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Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego by Simeon Solomon, 1863.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (sometimes referred to collectively as The Three Young Men) were three young men from Judah brought into the court of King Nebuchadnezzar II during the first deportation of the Israelites.[1] Their Hebraic names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (respectively). Along with Daniel (Belteshazzar) these young men were said to be from the royal family or nobility of Judah[2] and were brought into King Nebuchadnezzar's court by Chief Official Asphenaz. These three are most noted for their part in the Biblical narrative of the fiery furnace.

Training and Induction to Babylon

According to the book of Daniel, chapter 1, these four were brought from Judah into training in Babylon. During their training the four were set apart by Daniel's objection to their guard over consumption of the royal food and wine for fear of defiling themselves. Instead they asked to eat only vegetables and water. After protest their guardsman agreed to test them for a ten-day trial period after which the four would be tested against the others who ate of the food and drink. According to Daniel, Chapter 1 - Verse 15, after the trial the four appeared better nourished and healthier than the others and were awarded the freedom to eat only the vegetables. At the end of their training when Nebuchadnezzar tested the multitude he found "none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.[3]"

The Fiery Furnace

During his reign, Nebuchadnezzar II erected a statue of himself (or possibly of the Babylonian god of wisdom, Nabu[4]) and made a decree which commanded all to fall and worship the monument when the instruments played. The consequence for not worshiping during the music was death by burning in the city furnace. During the dedication festival as the music played certain officials noticed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego not bowing down to the idol and alerted Nebuchadnezzar.

Enraged, the king questioned the three. He provided one more chance for them to bow to the image and they refused. They cited their reason to refuse as,

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." [5] Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than average and had the three tossed into it. According to verse 22, it was so hot that it killed the soldiers who threw the three into the furnace. "Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste: he spoke and said to his counselors, 'Didn’t we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?' They answered the king, 'True, O king.' He answered, 'Look, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are unharmed; and the aspect of the fourth is like a son of the gods.'"[6] Nebuchadnezzar then ordered the three men to come out of the furnace, addressing them as 'servants of the Most High God.' [7] When they came out the next verses say that "the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them".[8]

Name confusion

It has been asserted that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's names all pertained to pagan Babylonian gods. Shadrach possibly is derived from Shudur Aku ("command of the moon god").[9] Meshach, according to Easton's Bible Dictionary, was "probably the name of some Chaldean [that is, Babylonian] god."[10] Abednego means "Servant of Nego (that is, Nebo/Nabu, a Babylonian god)."[11] In view of the possible foreign religious connotations attached to their names, commentators have questioned why the Bible seldom uses their original Hebrew names. It is speculated that they are identified mostly by their Babylonian names to maintain the accuracy of the dialogue given in the text. Since it would have been confusing to have the writer call them one thing and the king call them another, the story uses their new names instead.

Cultural references

  • "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville (chapter 98), describes how the whale's spermaceti, oil and bone will "pass unscathed through the fire" as did the trio Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
  • The 1930s song "Shadrack" written by Robert MacGimsey.
  • The Robert Silverberg novel Shadrach in the Furnace.
  • The Washington D.C.-based indie rock/pop band, Exit Clov, has a song titled "For Abednego" on their Starfish EP.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. references them in Letter from Birmingham Jail: " It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake."
  • There are numerous references in reggae music, e.g. the Viceroys song "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo", the Twinkle Brothers' "Never Get Burn", the Abyssinians "Abendigo" and Bob Marley & the Wailers' "Survival".
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were referenced in "Guys and Dolls" during Sky Masterson's interview with Sister Sara.
  • In the song Meshach by the ApologetiX.
  • The Golden Gate Quartet sang a Robert MacGimsey spiritual, "Shadrack" which retells this tale.
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are subjects of the Johnny Cash song "The Fourth Man In The Fire" on his "Unearthed" album.
  • The 1974 song Loose Booty by Sly and the Family Stone contains a chant of "Shadrach Meshach Abednego."
  • Louis Prima also recorded the Robert MacGimsey song about the three called "Shadrack."
  • In the sequel to Mister Roberts, Ensign Pulver, one of the characters tries some islander moonshine and after cringing responds, "Shadrach, Meshak, and ABED WE GO."
  • In 1989 the Beastie Boys created a sample heavy album entitled Paul's Boutique. The song, Shadrach sampled the song Loose Booty by Sly and the Family Stone and interpolated the chant from the song also. While left to some interpretation, the refrain from the song Shadrach appears to compare the three members of the band to that of the invincible Shadrach (Adrock), Meshach (Mike D), and Abednego (MCA):

