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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Daniel 3

Verse 18

PRIDE HUMBLED AND PIETY HONOURED

‘Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.’

Daniel 3:18

Nebuchadnezzar made an image of his own ‘magnified royalty,’ so high and colossal that probably the inhabitants of Babylon would be able, at sunrise, when the music sounded for prayer, to see the summit of the pedestal and the golden image by which it was surmounted. At a great religious ceremony, representatives of the vast empire were to be gathered together to worship the image. Who will dare to disobey the king’s commandment, and spoil his pride, and be to him as ‘a fly in a pot of ointment’? The pride and the arrogance of mortals often finds a check in the most unexpected quarters,

I. Pride humbled.—(1) By a refused submission to his will. Nebuchadnezzar said within himself, ‘I will be like the Most High’; but when he awaits the gratifying sight of a prostrate court and populace, three wretched captives dare to thwart his will. (2) By a confident defiance of his power. ‘We are not careful to answer thee in this matter.’ ‘We need not answer you, God will, Whom you have defied’ ( Daniel 3:15). (3) By the proved failure of his punishment. They were threatened; they righteously disobeyed; they were cast into the awful furnace; but presently wrath gave way to astonishment, when Nebuchadnezzar saw ‘four men loose walking in the fire, and they have no hurt.’ His power was insulted, but in vain did he seek to do his worst on those who dared his will.

II. Piety honoured.—(1) In the exhibition of a most astonishing fortitude. The three Hebrew children calmly challenge, and calmly endure, the king’s anger. According to the Greek and Latin version, there rose up in the midst of the furnace ‘the prayer of Azariah.’ And many a prayer of martyrs has supported them in the deeply trying hour. (2) In the appearance of a messenger of deliverance. Whatever this Bar-elohim, this son of the gods was, in Nebuchadnezzar’s idea, it was unquestionably a signal of deliverance. The Son of God Himself is the Angel of deliverance to His tried saints. (3) In the acknowledgment of God ( Daniel 3:28). (4) In their promotion in the kingdom ( Daniel 3:30). Christians cannot exhibit fortitude and consistency in vain.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. When everything is darkest, God is nighest. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faithful unto death, and unexpectedly they gained a crown of life. I fancy among the swaying thousands there was a grim satisfaction at the scene. I do not think that many eyes were pitiful, as the three prisoners moved towards their death. There have been martyrs who were cheered in the last hour by the prayer and the love of many in the crowd; but in all that multitude upon the plain of Dura, I doubt if there was one sympathetic heart. But Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego had God. They had a very present help in time of trouble. They did not dream, when the blast of the furnace met them, how gloriously God was going to work.’

(2) ‘We are not told where Daniel was at this time; but all we know about him makes us sure that he was not present on the plain of Dura. Probably he was in some distant part of the empire. However this may have been, his absence makes the heroism of his three companions all the more conspicuous. It is as when, away from home, from church, from the eyes of friends, a young man stands up solitary in defence of his religion. And the lesson to learn here is that there come times to all of us when we must say, “ I will not!” Christ said it to the devil in the wilderness. The Apostles said it to the rulers in Jerusalem. Poly-carp said it to his persecutors at Ephesus. Men and women are saying it now. The clerk who is bidden prevaricate or go from his situation; the workman who is ordered to work on Sunday or leave his job; the voter who is counselled to vote with his party and let his scruples alone, and who says, “ We will not,” these are the valiants of to-day. It is no easier now than in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar to stand up and say, “ We will not.” But he who says it, not offensively or truculently, but only in good faith with himself, has his reward.’

Verse 23

A FURNACE AND MEN IN IT

‘These three men … I see four men.’

Daniel 3:23; Daniel 3:25

( A sermon to children)

This very interesting subject is very easily divided.

I. The three in the furnace.—Why were there three? Was it because they did not serve God, or had fallen into some sin? Oh, no. Doing the right, then, sometimes brings God’s children into the furnace. Job’s friends told him that his sufferings were judgments and proofs that he was a great sinner. The Jerusalemites thought that the people crushed under the tower of Siloam were notorious sinners. The barbarous people at Malta thought Paul a reprobate because the viper fastened on his hand. Much truth is mingled with this false and popular theology; for it shall be well with the righteous and ill with the wicked. But God does not settle with us on the cash-payment principle. We must leave room for Probation, Trial, Chastisement, and the bringing of better things through the furnace than we could have had without it. Hence these three unblamed ones in the furnace, as were Christ, Paul, and the noble army of the confessors and martyrs. A child’s theology is apt to overlook this truth, and it is a huge service to teach him it early.

God’s special love may permit the furnace for you, and when in it you should say, ‘I must bear this affliction somehow, and I shall try to bear it nobly.’

II. The four in the furnace.—To us at least the Fourth is Christ. His radiancy of glory beyond compare convinced the heathen king that He was more than man. Thy furnace destroyed their foes and their own bonds only. The use of sanctified affliction is to elevate the fettered Christian into a free man, and that without singeing the hair or spoiling the garments. A book has been written by Dr. Preserved Smith. His father took that name after a remarkable deliverance. Every one of us might take that name. ‘Providence’ is the name given to a district of the U.S.A. by one of the Pilgrim Fathers who reached it after many dangers. That name might justly be given to every county, village, and cottage. Christ is most real and near to His people when they are in the furnace. The dying Stephen saw Him, not sitting, but standing, and as if approaching to receive him.

III. The three out of the furnace.—(1) They were more than conquerors. If you are on God’s side, you are in the majority, and you must win, though you should be seemingly only one against all Babylon. (2) They were splendid missionaries. What a sermon theirs, and what good it did! It made a huge impression upon the king and his whole kingdom, and it is helping us at this very hour. You can never tell how far the influence of one good deed may spread.

The sum of the lesson is this— Trust in Christ, and be true to Christ. You are surely not going to do anything else but trust in Christ? Are you? Will you miss all the good He offers you? Dare you face life and death without it? These three trusted Jehovah early, for they were young when they came to Babylon, and their early and consistent faith made them perfect heroes before the king and his fiery furnace. And you should pray for grace to be true to Christ. That makes the Christian hero. These three knew the secret of a round, rousing ‘No,’ of a ‘No’ without phrases.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Theirs is the spirit in which Job said: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” It is the spirit in which Casabianca said: “Whatever happens, I will do as my father bade me.” It is the spirit in which we may still say, I will obey my conscience, my Bible, and my Saviour.’

(2) ‘ “Seven times hotter”—a phrase not of strict numerical import, but meaning the utmost intensity possible. This was not in itself an unwelcome circumstance to the victims. Our martyr, Ridley, slowly consuming at the stake, earnestly entreated, “Give me more fire—more fire!” ’

(3) ‘John Foster says that the furnace was to these three a place of richer delight than Paradise to Adam; for there angels walked with man in a scene where man was naturally at home, whereas here men walked with an angel in the place where only the angel was naturally at home.’

Verse 25

COMMUNION IN THE FURNACE

‘And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’

Daniel 3:25

I. What an unexpected greeting must this have been to the three children!—What a joyful surprise! What a marvellous place to meet and hold communion with Jesus—the midst of a burning fiery furnace, heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated! That He should join the two disciples in their evening walk to Emmaus seems more reasonable, but who could dream that He would reveal Himself here? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, though exposed to the scorching anger of the king of Babylon, staggered not at the faithfulness of God, but, with an invincible strength of faith, grasped deliverance ere it came, saying, ‘Our God will deliver us out of thy hand, O king!’ Yet, I question whether, amid all their unflinching confidence, they anticipated such a time of fellowship as the God they served was preparing for them. They were driven from the throne of Nebuchadnezzar, and cast out from the society of men, but it was only to enter the presence of the Lord, and to hold intercourse with the King of kings. Methinks they must have been right sorry to hear the royal mandate, ‘Come forth, and come hither;’ yet they asked not miraculous preservation when no longer needful, but came forth refreshed from the furnace, their bonds alone consumed, to serve the Master they had seen with new alacrity in the high duties of their station.

II. Afflicted saints! three lessons lie here upon the surface for you; and many others will be dug up if you work the mine, for the vein of ore is rich: but these three are manifest. (1) Declare unhesitatingly your final deliverance—it glorifies God, abashes Satan, strengthens your brethren, and cheers yourself. (2) Be encouraged by the example of the three children to look for special manifestations of Christ’s Presence in affliction. Plead the promise which they realised. Seek Jesus, and you shall find Him. (3) When He removes the trial, cheerfully betake thee to the active duties of life. Be not so enamoured of the fellowship in the furnace as idly to hang back when He calls thee forth. His viewless Presence shall be with thee still; and though in the world thou hast tribulation, still in Him thou shalt have peace.

Bishop E. H. Bickersteth.

Verse 25

COMMUNION IN THE FURNACE

‘And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’

Daniel 3:25

I. What an unexpected greeting must this have been to the three children!—What a joyful surprise! What a marvellous place to meet and hold communion with Jesus—the midst of a burning fiery furnace, heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated! That He should join the two disciples in their evening walk to Emmaus seems more reasonable, but who could dream that He would reveal Himself here? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, though exposed to the scorching anger of the king of Babylon, staggered not at the faithfulness of God, but, with an invincible strength of faith, grasped deliverance ere it came, saying, ‘Our God will deliver us out of thy hand, O king!’ Yet, I question whether, amid all their unflinching confidence, they anticipated such a time of fellowship as the God they served was preparing for them. They were driven from the throne of Nebuchadnezzar, and cast out from the society of men, but it was only to enter the presence of the Lord, and to hold intercourse with the King of kings. Methinks they must have been right sorry to hear the royal mandate, ‘Come forth, and come hither;’ yet they asked not miraculous preservation when no longer needful, but came forth refreshed from the furnace, their bonds alone consumed, to serve the Master they had seen with new alacrity in the high duties of their station.

II. Afflicted saints! three lessons lie here upon the surface for you; and many others will be dug up if you work the mine, for the vein of ore is rich: but these three are manifest. (1) Declare unhesitatingly your final deliverance—it glorifies God, abashes Satan, strengthens your brethren, and cheers yourself. (2) Be encouraged by the example of the three children to look for special manifestations of Christ’s Presence in affliction. Plead the promise which they realised. Seek Jesus, and you shall find Him. (3) When He removes the trial, cheerfully betake thee to the active duties of life. Be not so enamoured of the fellowship in the furnace as idly to hang back when He calls thee forth. His viewless Presence shall be with thee still; and though in the world thou hast tribulation, still in Him thou shalt have peace.

Bishop E. H. Bickersteth.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Daniel 3". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/daniel-3.html. 1876.