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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 3

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-7


SECT. XII.—THE GOLDEN IMAGE (Chap. Daniel 3:1-7)

Sudden conversions not always lasting ones. Mere impulses often evanescent. Men’s goodness sometimes “as the early cloud or as the morning dew that passeth away.” The stony-ground hearers “with joy anon receive the word, but dure only for a while.” Some more liable than others to be suddenly moved—impulsive characters. Nebuchadnezzar apparently such. Liable to be suddenly and strongly moved, both to good and evil. On hearing Daniel’s description and interpretation of his dream, he felt convinced that Daniel’s God was the true one. Under the influence of this conviction, he had raised Daniel, and at his request his three friends, to the highest offices in the state. He appeared a converted man, and in a certain sense perhaps was one. But there are different kinds of conversion. There are those which reach the centre of the soul, and those which only touch the circumference. Much may be changed before the heart is so. The suburbs of a city may be taken when the city itself is not. Even the city may be taken while the citadel remains in the hands of the besieged. Saul, the future king of Israel, had another heart given him, but not a new heart. We may have new notions without a new nature. Providences, appeals, human appliances may produce the one; only divine almighty power can impart the other. The sow, only washed externally, wallows again in the mire. As yet, at least, Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion only of this character. Time had effaced his impressions; and Daniel’s frequent and necessary absence from court might leave him open to unfavourable influences. Thus in an evil hour, whether from a feeling of pride in desiring to erect a symbol of his own greatness [83], or a wish to introduce a new deity for his own future glory, or a sudden fit of superstitious devotion to his god Bel-Merodach [84], or the idea of employing religion for a political purpose in the consolidation of his extensive but heterogeneous empire [85], or, finally, which is perhaps the most likely, from the wily suggestion of envious courtiers, as in the case of Darius and the lions’ den, Nebuchadnezzar, notwithstanding his former confession of the true God, resolves to erect in the plains of Dura [86] a colossal image of gold, and to command all his subjects, at a given signal, to fall down and worship it. We may notice—

[83] “The image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up” (Daniel 3:2). Dr. Rule observes that about three centuries and a half before the event narrated in the passage before us, an Assyrian king, named Asshur-akh-bal, as he relates in his own annals, erected a similar image in one of the cities which he had conquered. The king says: “I made an image of my majesty; the laws and emblems of my true religion I wrote upon it, and in the city of Isuri I set it up.” Dr. Rule thinks that the object exposed by Nebuchadnezzar for public reverence was no doubt intended to be an image of his majesty.

[84] “Whoso falleth not down, and worshippeth” (Daniel 3:6). Dr. Smith remarks that Nebuchadnezzar’s first care, after obtaining quiet possession of his kingdom after the first Syrian expedition, was to rebuild the temple of Bel (Bel-Merodach) out of the spoils of the Syrian war. Dr. Taylor thinks Bel-Merodach the idol intended by the image. “He who pays homage to Merodach,” one of Nebuchadnezzar’s titles. “We commonly observe, as peculiar to Nebuchadnezzar, a disposition to rest his fame on his great works rather than in his military achievements; and a strong religious spirit, manifesting itself especially in a direction which is almost exclusive to one particular god, though his own tutelary deity and that of his father was Nebo (Mercury), yet his worship, his ascriptions of praise, his thanksgivings, have in almost every case for their object the god Merodach. Under his protection he placed his son Evil-Merodach. Merodach is his ‘lord,’ his ‘great lord,’ the ‘joy of his heart,’ the ‘great lord who has appointed him to the empire of the world, and has confided to his care the far-spread people of the earth.’ He was to him ‘the supreme chief of the gods.’ ”—Rawlinson, quoted by Dr. Taylor. Dr. Taylor remarks that, according to Prideaux, the festival took place after Nebuchadnezzar’s return from the destruction of Jerusalem, with the blinded King Zedekiah among his captives; and that it is by no means improbable that he meant on that special occasion to exalt his god above the Jehovah of the Hebrews.

[85] The erection of the statue is believed by Dr. Taylor and others to have had also a political design, the king’s religious fervour, as in the case of multitudes since his day, being subordinated to imperial policy, and unity of worship sought only that it might contribute to the political unity of the empire.
[86] “The plain of Dura.” According to Dr. Smith and others, not Dur on the left bank of the Tigris, and a hundred and twenty miles from Babylon, but more probably in the vicinity of the mound of Dowair or Duair, to the south-east of Babylon, where Oppert discovered the pedestal of a colossal statue,—a singular attestation of the authenticity of the narrative. The older commentators, as Junius, Polanus, and Willet, thought of the Deera in Susiana, mentioned by Ptolemy. Hengstenberg observes that the name is found nowhere else, neither in the Scriptures nor in profane writers, and that the author omits to afford any more precise geographical definition, assuming the place to be known to his readers; a corroborative evidence of the genuineness of the book.

