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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Daniel 3

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 3 The Great Image of Nebuchadnezzar And Salvation from the Fiery Furnace.

This chapter following chapter 2 seems to confirm that Nebuchadnezzar had seen the image that he had envisioned there as representing the gods. Probably what Daniel had told him, with its suggestion of his empire finally being replaced, had concerned him and had given him the idea of setting up such an image as representing the god who was over the empire (possibly Marduk or Nebo, compare Roma), and requiring a great demonstration of loyalty. Only his image would be superior to the one that he had seen. It would be all of gold. There would be no suggestion of some empire following his. There was certainly no doubt that he wanted it to reflect well on himself. And it would confirm the loyalty of the people, and fill them with awe at his magnificence. But the fact that there is no suggestion made that it was an image of himself counts against it being so, otherwise it would surely have been pointed out.


Verse 1

‘Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and its breadth six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.’

This image of gold which Nebuchadnezzar set up, if it was gold through and through, would take up much of the temple treasury, for its cost would have been enormous, for the image was huge (the Colossus of Rhodes was not quite as high). But when a king like Nebuchadnezzar, with the treasures of the nations in his treasury, decides to make an impression, we must expect some such display. However, it is quite possible that it was in fact gold plated as was customary with such statues (compare Isaiah 40:19; Jeremiah 10:4). The image is said to be over twenty eight metres (ninety feet) high and nearly three metres (nine feet) across. Grotesqueness was a feature of Babylonian sculpture. But the image itself may not have been that height for the height probably included a large base or mound. Such kings loved to boast and the measurements were probably official ones. The sexagesimal measurement (based on sixties rather than tens) is an indication of authenticity.

The statue would soon disappear once Babylon was captured. Herodotus mentions a pure gold statue of a man twelve cubits high connected with a temple in the time of Cyrus.

‘The plain of Dura.’ This was possibly Tell Dur, twenty seven kilometres south west of Baghdad although there are several Babylonian places named Duru. The name is thus in keeping with the Babylonian milieu and is a further sign of historicity.


Verse 2

‘Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the satraps, the deputies, the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.’

Having made his grand gesture Nebuchadnezzar wanted it to be admired. And he was determined on a show of loyalty. Such dedication rites were customary in antiquity, and this is in keeping with what we know of ancient Babylonian rites.

‘Satraps’ is an Old Persian word signifying ‘kingdom-guardian’, ‘deputies’ and ‘governors’ were Semitic, but such loan words were common (and when he wrote Daniel was in a Persian environment). The order of the titles probably indicates their grades.


Verse 3

‘Then the satraps, the deputies and the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.’

We must maintain a sense of proportion. We need not see every single one as gathered here, although few of importance would dare to miss the ceremony without good reason. But some might be engaged on urgent official business which could not wait, while others were possibly abroad and unable to get back. Skeleton staff would have to be maintained and arrangements made for the keeping of order, for such a gathering would require weeks, if not months, to organise. But it would be a brave official (and foolish) who was absent without a valid reason. This was an expression of loyalty and submission.

Around the king himself would be his most distinguished and trustworthy courtiers, which probably included Daniel, the ‘Rab signin’ (chief overseer) over the wise men of Babylon. They would be overseeing the scene with the king, and would not necessarily be expected to take part. Their loyalty was unquestioned.


Verse 4

‘Then the herald cried aloud, “To you it is commanded O peoples, nations and languages, that at the time that you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer and all kinds of music, you fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.’

‘Peoples, nations and languages,’ covered all possible members of the empire, although they were here represented by their officials. The phrase occurs regularly to signify all members of the empire.

The instruments appear to be Semitic and Greek. Greece traded throughout the empire and their products were found everywhere. The word for ‘kinds’ is Persian, possibly a technical musical term. It was an international empire, and all nations were present. And the Babylonians were famous for their love of music (Psalms 137:3; Isaiah 14:11).

