The heroes of the fiery furnace story are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but they are quiet heroes, speaking a mere forty-one (Hebrew) words in a single speech (vv. 16–18). The Chaldeans and the king are regular chatterboxes by comparison. The Jews are also collective heroes – that is, never do we hear of just Shadrach or Meshach. Never Abednego. They are always and everywhere “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,” even in their speech. They are, simply, the trio of Jews who won’t bow down.
So when they finally do pipe up, to paraphrase the old E. F. Hutton commercials, we need to listen. Actually, whenever biblical characters talk, we need to listen – not because they are always saying what’s right or profound or because they are telling us what to do. We need to listen because the narrator picks and chooses what (and who) we get to hear in any story, so when he lets characters speak, he has good reasons. Sometimes speech is a way to assess characters’ motives. Sometimes it’s a window into their thoughts. Sometimes it even helps a narrator structure his story.
In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the narrator uses the forty-one-word speech to form the heart of his story. Remember the fancy word chiasm that we talked about way back in chapter 2? Chiasm is the way scholars talk about a story that folds over on itself at a center point, which forms the focus of the entire story.
Take a look at how the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego forms a fabulous chiasm.
- A – The king’s decree to worship the golden image (vv. 1–7)
- B – The three Jews are accused (vv. 8–12)
- C – The three Jews are threatened (vv. 13–15)
- D – The three Jews confess their faith (their sole speech) (vv. 16–18)
- C` – The three Jews are punished (vv. 19–23)
- B` – The three Jews are vindicated (vv. 24–27)
- A` – The king’s decree to honor the Jews & their God (vv. 28–30)
All roads lead to the all-important speech of the Jews. We’d better listen.