One of the key themes found in Daniel’s prophecy is God Almighty putting Himself on display before the unbelieving, pagan world.
Israel is in exile because God was the one who sent them into exile. He is the one who raised up the Babylonians as the rod of His judgment. But the LORD will not allow His name or character to be mocked. Thus, He raised up Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to be the mouth pieces of God before an ungodly king.
In chapter two we saw how God established Daniel as a prophetic authority before Nebuchadnezzar by granting him the ability to not only interpret Neb.’s personal dream, but also to tell Neb. what his dream meant. By God’s grace, Neb. blessed Daniel and His three friends. At the end of Daniel 2, we read about Daniel setting up his three friends as officials in the Babylonian kingdom (2:49).
That verse bridges our discussion into chapter 3.
It is a chapter that presents an unusual contrast with Neb.’s who had recognized the God of Heaven in chapter 2, but now is shown to be an idol making worshiper. Thrown in the middle are three Jewish young men devoted fully to the LORD of Heaven.
I. The Setting (3:1-7)
It is unclear exactly when these events took place. Some commentators suggest 586 B.C.at the final deportation of Israel. Others, however, believe these events took place closer to a few years after Neb.’s accession as the sole ruler of the Babylonian throne. Perhaps even a few years after his encounter with Daniel in chapter 2.
– The Image. Chapter three describes how Neb. had made a gold image – a statue of sorts. Probably not solid gold, but overlaid with gold. It was of immense size, but odd proportions: 60 cubits or 90 feet tall, by 6 cubits, or 9 feet wide. Basically a tall, skinny gold statue. It is interesting that it is gold, seeing that in Neb.’s dream, Daniel relays to him that the gold head represented him and his Babylonian empire.
Some skeptical commentators chide the idea of a giant statue, but it should be noted that enormous statues are not uncommon in the ancient world. Egyptians made pyramids and the Sphinx and the Colossus of Rhodes was at least 105 feet tall. Though the proportions of Neb.’s image are strange – 90 feet tall, 9 feet wide – the 9o feet could also include the pedestal on which the image stood. French archaeologists have found remains of a brick structure about 4 miles south of the historical Babylon in Iraq that is a 45 foot square that is 20 feet high. Some have suggested this was the very pedestal upon which the image stood.
– The Dedication. After construction of this statue was complete, Neb. calls his governmental officials. Seven different officials are named and they could be listed in order of importance. Without going through all of them, these various officials had a specific function within Neb.’s government as advisers, judges, lawyers, military officers, and high ranking law enforcement. Daniel’s three friends would have had to be there due to their position granted to them by Neb. in 2:49.
– The Decree. They were summed together at the unveiling of this statue, and at the playing of the royal orchestra, according to a herald, were to bow down before it. Anyone not complying would be burned alive. Executed for treason, essentially.
The word “worship” implies a worship of a deity, not Neb. necessarily.
So. At the appointed time, the music plays and everyone bows down: Except for three individuals.
Now there are some questions we could ask:
Why would Neb. make such an image? Was he attempting to defy God directly?
This gathering would have been considered a unifying time. Getting everyone of importance together on the same political page, as it were. Verses 4 and 7 suggest this as the texts states there were people of all nations and languages. Babylon had taken many nations. It is to Neb.’s advantage to create a atmosphere of unity in his kingdom. Such a unifying move would help to eliminate factions and verify the loyalty of his governmental officials.
Why not just “bow?” Isn’t this just part of the function as governmental officials?
Honestly, lots of people were there, plus, it was probably considered a honor to be invited to attend Neb.’s festivity. As appointed officials, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego would be expected to willing participate in Neb.’s government and show a bit of respect to his view points. And really? Who is going to know? It’s not like anyone from Israel could do anything to them for being “respectful” to their king.
Idolatry was contrasted with the living God. Idolatry is strictly forbidden (Exodus 20) and bowing down would represent an acknowledgment of these false gods and their false systems of worship. Psalm 115 blasts the false gods of the heathen and then ends with a call for Israel to worship the true God who was every one’s sovereign creator.
We do know that someone was watching: Even though no one would “know” God would know. Also, some people did know who these men were and knew of their commitment to the God of Israel and anticipated for them to disobey the command.
Lastly. Where was Daniel?
The text doesn’t say, but more than likely he was attending to royal affairs while everyone was gone, but there is the possibility that Neb. intentionally didn’t bring him because he knew he wouldn’t bow and he was not about to risk having the only true divine oracle killed.
I would also add that this wasn’t Daniel’s trial. God had a trial for him later in chapter 6.
II. The Inquisition (3:8-18)
The three young men were being watched (specifically watched). Chaldeans, who would be the astrologist priest, came forward to accuse them. The word has the idea of “denounce.” Literally it has the meaning of “ate the pieces of.” The phrase implies harsh, vicious language. There is a hint of Antisemitism to their accusations.
They accused them of four things before Neb.:
– They reminded the king he had given them positions of authority.
– They did not serve the king’s gods.
– They did not bow to the image.
– Hence they refused to obey the king’s command.
Neb. summed them and demanded from them an explanation and to repent of their insolence. He even comments to them: What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?
YHWH may be able to reveal and interpret dreams, but how could He deliver from a raging furnace? He then offers them a opportunity to show their allegiance.
– They were firm in their conviction. They would not bow.
– They believed God is more than able to deliver them.
– But, He does not always do so. None the less, they won’t bow to his image.
They left their lives in the hands of a sovereign God to determine what He will do. They were the examples of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, Don’t fear him who can destroy the body, but not the soul.
III. The Judgment (3:19-25)
In a rage, Neb. ordered the kiln (used more than likely to forge the gold to make the statue) to be heated to its maximum intensity. So hot some of the men were killed by the heat.
Watching from the sides, Neb. sees a miraculous sight through the flames: The three men he had thrown in were walking about free in the furnace, with a fourth figure present. The language Neb. uses ascribes deity to the figure. In other words, Neb. witnesses a Christophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.
When the three arrived out of the fire, it had not burned them nor their clothes. In fact, their clothes didn’t even have the smell of smoke upon them.
IV. The Result (3:26-30)
Neb. extols the God of Israel for what he had just witnessed. He not only causes the three Hebrew men to prosper in his kingdom, he also decrees no one is to say anything against the God of Israel, or risk having themselves and their families destroyed by the king. In a twist of divine providence, God was preparing the protection of the nation of Israel who would be put fully into exile at the hands of the Babylonians. Even though they are being judged by God, He looks after His people’s welfare while they are judged. What a merciful God we serve.