The silence was immense. The three men had never known how something as simple as silence could be so heavy. They each stood there, with nothing but the weight of their own clothing, but the silence pulled down on their shoulders and their heads as if great black sandbags were tied to their hands. The silence lasted for less than a minute, but to those three it seemed more like an agonizing and endless wait.
And they waited.
The only sound in the room was the roaring of the fire. They had all heard fire before, its crackling warmth on a cold night or the welcoming smell of an oven full of baked bread, but this fire was different. This fire was angry. It bellowed at them like a great lion, hungry for its prey. It was over 50 paces away to their right, but even so they could feel its heat bearing down on them, aching to devour their skin, their hair, and their clothing, until nothing was left but ash. In the end the men would be indistinguishable from one another. Their families would not be able to claim them, nor bury them properly. They would simply fade into nothingness.
And they waited.
It was quiet, but the men were not alone. The eyes of the entire court bore upon them from their seats or positions in the open air room. Not a soul could look away. The counselors’ faces were filled with a furious and delightful vengeance. Other faces in the court looked on with pity and sorrow, knowing the fate of these men was sealed.
And they waited.
The three stood at the base of the amphitheater. The crowd of counselors and wise men sat closest behind them, while others were seated in rows further back. Many were there because they wanted to see the spectacle. Others, who were suspected of sharing the rebellious tendencies of the men on trial were “invited”, with the rough escort of the guards. The intention of this mandatory invitation was to create a lasting image in their hearts and minds, so what they saw and heard would quite literally be seared into their memories and thus snuff out any inclination towards such obstinacy in the future.
It was just after midday. There were no clouds that day. The sun was centered in the sky, just another bystander who watched the three men, who stood alone before the king.
And the men waited.
The king was seated in a regal throne, which had been carried in by slaves of the empire. It was covered in gold, with select rubies and gems carefully placed in intricate designs. The light of the sun reflected off the gold and into the eyes of all who watched. No doubt the image of glory and brilliance was part of the designer’s purpose. All who looked upon the king would behold the brilliance of one endued with divine power and authority.
The King’s knuckles bared a ghostly white as he gripped the arm rests of the throne. His jaw clenched and unclenched under his furrowed brow. He was a large man, with dark skin. He was aged by war and the burden of the governing the greatest and most powerful empire the world had ever known. His dominion covered anywhere the sun’s rays touched and the starlight fell. Nations trembled at the whisper of his name and the threat of his coming.
King Nebuchadnezzar’s glared at the men who waited in silence before him. His gaze never left them. He was not a man to be trifled with. His empire had conquered kingdoms, humbled rulers, and trampled mountains to dust. There was no one on earth who had ever opposed the king and had not died a very painful death. He spoke slowly and quietly, but his voice betrayed a rage boiling underneath, which was ready to erupt if provoked.
“Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
In the last sentence the volcano of the king’s anger erupted only slightly, evidencing the fury barely contained below, and his voice changed from one slow and controlled to one of thunderous ferocity. The audience, even though they were not the target of the eruption, quaked at the display of the king’s displeasure.
(Stay tuned for Part 2)