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The whole image that the king built was gold. The head of the image that Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his dream was also gold.
"Daniel had told him that he was the head of gold (Daniel 2:38) but that he would be followed by ’another kingdom inferior to you’ (Daniel 2:39) made of silver (Daniel 2:32). Rejecting now the idea that any kingdom could follow his own, he may have determined to show the permanence of his golden kingdom by having the entire image covered with gold." [Note: Ibid.]
This image stood about 99 feet high and nine feet wide. This is the height of a ten-story building and the width of a 9-feet by 12-feet room. The famous Colossus of Rhodes stood 70 cubits (105 feet) high astride the entrance to that ancient port. It is interesting that the dimensions of this statue, 60 cubits and 6 cubits, contain the number 6, which also appears in the mark of the Beast, 666, a latter day equivalent. [Note: See Ironside, p. 47.]
We do not know what the image represented. If it was a figure of a human, it probably stood on a substantial base since it was quite narrow for such a tall statue. However, it may have represented an animal, or a combination of human and animal. Archaeologists have discovered Babylonian images of all these types. [Note: See Leupold, p. 137; Young, pp. 83-85; or Keil, pp. 118-19.] These images are also sometimes quite narrow in proportion to their height. Customarily these were wooden statues overlaid with gold (cf. Isaiah 40:19; Isaiah 41:7; Jeremiah 10:3-9). [Note: Montgomery, p. 195.] Herodotus described a statue of Bel made of 800 talents (22 tons) of gold, but Nebuchadnezzar’s image would have been much heavier and more costly. [Note: Herodotus, History of the Persian Wars, 1:183.]
In view of Nebuchadnezzar’s extraordinary ego (cf. ch. 4), the image may have been a likeness of him. [Note: Feinberg, p. 44.] However, there is no evidence that the Mesopotamians ever worshiped statues of their rulers as divine during the ruler’s lifetime. [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 50.] Some writers have suggested that the image may have resembled an obelisk similar to those found in Egypt. [Note: E.g., Pentecost, p. 1337; Young, p. 84; and Baldwin, p. 99.] It is likely that the image represented Nebuchadnezzar’s patron god, Nebo. [Note: Dyer, p. 706.]
The most probable site of the Dura Plain seems to be six miles southeast of Babylon. [Note: Montgomery, p. 197.] The Aramaic word dura ("fortification") is common and refers to a place enclosed by a wall or perhaps mountains. [Note: Leupold, p. 137; Keil, p. 119; Pentecost, p. 1337.]
1. The worship of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue 3:1-7
Nebuchadnezzar summoned his officials to the image for what he probably intended to be a demonstration of loyalty to him.
"The fairly recent date of the establishment of the Babylonian Empire as the successor to Assyria (at least in its southern half) made it appropriate for Nebuchadnezzar to assemble all the local and provincial leaders from every part of his domain and, in essence, exact from them a solemn oath of loyalty . . ." [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 51.]
The religious connotations of the gathering are unclear, but it was probably not a summons to worship one idol as God. The Babylonians were a polytheistic people and worshiped many gods.
"A refusal to yield homage to the gods of the kingdom, they regarded as an act of hostility against the kingdom and its monarch, while every one might at the same time honour his own national god. This acknowledgment, that the gods of the kingdom were the more powerful, every heathen could grant; and thus, Nebuchadnezzar demanded nothing in a religious point of view which every one of his subjects could not yield. To him, therefore, the refusal of the Jews could not but appear as opposition to the greatness of his kingdom." [Note: Keil, p. 124.]
Some of the titles of the officials named in the text are Persian and some are Babylonian. Daniel may have updated some of these Babylonian titles with modern Persian equivalents when he wrote the book in its final form. Or perhaps they were already common when the events of this chapter happened.
