“Riddle me this my brother, can you handle it?” is the first line to the seminal track “Shadrach” on my favorite Beastie Boys album, Paul’s Boutique. Shadrach is the second and final single released from the album, which came out in 1989. Paul’s Boutique was produced by the Dust Brothers and uses between 100-300 samples in total. What does this have to do with Freemasonry? We’ll get to that. The title references one of the three characters referenced in the Old Testament Book of Daniel Chapter 3 which tells the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
The story is summarized like this: King Nebuchadnezzar had an idol constructed on the plains of Dura in Babylon which was made of gold and was sixty cubits (90 ft ) tall and six cubits (9 ft) wide. He ordered all of the officials working in his government to come to the dedication of the idol and commanded them to bow down and worship the idol when they heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music. He declared that anyone refusing to worship the idol would be cast into a fiery furnace. There were three Jewish officials, named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, which refused to do this. Nebuchadnezzar was outraged when the matter was brought to his attention and ordered the three brought before him. He asked them why they refused his order, to which they replied:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”The answer made Nebuchadnezzar even more furious, and he ordered the furnace stoked to seven times hotter than it was normally heated. He ordered them bound and tossed into the furnace. In the haste to execute the order, the mighty men that Nebuchadnezzar had ordered to do this were consumed by the flames of the furnace while tossing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into it. Upon this happening, Nebuchadnezzar was astonished to see four figures unhurt walking around in the flames. He asked his counselors about this, as he was sure that only three men were cast into the fire. When they agreed that there were only three, Nebuchadnezzar went near the furnace and ordered Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to come out from it. He and all of the other officials were amazed to see that the men when they emerged were unharmed, their clothes and their hair was not singed, and they had no smell of fire coming from them. Nebuchadnezzar then declared:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”
The three are represented in the Royal Arch Degree of the York Rite as the sojourners who make their way from Babylon to Jerusalem to work on the rebuilding of the temple. Mackey says the following in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry under the entry for Zerubbabel:
“As soon as the pious pilgrims had arrived at Jerusalem, and taken a needful rest of seven days, a Tabernacle for the temporary purposes of divine worship was erected near the ruins of the ancient Temple, and a Council was called, in which Zerubbabel presided as King, Jeshua as High Priest, and Haggai as Scribe, or principal officer of State. It was there determined to commence the building of the second Temple upon the same holy spot which had been occupied by the first, and the people liberally contributed sixty-one thousand drachms of gold, and five thousand minas of silver, or nearly a quarter of a million of dollars, toward defraying the expenses; a sum which sinks into utter insignificance, when compared with the immense amount appropriated by David and Solomon to the construction of their Temple.
The site having been thus determined upon, it was found necessary to begin by removing the rubbish of the old Temple, which still encumbered the earth, and prevented the workmen from making the necessary arrangements for laying the foundation. It was during this operation that an important discovery was made by three Sojourners, who had not originally accompanied Zerubbabel, but who, sojourning some time longer at Babylon, followed their countrymen at a later period, and had arrived at Jerusalem just in time to assist in the removal of the rubbish.
These three Sojourners, whose fortune it was to discover that stone of foundation, so intimately connected with the history of Freemasonry and to which we have before had repeated occasion to allude, are supposed by a Masonic tradition to have been Esdras, Zachariah, and Nehemiah, the three holy men, who, for refusing to worship the golden image, had been thrown by Nebuchadnezzar into a fiery furnace, from which they emerged uninjured. In the Chaldee language, they were known by the names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
It was in penetrating into some of the subterranean vaults, that the Masonic stone of foundation, with other important mysteries connected with it, were discovered by the three fortunate Sojourners, and presented by them to Zerubbabel and his companions Jeshua and Haggai, whose traditionary knowledge of Freemasonry, which they had received in a direct line from the builders of the first Temple, enabled them at once to appreciate the great importance on these treasures.
As soon as that wonderful discovery was made, on which depends not only the existence of the Royal Arch Degree, but the most important mystery of Freemasonry, the Jews proceeded on a certain day, before the rising of the sun, to lay the foundation-stone of the second Temple; and for that purpose, we are told, Zerubbabel selected that stone of foundation which had been discovered by the three Sojourners. On this occasion, we learn that the young rejoiced with shouts and acclamations, but that the ancient people disturbed them with their groans and lamentations, when they reflected on the superb magnificence of the first Temple, and compared it with the expected inferiority of the present structure.”
The argument for the sojourners being Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is further supported by Mackey in his work: “The Book of the Chapter; or Monitorial Instructions in the Degrees of Mark, Past and Most Excellent Master and the Holy Royal Arch.”, as well as in “The Manual of Freemasonry” by Richard Carlile.
WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.