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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Daniel 3

 

 

Verses 1-30

HOW LONG AN interval there was between the events narrated in chapters 2 and 3, we are not told, but we cannot resist the impression that there was a connection in the mind of Nebuchadnezzar between the image of his dream and the gigantic image, that he caused to be made. The image of his dream only began with a golden head, which represented himself. It was followed by a great image, which should be all of gold.

Since the ancient cubit was the length of the human fore-arm — anything from 18 to 22 inches — this image must have been at least 90 feet high, with a breadth of 9 feet. The immense store of gold, which enabled the king to do this, may not have equalled the supply that came to Solomon, yet it shows that the 'times of the Gentiles' began with a great display of power and wealth and glory. And how will the period of Gentile dominion end? The answer to this we find in Revelation 13:1-18. Another mighty king will arise, and another great image will be made. If we compare the two scenes, we note many resemblances, and yet a significant contrast; in the fact that, as we read in the last chapter, it was 'the God of Heaven' who gave to Nebuchadnezzar 'power and strength and glory;' whereas the coming great king, who is named 'the beast,' will obtain 'his power, and his seat, and great authority' (Revelation 13:2), from 'the dragon;' that is, from the devil himself.

The resemblances are equally striking, and bear witness to the fact that the sinful tendencies of poor fallen man in all ages are just the same. By the God of Heaven Nebuchadnezzar was granted much power and glory, so at once he used it to glorify himself in this gigantic golden image. Many different peoples were under his sway, each with their many gods, whom they worshipped. Now let them, while retaining their local deities, have a kind of 'super-religion,' which would have the effect of binding them together under his sway. Hence the cry of the herald, beginning, 'O people, nations, and languages.'

Moreover these ancient monarchs knew how to influence the masses. Music exerts a very subtle influence on the human mind, whether it be of the cultivated and classical type or the lowest productions of the heathen world. Indeed, the lowest type seems to produce the most intoxicating effects, as do the 'devil-dances' of savages. Under the influence of this kind of music people, and especially the young, behave as if they were intoxicated.

So, to move the mighty concourse of people to worship the golden image, and thus pay homage to the mighty king, 'all kinds of music' were played. The penalty for non-compliance was the dreadful one of being cast alive into a burning fiery furnace.

Very similar things are predicted in Revelation 13:1-18 for the end of the age, but with even more striking accompaniments. Instead of all kinds of music, the false prophet will have power to give life and speech to the image of the beast, and those who refuse to worship will be killed. The statement that there will be power to give 'life' to the image is indeed a startling one, but we must remember that at that time there will be 'the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish' (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:10).

As we read on in our chapter, we learn how God changed Nebuchadnezzar's word and thwarted his determination. As we read on in Revelation, we learn in Revelation 19:1-21 how far more drastic and eternal judgment, though longer delayed, will fall upon the beast, who is personified by the image that is to come, and on the false prophet, who will promote it.

Of all the lusts and desires that are resident in the nature of poor fallen man, the most deep-seated is the desire to glorify, even to the point of deifying, himself. At the outset he fell to the seductive assertion of Satan, 'Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil' (Genesis 3:5). The adversary did not of course state that they would know good, without being able to achieve it, and evil, without being able to avoid it. Ever since, self-exaltation has been the ruling idea in our world. Thus it was with Nebuchadnezzar. For the moment he was the apex of the pyramid, and beneath him, acting in his support, were 'the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces;' and this eight-fold description of important personages is given twice in our chapter, as if to impress us with the solidity of the pyramid of which he was the apex. From this apparently unchallengeable position the great king issued his decree, which was in effect a God-defying one. And God took up the challenge through three devoted servants that He had in reserve.

Remarkably enough Daniel is not mentioned in this chapter: a fact that should be of encouragement to us. Why not mentioned, and where he was, is not revealed; but it is encouraging to know that in the absence of a servant of striking courage and power, God can take up and use with great effect servants of lesser gifts. Daniel's three companions did not possess his gifts of understanding as to dreams and prophecies, but they did share his devotion to the one true God, which entailed a thorough-going separation from the abomination of idolatry. Hence when the multitudes, from the highest to the least fell down to worship the image, they stood erect. They exemplified the principle stated by the apostles in Acts 5:29 — 'We ought to obey God rather than man.'

Their enemies at once reported this to incite the rage and fury of Nebuchadnezzar. The king did at least enquire if the reported lack of action was true, and then issued his ultimatum, coupled with the insolent question, 'Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?' The reply of the three Jews was a memorable one.