The "satraps" were the highest political officials in each province. The "prefects" (princes) were military chiefs. The "governors" (captains) were heads of sections of the provinces. The "counselors" (advisers, judges) were high-ranking judges. The "treasurers" were superintendents of the treasury. The "judges" (counselors) were secondary judges, and the "magistrates" (sheriffs) were lower level legal officials. The "rulers" (officials) were subordinates of the satraps. [Note: Ibid., pp. 120-21.] These groups represented all the administrative government officials of the wide-ranging empire, and they spoke many different languages (Daniel 3:7).
The musical instruments referred to (Daniel 3:5; Daniel 3:7) also have Persian names. [Note: Archer, A Survey . . ., p. 375; K. A. Kitchen, "The Aramaic in Daniel," in Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel, p. 43; T. C. Mitchell and R. Joyce, "The Musical Instruments in Nebuchadnezzar’s Orchestra," in Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel, pp. 19-27.] Some of these instruments were Greek as well. The Greeks had an influence on Babylonia earlier than Daniel’s time. [Note: W. F. Albright, From Stone Age to Christianity, p. 259; E. M. Yamauchi, Greece and Babylon, pp. 17-24; Leupold, p. 143.] These were various wind and stringed instruments. [Note: For a full description of each, see Mitchell and Joyce, pp. 19-27; Leupold, pp. 144-45; Keil, pp. 122-24; and Charles H. Dyer, "The Musical Instruments in Daniel 3," Bibliotheca Sacra 147:588 (October-December 1990):426-36.] The Babylonians seem to have been an almost music-crazed culture (cf. Psalms 137:3; Isaiah 14:11). [Note: See Ironside, pp. 48-50, for interesting insights into spurious and real music in worship.]
"The story of the three young men who were thrown into the fire because they would not worship the image (Daniel 3), brings to mind the great brick-kilns outside the city, where the bricks required for certain purposes in the vast building projects of Nebuchadnezzar were baked. Some of these great ovens were found in the [archaeological] excavations. Worth noting in this connection is a rather Solomonic judicial directive of the ruler Rim Sin (1750 B.C.), which appears in a recently published document of the Yale Babylonian Collection. He speaks thus concerning four men of Larsa: ’Because they threw a young slave into an oven, throw ye a slave into a furnace.’ Clearly, that sort of thing was nothing new in Babylonia." [Note: E. G. Kraeling, Rand McNally Bible Atlas, p. 323. See also J. B. Alexander, "New Light on the Fiery Furnace," Journal of Biblical Literature 69:4 (December 1950):375-76.]
Other authorities believed the furnace was beehive or funnel-shaped and was constructed of metal. [Note: See Goldingay, p. 70.]
In the Tribulation, the Antichrist will command everyone to worship him and his image (Revelation 13:3-18).
The Chaldeans who brought charges against Daniel’s three friends were nobles, not just astrologers. The Aramaic term gubrin kasda’in makes this clear. [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 53.] They were in a position to profit personally from the execution of the three Jews, perhaps even to step into the government positions they occupied.
2. The charge against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego 3:8-12
The charge was disregarding the king’s command concerning pledging allegiance by bowing before the image. This constituted proof that the three Jews did not worship the king’s gods and were not loyal to him.
"In situations like this, no crime is greater then nonconformity, yet that is exactly what God asks of us when the things of the world are arrayed against the things of God (Romans 12:1-2)." [Note: Feinberg, p. 44.]
Many Israelites worshipped idols in Palestine, and Moses had predicted that they would worship them in exile (Deuteronomy 4:27-28), but these young men were as scrupulous about their observance of the Mosaic Law as Daniel. For them, death was preferable to disobedience. Nebuchadnezzar’s gods were responsible for his success, according to Mesopotamian thinking, and to disregard them was tantamount to repudiating Nebuchadnezzar.
"The Chaldeans’ attack, and Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction, suggests that they saw the Jews’ stance as involving both disloyalty (as if it were the king’s statue) and impiety (as if it were a god’s). Whatever the nature of the statue, it held religion and state together." [Note: Goldingay, p. 73.]
The term "Jew" usually appears as a pejorative term, as here, wherever it occurs in the Old Testament. It is a term that the Israelites’ enemies used to describe them (cf. Daniel 6:13).
