Quick summary: these guys were Hebrews brought to Babylon's court as kids and raised to be the king's servants. They grew up and were put in positions of at least some power, when some (probably jealous) people threw them under the bus by pointing out to the king that they weren't following the law about worshiping the statue he'd built for that purpose. The penalty for disobeying was death by dry sauna in the king's furnaces.
As a kid, the story I learned always went something like, "but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego weren't afraid, because they knew that the Lord would protect them."
|From our illustrated scripture story book:|
Our 3 protagonists standing before the flying purple people-eater — I mean, the king.
But actually, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego didn't know that the Lord would protect them. Before they were thrown into the furnace they were taken to the king for one last chance. They told him,
"If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of thy hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee , O king, that we will not serve thy gods , nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." (Daniel 3: 17-18.)
As you can imagine, this wasn't quite what the king wanted to hear and so off they went to the furnace.
In that particular instance, God did save them. An angel appeared in the furnace and even though the temperature was so hot it killed the guards standing outside, it didn't hurt Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.
But judging from their response to the king, they were probably hauled off to the furnace knowing there was a good chance they weren't going to be walking back out of it. They knew that God could save them, but they didn't know that He would.
It's a hard thing to know that sometimes, God doesn't stop bad things from happening. Loved ones get sick and might even die, even though we're praying for their speedy recovery. People struggle with chronic illnesses or infertility their whole lives, and might never be healed.
At the end of His life on this earth, Christ Himself prayed, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22: 42.) He wasn't spared from the ultimate suffering of shouldering the sins of every person who ever lived simultaneously. I can imagine that compared to this, being burned alive in a furnace would've seemed like a picnic luncheon straight out of Downton Abbey.
Sometimes when I pray for safety or health (for myself or someone else,) I'm afraid to include the "but if not" in my prayers. I'm trying to get better at that, and the times when I've been able to say it and really mean it, I've felt an overwhelming sense of peace regardless of the outcome.
It takes a lot of trust and perspective to be able to say what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego said. Apparently they knew that God doesn't always deliver us from our trials immediately, but eventually He'll make everything right.