style of traditional stories, and probably are Hebrew adaptations of already existing tales. The second half of the book contains the visions, dreams of Daniel about the future of God’s people. The book covers a timespan of several kings. Ancient sources for Daniel are found in both Hebrew and Aramaic languages.
In this story, one of the two most remembered from Daniel (the other is Daniel in the Lions’ Den, chapter 6), three Hebrew men are punished for being faithful to God despite the king’s orders. All the stories in this first section are about Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel, though Daniel does not appear in this story. They are captives in Babylon but have been appointed to positions of authority in service to the king, having been selected from among the best (strong and smart) of the captives to be educated in Chaldean ways.
When the king erects a golden statue and demands that everyone in the kingdom bow down to it, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego refuse, out of loyalty to the God of Israel. They’d rather die than cheat on God, regardless of whether God will save them. They are thrown into a fiery furnace… you know the rest of the story (or read it!).
This is a story about faithfulness in time of trouble, and remembering who you are when you are in a strange land, surrounded by customs, laws, and people that not only don’t match yours but in some cases are directly contrary to yours. It’s a migration problem that is still a struggle for people on the move today, including refugees: what language will we speak, what food will we eat, what freedoms will be retained and which taken away, in this new place? How will we survive? How will we know who we are, and who God is, in a new land? What will become important to us? The Hebrew men in this story get to keep their culture and their identity because of God’s impressive save. What might we learn about living amid cultural diversity in our time and place?