The requirement was that they all worship Nebuchadnezzar’s god. The worship of a suzerain’s god was an essential part of the oath of loyalty, a factor that had proved disastrous time and again in Israel’s history. But for most nations and peoples it was not a difficulty, unless they were thinking of rebelling. After all such gods had proved their superiority and it did not mean denying their own gods. It was different for worshippers of the one God, Yahweh, the God of heaven (as Rome would concede later).

The stern warning was typical of the age. Loyalty had to be maintained with an iron hand. Any resistance might quickly spread. And Nebuchadnezzar was ever conscious of the image in his dream, and the possible failure of his kingdom.

‘A burning fiery furnace.’ The word for furnace (’attun) is probably a loan word from the Akkadian utunu (oven) as used for baking bricks or smelting metals. We do not know the direct nature of the furnace but it was clearly dreadful as the added adjectives ‘burning, fiery’ indicate. It was possibly of a large kiln type with an opening at the top and in the side. Brick kilns were common around Babylon for the great building projects, and the idea of throwing people into such kilns for punishment is instanced in a Babylonian letter of around 1800 BC and an Assyrian court regulation of about 1130 BC (compare Psalms 21:9; Jeremiah 29:22).


Verse 7

‘Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery and all kinds of music, all the peoples, the nations and the languages fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.’

The repetition beloved of ancient writers is found here again. It emphasises the situation, and the hearers of the narrative would delight in being able to repeat it as it was read. But it also stressed that the king’s command was exactly fulfilled. At the sound of the music all who were gathered fell on their face before the great image and worshipped it. Or so at first it seemed.


Verse 8

‘For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came near and brought accusations (literally ‘ate their pieces’ i.e. chewed over publicly what they had heard) against the Judeans.’

We are probably to see these Chaldeans as belonging to the ‘wise men’, who were possibly secretly nursing a grudge against these young upstarts. This gave them their opportunity. They had been shamed by Daniel, and they had quickly forgotten that he had saved their lives. And these youngsters had been given positions far above their station because they were his protégés. It is also quite probable that they did not like the way Daniel was carrying out his duties as chief of the wise men. But they had to be careful with him, while these youngsters were vulnerable and had played into their hands.

Alternately they may have been ethnic Chaldeans who lived in southern Babylonia, who were proud of being ‘true native Babylonians’ and resented foreign upstarts. Note the reference to ‘the Judeans’. Either way there was clearly resentfulness here.


Verses 9-12

‘They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king, “O king live for ever. You, O king have made a decree, that every man who will hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery and dulcimer and all kinds of music shall fall down and worship the golden image. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Judeans whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These men O king have not considered your authority. They do not serve your gods, nor do they worship the golden image that you have set up.” ’

These people had every right to tell the king about this civil disobedience. It was the way in which they did so that reveals their mean mindedness. They stressed not only the failure of the accused, but the attitudes that lay behind it. They suggested that they were ungrateful. First they cited the decree, and then they pointed out that ‘the Judeans’ who had been privileged to receive appointment to important posts in Babylon were flouting his authority. Indeed they were committing treason. They had no regard for the king’s authority, and they did not serve the king’s gods.

This latter fact would have been especially noticeable to the wise men in their contacts with them because they would refuse to involve themselves in the magic rites and superstitions of the others. But the final charge was fatal. They refused to worship the golden image, and that was open rebellion. It could not be allowed to happen. It undermined the decree of the king. Everything that they said was designed to arouse Nebuchadnezzar’s anger, although it is very possible that they felt indignant themselves. They would not have understood the reasons for the Judean’s position which would have seemed to them incomprehensible.

‘Responded and said.’ Possibly to the question, what are you here for? Or something similar. ‘Answered’ often means merely responded to the situation as it was.


Verse 13

‘Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and fury commanded his men to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So they brought these men before the king.’

His anger was that of a despotic king against men who flouted his authority and decree. He was beside himself. This was treason. So he commanded that they be arrested and brought to him, and they were duly brought. It is difficult to overstate the courage of these three brave men, when surrounded by overwhelming numbers, in refusing to bow down to a false God, knowing full well what the consequences would be.