"We're just 3 M.C.'s and we're on the go
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego"

  • "Shadrack Meshack Abednigo" is the title of a seminal snowboard film, produced by AdventureScope Films in 1994 and marketed with the slogan "Nothing will burn them. Nothing will alter their faith." (The U.S. distributor of the VHS cassette was aptly and coincidentally named "Furnace").
  • Shadrach is also referenced in To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. In chapter 12, Scout and Jem get in trouble at church because they told Eunice Ann Simpson that they wanted to play the game "Shadrach". Jem told her that if she had enough faith, she wouldn't get burnt, and the kids proceeded to tie her to a chair and place her in the furnace room. They forgot she was there and went upstairs for Church, until banging came from the radiator pipes during the service. After investigating, they found Eunice in the furnace room.
  • The Neville Brothers' cover of Ball of Confusion includes the chant in an apparent reference to the Sly and the Family Stone track.
  • The alternate spelling Shadrack is present in the Toni Morrison novel Sula, the character endures hardships at war and returns to his town mentally ravaged.
  • The Australian town of Bendigo is said to be a corruption of Abednego.
  • Shadrach Dingle is a character in UK soap Emmerdale.
  • Abednego appears as a slave in the Zakes Mda novel, Cion.
  • In the Lonesome Dove Saga (Dead Man's Walk) Harry Dean Stanton plays a mountain man character named Shadrach.
  • In Veggietales, the episode "Rack, Shack, and Benny" tells a Veggietales version of the biblical Shadrach, Meshach Dickenson, and Abednego; Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, Junior Asparagus played the roles of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But later they were nicknamed Rack, Shack, and Benny.
  • Grant Burge Winery in Australia has three Icon wines: Meshach Shiraz, Shadrach Cabernet Sauvignon, Abednego Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre
  • "Million Voices" song by Wyclef Jean about the Rwandan genocide mentions the three by name
  • A Christian children's musical called "It's Cool in the Furnace" was written by Buryl Red And Grace Hawthorne in 1972. The musical follows Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to Babylon where they are thrown into a burning hot furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar when they refuse to bow down to the king instead of their God. However, their faith in God allows them survive the furnace and they emerge unscathed only to see the king make a decree that there is only one true God.
  • In the second season premier of The Dead Zone, a kidnapper, hoping to draw the attention of the main character, writes the three names on a wall.

Liturgical use

The song of the three youths is alluded to in odes seven and eight of the canon, a hymn sung in the matins service and on other occasions in the Eastern Orthodox Church, where their feast day is December 17 (along with Daniel). The Orthodox also commemorate them on the two Sundays before the Nativity of Christ. The reading of the story of the fiery furnace, including the song, is prescribed for the vesperal Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Orthodox on Holy Saturday. Likewise, the three are commemorated as prophets in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on December 17 with Daniel. pt:Sadraque sv:Shadrak, Meshak och Aved-Nego


  1. Barker, Kenneth (Editor); Donald Burdick, John H. Stek, Walter Wessel, & Ronald F. Youngblood (1995). The NIV Study Bible 10th Anniversary Edition. The Book of Daniel: Zondervan Publishing House. pp. 1291–1295. 
  2. The Zondervan Corporation (2005). Archaeological Study Bible. The Book of Daniel: The Zondervan Corporation. pp. 1384–1390. 
  3. Barker, Kenneth (Editor); Donald Burdick, John H. Stek, Walter Wessel, & Ronald F. Youngblood (1995). The NIV Study Bible 10th Anniversary Edition. The Book of Daniel: Zondervan Publishing House. pp. 1292. 
  4. The Zondervan Corporation (2005). Archaological Study Bible. The Book of Daniel (under the archaeological commentary): The Zondervan Corporation. pp. 1389. 
  5. New International Version, Daniel 3:16-18
  6. World English Bible, Daniel 3:24-25
  7. New International Version, Daniel 3:26
  8. New International Version, Daniel 3:27
  9., "Shadrach."
  10. Easton's Bible Dictionary, "Meshach."
  11. Easton's Bible Dictionary, "Abednego."