We'd been refusing the king for several days before we had the sense that he was indeed going to do something about it this time. His rage was predictable, but unexpected, because so often life had worked in our favor. We felt secure and protected by an unseen benevolent power that had seemed, so far, to be superior to the demanding king. We'd had enough food, and the type of our choosing. We'd protested the royal requests before. We'd demanded vegetables, not meat devoted to idols, and we had received. We had come to believe that we could bend the king's will. But not on that day. "No more," he seemed to say. Heavy footed guards arrived. The earth shook. Only a king can shake the earth!
He gave us one more chance. If we would only bow to worship him (and wasn't he great?) he would let us go. Just a simple command to honor his greatness. We would be in honest company, for the whole world acknowledged his authority. Was there anywhere this great king was not worshipped? I knew, but I didn't speak. I believed my brothers knew as well. Only in our hearts, as far as I could tell, in our three simple, servant hearts was this king not worshipped in the place of God. I knew what it would cost us. This time we would not bend the king.
My oldest brother spoke, softly as though with reverence, but I could tell it was both that and sorrow. He knew what his words would mean. They would mean the loss of everything we knew. The simple joys, like sunrises over the desert, soft breezes, the laughter of children playing in the distance, and the important things: the smile of a friend, our dreams of returning to our homeland. His words would mean our death and he knew that as he answered the king.
"We will not bow to a man," he said, his voice unusually steady and strong.
The king bristled. He wanted to know if we thought our God would protect us. Was that the inspiration for our rebellion?
My brother continued and his words were like flames.
"My king, our God is able to protect us. But even if He does not, we will not bow to you."
With that our days would end, our hopes for tomorrow extinguished. The king commanded his warriors to tie us with ropes woven so thickly they could hardly complete the task. These same men were to drag us, or carry us, to the face of the fiery furnace, heated to such a degree that even I knew the men taking us would be consumed too. I prayed for them in the way my ancestors had, they know not what they do.
When we were thrown into the flames those men came with us, their souls for just a moment, torn from their mortal bodies by the sheer force of the blaze. They cried out. Oh, how they cried out! But at that moment I realized I was not crying out, save for my prayers. I was hearing and seeing and standing inside the fire. I could see my brothers also, the three of us looking at each other in shock. We had breath. We had form. We were alive.
It could only have been the protection our God. And He stood there with us, inside the furnace. He was easy to distinguish, the only one of us not in awe, not looking around as if relieved or stunned or overcome with joy. He was serious. He was focused. And he was looking through the flames directly into the heart of our king. Our king, who was by now horrified at his own humility, motioned to the guards to open the doors and let us out. None of his men could tell him who that was in the fire with us. No one had an explanation for these events.
And as we stepped out, there was the king, on his knees before us. We could hold nothing against him, however, because we ourselves had been saved from the flames and we were only men.