I. The Image and its Erection. The image, doubtless erected on a pedestal, one of gigantic size [87], and constructed of, or overlaid with, the most precious metal [88]. What the king of Babylon did must be vast and colossal. Such was the city itself which he had built, or rather rebuilt, with its mountain of hanging gardens. Nebuchadnezzar’s empire colossal, and everything must be in keeping with it. A man’s ambitious aims often grow with his success. Nebuchadnezzar’s ideas now like those of his predecessors on the same plain of Shinar: “Let us build us a tower whose top shall reach into heaven.” Possibly the conception from the image seen in his dream. That dream, that should have humbled his pride and taught him the vanity of all earthly greatness and glory, perhaps made now the occasion of rebellion against the God who graciously sent it. Man’s fallen nature perverts mercies into mischiefs. Sin often makes what was designed for our benefit to become our bane. God’s gifts frequently made objects of idolatry to the dishonour of the Giver. The brazen serpent, which was given as the means of healing to one generation, made the object of idolatrous worship by another. Before the image is worshipped, however, it must be solemnly dedicated to the deity to honour whom it was erected and whom it was intended to represent. This was done in the presence of all the grandees of the realm [89].

[87] “Whose height was threescore cubits.” The immense image, says M. Gaussen, about a hundred feet high, though not higher than the bronze statue of Carlo Borromeo in the vicinity of the Lago Maggiore, which is sixty-four feet in height, and rests on a pedestal thirty-six feet high. The Colossus at Rhodes, dedicated to the sun, was seventy cubits high.

[88] “An image of gold.” Dr. Taylor remarks that the same terms being else where employed to denote that which was simply overlaid with gold, we may conclude that the image was formed of wood covered with a thin layer of gold; even thus, however, sufficiently costly. Matthew Henry’s remark on the passage has too much truth in it: “The worshippers of false gods are not wont to stick at charges in setting up gods and worshipping them. ‘They lavish gold out of the bag’ for that purpose (Isaiah 46:6), which shames our niggardliness in the worship of the true God.”

[89] “The King sent to gather together the princes, the governors,” &c. Of the officers of the court and state, we have (1.) The “princes” אֲחַשְׁדַּרְפְּנַיָּא. akhash darpenaiya), according to Keil and Hengstenberg, from kshetra, a kingdom or province, and ban, an overseer or guardian; “princes.” Gesenius, however, regards the word as the Hebrew form of the Zend or Pehlevic kshatrap (a satrap), and understands “presidents of the greater provinces;” officers among the ancient Persians invested with civil and military power; deputies and lieutenants of the king, whose splendour they imitated. Wintle, like the Sept. and Vulgate, renders the word “satraps.” (2.) The “governors” (סִגְנַיָּא, signaiya, a word of Persian origin), according to Hengstenberg, “chief magistrates of Babylon; the rulers of provinces;” Sept. “generals or commanders.” Wintle renders the word “senators.” Dr. Rule regards them as governors over districts, officers of the civil order. Rendered “governors” in chap. Daniel 2:48, and applied to those who presided over colleges of the Magi. (3.) The “captains” (פַּחֲוָתָא pakhavatha), superintendents of single parts of a province in the Assyrian empire, or of a smaller province than a satrapy. The word probably of Persian origin. According to Benfey, from the Sanscrit paksha, a companion or friend, and so a prefect of a province, as the associate of the king; a pasha.—Hengstenberg. Dr. Rule thinks them to have been of the military order, dukes or generals. (4.) The “judges” (אֲדַרְגָּזְרַיָּא adargoz-raiya), from אדר (adar), dignity, and גזרין (gozrin), judges; the chief judges.—Gesenius. So Wintle. Dr. Rule makes them viceroys over the provinces. (5.) The “treasurers” (גְּדָבְרַיָּא, gedobhraiya), like גִּזְבָּר (gizbar) in Ezra 1:8 and elsewhere, the sibilant ז being changed into ד; from the original Semitic גנז (ganaz), contracted into גז (gaz), the Aramaic form, and the Persian termination var, serving for the formation of possessives. The officers who had charge of the royal exchequer, like the eunuch of Ethiopia in Acts 8:0.—Gesenius. According to Dr. Rule, they belonged to the fiscal order of officers and were collectors of the revenue. (6.) The “councillors” (דְּתָבְרַיָּא dethobraiya), promulgators of the law, from דַּת (dath), law, and the Persian termination var; lawyers, judges.—Hengstenberg. So Rule, officers of the legal class; doctors or lawyers. (7.) The “sheriffs” (תִּפְתָּיֵא, tiphtaye), perhaps from the Arabic fata, to give a legal opinion or judgment; whence mufti; counsellors, perhaps lawyers or pleaders.—Hengstenberg. The Vulgate has “prefects.” Dr. Rule thinks them officers in the executive department, being responsible for the execution of justice. The exact knowlege displayed by the writer of the entire political constitution of the Chaldees, a corroborative evidence of the genuineness of the book. Bertholdt admits that the statements in this chapter respecting the Chaldean political constitution are so copious that it must necessarily have been written in Upper Asia. Gesenius also admits the authenticity of the statements; remarking that “since the constitution of the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires had certainly great similarity; since, too, the descriptions of the Persian court occurring in the Book of Esther always differ essentially from those of the Book of Daniel; and finally, since the incidental but cotemporary notices of Jeremiah agree in many points; these statements, which besides have the analogy of the whole East in their favour, are not to be rashly rejected.” Impossible to explain this knowledge in a Maccabean Jew. With the occupation of the Greeks everything took another form, and most certainly the administration of the court and of the highest offices of the state.—Hengstenberg.

