BY: BON JIN KOO
My friends and I listened intently to the last of Rabbi’s words. Rabbi was a great teacher we constantly looked to for wisdom.
“That’s all I got for you today, boys.”
“We’re no longer boys, Rabbi,” said Mishael with a grin.
“Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty,” Rabbi said. “But humility comes before honor.”
“Looks like you need some sharpening,” Hananiah joked. “Shall Azariah and I do the honors?”
“Exhort with honor,” I said, giving Hananiah a glaring look. “Rabbi, tell us more.”
“Well, if you insist-”
“Where is God?” asked Mishael with a sudden solemnness. “Where is God, Rabbi?”
“Watch your words, Mishael…” Hananiah said.
“What do you mean, my child?”
“As I said before, Rabbi, we are no longer boys,” Mishael said. “Where is God in this war? We heard enough scripture. We want to hear from you. Did you ever see Him? Hear His voice? Are all the stories we heard as children true?”
Rabbi smiled and pulled out a worn out volume from his shelf. Mishael frowned.
“It’s not scripture,” Rabbi assured. “Although scripture is always important, I understand what you mean, Mishael.”
Rabbi told us a story of old. When he was a child, he heard a man of God prophesy of time when our country would come to ruin. The sword came to man, woman, and child because of Israel’s sin. Somehow, he found himself to be an exile, a remnant of a once great nation.
“How did you deal with the shame?” I asked.
“We brought that shame to ourselves as a nation,” Rabbi said.
“Yet you still placed your faith in God?” Mishael asked.
Rabbi’s eyes glimmered with hope, woven with a peace I could not explain.
“Why?” Hananiah asked.
“My father told me of a time when God moved in ways you could not imagine child,” Rabbi said. “Imagine vast armies of powerful nations brought to their knees by a single man. Evil kings who would fight amongst themselves, leaving Israel to clean up the remains. Great banquets and sacrifices held in honor of a living and mighty God.”
We all stared at Rabbi, his outstretched arms moving about.
“But most importantly, a God who would draw near to His people despite the mistakes they have made,” said Rabbi, his voice descending like a gentle rain. “A God… no, the God of Creation whose warmth and majesty you could feel.”
“That is why I can believe in the God of Israel,” Rabbi said. “We fail to be a righteous people, many times at that… yet he yearns to be at our side. This war is the result of us rejecting him, but I believe you will live to see the day God move powerfully once again.”
“Will he?” I asked. “Even in this time of oppression and humiliation?”
“I believe it.”
We said our goodbyes to Rabbi and made our way to the silent city street. Streetlights cowered under the massive billboard that flashed with millions of colors. The billboards advertised every kind of product imaginable from bowties to weight loss pills. Each product had its own digital page that displayed for several seconds, usually with scantily clad men or women depending on the product. A large, golden “N” gleamed occasionally between ads as well. I sighed.
“ALL HAIL KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR!” boomed an electronic voice.
“ALL HAIL KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR!”
“ALL HAIL KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR!”
The message echoed down the street with such force the adjacent buildings shimmered with wobbling glass. All the billboards automatically cut to the image of the golden “N.” Hananiah and Mishael looked at me nervously, but I mustered the strength to smile.
“Not then, not now,” I said.
“Care to repeat that, Jew?”
Guards from every direction melted in from the shadows, pointing their weapons at each of our chests. A young man, not much older than us, came forward with a devilish grin.
“Why are you three not in the position of worship?”
We remained silent. The longer we did, the redder the young man became in complexion.
“The war is long over! Why must you continue to resist and rebel-”
“You know our answer, Chaldean,” Hananiah said with a slight hint of nervousness. “Leave us in peace.”
“Tell that to the king,” Chaldean sneered as he gestured at the guards.
The guards jabbed their weapons at our backs, and we followed a giggling Chaldean to the center of the city where the king resided. His building consisted of a gigantic golden N that stretched across city streets and towered the tallest building threefold. We entered knowing we might not come out again.
“So, you refuse to bow to my image?”
I stood before the king himself alongside a silent Hananiah and a fidgeting Mishael.
“I asked you a question, Abednego,” Nebuchadnezzar said.
Memories of the war welled back up in my head. My name, my culture, my people… stripped away like aging bark in the cold winter wind. I stopped myself from crying, “My name is Azariah! Azariah the Jew!” at the king’s face.
“I see discomfort on your face, Abednego,” Nebuchadnezzar laughed heartily. “Do you not like my new logo? I designed it myself!”
My friends and I remained still.
“After the war, I fed each and every one of you. Clothed you. Gave you work!” Nebuchadnezzar said. “Your culture! Gone! Your cities! Gone! Your pride… not entirely gone is it?”
The king continued to boast in his kingdom and his name. His head seemed to bulge larger and larger with excited blood. When he ended his soliloquy, his eyes narrowed into a fiery glare.
“Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? If you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning, fiery furnace.”
Hananiah and Mishael glanced at me with solemn faces.
“And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
I nodded. Trust me, my nod said. After my friends gathered the courage, they nodded in return. Hananiah, Mishael, and I answered and said to the king:
“Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O King. But if not, be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
The king brimmed with fury and ordered the guards to tie my friends and me. He demanded that the furnace be heated seven more times than usual. As we were led to the furnace, Mishael, Hananiah, and I prayed, not out of desperation for own lives but for hope. Hope that the God they believed in for so long would return as the living God to embrace our people.
The furnace glowed blazing hot. I felt the flames hungrily snap at my skin. Strangely, as soon as I thought the flames were too hot to bear, they became warm and comfortable. This must be death, I thought.
“Wait, are we in heaven?” I asked aloud.
A light appeared in our presence, brighter than the scorching fire that surrounded us. We heard Nebuchadnezzar calling out to us but were too dazzled by the light to care. The light began to take shape. Almost like a man. Its presence glowed with a majestic kind of warmth, if warmth could possibly take that quality.
“Well done, boys, well done.”
Mishael’s face glowed with awe, but he quickly composed himself.
“Lord, how can we become men?” Mishael said.
The man smiled back and brought us in closer.
“Continue to view humility in the honorable way that you do,” said the man.
He looked at Hananiah.
“And continue to sharpen each other as well.”
We couldn’t help but laugh as we exited the furnace to a bewildered Nebuchadnezzar.