If memory serves us aright, this is the first case on record where a servant of God has been threatened with the direst form of death penalty, if he did not deny his God and forsake his faith, though a prophet like Elijah was threatened by Jezebel. There have been many such cases since. In Daniel 6:1-28 we have the case of Daniel. In the history of the early church we read of many who were thrown to the wild beasts because they would not deny their Lord and Master. Many a 'heretic' went to the fires in our land, as well as in Spain under the Inquisition; and we believe not a few have done so in our day under the iron hand of Communism. But, as we have often noticed, the first case is a very memorable one, and the stand taken rings through the centuries.

In the first place they asserted that their God was able to deliver them. They exalted His power. In the second place they did not hide the fact that for reasons of His own He might not deliver them. And then, in the third place, they stated with the utmost decision that were He not pleased to deliver, they would not forsake their God by worshipping the king's golden image, in the honour of gods that were false. 'We will not serve thy gods,' was their decisive word; and in result they were greatly honoured by their God.

We shall, however, do well to remember that the seductions of the world are more damaging to our testimony than its opposition and its threat of disaster or death. At the end of his life the Apostle Paul had to write, 'Demas hath forsaken me,' and he did not follow this by saying, 'being fearful of the world's threatenings,' but rather, 'having loved this present world' (2 Timothy 4:10). Paul had just before written of, 'all them also that love His appearing;' knowing that the appearing of the Lord Jesus will usher in a world very different from the present one, and that is wholly according to God. Demas fell before the seductions of the present 'world,' or 'age,' and that surely is the danger for us — the Christians of English-speaking lands, who are largely exempt from the persecutions experienced elsewhere. May God give us that decision of character that marked the three Hebrews, so that faced by seductions we may say, 'Be it known... that we will not....'

Pursuing the narrative, we note the complete change in Nebuchadnezzar, as compared with the picture presented at the end of Daniel 2:1-49. Then he was on his face in the presence of Daniel, and to fall on one's face is to efface oneself in a figurative way. Now he is on his feet and so full of fury that his very face was transformed with savage resolution. Not only are the three men, who have defied his will, to be thrust into the fire, but the furnace is to be seven times hotter than what was the ordinary thing. As a consequence the mightiest men of his army were to fling them in. Thus the judgment fell. The deed was done.

And then the hand of God began to appear. The judgment fell, but it was upon the most mighty of Nebuchadnezzar's famous army, and not upon the three defenceless Jews. The first thing the proud, impious king saw was his mightiest men slain by the furnace he had so excessively heated up. A humiliating sight for him! The next thing he saw was four men walking, free and unhurt in the midst of the fire, the very outskirts of which had slain his finest soldiers. The fire, that was death to them was not only preservation but liberty to God's servants. They were flung in 'bound,' but now they 'walk,' for the only things consumed were their bonds, and they had a heavenly Visitor with them.

In the presence of this astounding miracle the furious king was subdued. The dream of Daniel 2:1-49, which Daniel had expounded, had moved him, but though he learned that he was the golden head of the dream image, he had not taken to heart the fact that the supreme earthly position that he had reached was granted to him by 'the God of heaven.' If he had, he would never have boastfully asked, Who was the God that could deliver out of his hands? The God of heaven, who had given him his dominion, had accepted his challenge, reversed his word, quenched the violence of his seven-fold heated fire, and made visible His presence with those who were to have been his victims.

The king recognized that there was something Divine and God-like about 'the form of the fourth.' The way in which he expressed his conviction was doubtless controlled by God. Before this, Balaam had said things that he never would have uttered apart from Divine compulsion. After this, Caiaphas uttered things that had a different meaning to that which he intended, as recorded in John 11:51. So it was here, Nebuchadnezzar recognized that God had intervened and manifested His presence with the men he had sought to slay, and he used just the right expression, though not understanding the true force of it. While it is the Father who forms the purpose, it is the Son who manifests and acts. This we learn when the New Testament is reached.

The miracle was so complete that their garments were not affected, not an hair of their heads singed, not even the smell of fire was attached to them. The king had fully to recognize the hand of God, and acknowledged His mighty power. Still he did not advance beyond knowing Him as 'the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,' just as, at the end of Daniel 2:1-49 he acknowledged Him as the God of Daniel. He did not acknowledge Him as his God, though he pronounced severe penalties against any who spoke against Him. This great man, with whom the times of the Gentiles began, had yet a deeper lesson to learn.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Daniel 3:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/daniel-3.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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