II. The command to worship it. The image erected not for the people to admire but to worship. The people not left to worship it at their option, but commanded by royal authority to do so, and that with the penalty of death on refusing. As the king’s god, it must be worshipped by the people also, and that as a matter of obedience and loyalty to himself. Natural for fallen man to stretch his power and authority to the utmost limits. Rulers, not content with obedience in things civil and secular, must also prescribe in sacred ones; not satisfied with the things that are Cæsar’s, they must have also the things that are God’s. Perhaps they think to render themselves and their kingdom more acceptable to God by compelling others to worship Him in the way they themselves think best; forgetting that religion is a matter between each man and God, and that conscience is a domain which even kings may not enter. Persuasion and example in matters of religion, a prince’s privilege; authority the prerogative of God. To command here, without a command from God, both a mischief and a mistake. Hence persecuting edicts, Inquisitions, and Star-chambers. To all such Nebuchadnezzar [90] now led the way. The command was, within one short hour after the sound of the music [91] to worship the image or die the death. The penalty, doubtless, annexed with special reference to the Jewish exiles: the idolatrous Chaldeans needed no such enforcement. The death a very terrible one—cast into a fiery furnace [92]. The penalty the flames. That furnace the prototype of the auto da fés, and the fires of Smithfield in later days. Superstition and cruelty twin sisters. The Babylon of the Old Testament followed by the Babylon of the New. Both of them the “mother of harlots” and the persecutor of the saints. The saints burned by the former under the title of rebels; by the latter, under that of heretics. The Papal Bull, De Comburendo, ‘concerning the burning of heretics,’ a subsequent edition of the present edict of Nebuchadnezzar.

[90] “The same hour.” Dr. Rule remarks, that if, as Sir H. Rawlinson calculates, there were sixty divisions of the day and night in Babylon, and not twenty-four, as afterwards in Greece, the vengeance would be swift indeed—only twenty-four minutes. “Who can say that the shadow of the pillar (image) itself would not serve to measure the brief space between the sentence and the execution?”

[91] “All kinds of music,” זְמָרָא (zemara), music in general, though among the modern Egyptians the name of a pipe. The Greek names of some of the instruments mentioned are alleged as an objection to the genuineness of the book. One of the objectors to certain parts of it, however, J. D. Michaelis, remarks in reference to his own arguments on this head, that “the more closely they were examined, the more completely most of them disappeared.” Hengstenberg remarks, “The dispute is at most about the names of three musical instruments; and who can deny that these might, by even the slightest intercourse of the Greeks with the Babylonians, have found their way to the latter?” Dr. Pusey, who ably follows up Hengstenberg on this subject, observes: “It were rather a marvel if the golden music-loving city had not gathered to itself foreign musical instruments; or if, in a religious inauguration at Babylon, all the variety of music which it could command had not been united to grace the festival and bear along the minds and imaginations of the people.” Dr. Pusey properly insists on the well-known fact that “the name follows the thing;” but Pareau, quoted by Hengstenberg, observes that the similarity in the names of musical instruments is of such a kind that the Greek appellatives are rather to be considered as having an Eastern origin. The instruments mentioned are—(1.) The “cornet,” קַרְנָא (karna), the Hebrew קֶרֶן (keren), a horn. (2.) “Flute,” מַשְׁרוֹקִיתָא (mashrokitha), the Chaldaic for a flute or pipe. The Septuagint and Theodotion: σύριγξ; Gr. Ven.: αὐλός. (3.) “Harp,” קַיתְרוֹס (kathros or kithros), which Gesenius says was received into the Semitic language from abroad, being the Greek κίθαρις or κιθάρα, a “harp,” as both the Septuagint, Theodotion, and the Vulgate translate it. Hengstenberg admits that it certainly appears to be the same word as the Greek κίθαρις, but asks, since most of the names of Greek musical instruments were of foreign origin, why should just this one be originally Greek? (4.) “Sackbut,” סַבְּכָא (sabbecha), according to Hesychius, an instrument like a harp, but with only four strings. Athenæus says that the sambuca, called the Phœnician lyre, was an invention of the Syrians. Its foreign or non-Greek origin is maintained by Gesenius, and generally admitted. (5.) “Psaltery,” פְּסַנְתְּרִין (pesanteriu), according to Gesenius and others, the Greek ψαλτήριον, received into the Chaldaic language; which, however, is questioned by Hengstenberg. (6.) “Dulcimer,” סוּמְפֹּנְיָא (sumponia), retained untranslated by the Septuagint, Theodotion, the Vulgate, and the Greek Venetian; according to Gesenius, a bagpipe with two pipes inserted into a bag, which he says, on the authority of Polybius in Athenæus, was, at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, used by Greeks living in Syria under that name. Symphonia, though with the old Romans used to indicate “music,” or the concert of various instruments, was used also by the later Latins to denote a musical instrument, but rather a drum than a pipe. Saadias, on the passage, explains it as a pastoral instrument of the nature of a bagpipe, as a similar instrument used in Italy is still called sampogna. Hengstenberg questions the Greek derivation of the word, and the name of such an instrument in the older Greek language.

