Song of the Three Young Men (RSV)
The Prayer of Azariah in the Furnace
And they walked about in the midst of the flames, singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord. Then Azari′ah stood and offered this prayer; in the midst of the fire he opened his mouth and said:
“Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and worthy of praise; and thy name is glorified for ever. For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us, and all thy works are true and thy ways right, and all thy judgments are truth. Thou hast executed true judgments in all that thou hast brought upon us and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our fathers, for in truth and justice thou hast brought all this upon us because of our sins. For we have sinfully and lawlessly departed from thee, and have sinned in all things and have not obeyed thy commandments; we have not observed them or done them, as thou hast commanded us that it might go well with us. So all that thou hast brought upon us, and all that thou hast done to us, thou hast done in true judgment. Thou hast given us into the hands of lawless enemies, most hateful rebels, and to an unjust king, the most wicked in all the world. And now we cannot open our mouths; shame and disgrace have befallen thy servants and worshipers. For thy name’s sake do not give us up utterly, and do not break thy covenant, and do not withdraw thy mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham thy beloved and for the sake of Isaac thy servant and Israel thy holy one, to whom thou didst promise to make their descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the shore of the sea. For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any nation, and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins. And at this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before thee or to find mercy. Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in thy sight this day, and may we wholly follow thee, for there will be no shame for those who trust in thee. And now with all our heart we follow thee, we fear thee and seek thy face. Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in thy forbearance and in thy abundant mercy. Deliver us in accordance with thy marvelous works, and give glory to thy name, O Lord! Let all who do harm to thy servants be put to shame; let them be disgraced and deprived of all power and dominion, and let their strength be broken. Let them know that thou art the Lord, the only God, glorious over the whole world.”
This is totally new to me. This passage has been excised from the bibles I am familiar with, It is there in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox bibles. For the avoidance of doubt, Azariah is Abednego!
Don’t forget where he is – he is in the process of being burned to death in a furnace!
I was staggered to hear the sheer matter-of-factness of this prayer! Azariah is walking around in a fiery furnace being executed. You might expect him to pray, but you’d expect the prayer to sound more like…
Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Heeeeeeeelllllp! Get me out of here God! Noooowwwwwww!
But, no. This is a long, calm, considered and contrite prayer.
Azaraiah is confessing to God that their current perilous position is probably their own fault because they have fallen short in their religious devotion and rightly been punished by God by this captivity to a foreign power – and now this foreign power has thrown them in a furnace. And this is not sarcasm – “sorry God that you have seen fit to punish us by putting us under the heel of foreigners who have now thrown us in this furnace…” – this is absolutely genuine!
That, to me, is simply amazing. It is the prayer of a man who, despite massive evidence to the contrary (he is standing a chuffing furnace!), that God will vindicate him, that the is nothing in all of creation – not even the furnace flames around his feet, that can separate him from the love of God.
So how dare I ever claim that something stupidly trivial has been a barrier to my believing absolutely in God’s grace and mercy.