In the Book of Daniel, three young Jewish men while in captivity in Babylon are sentenced to death by the Babylonian emperor for refusing to worship the emperor’s pagan god. The Three Holy Youths are thrown into a furnace to be burned to death, but miraculously God comes to their rescue. This story of faithfulness to the one God came down in Jewish history in a couple of different versions. This story is much longer in the Greek Septuagint version than in the Hebrew/Aramaic version. When the Septuagint version of the Book of Daniel was composed/translated additional verses in the Greek that are not known in any Hebrew/Aramaic form were in the text. In the Centuries after the time of Christ, Jewish religious authorities rejected these verses known only in Greek and declared them not part of the Jewish Scriptures.
At the time of Christ, however, the Greek version of the Book of Daniel was commonly read by many Jews and accepted as authoritative scripture. The earliest Christian writers were obviously familiar with the Septuagint version of the Book of Daniel and quoted it as Scripture. Scenes from the longer Septuagint version entered into the popular imagination, piety and theology of the early Christians. The verses to be quoted in this blog series are part of the hymn that the Three Youths sing while in the fiery furnace which is supposed to destroy them. Instead they are saved and a divine figure appears with them in the furnace. It was the appearance of the divine figure which captured the imagination of the Christians. What follows in this blog and the next several blogs in this series are a portion of what the Three Youths sang as recorded in Daniel 3:51-89 (The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World, Thomas Nelson, Kindle Loc. 65580-699). These verses were used in the liturgical life of the church in matins and in the services of Holy Saturday.
The story tells of three young Jewish men living in captive exile in Babylon who refuse to worship the golden idol set up by King Nebuchadnessar. The king orders them thrown into a fiery furnace as the means for their execution for their defiant disobedience. The three men famously tell the King:
“For there is a God in the heavens, whom we serve, and He is able to save us from the burning fiery furnace and he will deliver us from your hands, O king. But, if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image set up.”
The king is infuriated by their comment and has them thrown into the furnace. Miraculously, the 3 youths are not killed by the flames but instead an angel of the Lord descends into the furnace and in the midst of the inferno and the three saints sing a hymn of praise to God. When the king looks into the furnace he sees not only the three young men but also a fourth figure – one who “is like the Son of God.” In early Christian thinking this was clearly another vision of the pre-Incarnate Christ.
“Blessed are You, O Lord God of our fathers, For You are praiseworthy And exalted beyond measure unto the ages. Blessed is Your name and the temple of your glory, And You are praised exceedingly And exalted beyond measure unto the ages.
You are blessed in the holy temple of Your glory, And are highly praised And exceedingly glorious unto the ages. Blessed are You on the throne of Your kingdom, And You are praised And exalted beyond measure unto the ages.
“Blessed are You who behold the depths And sit upon the cherubim. You are praiseworthy And exalted beyond measure unto the ages. Blessed are You in the firmament of heaven, For You are praised and glorified unto the ages.
Next: Daniel 3:57-72