[92] “Be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” The punishment of death by burning in ovens was entirely Babylonian, while that practised by the Medes and Persians was the casting into a lions’ den. The description here given of the former mode of punishment admitted to be a proof that the writer had seen such an oven, and had been present at an execution of the kind; while the accuracy of his knowledge is also shown by the fact that in the sixth chapter he attributes to the Medo-Persians, not this mode of punishing, but that peculiar to themselves—an incidental corroboration of the genuineness and authenticity of the history.—Hengstenberg.

III. The obedience to the command. The edict not only issued, but obeyed. No sooner were the first strains of the music heard, than, according to the proclamation of the herald [93], the blinded multitude fall prostrate before the image. The music probably intended also for greater honour to the god and greater attraction to the service. Perhaps to stimulate and intensify the devotion of the people. The power of music recognised in the church as well as on the battlefield. The fairest gifts often perverted to the foulest purposes. Superstition and idolatry greatly indebted to the strains of music. The people bow down to the royal idol with abundant goodwill. In the East especially, people follow a superior like a flock of sheep. One also must follow another. Each must be like his neighbour. If not the true God, it matters little what men worship. ‘Gods many and lords many.’ Babylon the land of graven images. Its people mad upon their idols. Rome acknowledged the gods of all nations. Christianity was opposed and persecuted, because it was opposed to all other religions, as the only true one. The carnal mind enmity against God, not against gods, or a god of our own imagining. Idolatry the depth of human degradation. The prostrate thousands on the plains of Dura a sight that might make angels weep. “There is nothing,” says Matthew Henry, “so bad which the careless world will not be drawn to by a concert of music, or driven to by a fiery furnace.”

[93] “An herald,” כְּרוֹז (c’roz), a crier, from כְּרַֽז (c’raz), a Chaldaic word meaning “to cry,” as a herald; used in the Targums and Talmud, and also in the Samaritan. The same word is found extensively in the Indo-Germanic tongues, the Sanscrit, Zend, and Persian; being the Greek κηρύσσω, to proclaim as a herald, and κράζω, to cry; the middle Latin criso; the German krieschen; and the English cry. Gesenius thinks the word is of Persian origin, though Hengstenberg believes it to be originally Semitic, and its relation to the Greek only accidental, or from onomatopoeia. He remarks that it is almost unanimously agreed by modern linguists that the names of Babylonian gods, kings, and other persons, which occur in the Bible and in profane writers, find their explanation in the Persian, the Chaldaic, and Assyrian languages; belonging, according to Gesenius and others, to the Medo-Persiau stock; and according to others, as Rosenmüller, to the Assyrian language, a dialect of the Medo-Persian, and so naturalised in Babylon, though the Assyrian predominated. Words of Persian origin also found in Jeremiah, and apparently even in Isaiah and Nahum. No argument therefore against the genuineness of the book.

We may observe as lessons from the passage—

1. The danger of losing good impressions and turning asiae from a good profession. Too many copies of Nebuchadnezzar to be found in the Christian Church. “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” Constant need of David’s prayer: “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.”