Verse 14-15

‘Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it right, O Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my god, nor worship the golden image that I have set up?” Now if you are ready so that at the time that you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, you fall down and worship the image which I have made -- but if you do not worship, you will be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace, and who is that God who will deliver you out of my hands?’

It says something for the regard in which these men were held that they were given a second chance. They might easily have summarily been put to death. He also had some regard for their God, for he knew that He was a revealer of secrets. But it was a very different matter Him delivering them from a burning fiery furnace. Thus they had to make the choice. Either at the given signal they fall down and worship the golden image, or into the furnace they went without mercy. He would not brook disobedience, which was both rebellion against the state and an insult to his god. It was up to them.

His words suggest that there had been some discussion on the matter, for he clearly knew the reason for their objections. It was this strange but powerful God of theirs. But they had to remember that he and his god were the victors, and they must therefore submit themselves to them.

Notice the stress on the source of the idol. ‘Which I have set up --- which I have made.’ This was no god acting in independence, it was a piece of metal which was there as a result of decisions of Nebuchadnezzar. It was a man made thing, no matter how superior the man may be (compare Isaiah 44:17).


Verse 16

‘Shadrach. Meshach and Abednego answered, “We have no need with respect to this matter to set up a defence before you. If it is to be so our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image that you have set up.” ’

The three men firmly rejected his offer with dignity and without open defiance. They stressed that there was no need for them to set up a defence because they were ready to face whatever was to come, and as their God was able to deliver them in spite of the doubt of the king, they were ready to throw themselves on His will, whether to deliver them or no. But one thing he could know for a certainty, they would not serve idols nor would they bow down to the golden image.

This was not the fanatical zeal of would be martyrs. They did not expect to die. It was the firm courage and logic of men who knew their God and were therefore ready to obey Him and entrust their lives to His keeping. Nebuchadnezzar was in possession of all the facts, therefore no defence was necessary, for this was their clear position. They served the God of heaven, and only the God of heaven, and if the only alternative to worshipping other gods was to be thrown into a burning fiery furnace, then so be it. And they would trust their God to do what was right. There was no attitude of rebellion. It was a religious question, and therefore they had no alternative. In their words comes out that incisiveness of thought and statement that had so impressed Nebuchadnezzar when he had first met them (Daniel 1:20).


Verse 19-20

‘Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the look on his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He spoke and commanded that they should heat the furnace seven times more than it was normally heated. And he commanded certain mighty men who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning, fiery furnace.’

Nebuchadnezzar had been well intentioned towards them, as the look on his face had revealed, but now at their refusal his fury knew no bounds. The look on his face changed. How dare these men defy him to his face? He had never experienced such treatment in all his days.

And yet within his heart there was a doubt. The quiet confidence of these men shook him. And the thought of their God disturbed him. Perhaps He might deliver them? So he took precautions. He had the furnace heated to the maximum possible, hotter than it had ever been before. ‘Seven times’ may mean ‘to its ultimate’, or it may be intended to suggest the divine perfection of the judgment from his god that would come on them. The use of the number may have indicated that by his action he was calling for help from his god against this other powerful God.

And he called for the mightiest men of his army. He wanted help from both god and man. He would see what their God could do against these combined forces. And then he had them bound and commanded that they be thrown into the intense heat of the overheated furnaces. He was satisfied that he had taken all possible precautions.

Once again we see that excessive intensity which would later come out in his mental illness, signs that indicated that all was not quite right in his mental state.


Verses 21-23

‘Then these men were bound in their hose, their turbans and their cloaks, and their other clothing, and were cast into the midst of the burning, fiery furnace. As a result, because the king’s command was urgently demanding, and the furnace intensely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, fell, bound, down into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.’

Their fate was repeated twice to emphasise its awfulness, they were taken up to the roof of the furnace and cast in, and they fell down into it. There was no way of escape. But for the men called on to perform the duty the result was appalling. In their haste to respond to the king’s furious urgency, and in their lack of knowledge of the workings of such furnaces, especially when heated to such an intensity, they found themselves caught up in the deadly heat and were overcome and slain. And into that same deadly heat, and worse, went the men who had trusted in God.