The absence of reference to Daniel here raises questions. Had he worshiped the image? Was he away on government business, was he occupied with pressing matters, or was he ill and unable to attend the ceremony? Did he enjoy such an exalted position or such favor with the king that these Chaldeans dared not accuse him? The writer did not explain this mystery. It was the response of Daniel’s three Hebrew friends that he wanted to stress. It seems safe to assume that if Daniel had been present, he would have responded as his three friends did.
"Those who had proven themselves loyal at the royal court in Babylon would have been exempt from the ceremony. Thus Daniel did not have to appear at the gathering because he had been with Nebuchadnezzar at the royal court." [Note: Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 706.]
"God does not test all of His children at the same time or in the same manner." [Note: Campbell, p. 33.]
Nebuchadnezzar reacted to the news of the three Jews’ response angrily (cf. Daniel 2:12; Daniel 3:19). He evidently took their disobedience as a personal affront as well as an act of insubordination. Nevertheless he controlled himself sufficiently to give them a second chance to obey and restated the punishment for disobedience. The king distinguished between serving his gods and worshiping his golden image (Daniel 3:14). This confirms that the worship of the image was primarily political rather than religious. However, failure to worship reflected disbelief in the king’s gods, which was evidence of these Jews’ lack of cooperation in things Babylonian.
3. The response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego 3:13-18
Even though Nebuchadnezzar had witnessed and testified to the sovereignty of Yahweh previously (Daniel 2:47), he clearly did not believe that even He could save the accused (Daniel 3:15). Perhaps he figured that giving information was one thing, but saving people from a fiery death was something requiring greater supernatural power (cf. 2 Kings 18:33; Isaiah 36:13-20). Similarly, many people today believe that God inspired the Bible, but they do not believe that He can deliver them from their serious personal problems, much less world problems. The king set himself above all gods; none of these gods could deliver the three Hebrews from him. He claimed absolute authority in political and religious realms.
The three young men told the king that they did not need to give him an answer. "We" is emphatic in the original text and implies a contrast with Yahweh. God would give the king an answer. Perhaps they meant that Nebuchadnezzar should have had no question about their loyalty to him. They did not need to argue that. Surely the king knew that their faith prohibited them from worshiping any god but Yahweh. They were known to be Jews (Daniel 1:6-7).
They said they believed the Lord could deliver them from any fiery furnace and that He would deliver them. However, they also acknowledged the possibility that it might be God’s will not to deliver them. God does not always save the lives of His children when they face martyrdom. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego knew this, but they had no question about God’s ability to save them (cf. Matthew 10:28). Whether God would deliver them or not, they refused to serve idols or to bow before the king’s image (Exodus 20:3-5).
"The quiet, modest, yet withal very positive attitude of faith that these three men display is one of the noblest examples in the Scriptures of faith fully resigned to the will of God. These men ask for no miracle; they expect none. Theirs is the faith that says: ’Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him,’ Job 13:15." [Note: Leupold, p. 153.]
". . . Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego loved Yahweh more than life itself. Not only had they learned to recite the Shema-’Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)-but they made it the center of their lives. For them the will and glory of Yahweh meant more than fame, position, or security." [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 54. Cf. Acts 20:24.]
"Those who believe the saying, ’Every man has his price!’ should consider well the response of these men in this crisis when their lives were at stake. They could not be bought-for any price!" [Note: Campbell, p. 35.]
"The courteous but determined refusal of the Hebrews should be carefully observed. They had obeyed ’the powers that be’ as far as conscience permitted. They journeyed to the Plain of Dura. And right at the point where conscience shouted, ’No further!’ they rejected the temptation to be arrogant in their non-conformity. As Daniel before them had been courteous in his request to follow his convictions, so these three verbally acknowledge Nebuchadnezzar as king, while committing their ultimate allegiance to the King of kings alone. (cf. Acts 5:29; Matthew 22:21.)." [Note: D. Ford, Daniel, p. 107.]