2. Impressions, however good and deep, not to be mistaken for conversions. Present feelings neither to be slighted nor trusted to. A true conversion will in time produce its own evidence. “Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.” “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

3. Mere human authority neither to be exercised nor yielded to in matters of religion. “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). So Acts 4:19. The case of a parent in regard to his children who are under the years of discretion, an apparent exception to the above rule. But even here the authority is to be exercised only in commanding what God has already enjoined. “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” (Genesis 18:19).

4. Care to be taken not to follow the multitude to do evil. That a practice is popular, no proof that it is right. Neither the rectitude of a course, nor the truth of an opinion, to be decided by the law of the greater number. “The customs of the people are vain.” “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat.”

Verses 8-27


SECT. XIII.—THE FIERY FURNACE (Chap. Daniel 3:8-27)

God has never left Himself without a witness. An Enoch and a Noah found on the eve of the Flood; an Abraham in Chaldea, and a Lot in Sodom. While the multitude were falling prostrate before the golden image, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in their closet on their knees. Where was Daniel? Probably now, as often, at some distance from the court. Wherever he is, he is worshipping the God of heaven. If at hand, like his three friends, fearless of the consequences, he refuses to obey the summons to the plain of Dura, but for this time left unmolested by his enemies, for reasons which we can only conjecture. Now not Daniel, but his three friends, are to be made illustrious through all time for their faith in and fidelity to the true God. Daniel, in noble self-forgetfulness, is content to leave them the honour of the deed, without being careful to give the grounds of his non-participation in it; an incidental confirmation of the genuineness of the history. We may notice in the narrative—

I. The accusation (Daniel 3:8-12). The accusation probably the offspring alike of envy and religious zeal. The accusers the Chaldeans, the priests and religious teachers of the country. The charge, as in Daniel’s own case (chap. 6.), probably the thing the accusers desired, expected, and waited for. “Who can stand before envy?” The accusation betrays itself. “There are certain Jews, whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon.” The language indicative of the spirit which prompted the accusation. Three faithful Jews so exalted, a likely butt for the shafts of envious idolatrous natives. Nothing to be found against these men except, as in the case of Daniel, “concerning the law of their God.” In a world “lying in the wicked one,” fidelity to God hardly able to escape the malice of men. In a corrupt time, “he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey.” False or hostile accusation for the truth’s sake, according to the Sermon on the Mount, to be rather rejoiced in by the servants of God. The footprints of the prophets and of the Master Himself. The servant not greater than his lord.

II. The answer (Daniel 3:13-18). The charge, true in itself, though made with evil intention, answered with meekness, firmness, and faith. The answer calm, dignified, and courageous. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter” [94]. The naming of the king, as one has remarked, not disrespectful, but expressive of the deep earnestness of the speaker, and the desire to impress the mind of the hearer. The purpose declared, whatever may be the consequence. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and will deliver us out of thine 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 fiery furnace with the favour of God and a good conscience to be preferred to the comforts of a palace without them. The choice was wise and according to reason. To a Jew or a Christian enlightened by a divine revelation compliance was sin, though to heathens and polytheists it might be a matter of indifference. The three exiles knew their duty, and they knew in whom they believed. The God they served was able, if He pleased, to deliver them from the furnace or preserve them in it, as, according to tradition, He had done their father Abraham before them in that very land. He who had answered prayer at the time of the king’s distress could answer prayer now. If not His pleasure, no matter. While the fire consumed their body in the furnace, their spirit should be with God in paradise. Better a thousand times over to die with His favour than live without it. Better a fiery furnace for the body than the fire of hell and a guilty conscience for the soul. Pleas for compliance, suggested by the flesh and the tempter, would not be wanting. It was only an act of the body, in which the mind, the principal thing, would not participate. It was from compulsion, not from choice. The king commanded it, and rulers are to be obeyed. It would be ungrateful to the king, from whom they had experienced so much kindness. To die now would terminate their usefulness. It would only be what many, perhaps all, of their countrymen would be found doing. To all these, and perhaps other arguments, these noble confessors had but one answer, No. “It is written, Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor worship them.” Those, says Henry, who make their duty their main care, need not be careful concerning the event.

[94] “In this matter” (Daniel 3:16). פִתְגָּם (pithgam), from the Zend paiti or Sanscrit prati, = πρὸς, to, and gam, to go; hence a message, edict, and in general a word or matter.—Keil. Calvin paraphrases the answer of the captives thus: “Thou hast erected this statue, but thy authority is of no moment to us, since we know it to be a fictitious deity, whose image thou wishest us to worship. The God whom we worship has revealed Himself to us; we know Him to be the maker of heaven and earth, to have redeemed our fathers from Egypt, and to intend our chastisement by driving us into exile. Since, then, we have a firm foundation for our faith, we reckon thy gods and thy sway valueless.”

