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Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 3

Smith's WritingsSmith's Writings

Verses 1-30

IDOLATRY

Daniel 3

In the second chapter we have seen that the power of government in an imperial form has been committed by God to the responsibility of the Gentiles. Further, we have had a prophetic outline of the four great Empires that will exercise this power during the times of the Gentiles.

In the chapters that follow, 3 to 6, we have the record of a series of historical incidents which are doubtless intended to set forth the character and conduct of these successive Gentile Empires. We shall learn that, the responsibility for government having been placed in their hands, they fail to exercise this government in dependence upon God, and thus utterly fail in their responsibility, and this from the outset.

These incidents clearly show that the outstanding features of this failure in government will be idolatry, or setting aside the rights of God 3; the exaltation of man 4, impiety 5; and finally, apostacy 6. We are thus warned that the times in which we live will end in the utmost limit of wickedness, man exalting himself against God and seeking to supplant God on the earth.

(a) The image of gold.

(V. 1). Nebuchadnezzar, the king to whom God had committed the government of the world, sets up in the plain of Dura an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits and the breadth six cubits. Possibly the image of his dream had suggested to the king this idolatrous image. If so, it only shows that if what God gives is not held with God, it will be debased to our own ends.

Here we discover the root of man's failure in responsibility to govern the world. The mighty power committed to man is at once prostituted for an exhibition of the most gigantic outburst of idolatry. Man uses the power conferred to set aside the rights of God - the One who has given the power. This, then, is the first characteristic of the times of the Gentiles, and the root of all subsequent failure.

Nebuchadnezzar, instead of exercising his power in dependence upon God, sets aside the rights of God, and seeks to consolidate his empire by a device of his own. As dominion had been given to him over the whole habitable world, of necessity his empire would be composed of many nations, speaking diverse tongues, and having different aims and interests. It follows that the king was faced with the problem of maintaining unity in this heterogeneous empire.

History and experience show that nothing so sharply divides and breaks up nations and families as a difference in religion. On the other hand, nothing will so powerfully cement nations together as unity of religion, be it false or true. Religious unity will go far to establish a political unity. Nebuchadnezzar, apparently recognising these facts, attempts to secure a political unity by setting up a religious unity. To this end he uses his great power to force upon all nations a state religion under penalty of death for those who will not conform.

A state religion must be, above all else, one that suits the natural man. To attain this end it must be of extreme simplicity, appealing to the senses, making no great demand upon the intellect, and leaving the conscience untouched. It must take up little time and require no particular sacrifice of money or goods. All these conditions were admirably met by the state religion devised by Nebuchadnezzar.

(b) The rights of God outraged (Vv. 2-7)

(Vv. 2, 3). Having set up his image, the king gathers together the political leaders of his kingdom, the princes of the royal house, the military leaders, the judges of his courts, the financiers, the counsellors; all must be present at the dedication of the image.

(Vv. 4-7). Then the command is proclaimed by a herald, that at a given moment, with the accompaniment of music, appealing to the senses, everyone is to fall down and worship the image. Failure to comply with the command will be visited with an immediate and terrible death. The one refusing to obey will "the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace."

From man's point of view, this was a very simple religion. All it demanded was a simple act of prostration before an image, and then the matter was at an end. Such a religion was admirably suited to man's fallen nature - a magnificent image to appeal to the sight, beautiful music to charm the ear, one single act of prostration that was over in a moment, that made no demand upon the purse, and raised no question of sins to make the conscience uncomfortable. The drastic penalties attached to non-compliance would hardly trouble the natural man, who would be quite ready to obey an edict which made such small demands. Hence, at the appointed time, "all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image."

Viewed in the light of the true God, the command of the king was an outburst of gross and furious idolatry. Never before had man set up such an imposing idol; never before had all the nations of the earth been commanded to bow down to one idol under pain of a terrible death. It was the utter denial and setting aside of the rights of God. Alas, such is man; put into the place of universal power over the world by God, he immediately uses this power to deny God.

(c) The conscience of man ignored (8-12).

The image and its dedication not only set aside the rights of God, but also trampled underfoot the consciences of men. In thus acting, the king had gone outside the circle of his own lawful authority and intruded into God's domain. This brings to the front certain God-fearing men who, at all costs, will obey God rather than men. There are found certain Jews who, while ready to obey the king within his own sphere, absolutely refuse to obey if he usurps the rights of God.

The enemies of these godly men, delighted to find an occasion of discrediting them before the king, approach Nebuchadnezzar with flattering phrases, and remind the king of the decree he has made, and the penalty he has imposed for disobedience. They then inform the king that three leading men have disregarded the king and his gods, and have refused to worship the image. They remind the king that he, himself, had appointed these men to the high position they held, and this was the way they requited the king. They press the fact that they are not of the ordinary rank and file, but men set over the affairs of the main provinces - facts which would magnify their offence in the eyes of the king.

(d) Persecution for non-compliance (Vv. 13-23).

(Vv. 13-15). The jealousy and hatred of the Chaldeans do their evil work. The king, finding his royal will thwarted by men whom he had set in positions of great authority, forthwith commands that these men be brought into his presence. Assuming the report to be true, he gives them a further opportunity to obey, in which case all will be well. If they refuse, they will immediately be consigned to the burning fiery Furnace, "and," he concludes, "who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?"

