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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Daniel 3

 

 

Verse 1

Daniel is a book of a number of astounding miracles; and these should be understood in light of the absolute necessity of God's prevention of the absorption of the Judaic remnant (the truly important part of Israel) into the gross paganism of their Babylonian captors. If Nebuchadnezzar, or any other king, had been permitted by God to compel the Jews to bow down before pagan images, it must be considered very doubtful that Israel could have survived a period of seventy years and at the same time have retained their faith in God.

Many of the older commentators understood the urgent need of just such interposition upon God's part as may be seen in this chapter and other portions of Daniel. The miracles here came at a juncture in Israel's history when the Chosen People were subject to a mighty despot who deemed himself almighty; and, due to the captive state of his people, God could not manifest himself to the autocratic heathen rulers of that era through his people. Therefore, it was necessary that God should have manifested himself through those faithful Jews (Daniel and his companions), who in that situation were God's representatives of the Theocracy.[1]

The situation was exactly parallel to that of captive Israel in Egypt when God performed the most powerful miracles of the Old Testament to deliver the oppressed people. God did exactly the same thing here; and those unbelieving scholars who will not believe the miracles recorded in Daniel are apparently blind to the unqualified necessity for exactly this type of intervention from the Father for that people who were destined, in time, to deliver the Messiah to mankind.

Note also how effective the miracles recorded here assuredly were.

"Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the true God as being above all the gods that he worshipped (Daniel 3:28). He admitted that it was right for the Jews to worship no other god but their own. He decreed that God's law should be obeyed rather than his (Daniel 3:28); and he forbade under penalty of death that if persons of any people, nation, or language should speak against the God of the Jews, the persons doing so should be cut in pieces and their houses made a dunghill! (Daniel 3:29). This decree promulgated throughout the vast empire of Nebuchadnezzar must have tended much to keep the Jews from idolatry during their captivity and afterward."[2]

Therefore we receive the great miracle of this marvelous chapter exactly as it is represented in this holy book, a book that Christ himself did not hesitate to quote during his ministry.

Furthermore, the timing of this great wonder came at exactly the correct time, at or near the beginning of Israel's long captivity. That was the time when this miracle was needed, not during the days of the Maccabees. There exists no more unreasonable superstition among critics than the allegation that Daniel was written during the days of Antiochus Epiphanes. It is true of course that Daniel would have been a book of much comfort to the Jews of that period, but no more, indeed not half as much, as the comfort it brought and the inspiration it provided in the days of Daniel.

Dummelow called this chapter "a legend,"[3] and it is quite common among liberal critics to classify most of Daniel with such Jewish writings as the Talmud and the Midrash.[4] However, as the same great scholar affirmed:

"This chapter is a straightforward account of a miraculous deliverance that is fully on a par with the rest of Holy Writ; and it is even approved by a New Testament reference to it, "quenched the power of fire" (Hebrews 11:34)."[5]

This chapter also reflects the faith of the three companions to the effect that, "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace" (Daniel 3:17), as a faith that was grounded in the prior writings of the Holy Bible: "When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee, for I am Jehovah thy God, the Holy One of Israel" (Isaiah 43:2,3). Thus what God did, as recorded here, was nothing more than he had faithfully promised that he would do. In fact, Andrews, stated that, "This marvelous rescue is held up as a Divine deliverance, and as an illustration of the fulfillment of Isaiah 43:2."[6]

An outline of this chapter is as follows: the erection of the great image (Daniel 3:1), the dedication of the image (Daniel 3:2-7), the Chaldean's charge against the Jews (Daniel 3:8-12), the manner of Nebuchadnezzar's reception of those charges (Daniel 3:13-15), the Hebrew children stand firm (Daniel 3:16-18), the terrible penalty executed (Daniel 3:19-23), God preserved them in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:24-27), and the final result of this miracle of deliverance (Daniel 3:28-30).

Daniel 3:1

"Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was three score cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon."

THE IMAGE ERECTED

If one may take somewhat of a speculative glance at the probable psychology that controlled Nebuchadnezzar at this point, it is easy to see what this pagan egotist meant by this image. The previous chapter tells us of his dream of the great image which, according to Daniel's interpretation, represented Nebuchadnezzar as being "the head of gold!" This was not enough for this ruthless despot; he wanted to be the whole cheese! Therefore, he made a great image all of gold. Of course, when he commanded everyone to worship it, he might have identified it as an image of one or more pagan deities. That would have made it easier for the chief officers of the kingdom to comply with his request; but our own view is that the image here was clearly one of Nebuchadnezzar himself.