III. The consequence (Daniel 3:19-23). Arbitrary power brooks no opposition. The soft answer did not turn away wrath, while the firmness of faith and fidelity to God seem only to have inflamed it. Pride and passion shut both ears and eyes to reason. These Jewish captives’ past faithfulness and the king’s own former declarations alike forgotten. The decree goes forth with added cruelty. The victims are bound for the furnace. As if to defy the God of the Jews and make escape impossible, the furnace is heated seven times more than usual [95], while the strongest men in the army are employed to bind the three youths. So the Jews themselves thought afterwards to prevent the resurrection of Jesus by “sealing the stone and setting a watch.” So great was the heat of the furnace and the haste of the king, that the death designed for the accused at once overtook their executioners, possibly glad, as Matthew Henry suggests, to do their cruel work. “The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.” Bound in their ordinary clothes [96], the martyrs descend into the fiery furnace. But Abraham’s God will again vindicate His honour in Babylon. There are times when He may see it needful, for His own glory and for the welfare of His creatures, to arrest the processes of nature and to suspend for a time the laws which He Himself imposed on material things. The fire is made for a season to lose its power to consume or to give pain. The bonds which bound the victims were indeed consumed by the flames, but neither their persons nor their clothes were affected by the fire. The hair of their head was not singed, neither did the smell of fire pass on them. Whether in vision or otherwise [97], a strange spectacle presented itself to the king. “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” he suddenly exclaims to those about him; “lo! I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” [98]. The light of nature guided a heathen poet to speak of a crisis worthy of divine interposition [99]. It is with the Almighty Himself to judge as to what is such. Here is a city standing at the head of the civilised world. The land is one of graven images. The worshippers of the only true God are captive in it, while Bel, the great idol, is apparently triumphant. Three faithful servants of Jehovah and witnesses to His truth have been cast into a burning furnace for their protesting fidelity, declaring at the same time that their God, if He pleased, was able to deliver them. Shall God vindicate His honour, and support the much-tried faith of His people? Or shall the heathen still tauntingly ask where is their God? [100]

[95] “To heat the furnace one seven times more” (Daniel 3:19). An apocryphal addition at this place, attributed to Theodotion, the Greek translator, who flourished in the second century of the Christian era, contains a statement that the king’s servants were made to keep up the fire by flinging into the furnace naphtha, tow, pitch, and brands, such as were used in sieges for burning down cities; and that the flames rose forty-nine cubits high.—Rule.

[96] “In their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments” (Daniel 3:21). According to Herodotus, the garments worn by the Babylonians were the tunic (κιθών), an under-garment of linen or cotton, reaching down to the feet; on this was another tunic of woollen; and over this again a white mantle (χλανίδιον). This threefold clothing, though not such as we might expect in a warm climate, found on Babylonian cylinders. In the present passage, in the dress of the three Jews, we meet with it complete, though not according to our own and ordinary translations. We have (1.) סַרְבָּלֵיהוֹן (sarbalehon), “their coats,” marg. “their mantles,” which the Sept., Aquila, Theodotion, the Syriac, and the Vulgate leave untranslated, and which Symmachus renders by a word denoting drawers or breeches reaching down to the feet, such as were worn by the Persians and Scythians. It is rather intended to denote a mantle or cloak, which Luther adopted, and which is favoured by Gesenius. Hengstenberg gives “upper garment.” (2.) פְּיִטֹשֵׁהוֹן (petishehon), “their hosen,” but which Gesenius, after the Syriac and Hebrew interpreters, renders “tunic.” Theodotion and the Vulgate render it “tiara” or turban. (3.) כַּרְבְּלָתְיהוֹן (carbelathehon), “their hats,” but which the Sept renders by περικνημίσι, a garment for the legs or feet, and the Vulgate by calceamentis, “shoes.” Keil renders it “mantles” and thinks that the other articles of clothing, coverings for the feet and the head, are to be understood under the word לְבוֹשֵׁיהוֹן (lebhushehon) “garments.”

[97] “Was astonied” (Daniel 3:24), תְּוַהּ (levah), like the Heb. הִשְׁתּוֹמֵם (hishtomem), chap. Daniel 8:27, or simply שׁוֹמֵם (shomem), Ezra 9:3. Between the 23d and 24th verses, the apocryphal “Song of the Three Children,” as it is called, has been inserted by Jerome and others. The Septuagint, followed by the Arabic, inserts the clause, “heard them singing praise” (ὑμνούντων), thus accounting for the king’s astonishment. To connect the two verses, Houbigant adds the words found in the Vulgate, “But an angel of the Lord went down with Azariah and his companions into the furnace, and drove out the flame of fire from the furnace, and they walked in the midst of the furnace.” Added to show the reason of the king’s astonishment, and to account for the appearance of a fourth person in the furnace.—A. Clark.

[98] “It like the Son of God,” בַּר אֱלָהִין (bar elahin), which some prefer to translate, “a son of the gods,” as more likely to be found on the lips of a polytheist. The expression, according to Gesenius, is equivalent to “one of the immortal gods,” as, according to the Syriac idiom, “Son of man” means simply a man or a mortal. Keil thinks that Nebuchadnezzar speaks in the spirit and meaning of the Babylonian doctrine of the gods, according to the representations peculiar to all Oriental religions, the inferior divinities being regarded by them as begotten by the superior ones, Mylitta, a female deity, being associated with their higher god, Bel. According to Hengstenberg, the designation cannot be explained by these theogonic ideas. Willet, after Rupertus, thinks that Nebuchadnezzar thought only of some divine presence, whether god or angel, but that in reality it was Christ, the Son of God, who appeared at this time in human shape. Calvin thinks it was a single angel that was sent to these three men. Though the words were probably only intended by the king “to describe the dignified and exalted deportment of Him whom he thus characterised,” yet they declared, unknown to himself, a precious truth,—the presence of Him who is the Son of God with His suffering servants. In Daniel 3:28, the king calls him God’s “angel,” which He no doubt was—the “angel of the Lord,” otherwise called the “Messenger, of the Covenant,” the Son of God, who in the fulness of time was “made flesh and dwelt among us.”

[99] “Nec deus intersit, nodus nisi vindice dignus Inciderit.”—Horace, De Arte Poetica.

[100] Keil remarks: “Since all the heathen estimated the power of the gods according to the power of the people who honoured them, the God of the Jews whom they had subjugated by their arms would actually appear to the Chaldeans and their king as an inferior and feeble God, as He had already appeared to the Assyrians (Isaiah 10:8-11; Isaiah 36:11-20).”

“It is explicitly affirmed by Mr. J. S. Mill (System of Logic) that on this view of the constancy of nature,—on the hypothesis that the governing power of the universe is an infinitely wise and Almighty God,—a miracle is no infraction of nature’s harmony and concord, and, of course, not beyond reach of proof.… Lord Bacon declared that, in regard of redemption, ‘to which all God’s signs and miracles do refer,’ the Almighty could indeed ‘break the law of nature by miracles.’ The Saviour is called by the father of modern philosphy ‘the Lord of nature in His miracles.’ … Miracles are thus shown to be in harmony with a higher constancy than that of physical nature—a constancy of eternal purpose and everlasting wisdom, a course of mercy in the moral government of the world, a constancy of creative power, varying at pleasure its modes and its habitudes.”—P. Bayne, “Christ’s Testimony to Christianity.”

IV. The result (Daniel 3:26-30). The king’s former impressions and convictions are revived and strengthened. A stronger declaration than before is made in favour of the true God. A decree is issued on behalf of His servants forbidding, in the style indeed of Oriental despotism, a single word to be uttered against Him [101] on pain of death. The three [102] confessors are restored to their office with increased honour. No wonder; those most likely to be faithful to their king that are faithful to their God. The effect of the whole probably a considerable furtherance of the cause of true religion in the land, the strengthening of the hands and encouraging of the hearts of God’s servants, and an important step towards the final release of the Jewish captives. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee, and the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain” (Psalms 76:10). From the whole we may observe:—

[101] “Speak anything amiss,” marg. “error,” שָׁלָה (shalah), “that which is erroneous or unjust,” from שְׁלה (shelah), to err, commit a fault; changed by the Masorites into שָּׁלֵה or שָׁלוּ (shalu), an error or fault, as in chap. Daniel 6:5. Objection has been made to the difficulties connected with the carrying out of such a command. But such difficulties only confirm the historical character of the narrative.—Keil.

[102] “Promoted,” הַצְלַח (hatslakh), literally, as the margin, “made to prosper.” The Septuagint adds: “And he advanced them, and appointed them to rule over all the Jews that were in his kingdom.” Dr. Cumming remarks that this may be the meaning of the verse, as these three men were more likely to be set over the Jews than over the Chaldeans.

1. Persecution the frequent lot of God’s faithful people. “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). In a world of which God’s enemy is the prince, His faithful servants not likely to be long without trouble. As surely as a knife cuts and fire burns, so surely will he who by his life and lips reproves the ways of the world incur its hatred and persecution. “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil” (John 7:7).