The determination of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to withhold the form of allegiance that Nebuchadnezzar required made the king as angry as he could be. He apparently ordered the furnace heated to seven times its normal heat to make an example of them. "Seven times more" is a proverbial expression for "much more" in some passages (cf. Proverbs 24:16; Proverbs 26:16), and it probably has that meaning here, too.
"His furnace was hot, but he himself got hotter! And when a man gets full of fury, he gets full of folly. There is no fool on earth like a man who has lost his temper. And Nebuchadnezzar did a stupid thing. He ought to have cooled the furnace seven times less if he had wanted to hurt them; but instead of that in his fury he heated it seven times more." [Note: G. R. King, Daniel, p. 85.]
4. The execution of the king’s command 3:19-23
The fact that they were fully clothed when thrown into the furnace (Daniel 3:21) will feature later in the story. The Medo-Persian nobles later tried to have Daniel executed by getting King Darius to throw him to the lions (Daniel 6:7; cf. Revelation 12:10). That the men who threw them into the fire perished is testimony to the faithfulness of God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). God cursed those who cursed His chosen people. Compare the fate of Haman (Esther 7:10). Their fate should have warned the king.
"Judging from bas-reliefs, it would seem that Mesopotamian smelting furnaces tended to be like an old-fashioned glass milk-bottle in shape, with a large opening for the insertion of the ore to be smelted and a smaller aperture at ground level for the admission of wood and charcoal to furnish the heat. There must have been two or more smaller holes at this same level to permit the insertion of pipes connected with large bellows, when it was desired to raise the temperature beyond what the flue or chimney would produce. Undoubtedly the furnace itself was fashioned of very thick adobe, resistant to intense heat. The large upper door was probably raised above the level of the fire bed so that the metal smelted from the ore would spill on the ground in case the crucibles were upset." [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 56.]
As Nebuchadnezzar watched what was happening inside the furnace, he marveled to see that the three Jews did not perish in an instant. Rising from his seat, he saw them loosed from their bonds and walking around inside the furnace. What startled him even more was the presence of a fourth person with them. The fourth person had an unusual appearance, like "a son of gods" (lit.). The king probably meant that this fourth person appeared to be super-human or divine from his viewpoint as a pagan polytheist. Evidently the fourth person was either an angel or the Angel of the Lord, the preincarnate Christ (cf. Genesis 16:13; et al.). He was with the three men in their affliction and protected them from harm in it (cf. Exodus 3:12; Psalms 23:4-5; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 43:1-3; Isaiah 63:9; Matthew 28:20). He did not deliver them from the fire but in it (cf. Romans 8:37).
5. God’s deliverance of His servants 3:24-27
Nebuchadnezzar then drew as close to the large door of the furnace as he could. It stood open to provide a view inside. He called to the three victims to come out of the furnace, and they responded obediently this time. The fourth person disappeared as he had appeared. The king described Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego as servants of the "Most High God" (Daniel 3:26). This title for God appears 13 times in Daniel, more than in any other book except Psalms. Seven times, either Nebuchadnezzar used it to describe God (Daniel 3:36; Daniel 4:2; Daniel 4:17; Daniel 4:34), or Daniel used it in speaking of God to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:24-25; Daniel 4:32). Daniel used it twice when speaking to Belshazzar about Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 5:18; Daniel 5:21). It occurs four times in chapter 7, Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, three times in the words of the interpreting angel (Daniel 7:18; Daniel 7:25; Daniel 7:27), and once in Daniel’s words in that chapter (Daniel 7:22). With this title the king ascribed greater power to their God than to any other. He had obviously delivered them, as they said He could (Daniel 3:17), and the leaders of the Babylonian Empire had witnessed the miracle.
". . . it [the title "the most High God"] suggests a God of universal authority, but of otherwise undefined personal qualities. For a pagan, it would denote only the highest among many gods, but as an epithet of El it was accepted in early OT times and applied to Yahweh, so that for a Jew it has monotheistic (or mono-Yahwistic) implications." [Note: Goldingay, p. 72.]
The three Jews had escaped every form of destruction, even the smell of smoke. The ropes that bound them, symbolic of Nebuchadnezzar’s power over them, were gone, undoubtedly burned up by the fire.