Some scholars, of course, say that it was an image of "one of Nebuchadnezzar's favorite deities.", We strongly prefer the older view that this image was of Nebuchadnezzar himself. Why? (1) There is the probable thinking on Nebuchadnezzar's part that this statute all of gold was a better symbol of his importance than the one of the dream that Daniel interpreted, in which he was only the head of gold. (2) Also, as Arthur Jeffery put it, "The tyrant ever seeks to make men bow down before something he has made ... The egocentric man has idols before which he insists that other men bow. These usurp the place of God."[8] (3) Also, as Young observed, "It was customary for the Assyrian kings to erect statues of themselves."[9] There is nothing in the text which clearly settles the question.

"An image of gold ..." The sheer size of this colossus, 90 feet by 9 feet seems to indicate that it was not of solid gold, but that it was made of some other material and overlaid with the precious metal.

"On the plain of Dura ..." It is not certainly known where this was. Dummelow thought it was at the "mounds of Dura some 12 miles south-southeast of Babylon."[10]

Andrews believed that, "The best suggestion is that it was connected with a small river, Dura, that entered the Euphrates some six miles south of Babylon."[11] The great likelihood is that it was somewhere not too far from Babylon.


Verse 2

"Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the satraps, the deputies, and the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the satraps, the deputies, and the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image which Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up; and whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, all the peoples, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up."

THE DEDICATION OF THE IMAGE

Of very great interest in this passage is the prominence of instrumental music in the ceremonies of pagan religious rites. It has ever been thus, and there can be no doubt whatever that this longtime association of instrumental music with paganism was one of the prime reasons why Jesus Christ did not include it in the New Testament worship which Our Lord established. This association of instruments of music with pagan religion continued unto the times of the apostles, when, for example, the Temple of Aphrodite Pan Demos, located atop the Acro Corinthus, encouraged the patronage of their one thousand sacred prostitutes by a cacophonous blast of instrumental music five times a day, signaling that, the prostitutes had changed their clothes and that another feast on the sacrifices had been made ready. In our own times, with the continued degeneration of the whole science of instrumental music into the vulgar rhythms and noisy cacophony of the current era, such later styles of instrumental music are impossible of reconciliation with any conception whatever of holy worship.

Another feature of this passage is the repeated list of the satraps, deputies, governors, etc. who were called to the dedication of the image. There are eight of the officers mentioned here, and "half of the names given here are Persian."[12] "It is argued that these words were used anachronously; but this does not follow, since Daniel published his book in the Persian period."[13] It would be an absurdity to suppose that some forger during the Greek period would have inserted all of these old Babylonian words. As Leupold stated, "These Persian names make it impossible to assume that this was written during the times of the Exile."[14] It is a characteristic of the Biblical style that the lists of the musical instruments are repeated in Daniel 3:5,7,15, and that the list of officers is repeated in Daniel 3:2,3,27.

In their diligent efforts to discover some evidence that Daniel was composed in the Greek period, some of the critics note that some of the musical instruments mentioned here had Greek names. So what? There were Greeks in Nebuchadnezzar's service; and there is ample evidence that Greek culture had penetrated the Babylonian culture. Those musical instruments with Greek names, "simply carried their Greek names with them, as in the case of similar cultural exchanges today, as in the instances of piano, viola, guitar, zither, etc."[15] There is additional comment on this in the Introduction.

In Daniel 3:5, the word "worship" is sometimes rendered "do homage to"; and from this, it has been alleged that this image was being dedicated to some god or goddess; but, as Leupold noted, "It is not required that such words should be so construed."[16] We believe that the image was the conceited expression of Nebuchadnezzar's boundless egotism.

The harsh penalty announced as punishment for any who refused to honor the king's edict was announced in Daniel 3:6; and in Daniel 3:7, it is revealed that all of the invited government officers indeed did as they had been commanded, that is, all except the three Hebrew companions! Apparently, this command to worship Nebuchadnezzar's image did not extend to all of the Jews, or to all of the people, but only to those who held positions of trust under Nebuchadnezzar's government.


Verse 8

"Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and brought accusations against the Jews. They answered and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king, O king, live forever. Thou, O king, has made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psalter, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image; and whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom thou has appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."