2. The power and preciousness of faith. The noble act and glorious deliverance of these three Jewish captives ascribed to this divine principle. “By faith they quenched the violence of fire.” “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith” (1 John 5:4). Faith able to triumph over every difficulty and every trial. The same principle that enabled Moses to choose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, raised these exiles above the fear of a fiery furnace. Its natural effect to make men heroes. Its property to give “substance” and reality to “things hoped for,” and “evidence” or conviction in regard to “things unseen.” Looks not at the things that are seen and temporal, but at those which are unseen and eternal. Believes that God not only can, but that according to His promise He will, in one way or other, deliver. To faith deliverance is certain, whether in this world or the next. Looking into the glorious future, it thinks it matters little which. Eyeing Him who said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” it sings, even at the stake, “O death, where is thy sting?” “Deny Christ,” said the Roman governor to Polycarp, “or thou shalt be thrown to the wild beasts.” “Call for them,” said the venerable bishop; “we have no mind to change from better to worse.” “But if thou thinkest so lightly of wild beasts, I shall have a fire that will tame thee.” “You threaten me,” replied Polycarp, “with a fire that will burn for an hour and then be extinguished, but remember not the fire of eternal damnation reserved for the punishment of the ungodly. But why do you delay? Execute whatever you please.” “The emperor commands thee to do sacrifice,” said the proconsul to Cyprian; “therefore consult for thy welfare.” “I am a Christian,” was the heroic reply; “and I cannot sacrifice to your gods; do therefore what you are commanded: as for me, in so just a cause, there needs no consultation.”

3. A faithful adherence to God’s prescribed worship one of our first duties. The first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me;” the second, “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image; thou shalt not bow down to them nor worship them.” God jealous both of His worship and the manner of it. “I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God.” Will-worship among the things condemned in His Word. “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Colossians 2:23; Matthew 15:9). God’s glory to be esteemed “of more consequence than a thousand lives, and the gratification of a thousand senses.”

4. Christ ever present with His suffering servants. The Son of God a fourth in the fiery furnace. “Fear not, for I am with thee.” He that has power over fire present with His people in every fiery trial which is to try them. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the floods, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Isaiah 43:2). Faith, laying hold of the Word, sings with the Psalmist, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me” (Psalms 23:4).

5. Believers gainers rather than losers by their sufferings. The three confessors in Babylon lost nothing in the furnace but the bonds that bound them. Believers lose nothing by their sufferings but the bonds of corruption and sin. “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” “This is all the fruit, to take away their sin.” Trouble often the method which God takes to consume our bonds and to purify our souls.

“I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
’Twas thus He taught me thus to pray;
And He, I think, has answered prayer;
But it was done in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.”

6. God glorified by the trials of His people. The fiery furnace a platform for the display of God’s glory in Babylon. His name raised higher by the deliverance of the three martyrs than by the interpretation of the king’s dream. The trial of believers, whatever it may be here, “found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” The high privilege of Paul and of all suffering believers, to “fill up in their flesh that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ for His body’s sake, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24). Their patient suffering made to glorify God as truly as their active service. The blood of the martyrs the seed of the Church.

7. Something to be imitated in the conduct of Nebuchadnezzar. A prompt, humble, and decided submission yielded to the truth as revealed in God’s deliverance of His servants. The effect and fruit of it the immediate employment of his influence in honouring God and advancing His cause. The threatened penalty to be condemned, as only corresponding to the character and customs of the time and country, and the ideas of an Oriental despot. Otherwise the edict an example to all in authority, whether as magistrates, parents, or masters, to employ their influence in restraining open ungodliness and forbidding profanity on the part of those who are under them.

8. Miracles precious as God’s testimony both to His power and to His presence with His people. One of the objections made against the genuineness of the book of Daniel is its alleged “aimless profusion of miracles.” But, as Hengstenberg remarks, the object in each miracle occurring in the first six chapters is distinctly stated—the manifestation of the omnipotence of the God of Israel before the heathen kings and nations, the circumstances of the chosen people at the time being such as to render it desirable that the weakness of their faith should be assisted even by sensible means of support. Objectless, says Dr. Pusey, they can only seem to those to whom all revelation from God seems to be objectless. “On the one side was the world-monarchy, irresistible, conquering, as the heathen thought, the God of the vanquished. On the other, a handful of the worshippers of the one only God, captives, scattered, with no visible centre or unity, without organisation or power to resist save their indomitable faith, inwardly upheld by God, outwardly strengthened by the very calamities which almost ended their national existence; for they were the fulfilment of His Word in whom they believed. Thrice during the seventy years human power put itself forth against the faith; twice in edicts which, if obeyed, would have extinguished the true faith on earth; once in direct insult to God. Faith, as we know, ‘quenched the violence of fire, stopped the mouth of lions.’ In all cases the assault was signally rolled back; the faith was triumphant in the face of all the representatives of the power and intelligence of the empire; in all, the truth of the one God was proclaimed by those who had assailed it. Unbelief, while it remains such, must deny all true miracles and all superhuman prophecy. But, if honest, it dare not designate as objectless miracles which decided the cause of truth in such battlefields.”

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Daniel 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/daniel-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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