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Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Fiery Furnace, with the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART III

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Daniel 3:1-31 (Jewish, Protestant, and Anglican)

Daniel 3:1-100 (Roman Catholic)

Daniel 3:1-97 (Eastern Orthodox)

The Song of the Three Young Men

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Satire is a feature of the Book of Daniel.  Satire is evident in the uses of humor and in the exaggeration of pomp, circumstance, and numbers.  The portrayal of kings as pompous, blustery, and dangerous people is another feature of Biblical satire.  The two main examples who come to my mind are Nebuchadnezzar II (the version from Daniel 1-4), the fictional Darius the Mede (Daniel 6, 9, and 11), and Ahasuerus from the Book of Esther.

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego surviving the fiery furnace unsinged and in the company of a mysterious fourth man is familiar.  It is one of the more commonly told Bible stories.  If one overlooks the references to Nebuchadnezzar II, one misses some satirical and theological material.

The story portrays King Nebuchadnezzar II as a blustery, dangerous fool who defeats his own purposes.  (Aren’t we glad such people no longer exist?  I am being sarcastic.)  Verse 15 depicts the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian monarch accidentally invoking YHWH, not any member of the Chaldean pantheon.  And, implausibly, the end of the chapter portrays the king deliberately blessing YHWH.  In other words, King Nebuchadnezzar II was no match for YHWH.

Who was the fourth man?  The Jewish Study Bible suggests that he was an angel.  Much of Christian tradition identifies him as the pre-Incarnate Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity.  I prefer the first option.  Besides, Daniel 3 is a work of fiction.  It is folklore, not history.  And the authors were Jews who died before the birth of Christ.

The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men fall between Daniel 3:23 and 3:24, depending on versification and one’s preferred definition of the canon of scripture.  Set inside the fiery furnace, the additional, Greek verses identify the fourth man as an angel.  

  • The Prayer of Azariah links the suffering of the three pious Hebrews to the sins of their people.  The text expresses communal remorse for and repentance of sin.  God’s punishments are just, the prayer asserts.
  • The Song of the Three Young Men is one of the literary highlights of the Old Testament.  Two canticles from Morning Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer (1979) come from this Greek addition.  I adore the John Rutter setting of part of the Song of the Three Young Men (“Glory to you, Lord God of Our Fathers,” S236 in The Hymnal 1982).  The Song of the Three Young Men calls on all of nature to praise God and celebrates God’s deliverance of the three pious Hebrews.

The question of submission to authority is a thorny issue in the Bible, which provides us with no unified answer.  Many people cite Romans 13:1-7 to justify obedience to authority no matter what.  However, one can point to passages such as Exodus 1:15-22 (Shiphrah and Puah the midwives), Daniel 3, Daniel 6 (Daniel in the lions’ den), Tobit 1:16-22 (burying the dead in violation of a royal edict), and Luke 6:22-26 (from the Woes following the Beatitudes) to justify civil disobedience.  Perhaps the best way through this comes from Matthew 22:15-22.  We owe God everything.  We bear the image of God.  And we ought not to deny God that which belongs to God.  The proper application of that timeless principle varies according to circumstances.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 15, 2020 COMMON ERA

PROPER 8:  THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF JOHN AMOS COMENIUS, FATHER OF MODERN EDUCATION

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULÉN AND HIS PROTÉGÉ AND COLLEAGUE, ANDERS NYGREN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN BISHOPS AND THEOLOGIANS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN GOTTLOB KLEMM, INSTRUMENT MAKER; DAVID TANNENBERG, SR., GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN ORGAN BUILDER; JOHANN PHILIP BACHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN INSTRUMENT MAKER; JOSEPH FERDINAND BULITSCHEK, BOHEMIAN-AMERICAN ORGAN BUILDER; AND TOBIAS FRIEDRICH, GERMAN MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH PIGNATELLI, RESTORER OF THE JESUITS

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