"Just as the reign of Nebuchadnezzar is symbolic of the entire period of the times of the Gentiles, so the deliverance of Daniel’s three companions is typical of the deliverance of Israel during the period of Gentile domination. Particularly at the end of the Gentile period Israel will be in fiery affliction, but as Isaiah prophesied, ’But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee’ (Isaiah 43:1-2)." [Note: Walvoord, p. 92.]
The three Hebrew young men quenched the fury of flames with their faith in their faithful God (Hebrews 11:34; cf. 1 Maccabees 2:59).
Nebuchadnezzar’s acknowledgment of Yahweh’s superior power was an advance upon his earlier tribute to Yahweh’s ability to reveal mysteries (Daniel 2:47). The pagans believed that the gods used messengers to carry out their will. Evidently the king viewed the fourth person in the furnace as a messenger from Yahweh. This deliverance made Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s God superior to all others in Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes. He had to acknowledge Yahweh’s sovereignty over his own god, Nebo, in this respect. Therefore he issued a decree ordering everyone to respect Yahweh and to say nothing against Him.
Nebuchadnezzar’s ability to cancel one of his laws and replace it with another is an evidence of the might of his personal power. Rulers of the Medo-Persian Empire, which replaced the Babylonian Empire (cf. Daniel 2:38-39), could not do this; it was impossible for them to override a previously written law (cf. Daniel 6:8; Daniel 6:12; Daniel 6:15; Esther 1:19). Nebuchadnezzar made Judaism a recognized religion with rights to toleration and respect. [Note: Goldingay, p. 75.] His edict may have been responsible in part for the fairly comfortable conditions under which the Israelites lived in Babylonian exile.
This chapter began with Nebuchadnezzar intending to unite his kingdom under one religion (Daniel 3:5), but it ends with him acknowledging Yahweh’s sovereignty and permitting His worship. This does not necessarily mean, of course, that Nebuchadnezzar abandoned his pagan polytheism and cast himself wholly on Yahweh in saving faith, though some interpreters have concluded that he did come into a saving relationship with Yahweh. [Note: E.g., Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 709.]
6. The consequences of God’s deliverance 3:28-30
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego also received the king’s blessing. He approved their faith in Yahweh, who had demonstrated Himself to be as powerful as His three faithful followers had claimed that He was.
"This historical incident seems to have prophetic significance as well. In the coming Tribulation a Gentile ruler (Daniel 7:8) will demand for himself the worship that belongs to God (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:8). Any who refuse to acknowledge his right to receive worship will be killed (Revelation 13:15). Assuming political and religious power, he will oppress Israel (Revelation 13:7). Most of the people in the world, including many in Israel, will submit to and worship him. But a small remnant in Israel, like the three in Daniel’s day, will refuse. Many who will not worship the Antichrist will be severely punished; some will be martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. But a few will be delivered from those persecutions by the Lord Jesus Christ at His second coming [cf. Zechariah 13:8; Revelation 12:10-17].
"In the forthcoming Tribulation period God will do for this believing remnant what He did for Daniel’s three companions. They withstood the decree of the king, and though they were not exempted from suffering and oppression they were delivered out of it by the God they trusted." [Note: Pentecost, p. 1340.]
This chapter advances the revelation in the preceding ones. Previously, God had revealed Himself as the only God who can reveal mysteries: things previously unknown but now made clear by Him. The image that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, and that Daniel interpreted (ch. 2), was a revelation of future world kingdoms and their characteristics. Chapter 3 shows that Yahweh is powerful enough to control history miraculously. He does so to remain true to His promises to His people, and to deliver those who put their trust in Him. He can reveal the future, but He can also bring it into existence. Chapter 2 demonstrates the wisdom of God, and chapter 3 the power of God primarily (cf. Daniel 2:20-23). The witness to Yahweh’s superior powers was the most powerful human being of his day: King Nebuchadnezzar. Thus there should be no question about the Lord’s greatness.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Daniel 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany