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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Daniel 3

Introduction

A.M. 3424. B.C. 580.

In this chapter we have an account of the extraordinary trial, wonderful deliverance, and further advancement of Daniel’s three friends.

(1,) Nebuchadnezzar erects a golden image, and requires all his subjects to worship it, Daniel 3:1-7 .

(2,) He is informed that the Jewish princes refuse to worship it, Daniel 3:8-12 .

(3,) They resolutely persist in their refusal, Daniel 3:13-18 .

(4,) They are cast into a fiery furnace, Daniel 3:19-23 .

(5,) They are miraculously preserved unhurt, and the king is convinced of his error, Daniel 3:24-27 .

(6,) He gives glory to God, and shows favour to his servants, Daniel 3:28-30 .

Verse 1

Daniel 3:1. Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold How soon this image was erected, after the dream in his second year, is uncertain. The Greek and Arabic interpreters suppose it to have been in the eighteenth year of his reign, and Dr. Prideaux agrees with them. But whether it was then, or, as some think, later, the design of it probably was, to frustrate the exposition, and defeat the end of the dream: on which account, perhaps, the image was made wholly of gold, and not of different metals, to make an ostentatious display of the abundance of his wealth, and to obviate the jealousies of his people, excited by his favours to Daniel and his friends. Some or all of these motives might influence this haughty and inconstant monarch to desert the true God, whom he had so lately acknowledged, and to yield again to the force of those inveterate habits, from which he had been so miraculously recovered: see Wintle. The height thereof was threescore cubits The proportion of the height of this image seems very unequal to the breadth, unless the pedestal, on which it was placed, be included therein. Houbigant, and some others, on account of this disparity, think it was rather a column or pyramid than an image of the human form: but Diodorus, lib. 2. § 9, giving an account of the plunder Xerxes had taken out of the temple of Belus, mentions an image of massy gold that was forty feet high, which Prideaux conjectures to have been this statue made by Nebuchadnezzar. The statue of Jupiter also, made by Lysippus, at Tarentum, is said to have been forty cubits high. It is probable that the plain of Dura, here mentioned, was some extensive plain near Babylon, and that the image set up in it was erected in honour of Bel, the chief idol of the Babylonians.

Verses 2-3

Daniel 3:2-3. Then Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather together the princes, &c. It would be very difficult, and perhaps impossible, at this distance of time, to ascertain the proper titles and offices of the several characters that are here mentioned, and certainly would answer no valuable end to any reader. It may be sufficient to observe, that it is probable only those were summoned to attend on this occasion who held places under the government. Thousands of others, no doubt, would be present, and, when present, were required to comply with the king’s injunction respecting worshipping the image, though they had not been summoned. And they came and stood before the image They made their personal appearance, and showed themselves ready to perform the worship required of them.

Verses 4-6

Daniel 3:4-6. Then a herald cried aloud Made proclamation in the languages of the several nations assembled; To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages Whatever parts of the empire you come from, and whatever language you speak. This form of speech was doubtless designed to set forth the largeness and extent of the Babylonish empire. That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, &c. That is, of wind and stringed instruments of various sorts. It is justly observed by Mr. Scott here, that “the several words by which the several kinds of musical instruments are enumerated in this chapter, do not seem to admit of any satisfactory explanation:” certainly, “without distinctly referring to ancient usages,” and going to a great length of explication, “they cannot be made intelligible, except to those few who are fully acquainted with those usages, and perhaps scarcely even to them:” and if the reader could attain correct ideas of the forms and powers of them all, he would from this derive but little edification. Ye fall down and worship the golden image Let all take notice, 1st, That the king strictly charges and commands all manner of persons, whatever other gods they worship at other times, now to worship this. 2d, That all do this just at the same time, in token of their communion with each other at this service. And whosoever falleth not down and worshippeth St. Jerome observes, that falling down is applied, in Scripture, rather to idols than the true God; (see Matthew 4:9;) shall the same hour, &c. This is the first place in the Old Testament where we meet with the division of time into hours. The Greeks ascribe the invention of them to Anaximander, who, perhaps, received it from the Chaldees. The mode of punishment here mentioned was common among this people: compare Jeremiah 29:22. It has been said, that Abraham was exposed to this punishment before his departure from Chaldea: see Genesis 11:31; and Calmet. Similar methods has mystical Babylon followed, to compel those she denominates heretics to embrace her creed, and join in her anti-christian worship.

Verse 7

Daniel 3:7. All the people, &c., fell down and worshipped And what wonder, considering that all the charms of music were made use of to allure them to a compliance on the one hand, and the terrors of the fiery furnace to frighten them into it on the other? Thus beset with the double temptation of allurement and terror, they all yielded to the will of the idolatrous king. Observe, reader, there is nothing so unreasonable, or sinful, which the careless world will not be drawn to by pleasure, or driven to by pain, and fear of torture and death. By such methods as these, false worship has been set up and maintained in different ages.

Verses 8-12

Daniel 3:8-12. At that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews It is not improbable that these Chaldeans were such as envied these friends of Daniel their preferments, having perhaps themselves expected the places to which they had been advanced. They spake and said, O king, live for ever They approached the king with a great show of loyalty, and concern for his life, honour, and interest. Thou, O king, hast made a decree, &c. They put him in mind of the law he had lately made, that all manner of persons, without exception, should fall down and worship his golden image: they put him in mind also of the penalty which was to be inflicted upon recusants. There are certain Jews, &c. It is likely that Nebuchadnezzar had no particular design to insnare Shadrach and his companions in making this law; for then he would himself have had his eye upon them, and would not have needed this information; but their enemies, who sought an occasion against them, laid hold on this, and were forward to accuse them. To aggravate the matter, and incense the king more against them, they, 1st, Put him in mind of the dignity to which the criminals had been preferred; that though they were Jews, foreigners, captives, and men of a despised nation and religion, yet the king had set them over the affairs of the province of Babylon It was, therefore, they suggested, very ungrateful, and an insufferable piece of insolence in them, to disobey the king’s command, who had shared so much of the king’s favour. And, besides, the high station they were in would give their refusal the greater influence, and render it of the worse consequence. 2d, They suggest, that it was done maliciously, contumaciously, and in contempt of him and his authority. These men, say they, have not regarded thee, they serve not thy gods, &c. Thus princes, who are wont to be incensed enough against innocent people, seldom want those about them who do all they can to excite them to greater wrath. If it be asked here, Where was Daniel on this occasion? It may be answered, He was probably absent, either because the king’s business called him elsewhere, or because he had leave of absence from the king; unless we suppose that he stood so high in the king’s favour that none durst complain of him for his non-compliance. But why did not his companions keep out of the way? Surely, because they would obey the king’s orders as far as they could conscientiously, and wished to be present to bear a public testimony against this gross idolatry. God also, no doubt, inclined them to attend, that they might glorify him by a noble confession, made in face of the most extreme danger; and that he might honour and reward them, by a most extraordinary and wonderful deliverance.

Verse 13

Daniel 3:13. Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage, &c. How little was it to the honour of this mighty prince that he had rule over so many nations, when, at the same time, he had no rule over his own spirit! How unfit was he to rule reasonable men, who would not himself be ruled by reason! Surely it did not need to surprise him to hear that these three men did not now serve his gods, for he knew very well they never had done it, and that their religion, to which they had always adhered, forbade them to do it. Nor had he any reason to think they acted thus in contempt of his authority, since they had in all instances showed themselves respectful and dutiful to him as their prince.

Verses 14-15

Daniel 3:14-15. Nebuchadnezzar said, Is it true, O Shadrach? &c. Or, of purpose, as the margin reads it, and as the word is used, Exodus 21:13. Is it designedly and deliberately done, or was it only through inadvertency, that you have not served my gods? What! you that I have nourished and brought up; that have been educated and maintained at my charge; that I have been so kind to, and done so much for; you that have been in such reputation for wisdom, and therefore should better have known your duty to your prince; what! do not you serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Observe, reader, the faithfulness of God’s servants to him has often been the wonder of their enemies and persecutors, who think it strange that they run not with them to the same excess of riot. Now if ye be ready, &c. He is willing to admit them to a new trial; if they did purpose before not to worship his gods, yet it may be, upon second thoughts, they will change their minds; it is therefore repeated to them upon what terms they now stand: 1st, The king is willing that the music should play again, for their sakes only, to soften them into a compliance; and if they will not, like the deaf adder, stop their ears, but will hearken to the voice of the charmers, and will worship the golden image, well and good, their former omission shall be pardoned. But, 2d, The king is resolved, if they persist in their refusal, that they shall immediately be cast into the fiery furnace, and shall not have so much as an hour’s reprieve. Thus does the matter lie in a little compass; Turn or burn, is the king’s language. And because he knew they buoyed themselves up in their refusal with a confidence in their God, he insolently sets him at defiance, saying, And who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? Let him deliver you if he can. Now he forgot what he himself once owned, that their God was a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, Daniel 2:47. Proud men are still ready to say, as Pharaoh. Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?

Verse 16

Daniel 3:16. Shadrach, Meshach, &c., said, We are not careful to answer thee, &c. In so plain a case there is no room for deliberation: we have an answer ready at hand, that we ought to obey God rather than man. Admirable example this of a true faith in God, and ready obedience to his will! How worthy of our imitation! It is such an instance of fortitude and magnanimity as is scarce to be paralleled. They did not break out into any intemperate heat, or passion, against those that worshipped the golden image, did not insult or affront them, nor did they rashly thrust themselves upon the trial, or go out of the way to court martyrdom; but when they were duly called to the fiery trial, they quitted themselves with a conduct and courage that became sufferers for so good a cause.

Verses 17-18

Daniel 3:17-18. If it be so If we are brought into this strait: if we must be thrown into the fiery furnace unless we serve thine image; our God whom we serve is able to deliver us, &c. As we are firmly persuaded of the power of our God to deliver us, so we trust in his mercy and goodness, that he will deliver us out of this imminent danger. This they spake out of a well-grounded hope, not from a certain foresight of being delivered; for such an assurance would have detracted much from the worth of their courage and constancy, in despising the danger which threatened them. And it appears, from what follows, that they were firmly fixed in their resolution, not to dishonour the true God by worshipping this image, or any of the gods of Babylon, although they should perish in the flames, for so they declare in the following words. But if not, &c., we will not serve thy gods It was, therefore, all one to them which way God would honour himself; they were resolved to suffer rather than sin, and leave their cause to God. Indeed, if God be for us, we need not fear what man can do unto us. Let him do his worst: God will deliver us either from death, or in death.

Verses 19-21

Daniel 3:19-21. Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury Nebuchadnezzar had himself known and owned so much of the true God, that one would have thought, though his pride and vanity had induced him to make this golden image, and set it up to be worshipped, yet that what these young men now said (whom he had formerly found to be wiser than all his wise men) would have revived his convictions, and at least have engaged him to forbear proceeding to extremities against them; but it proved quite otherwise. 1st, Instead of being convinced by what they said, he was exasperated, and made more outrageous. 2d, Instead of mitigating their punishment, in consideration of their quality and the honourable offices they were in, he ordered it to be heightened, commanding the heat of the furnace to be increased seven-fold; which, though it would not make their death more grievous, but rather despatch them the sooner, yet was designed to signify, that the king looked upon their crime as seven times more heinous than the crimes of others, and so made their death more ignominious. But God brought glory to himself out of this foolish instance of the tyrant’s rage; for though it would not have made their death the more grievous, yet it made their deliverance much the more illustrious. 3d, He ordered them to be bound in their clothes, which was done accordingly. They were bound, that they might not struggle, or make any resistance; were bound in their clothes for haste, or that they might be consumed the more slowly and gradually: but God’s providence ordered it for the increase of the miracle, in that their clothes were not so much as singed. What a terrible death was this, to be cast bound into the midst of a burning fiery furnace! It makes one’s flesh tremble to think of it, and horror to take hold of one. It is amazing that the tyrant was so hard-hearted as to inflict such a punishment, and the confessors possessed of such fortitude as to submit to it, rather than sin against God. But what is this to the second death? to the furnace into which the tares shall be cast in bundles? to that lake which burns eternally with fire and brimstone? Let Nebuchadnezzar heat his furnace as hot as he can, a few minutes will finish the torment of those who are cast into it; but hell-fire tortures, and doth not kill; the pain of damned sinners is more exquisite, and the smoke of their torments ascends for ever and ever, and they have no rest, no intermission, no cessation of their pains, who have worshipped the beast and his image, Revelation 14:10-11; whereas their pain would be soon over that were cast into this furnace, for not worshipping this Babylonian beast and his image.

Verses 22-23

Daniel 3:22-23. Because the king’s commandment was urgent That they should despatch them quickly, and be sure to do it effectually; and they therefore resolved to go to the very mouth of the furnace, that they might throw them into the midst of it; and were hasty and precipitate in executing their orders, and did not take proper care for themselves against the violence of the heat. The flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, &c. The apocryphal additions to the book of Daniel say, that the flame ascended forty-nine cubits above the month of the furnace. Probably God ordered it so, that the wind blew the flame directly upon them. Thus did God immediately plead the cause of his injured servants, and take vengeance for them on their persecutors, whom he punished not only in the very act of their sin, but by their sin. But these men were only the instruments of this cruelty: he that commanded them to do this had the greater sin; yet they suffered justly for executing an unjust decree: a decree which, it is very likely, they executed with pleasure. As to Nebuchadnezzar himself, he was referred for a future reckoning. There is a day coming when proud tyrants will be punished, not only for the cruelties they have been guilty of, but for employing those about them in their cruelties, and so exposing them to the judgments of God. It is probable, the noise occasioned by what befell these men drew Nebuchadnezzar to the place where the furnace was, where he beheld what is related in the following verses. These three men fell down bound, &c. All this is expressed with emphasis, to make the power of God more glorious in their preservation; for that flame which slew the executioners, might much more easily have killed them, even before they fell down.

Verses 24-25

Daniel 3:24-25. Then Nebuchadnezzar was astonied, and rose up in haste Some have thought there is something wanting between this and the preceding verse, expressive of the reason of Nebuchadnezzar’s astonishment. Hence Houbigant inserts two verses, which are found in the Vulgate to this purpose: “But an angel of the Lord descended to Azariah and his companions into the furnace, and drove the flame of the fire from the furnace. And they walked in the midst of the flame, praising and blessing the Lord.” The LXX. and Arabic read the beginning of this verse thus: Then Nebuchadnezzar heard them singing praise, and was astonished, &c. But it is probable that either the slaying of the men who executed his sentence was that which astonished Nebuchadnezzar, or rather, his unexpectedly seeing at a distance the young men walking at liberty, and apparently in comfort, in the fiery furnace. He said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire 1st, They were loose from their bonds: the fire, which did not so much as singe their clothes, burned the cords with which they were tied. 2d, They had no hurt, felt no pain or uneasiness in the least; the flame did not scorch them, the smoke did not stifle them: they were alive, and as well as ever in the midst of the flames. See how the God of nature can, when he pleases, control the powers of nature, to make them serve his purposes! Now was fulfilled in the letter that gracious promise, Isaiah 43:2, When thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. By faith they quenched the violence of fire. 3d, They walked in the midst of the fire: the furnace was large, so that they had room to walk; they were unhurt, so that they were able to walk; their minds were easy, so that they were disposed to walk as in a paradise, or garden of pleasure. Can a man walk upon hot coals, and his feet not be burnt? Proverbs 6:28. Yes; they did it with as much pleasure as the king of Tyrus walked up and down in the midst of his precious stones, which sparkled as fire, Ezekiel 28:14. 4th, There was a fourth seen with them in the fire, whose form, says Nebuchadnezzar, is like the Son of God Or rather, like a son of God, or, of the gods; in agreement with the Hebrew, LXX., and Syriac; that is, “Like a divine and glorious person, sent from the powers above to rescue and deliver these men.” For as Nebuchadnezzar was an idolater, it is scarce to be conceived that he should know any thing concerning the Son of God, the Messiah, and much less of his form and likeness; whereas all the heathen had a notion, which runs through their theology, of the sons of the deities, as powerful beings, sent often to the aid and protection of mankind. But though we can scarce suppose Nebuchadnezzar to have called or known this person to have been the Son of God, the promised Redeemer; yet it is extremely probable, (and so the best Jewish as well as Christian commentators have understood it,) that he was indeed the Son of God, who often appeared in our nature, in a human form, before he assumed that nature for our salvation; the great angel, or messenger of the covenant, who under that character frequently revealed himself to the patriarchs of old; and accordingly, in a subsequent verse, he is called the angel of God, the messenger sent to deliver these servants of the Lord; the same who was afterward sent to Daniel, to preserve him from the rage of the lions. Moreover, we may observe, that as angels are often called sons of God, and as most nations had high ideas of their power, perhaps Nebuchadnezzar might only mean an angel, a celestial delegate; and this seems the more probable from his own words, Daniel 3:28, Blessed be God, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants, &c. That angel, or son of God, whom I saw in the furnace, &c: see Christian Mag., vol. 2. page 613. Observe, reader, those that suffer for Christ, have his gracious presence with them in their sufferings, even in the fiery furnace, even in the valley of the shadow of death, and therefore even there they need fear no evil. Hereby Christ showed that what is done against his people, he takes as done against himself: whoever throw them into the furnace, do in effect throw him in; I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest, Acts 9:5.

