The Smoke of the Fire

Elder David A. Bednar in the LDS Face2Face event for youth was asked a question by an eighth grader named David regarding how to stay strong in the face of constant opposition and skepticism from his peers at school. In response, Elder Bednar turned to the scriptures and pointed David to the story of Sadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. He promised that as David (and we) study this story, we would learn how to overcome opposition and stay unspotted from the world.

In particular, Elder Bednar pointed out one detail of the story that he thought was highly significant. When these brave young men emerged from the furnace, not was “an hair of their head” not “singed” but significantly “the smell of fire had” not “passed on them.” Elder Bednar noted that anyone who had ever been at a campfire would know that it was exceedingly difficult to keep the smell of fire off of us. And yet, these young men had been thrown into the midst of an exceedingly strong fire and yet emerged unscathed.

Elder Bednar suggested that we should ask ourselves how they were able to emerge from the midst of the fire without the smell of the smoke. I don’t know that I have a definitive answer to that question, but I did have a couple of thoughts.

First, the three were among those who consecrated themselves by avoiding the meat and wine of the king. Thus, they had kept the commandments of God and kept themselves pure from taint. Second, they were therefore given great spiritual knowledge, skill, and wisdom by God (Daniel 1: 17). Third, the three were unapologetic when asked by Nebuchadnezzar whether it was true that they refused to bow down to him. Fourth, they had sufficient faith both to be rescued and not to be rescued (“but if not”). It is significant to me that they did not demand rescue from God, but were willing to accept whatever he had in store. They placed their will in line with his. In Nebuchadnezzar’s words, they “yielded their bodies” in the service of God.

Fifth, the scriptures mention that were were bound in “their other garments.” I don’t know if this was a deliberate reference to temple or ceremonial clothing, but some biblical commentary suggests that some of the items mentioned were of the type used solely for state or special occasions. And regardless, it does no harm to these verses to liken them to our own day and consider the significance of temple garments as a shield and a protection against the power of the destroyer.

Sixth,these men fell down in the midst of the fire, seemingly in prayer. Thus, they turned to God in the midst of adversity. Seventh, and perhaps most significantly, they relied on the “Son of God” and were therefore upheld and supported by him. And he appeared with them in the midst of their trials. He was not an aloof or distant God, but instead came unto them and endured with them. Finally, by the power of God their bonds were loosed and they arose and walked. Thus, once freed from bondage they did not linger in the center of the fire, but instead did what they could to liberate themselves.

I am sure that I have missed some additional reasons that these men emerged unscathed and untouched by even the smell of smoke, but these are the ones that stood out to me upon my reading of these verses. If you find any others, please share them in the comments.

I am grateful for Elder Bednar’s inspired counsel to study these verses and seek to apply them to your life. I personally needed the reminder that in order to emerge unscathed we need to have the faith to endure trial regardless of the outcome, and need to put our whole trust in the Son of God. ‘

9 thoughts on “The Smoke of the Fire

  1. Since no one is commenting, I’ll go ahead and see if my two cents gets through moderation. Whenever grace, or a miracle happens, we often look for reasons why the miracle was somehow earned or deserved, moving it from the realm of grace to the realm of reward. “How they were able to emerge from the midst of the fire without the smell of the smoke?” This question is a natural byproduct of a theology that values the Law of the Harvest: that blessings are because of “obedience to laws upon which they are predicated.”

    In no way do I wish to knock the Law of the Harvest, which is a universal, divine law. But I think that the Law of the Harvest must at all times be counterbalanced with the Law of Grace, the understanding that many of the things we receive in life are unearned and undeserved, for both good and ill. “You reap what you sow,” true, but “God sends rain and drought on the just and the unjust,” destroying, or multiplying, the crops of those who sowed.

    In the case of Sadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, the fact that they were saved from the fire was a surprise. In a way it was a “reward” for their righteousness, but still above and beyond God’s usual behaviour. But the fact that they didn’t even smell of smoke? That must have been an even bigger surprise. We’re in the realm of pure grace.

    If this is supposed to be a metaphor for “keeping yourself unspotted from the world,” then I think it is essential to understand the miracle as an act of unearned grace. “Unspotted” denotes a state of perfection, foreign to human beings. Anyone who is “unspotted” is someone who has been cleansed by the grace of God through repentance, not through their own righteousness. Yes, we can go forward into the world with faith, but no one comes through unscathed, until after being cleansed by the atonement.

    If this is a metaphor for this eighth grader setting himself up for public crucifixion by his peers for his opposition to SSM or something like that, then coming away unscathed is still in the realm of pure grace. If God lets him get through without the scent of homophobia and intolerance clinging to him, it will be a miracle, entirely because of God’s grace. The General Authorities have warned us that we WILL face accusations of intolerance and bigotry.Those who publicly stand up for reviled beliefs of the church must understand that they are setting themselves up for an unavoidable persecution, which will leave its mark just as surely as the nails left marks in the hands of Jesus.

  2. I agree with you completely that the blessing that they received was far beyond their own strength and capacity, and was fully an act of grace. As I mentioned in my post, I think the two most important factors was willing submission to the will of God, and unyielding faith in the savior.

  3. Yes, maybe we’re saying the same thing. I just get hung up on the “striver” language in LDS culture, where I’m interpreting works like “willing submission” and “unyielding faith” in a works-oriented way, as things to “do” to get rewards. But maybe that’s not what you are saying. I do appreciate that you focus on the phrase “but even if” which seems to be trying to incorporate God’s arbitrary grace into the picture.

  4. Speaking of fires I am reminded of various scenes in the Book of Mormon particularly Alma 14:8-13 in which the wives and children of believers were burned along with their scriptures in order to taunt and punish Alma and Amulek, or the death of Abinadi. Sometimes God’s servants live sometimes they die. But they must be willing to die if that is what God wills.

  5. A note on those killed in the fire, it appears from analysis of the text that the dead likely included Amulek’s household.

    It’s funner, however, to tell of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and how they were saved from the fire.

    Back to our own era, my ancestor’s family was burned by Missouri mobs. And yet I cannot repent of honoring their decision to embrace Mormonism and the personal risk associated with the faith in its early days.

Comments are closed.