Now the king has gone a step further in wickedness. In setting up the image, he had already set aside the rights of God to whom worship alone is due; but now he openly defies God. This is claiming omnipotence. When man does this, his defeat is not far off for the contest is now no longer between these Jewish captives and the earthly king of kings but between Nebuchadnezzar and the God of gods. The king evidently had unbounded confidence in himself, and judged of God according to his thoughts of his own gods, whom he treated with scant respect, or surely his language would have been more moderate.

(V. 16). The three Jews, realising that the battle is the Lord's, are perfectly calm in the presence of the infuriated king. Faith in God enables them to say to the king, "We are not careful to answer thee in this matter." To them the issues are clear and admit of no compromise. The natural man might say, "It is only a small thing the king requires; you only have to bow down once to this image, and the whole thing is over in a moment, and then you are free; you need not bow down in heart. It is quite a formal affair, and simply a question of obedience to the king." But faith does not reason thus; faith obeys God, and sees clearly that it is a question of God or the king. That settles the matter; and so without any conference between themselves, they give their answer. In ordinary matters of state, touching the business of the king, they would doubtless be very careful. But this is the business of God, and, therefore, mere human care is as useless as it is unnecessary ( Luk_12:11 ).

(Vv. 17, 18). The opening words of their answer - "Our God whom we serve" - give the secret of their confidence. They knew God, and can say "our God." A true knowledge of God is the secret of power before men. Moreover, however great the position they hold before men, it is God they serve. The king had defied God in saying "Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" With great calmness these faithful men take up this challenge, and with the confidence of faith they say, "Our God . . . is able to deliver us from the burning, fiery furnace," and further, "He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king."

If, however, God allows them to suffer a martyr's death they are prepared to accept the fiery ordeal as God's way of deliverance from the king, rather than disobey God. For them it is simply a question of obeying God or man. This is still the real question between the Christian and the rulers of the world. Obedience to the powers that be is the plain direction of the word of God for His people ( Rom_13:1 ; Tit_3:1 ; 1Pe_2:13-17 ). It is not for us to raise questions as to how the authority is constituted, or as to the character of the one wielding the authority; our part is to obey. But when the will of man clashes with the word of God, and seeks to impose that will upon our consciences, we must obey God rather than man. ( Act_4:19 ).

(Vv. 19-23). The confidence of these men in God is exceedingly beautiful, but it does not lead, as we might expect, to their escape from the threatened penalty. Their faith is put to the proof without any apparent intervention by God. The king is allowed to carry out his wicked will. When it is a question of conscience, they resolutely withstand the king; now that it is a question of their bodies, they make no resistance. They act in the spirit of the Lord's words to His disciples, when He said, "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do" Luk_12:4 ).

To have his will opposed by three captive Jews fills the king with fury. He forthwith commands his servants to heat the furnace seven times more than it was wont to be heated. The strongest men of his army are deputed to bind the three captives and cast them into the furnace. In result, the fury of the king only adds to his defeat. The king has to learn that his furnace can consume his own mighty men, but cannot hurt the servants of God, if God acts on their behalf, even though the furnace be seven times heated.

(e) Deliverance for the faithful (Vv. 24-30).

(Vv. 24, 25). The only effect of the furnace for the three captives is to put them into the company of the Son of God and to free them from their bonds. This, in different degrees and by other means, is ever the result of persecution for those who have faith in God. The man of the ninth of John endured in his day the persecution of the Jewish leaders, only to find himself set free from Jewish bondage in the company of the Son of God.

The effect upon the king is immediate. He rises up in haste, declaring that he sees four men "walking in the midst of the Fire . . . and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." This was the true secret of the three captives walking unscathed in the midst of the fire - they were in the company of the Son of God. What can the saints not do in His company? In His company they can walk on the water ( Matt. 14 ), and in His company they can walk in the midst of the fire, thus fulfilling the promise made to the prophet, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee . . . when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee" ( Isa_43:2 ).

(Vv. 26, 27). The humbled king now admits that these three captives are the servants of the Most High God, and calls them to come forth. The princes, governors, captains and counsellors are compelled to bear witness to the discomfiture of the great king who had defied the living God, and the frustration of his plan to establish a religious unity.

(Vv. 28-30). In the presence of this great miracle the King has to recognise the intervention of God on behalf of those "that trusted in Him." Moreover, he owns that their action had "changed the king's word." He bears witness that their confidence in God was such that they had "yielded their bodies" rather than serve or worship any God except their own God.

The king thereupon makes a decree that no people, nation or language shall speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-nego under penalty of being cut to pieces and having their houses made a dunghill, for he admits that "there is no other God that can deliver after this sort." Apparently, all nations can serve their own gods, but they must not speak anything amiss of the God of these faithful men. Not only is the king's purpose to establish a religious unity entirely frustrated, but the jealous schemes of the enemies of these captives are brought to nought, for in result these captives each receive promotion in the province of Babylon.

Such is the historical commencement of the times of the Gentiles. In it we have a foreshadowing of scenes that will be enacted at the close of this period. History will repeat itself, and this effort to establish an idolatrous religious unity will be made in a still more terrible form at the end. Man is a religious being, and if he throws off allegiance to the true God, he will make a false god. If he has a false god, he will have no objection to a representation of his god, for the natural man must have something to see and touch - something for sight and sense. Thus it will come to pass that an image will be made of the head of the last Gentile power, and it will be decreed that all who will not worship the image will be killed. The times of the Gentiles opened with idolatry and will close with the worst form of idolatry - the worship of a man as God ( Rev_13:11-18 ).

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Daniel 3". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/daniel-3.html. 1832.
 
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