Verses 26-27

Daniel 3:26-27. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the furnace As near as he durst come; and spake With a milder tone than before, God having abated the fire of his fury; and said, Ye servants of the most high God, &c. The miracle calls to his mind the confession which he had formerly made of the true God, Daniel 2:47. And he can now at once both acknowledge him to be most high above all gods, and the three worthies, who had been condemned to the flames, to be his faithful servants. Observe, reader, sooner or later God will convince the proudest of men, that he is the most high God, and above them, and too hard for them, even in those things wherein they deal proudly and presumptuously, Exodus 18:11. He will likewise let them know who are his servants, and that he owns them, and will stand by them. Nebuchadnezzar now embraces those whom he had abandoned to destruction, and is ready to show them every possible kindness, perceiving them to be the favourites of Heaven. How the fourth, whose form was like the Son of God, withdrew, and whether he vanished away or visibly ascended, we are not told; but of the other three we are informed, that they came forth out of the midst of the fire As Abraham their father out of Ur, that is, the`fire, of the Chaldees, into which, says the tradition of the Jews, he was cast for refusing to worship idols, and out of which he was delivered, as those his three descendants were. When they had their discharge, they did not tempt God by staying any longer, but came forth as brands out of the burning. And the princes, governors, &c., being gathered together, saw those men All the great men came together to view them, and were amazed to find that they had not received the least damage by the fire; that it had no power over their bodies, &c. Several expressions are here used, which rise in fine order one above another, and the climax is beautiful. The fire not only had no prevailing power over their bodies, but neither was a hair of their head burned, nor their flowing robes singed, nor even the smell of fire had passed on them.

Verse 28

Daniel 3:28. Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, &c. So Darius offers up his acknowledgments to the God of Daniel 6:26, looking upon him as superior to other gods, but not as the only true God. Who hath sent his angel Thus Daniel ascribes his deliverance from the lions to an angel, Daniel 6:22; and delivered his servants that trusted in him That confided in his power, love, and faithfulness, that he would stand by and support them in their time of trial, and either bring them out of the fiery furnace back to their place on earth, or lead them through it forward to their place in heaven; and in this confidence became fearless of the king’s wrath, and regardless of their own lives. And have changed the king’s word Have rendered his command of none effect, God having himself suspended the execution of it; and yielded their bodies To expected torture and death; that they might not serve, &c. That is, rather than they would consent to serve any god, except their own God Or, any false god: all gods, but Jehovah, being false pretenders to divinity. By this miracle Nebuchadnezzar was plainly given to understand, that all the great success which he had had, and should yet have against the Jews, and in which he gloried, as if he had therein overpowered their God, was purely owing to their sin; that if the body of that nation had faithfully adhered to their own God, and the worship of him only, as these three men did, they would all have been delivered out of his hands, as these three men were. And this was a necessary instruction for him at this time.

Verse 29

Daniel 3:29. Therefore, I make a decree, &c. He issues a royal edict, strictly forbidding any to speak evil of the God of Israel. We have reason to think that both the sins and the troubles of Israel had given great, though no just occasion to the Chaldeans to blaspheme the God of Israel, and it is likely Nebuchadnezzar himself had encouraged them to do it; but now, though he is no true convert, nor is influenced to worship him, yet he resolves never to speak evil of him again, nor to suffer others to do so. If any should presume to do it, he decrees that they should be counted the worst of malefactors, and should be dealt with accordingly. The miracle now wrought by the power of this God, in defence of his worshippers, and that publicly, in the sight of the thousands of Babylon, was a sufficient justification of this edict. And it would contribute much to the ease of the Jews in their captivity, to be, by this law, screened from the fiery darts of reproach and blasphemy, with which, otherwise, they would have been continually annoyed. Observe, reader, it is a great mercy to the church, and a good point gained, when its enemies, though they have not their hearts turned, yet have their mouths stopped, and their tongues tied. If a heathen prince laid such a restraint upon the proud lips of blasphemers, how much more should Christian princes do it. Nay, in this thing, one would suppose that men should be a law to themselves; and that those who have so little love to God that they care not to speak well of him, yet should never find in their hearts, for we are sure they can never find cause, to speak any thing amiss of him.

Verse 30

Daniel 3:30. Then the king promoted Shadrach, &c. He not only reversed the attainder of these three men, but restored them to their places in the government, nay, and preferred them to greater and more advantageous trusts than they had held before; or, as the margin reads it, He made them to prosper. The LXX., add at the end of the verse, And he advanced them to be governors over all the Jews who were in his kingdom. Their promotion, which was much to their own honour, would be still more to the comfort of their brethren in captivity in those parts.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Daniel 3". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/daniel-3.html. 1857.