THE CHALDEANS' CHARGE AGAINST THE JEWS

"Brought accusations ..." (Daniel 3:8). Some translate this, "maliciously brought accusations"; and it would appear to be an accurate reflection of what happened. The Hebrew here has an idiom that reads literally, "ate their pieces."[17] It also may be read, "ate their flesh." Many of the "old guard" in Babylon hated those foreign newcomers who had been so signally honored by the king; and, moved by jealousy, they no doubt believed that they had achieved their purpose of getting rid of them by these accusations, which, of course, were true. "Jealousy is a despicable vice with envy and selfishness for its roots. Under pretense of loyalty to the king, they were chiefly anxious to rid themselves of formidable rivals."[18]

It is a mystery as to why Daniel was not in this group accused. Many guesses as to why his name does not appear here have been offered, but the total silence of the Scriptures on that point leaves the matter undisclosed. As Thomson observed, "This omission is an indirect proof of the antiquity and genuineness of the book."[19] Certainly, it is difficult to imagine that same pseudonymous author in the period of Antiochus would have omitted Daniel's name in recording this miracle.


Verse 13

"Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Then they brought the men before the king. And Nebuchadnezzar answered and said unto them, Is it of purpose, O Shadraeh, Meshach, and Abed-nego, that ye serve not my god, nor worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have set up: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that god that shall deliver you out of my hands?"

NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S RECEPTION OF THE CHARGES

To this writer it appears to be significant that both in this passage and in Daniel 3:12, the matter of "serving" Nebuchadnezzar's gods is distinguished from worshipping the image which he had set up. From this it would appear that the golden image was not dedicated to any of his gods, but to Nebuchadnezzar himself.

Despite his rage and fury, Nebuchadnezzar refused to act against the Jews without an investigation. He perhaps was aware of the vicious jealousy that prompted the charges. Therefore the king gave the Hebrews another chance to clear themselves of the charges.

It is important to note that Nebuchadnezzar in his taunting of the disobedient trio specifically challenged the authority and the power of their God. That, no doubt, contributed to the dramatic manner in which God accepted the challenge and dramatically rescued his children and delivered them from the king's wrath "with a high hand."

"Who is that god, etc. ... (Daniel 3:15)? These arrogant words remind us of what Sennacherib's Rabshakeh said to Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:19ff); and that, of course, was another occasion when God miraculously intervened. There would appear to be somewhat of a pattern here. When any pagan ruler tauntingly challenged Jehovah's power and dared to defy the Lord, it resulted in disaster for the audacious challenger. Certainly, in this case, the Chaldean accusers were foiled completely; and the Jewish religion was made to be legitimate throughout the whole period of their captivity!


Verse 16

"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of thy hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."

THE HEBREW YOUNG MEN STAND FIRM

For raw courage in the face of the most dreadful danger, history has nothing that surpasses this defiant reply. In effect, they said, "Yes, our God is able to deliver us, but even if he does not deliver us, we will not disobey our God. We will not serve your gods nor worship your golden image." It has been said that, "True religion is the determined purpose to do right, and not to do wrong, whatever may be the consequences in either case."[20]


Verse 19

"Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace seven times more than it was wont to be heated. And he commanded certain mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their breeches, their tunics, and their mantles, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the burning fiery furnace."

THE TERRIBLE PENALTY EXECUTED

The expression "seven times hotter" appears to be an idiom which actually means, "Make it as hot as possible."[21]

The exact meaning of the words describing the articles of clothing in which the condemned men were bound before being cast into the furnace is not known. "The meaning was lost at some period prior to the making of the Septuagint (LXX) in 250 B.C."[22] Such a fact, of course, requires the deduction that, "Daniel was written at a time long prior to that date."[23] This is proof that Daniel was not written in the period of Antiochus.

Many guesses have been advanced as to what the various articles of clothing here mentioned actually meant; but the most probable guess which we have encountered is that of Kennedy who said, "It is probable that the articles of clothing here mentioned were articles of official attire, and that they had come to the assembly in court dress."[24] If that was the case, it would have provided another incentive for binding them in their clothes, thus projecting the destruction of the official insignia of their high office. "Customarily the condemned would be stripped of clothing."[25]

As translated in this version (ASV), the clothing consisted of breeches, tunics, and mantles. Andrews rendered the words, "mantles, trousers, and hats."[26] There are a number of other guesses. The only thing certain is that all three of these ancient words belong to the court of Babylonian and Persian kings, and that they pertain to the vocabulary of Daniel himself, not to that of some pseudonymous forger in the days of the Maccabees.[27]

The urgency and fury of the king served to highlight the wonder about to be enacted. He did not even allow time for the customary stripping of condemned men. "The miracle was enhanced by the fact that all of those clothes constituted just so much more combustible material."[28]


Verse 24

"Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and he rose up in hast: he spake and said to the counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O King. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the aspect of the fourth is like a son of the gods. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace: he spake and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the Most High God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego came forth out of the midst of the fire. And the satraps, the deputies, and the governors, and the king's counselors, being gathered together, saw these men, that the fire had no power upon their bodies, nor was the hair of their head singed, neither were their breeches changed, nor had the smell of fire passed upon them."

GOD PRESERVED THEM IN THE FIERY FURNACE

This was indeed a miracle fulfilling exactly the Divine promise of Isaiah 43:2. It ranks on a parity with the great plagues by which God accomplished the delivery of Israel from bondage in Egypt.

REGARDING MIRACLES

A miracle is not merely an astounding wonder. It is a supernatural occurrence designed as a witness of God's redemptive purpose for mankind. Such wonders occurred only when they were necessary; and a time when such a sign from heaven was any more necessary than at this juncture of Israel's history would be hard to imagine. Miracles attest the truth of the Word of God and confirm the fact of God's sovereignty in his creation. This mighty, supernatural deliverance of the three "was designed to show the sovereignty of the true God over the nation that had taken Israel captive."[29] It also had the utility of legitimizing the Jewish religion throughout the period, of their captivity. Otherwise, Israel itself (along with the promise of the Messiah) might have perished.

The great thing in the passage, over and beyond the amazing deliverance itself, is the appearance of that Fourth Person in the fire walking with the three. Who was he? Nebuchadnezzar's explanation was that "The Most High God had sent his angel, who delivered his servants who trusted in him" (Daniel 3:28). We are shocked that commentators prefer Nebuchadnezzar's opinion in such a matter and make it the basis of denying that here indeed is a genuine Christophany of the Old Testament.

"Here we have to do with a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Son of God."[30] We also wish to protest the rendition in our version of Nebuchadnezzar's remark concerning that Fourth Person, namely, that, "He is one like to a son of the gods" (Daniel 3:25). This is an egregious error. This passage should be rendered, "The fourth is like the Son of God," exactly as it is in the KJV. Why? "The language here is simply: "Like to a son of God ([~'Elohiym])."[31] The translators get their perverted "son of the gods," by mistranslating [~'Elohiym], the famous Old Testament plural title of Almighty God as used throughout the Old Testament. If [~'Elohiym] here means "gods" in the sense of pagan gods, then the pagan gods may be said to have created the world! We protest this perversion of God's Word.

Of course, the critics spill lots of ink trying to make their perversion stand up. They say that, "Of course, Nebuchadnezzar could not have known the True God. How do they know what Nebuchadnezzar did or did not know? This very passage reveals that Nebuchadnezzar referred to the Hebrew three as "Servants of the Most High God" (Daniel 3:26); and "Everywhere this word is used in the Holy Bible, it is an appellation of the True God, and of no one else."[32] In that light, how should we evaluate a statement by Barnes that we should not allow the translation of the words "son of God" as they most certainly stand in the text, on the grounds that, "It is clear that no such conception entered into the mind of the king of Babylon."[33] It is admitted that Nebuchadnezzar probably did not know the full meaning of the words he used there; but so what? Caiaphas did not know the meaning of his prophecy of the death of Christ (John 11:59); but God put true words into the mouth of that unbeliever, just like he did here in the case of Nebuchadnezzar. Here is an instance of the vast superiority of the old King James Version above everything since then. The Septuagint (LXX) also rendered this place, "One like to the Son of God." That is what the words mean.

This tampering with Daniel is only an instance of a whole science adopted by the critical fraternity, the sole purpose of which is to edit out of the Word of God every prophetic reference to the Son of God in the entire Bible.


Verse 28

"Nebuchadnezzar spake and said, Blessed be the god of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and have yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, that every people, nation, and language, which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill; because there is no other god that is able to deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in the province of Babylon."

THE RESULTS OF THE MIRACLE

What a blessing this decree of Nebuchadnezzar must have been to the Jews throughout their captivity! Right here is the secret of why they were able to return; and the absence of such a wonder upon behalf of the Northern Israel who went captive into Assyria is exactly why they were never able to go back to Jerusalem. Thus this great miracle was a vital link in the long chain of God's dealings with the apostate human race, and also a very necessary one, in the achievement of God's purpose of redemption.

The Septuagint (LXX) adds the following to this last verse: "and advanced them, and gave them authority to rule over all the Jews who were in his kingdom."[34] This additional information does not appear in our text; but there would appear to be no grounds for not believing the truth of it. Adam Clarke accepted these words as valid; because, as he said, "It was more likely that the Jews would have been set over other Jews than over the Chaldeans."[35]

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Daniel 3:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/daniel-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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