Why Read The Apocrypha: The Prayer of Azariah

Why Read The Apocrypha: The Prayer of Azariah

Part 7 in Our Why Read the Apocrypha Series, where we discuss the book of the Apocrypha. So far we have discussed – the Book of Tobit, the Book of Judith, the Book of Wisdom, the Book of Sirach, the Book of Baruch, and the Letter of Jeremiah.

This week we will discuss the Prayer of Azariah – its history and background, any criticisms against this book, and lastly, we will read portions from the book itself.

The Prayer of Azariah is also known as the Song of the Three Children or the Song of the Three Holy Children. Is a prayer, and song by Azariah one of the three Hebrew boys who were thrown in the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to worship his statue. These men were Hananiah, Meshach, and Azarias or Azariah also known as – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 

Daniel 3:23 states that they were walking in the furnace, singing praises to God and blessing the Lord. It is believed that the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of The Three Children is the song and praises referred to in the book of Daniel. 

History and Background on the Prayer of Azariah

The Prayer of Azariah and its accompanying song is included in the Greek Septuagint in a separate section, and in Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles, after Daniel 3:23 before verse 24. 

The author is said to be unknown, and the text is believed to be dated between the second and first century B.C.

While the book is not highly respected by modern Bible scholars as a whole, select verses of the Song of The Three Children have been used in Catholic and Orthodox Church services for thousands of years. These verses are used in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, in many Lutheran liturgies, during the Roman Breviary service, Lent services, used for blessing the Trinity, and in personal prayer and thanksgiving time after Mass.

The Prayer of Azariah is not found in the original Hebrew or Aramaic text of the Book of Daniel, however, it is found and preserved in the Greek, Syriac, and Latin translations of the Bible. It is also believed that the original language was Hebrew or Aramaic and that the text was later translated into Greek. 

Even though the Prayer of Azariah is present in the Greek Septuagint which predates the Hebrew Masoretic text (it is the basis for many English translations, including the KJV) by hundreds of years, it is seen as Apocryphal (a book of questionable origin and authorship) by most modern Bible scholars and Protestants. 

(Wikipedia “Prayer of Azariah“, “Septuagint“, Evidence Unseen “The Apocrypha“, Early Jewish Writings “Azariah“, Kimberling Lutheran “Apocrypha and Early Church Writings“).

Criticisms Against the Prayer of Azarias

Medieval Sculptures

There are a few criticisms against the Prayer of Azariah, even though this book is not believed to contradict Scripture.  Here are a few of the critiques brought up by modern Bible scholars.

Criticism 1: Unknown Origins and Authorship

Scholars say that the Prayer of Azariah has unknown authorship. We do not know if this is true or not, but regardless it is a major criticism against this book and all the books of the Apocrypha. 

However, most of the time this claim of ‘unknown authorship’ is actually a reversal of the traditional viewpoint of the books that held for thousands of years. The apocryphal books that are included in the Greek Septuagint were translated from their original language into Greek for Hebrews by Hebrews and were cherished and are important to our history and religion.

Another problem with this argument is that the book of Hebrews in the New Testament is said to be of “unknown authorship” as well. However, this book is included and accepted in the New Testament and is seen as authoritative scripture. 

Criticism 2: Believed to Be a Fictitious Work and an Embellishment on the Fiery Furnace Story

This book does not contradict the Bible and it is included in the oldest whole translation of the Bible that we have – the Greek Septuagint.

Criticism 3: Scholars Suggest The Prayer of Azariah Actually Describes the Events of the Book of Maccabees

Many modern Bible scholars believe that this book wasn’t written during the time of Daniel but during the time of the Greek invasion of Judea under Antiochus IV Epiphanes. It is believed that the Prayer and Song of Azariah and his companions, while set during the Babylonian Captivity, is actually referring to and describing the zealots and more progressive Hebrews fighting with Antiochus IV Epiphanes as described in the book of Maccabees. Thus placing the origins of this book outside the context of recognized inspired Scripture.

As we saw in the Book of Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah from Our Why Read the Apocrypha series, oftentimes modern Bible scholars will not only disregard the apocryphal books without evidence but will also add to the text. We cannot add our own interpretation onto the text without any basis. We must read these texts exegetically, and allow the book to speak for itself.

(Wikipedia “Septuagint“, Early Jewish Writings “Azariah“, Kimberling Lutheran “Apocrypha and Early Church Writings“).

