THE BOOK OF DANIEL, Chapter 3
[This is an excerpt from my book, Mankind’s Final 7 Years Before Christ Returns: A verse-by-verse explanation of the book of Revelation]
3 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.
Most commentators agree that this event took place 17-19 years after the previously mentioned events of chapter two. This event, therefore, would be after the mad cow episode of chapter four, and would be near the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. While most believe the image was Nebuchadnezzar’s memorial to himself, it may have been an idol dedicated to some false god (verses 14, 28).
Most commentators agree that the image was probably not solid gold, as that would take an estimated 8,000,000+ pounds of gold, but was probably only covered in gold. Some suggest that it was a golden image on top of a tall pole. The dimensions of nine by ninety feet (slightly larger if using Babylonian cubits) are not proportionally accurate for the image of a man unless the breadth refers to thickness rather than width, which seems unlikely. Another suggestion is that this was an image of Nebuchadnezzar’s head of gold (Daniel 2:37-38) placed on a pillar.
2 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, 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.
3 Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
No one is certain what all these offices were. I think Daniel is simply saying that everyone who held an office under the king had to come to the dedication. Some suggest that not every official was present, as some would have been involved in important business, and simply excused themselves. A quick look at Nebuchadnezzar’s temper, however, would suggest otherwise.
Also, many commentators cannot grasp the magnitude of the event, and claim that officials simply bowed with respect wherever they happened to be. These commentators go so far as to suggest that bands of musicians went throughout the kingdom playing the music for the officials to hear. These verses, and following verses, however, show that this event all took place in the plain of Dura, and that King Nebuchadnezzar (intolerant of good excuses) expected everyone to be there. The verse clearly says all the rulers showed up.
4 Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages,
Addressing “nations and languages” suggests that Daniel and his friends were not the only foreign captives given high positions.
5 That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up:
Many commentators discuss, in deep detail, the exact instruments used, and the origins of the words. I think, however, that Daniel is simply telling us that Nebuchadnezzar made a grand hoopla. On the other hand, Daniel does mention the list four times.
6 And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
Unfair laws have always been the preferred method of attack by idolaters and atheists.
7 Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
8 Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews.
We will see that they did not accuse the Jews in general, but only Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We assume, but are not told, that these three were the only Jews present. In fact, it is possible that there were other Jews who also refused to bow to the image, but only the three were targeted because of their high positions. Daniel was most likely at the palace as the king would never have left without placing some high official in charge, in his absence.
The words “accused the Jews” can literally be translated “devoured the flesh of the Jews”. This was a malicious attack against the three men.
9 They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever.
10 Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image:
11 And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
They reminded the king of his orders and threats, just in case he desired to be lenient.
12 There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
They refer to the fact that the three were given their positions as a favor to Daniel (Daniel 2:49), and suggest that they were not only unappreciative, but rebellious against the king and everything he believed in.
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king.
The use of two words for anger seems to refer to his feelings and his actions.
14 Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?
The phrase “is it true” can be translated “is there a purpose”. This suggests that the king viewed their disobedience as treason.
15 Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?
Despite his rage, the king did not order their immediate execution, but gave the three a second chance. There seems to even be some compassion and tenderness in his actions.
Nebuchadnezzar seems to rank himself among the gods. Even if he believed in Jehovah God (Daniel 2:47; 4:34-37), it was God that gave Nebuchadnezzar his riches and power (Daniel 2:37; 4:1-3), so what mortal could take anything from him.
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
The phrase “we are not careful” can be translated “it is not necessary”. They had taken a stand and there was simply no need to discuss it.
17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
18 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 sternness of the three is remarkable, given the fact that there had elapsed about 20 years in which to fall away from the faith learned in their childhood home. Though they knew God could save them, they had no promise that He would. God would either deliver them from death, or through death. (See also- Psalm 34:19; Acts 5:29; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21; 12:11)
19 Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.
The king’s lenience is now changed to full-force fury. “Seven times” hotter is not literal, but means as hot as it could possibly be made. Also, note that the hotter the flames, the more transparent they become, which will come into play in verses 24-25.
20 And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.
A king would typically add the most valiant warriors to his bodyguard, so the most mighty men would have been readily available. While Nebuchadnezzar claimed that God couldn’t save them (verse 15), he now seems worried they might escape through their own power.
21 Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
These articles of clothing may be symbols of their official status, rather than a list of commonly worn items.
22 Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flames of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Because of the king’s fury, the warriors saw no choice but to ignore their own safety.
23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
The words “took up”, from the previous verse, can also be translated “ascend”. That, along with the words here “fell down”, leads many to believe the three were thrown into the furnace through the flue at the top rather than the bottom where the fire would be fed. In the next verse, Nebuchadnezzar apparently views them through the mouth of the furnace.
24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.
Many have attempted to add details, between this verse and the previous verse, to fill what they see as a gap in events. While some time obviously passed between these events, Daniel gives us all the important details.
The counselors mentioned here, does not refer to the wise men of chapter 2, but to his high officials.
25 He answered and said, 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.
The term “Son of God” is usually translated “a son of the gods”. Nebuchadnezzar was not saying that the fourth man looked like Jesus, but simply that he appeared to be a divine being. In verse 28, he declares the being an angel (see also- Job 38:7).
26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire.
“Servants of the most high God”- though he doesn’t cease believing in his false gods, Nebuchadnezzar, once again, declares God as being a god above all gods (Daniel 1:47; 4:2-3; 17; 34-35).
27 And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.
All the officials gathered around and evidenced that the fire had no effect on the three men, not even the smell of fire. 2 Corinthians 2:16-17 says, “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life…”
While we love the story of the three being delivered from peril, Hebrews 11 lists them alongside people of great faith who were put to death.
28 Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.
“Yielded their bodies”- they offered their bodies as a sacrifice to God (see also- Romans 12:1; 14:7-8). In verse 26, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges God as “the most high God”, but now refers to Him as “the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego”.
29 Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing 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 that can deliver after this sort.
Nebuchadnezzar did not order anyone to worship God, or even proclaim God to be the only true God. The king simply acknowledged the power of God, and ordered that no one speak evil against Him. It appears that Nebuchadnezzar is trying to make amends for his own words in verse 15.
30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.
There is much debate as to what exactly the king did. While most translations say the king promoted them, the text simply says that he made them prosper.