Isaiah 43:2 – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. NKJV
I’m sure that you have realized by now that I am honoring individuals who make me proud. Such is the case with the individuals featured in this photo, known as the Little Rock Nine.
In our key text, Isaiah wrote:
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.Isaiah 43:2 NKJV
It is possible that as he spoke these inspired words of God, he had a tiny glimpse into the lives of the three Hebrew young men: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, better known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
You might recall that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a huge statue of himself built. On the day of his dedication he commanded his herald to announce his decree:
“To you it is commanded, O peoples,… that at the time you hear the sound of the horn… in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”Daniel 3:4-6 NKJV
And that’s what happened! Sort of! The people bowed down, when they heard the music, in worship to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. That is, all of the people except the Jews, or the three Jewish young men. Prior to this incident, Daniel is grouped with the young men, but at this event, Daniel is not mentioned.
When the music was played the Hebrew young men remained standing, and some of Nebuchadnezzar’s people made sure that he was aware of their rebellious stand!
Of course, the king was angry. Every king knows that his word is the law. If it is disobeyed, there is a price to be paid. Since they publicly disobeyed, his anger was heightened. The king had the young men brought before him. Because the king liked the young men, he decided to give them another chance and asked them if they were ready to show their loyalty to him.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”Daniel 3:16-18 NKJV
As you may recall, this didn’t bode well for the young men. The king ordered that the fiery furnace be heated up seven times hotter than its usual heat. Also, he commanded that the young men be dressed in many clothes, and then tossed in the furnace. The fire was so hot, that the men who tossed the young Hebrews into the flames were consumed by the fire. That’s hot!
Such was the case with the Little Rock Nine. Nine Black teenagers were thrown into the fiery furnace of hatred, bigotry, and racial discord.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision to declare that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, the NAACP challenged Little Rock Central High School to allow Black students to attend the all-white school located in a prominent white neighborhood. When the decision was made in 1954, plans to integrate the school went into action. After three years of stalling, Little Rock came up with a plan to desegregate. Only they didn’t really want or plan to do so.
With much push from the NAACP president, Daisy Bates, and many talks at the negotiation table with the school board, a determination was made that Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls would integrate the high school. The criteria that they wouldn’t join any clubs, participate in any sports, or respond to anything said or done to them was stressed repeatedly.
On the first day of school, the school grounds were surrounded with the National Guard to keep the Black students from entering. The governor said it was for their own protection, but it was really for his constituents who were against integration. The governor insisted that there would be violence and blood shed if the students were allowed to enter. Eight of the students arrived together, but Elizabeth Eckford arrived alone, not knowing plans had been made to arrive together because she had no phone. Their entrance was blocked and they were turned back, but Elizabeth, all alone, walked to the front steps of the school. Surrounded by a mob of angry white people who verbally attacked and threatened her life, she held her head high, even though she was frightened. Finally, someone intervened and got her safely to a bus stop where the angry mob continued to verbally assault her but did not physically harm her.
The president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, tried to negotiate with the governor, asking him to remove the National Guard, but the governor refused. For three weeks the students remained at home for their safety.
On the 23rd of September, the police escorted them to their first day of school, but when they received word that the students would be attacked, they rushed them out of the building. Finally, on the 24th, the president sent in 1200 of the U. S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort the Little Rock Nine to and from the school building.
The only problem with that was that the soldiers were forbidden to engage with the white students. Once the Little Rock Nine were inside the building they were under attack from those within the building. Whether they were spit on, slapped, tripped, verbally assaulted, or knocked down the stairs, the soldiers could not step in except to assist them in getting up and to their next class. When the Black students reported incidents to the school personnel, they were called whiners, and were told that no harm was done, or they had no witnesses. Day in and day out for the entire school year they were attacked. Their lives were threatened, they were chased, they faced humiliation, and hatred, but they were not to retaliate in any shape or form. They had been tossed into the furnace and it was hot!
As God was with the Hebrew young men, He was clearly with the Little Rock Nine. When the young men were thrown in the furnace, He walked amongst them. They were not consumed by the fire.
…they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.Daniel 3:27 NKJV
When I read Melba’s autobiography she spoke of the faith of her grandmother which was a constant support to her. She spoke of God in the midst of trying times. She spoke of wanting to quit, but finding strength in Him and from her family.
Like Melba, those who participated in the integration of Little Rock Central High, went through the fire. (I have not the space to do their story justice.) But they were not burned, and the fire did not scorch them.
As we cheer and applaud the three Hebrew boys who held firm in their belief that God would deliver them from the hand of the king, so should we cheer for these young people. In the midst of much hatred and unyielding attacks, they stood firm in their belief that God would deliver them from the horrors within Little Rock Central High and they would be successful in integrating schools in the South! And He was, and they did! See my article Overcoming Evil for more of their story. Wonderful Jesus!