Introduction to the Prayer of Azariah

Close up on many old books

Here is the link to the Prayer of Azariah if you want to read the whole book.

The Prayer of Azariah describes what happened in the fiery furnace to the three Hebrews boys.

The prayer is made up of three parts – a prayer for mercy while in the fiery furnace told by Azariah or Abednego (verses 1 – 24 ), a description of the heavenly figure that joined them inside the furnace, and the events that followed (verses 25 – 26), and lastly a song of thanksgiving sung by the three of them when they were saved by God (verses 27 – 67). 

Part 1: The Prayer

While standing in the midst of the fire, Azariah praises God. He says that they and all the Hebrews were worthy of the punishment that came upon them – namely the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon because they didn’t keep the commandments. 

Verses 1- 3: “Then Azarias stood up, and prayed on this manner; and opening his mouth in the midst of the fire said, 2 Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: thy name is worthy to be praised and glorified for evermore: 3 For thou art righteous in all the things that thou hast done to us: yea, true are all thy works, thy ways are right, and all thy judgments truth.”

Verses 5 – 8: “ For we have sinned and committed iniquity, departing from thee. 6 In all things have we trespassed, and not obeyed thy commandments, nor kept them neither done as thou hast commanded us, that it might go well with us. 7 Wherefore all that thou hast brought upon us, and everything that thou hast done to us, thou has done in true judgment. 8 And thou didst deliver us into the hands of lawless enemies, most hateful forsakers of God, and to an unjust king, and the most wicked in all the world.”

He goes on to say that the Hebrews in captivity were in a shameful state and were now subject to evil men who hated God. Even though the Hebrews transgressed the commandments, Azariah prays that God will have mercy on them and remember his covenant with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. As a result of the destruction of the Temple and with it the only human means to offer proper atonement for sins, he asks for mercy from a contrite heart and a humble spirit. 

Verses 18 – 21: “Put us not to shame: but deal with us after thy lovingkindness, and according to the multitude of thy mercies. 19 Deliver us also according to thy marvelous works, and give glory to thy name, O Lord: and let all them that do thy servants hurt be ashamed; 20 And let them be confounded in all their power and might, and let their strength be broken; 21 And let them know that thou art God, the only God, and glorious over the whole world.”

Azariah continues by recounting how the furnace was heated to extreme temperatures with rosin, pitch, tow, and small wood, which caused the king’s servants to be burnt. 

Part 2: Heavenly Figure inside the Furnace and the Events that Followed

An angel of the Lord is described as coming down into the furnace with them and putting out the fire and causing the inside to be moist. The fire touched them but they weren’t hurt or troubled by the fire. 

Verses 25 – 26: “But the angel of the Lord came down into the oven together with Azarias and his fellows, and smote the flame of the fire out of the oven; 26 and made the midst of the furnace as it had been a moist whistling wind, so that the fire touched them not at all, neither hurt nor troubled them.”

Part 3: The Song of the Three Children

The last part of the Prayer of Azariah is the song of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, where they praise the Lord and call on various natural elements to praise the Lord as well. 

Verses 27 – 29: “Then the three, as out of one mouth, praised, glorified, and blessed, God in the furnace, saying, 28 Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: and to be praised and exalted above all forever. 29 and blessed is thy glorious and holy name: and to be praised and exalted above all forever. ”

35 O ye heavens, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all forever. 

39 O ye sun and moon, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all forever. 

66 O Israel, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all forever. 

The song ends by telling the three Hebrew boys to praise and bless the Lord for their deliverance from the furnace and death. 

Verses 65 – 67: “O Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all forever: for he hath delivered us from hell, and saved us from the hand of death, and delivered us out of the midst of the furnace and burning flame: even out of the midst of the fire hath he delivered us. 66 O Give thanks unto the Lord, because he is gracious: for his mercy endureth forever. 67 O all ye that worship the Lord, bless the God of gods, praise him, and give him thanks: for his mercy endureth forever. ”

The Prayer of Azariah and its accompanying Song is an interesting read. It tells us the prayer of Azariah inside the fiery furnace and how even though they were in such a terrible position they believed and trusted in the Lord for deliverance. 

Throughout this post, we saw that while the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have embraced this book, the Protestants have been kept from it. Many modern Bible scholars have given insufficient reasons for why we shouldn’t read this and other books of the Apocrypha. However, these books tell us important things about our history, our culture, and our faith. They should be read and cherished as our forefathers did. Shalom.

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