When we look at this scene we can only be silent. How can we even begin to describe the courage and steadfastness of these men who so quietly and firmly went to their seeming dreadful fate? We can only sit and watch in awe.


Verse 24-25

‘Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and he rose up in haste. He spoke and said to his counsellors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the heart of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the heart of the fire, and they have no injury, and the aspect of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” ’

It is indicative of the king’s fury that he had not just been satisfied with the execution being carried out. He had himself gone down to look through the side opening of the burning kiln, through which the kiln was fed and the heat of the furnace was intensified by bellows, to watch the destruction of the men who had defied him. But what he then saw astonished him, and he could not believe what he was seeing, so much so that he sought assurance from his counsellors that indeed three men, and only three men, had been cast into the fire, and also that they had been bound.

When they agreed that it was so, he told them why he was so astonished. He had seen not three men but four, and they were free from their bonds and walking about in the fire. And the fourth was like a son of the gods. They were accompanied by their God!

Whatever view we take of the fourth figure in the furnace, there seems little doubt what Nebuchadnezzar meant. The figure was ‘a son of the gods’, that is, He was of the race of the gods, He was a divinity. And to Nebuchadnezzar with his knowledge of these men that could only mean one thing. It was the God of heaven. Compare Genesis 16:7; Genesis 18:1-2; Genesis 32:24-30; Judges 6:11-22; Judges 13:3; Judges 13:6; Judges 13:9; Judges 13:19-20.

And so was literally fulfilled God’s promise to His redeemed people. ‘When you pass through the waters I will be with you, --- when you walk through the fire you will not be burned, nor will the flame set you alight (Isaiah 43:2).’


Verse 26-27

‘Then Nebuchanezzar came near to the opening of the burning fiery furnace. He spoke and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out, out from the heart of the fire. And the satraps, the deputies and the governors, and the king’s counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, that the fire had had no power on their bodies, nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their hose altered, nor had the smell of the fire clung to them.’

Then Nebuchadnezzar called to the men to come out of the furnace, and when they came out the high officials who were surrounding the king saw that the fire had not effected them in any way. Not even a hair was singed, or a piece of clothing affected by the fire, nor was there any smell of fire on them. And yet the ropes that had bound them had burned up in the fire.

‘You servants of the Most High God’. He did not see God as the only God, but as a higher god, One Who was supreme over the gods.


Verse 28

‘Nebuchadnezzar spoke and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his supernatural agency, and delivered his servants who trusted in him, and they have changed the king’s word, and have surrendered their bodies, that they might not serve or worship any god, apart from their own God.”

Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges the power and faithfulness of their God, and the remarkable faith, trust and willingness to yield all, of the three men.

‘His supernatural agency.’ More than an angel, but similar to the idea of ‘the Angel of Yahweh’. Note also the emphasis put on their faith. They had full trusted God to do what was right even when everything seemed to be going wrong.

‘They have changed the king’s word.’ Once a sovereign lord had made a decree it was not usual for it to be altered (in the case of the Medes and Persians it could not be). These men had achieved what very few had ever done.

‘And have surrendered their bodies.’ They had not hesitated to surrender their whole existence into God’s hands, rather than worship any god but their own.


Verse 29

‘Therefore I make a decree that every people, nation and language who speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill. Because there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.’

He still had the heart of a despot, the power of life and death. And he replaced his previous decree with one that protected the name and reputation of the God of heaven, the God of the three men, Who had proved Himself supreme. From now on to speak amiss of Him in any way meant an instant, terrible and degrading death and destruction of all property. For the phrase about the punishment compare Daniel 2:5. This similarity emphasises the unity of the book. It is not just a group of separate stories.


Verse 30

‘Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.’

His final act was to promote the three men to more powerful positions in the province of Babylon.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Daniel 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/daniel-3.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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