Two introductory issues:
* Is there a parallel between the events recorded in Daniel 3 and those of Revelation 13:11-18?
* Where is Daniel? (1) As president or chief of the wise men he may have been excluded from the state offices mentioned in vv. 2-3 (cf. 2:49). Indeed, 'none of the 'wise men', over whom Daniel had been made chief, were included in the call for this public ceremony. As a type of accredited clergy serving under the state, they may have been exempted from this act of allegiance; their religious commitment would be presumed to be beyond question (Archer, 55). (2) Perhaps he was prevented from being present because of illness. (3) Some matter of importance to the state may have required him to be in some other region of the province. Does 2:49 hint at this? Miller argues that 'Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego administered the affairs of the province, but Daniel's responsibilities required his presence at the palace. With the king and other important officials absent, someone was needed to govern in the city. Thus Daniel was unable to leave Babylon and travel to the plain of Dura for this event (108). (4) Perhaps he was present and, like his companions, refused to bow down to the statue. His high position in Neb's court and special favor with the king may have placed him beyond accusation. Whatever the case, the text does not mention him and we probably ought not to speculate. Nevertheless, some wonder why, if he was present, he did not come to the defense of his friends? Perhaps he did not know of their situation: the accusation, interrogation, and attempted execution occurred with great rapidity. Or perhaps Daniel was prevented by God from intervening by some revelatory word (had he intervened it may have hindered the display of his friends' faith and God's miraculous power).
A. Nebuchadnezzar's Order 3:1-7
1. the statue v. 1
a. what did he build?
The text says Neb constructed an 'image of gold. The word frequently is used of a human statue, and it may well have been the likeness of Neb himself (not out of keeping with what we know of the man). More likely it was an image of Neb's patron god Nebo or perhaps Marduk. Others suggest it was an obelisk, i.e., an upright, four-sided pillar that gradually tapers as it rises and terminates often in a pyramid. Some believe it was nothing but an upright slab.
Its proportions were 60 cubits (= 90 feet) in height and 6 cubits (= 9 feet) in width. With a height 10x its width the object must have been an incredible sight. Normal proportions show the height to be four or five times the width. The alleged grotesque appearance of the statue cannot argue against its reality, for much of Babylonian art and sculpture was of that nature. Ancient manuscripts describe a statue of one god forty feet in height and a weight of 1,000 Babylonian talents. The Colossus of Rhodes was over one-hundred feet tall. The Sphinx in Egypt is 240 ft. long by 66 ft. high. It is quite possible, however, that included in these dimensions was a base or pedestal, which would significantly detract from the otherwise abnormal nature of the proportions (some believe that as much as thirty or forty feet of the height would have been taken up by the base).
The statement that it was made of gold has also been used by critics to discredit its authenticity. But the text may simply mean that it was overlaid with gold. Israel's golden altar was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold (Ex. 39:38; 40:5; 37:25-26).
b. where did he build it?
The plain of Dura probably refers to a flat plain enclosed by surrounding mountains. Wood (80) cites the claim by Julius Oppert (an archaeologist) that he discovered a large brick square, 45 feet on a side and 20 feet high, which he believes was the foundation for the image.
c. why did he build it?
What was Neb's motive for constructing the image? (1) Some, following the LXX assertion that the image was built in Neb's 18th year, believe he had it built to commemorate the final destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple (cf. Jer. 52:29). It was, after all, a common practice of ancient kings to erect images of themselves with laudatory inscriptions, symbols of their dominion. Keil (115), however, does not believe that the destruction of Jerusalem was sufficiently significant for Neb to have warranted such an endeavor as this.
(2) Hippolytus of Rome suggested that Neb wanted to construct the statue he had seen in his dream (chp. 2). He had become intoxicated by the interpretation of the gold head as representing himself and his kingdom. As Lacocque put it, the statue 'represents the empire and is the manifestation of a grotesque hubris [pride] (59). If this is the primary reason, it is obvious that the impression made by the omniscience of Daniel's God (see chp. 2) has faded and only the disturbing memory of the temporary character of his kingdom remains. The statue, then, would have been Neb's attempt to secure for himself immortality and power in perpetuity. There can be little doubt but that Neb anticipated the sentiment of Nietzsche: 'If there is a God, how can I bear not to be that God?
We see here that Neb had experienced religious conviction without experiencing spiritual conversion. When confronted with the reality and power of Daniel's God 'his sinful heart had been shaken, not renewed (Ferguson, 74). There is a difference between temporary religious diversion and lasting spiritual conversion. The Puritan John Owen explains:
'As a traveler, in his way meeting with a violent storm of thunder and rain, immediately turns out of his way to some house or tree for his shelter, but yet this causeth him not to give over his journey so soon as the storm is over he returns to his way and progress again: so it is with men in bondage to sin. They are in a course of pursuing their lusts; the law meets with them in a storm of thunder and lightning from heaven, terrifies and hinders them in their way. This turns them for a season out of their course; they will run to prayer or amendment of life, for some shelter from the storm of wrath which is feared coming upon their consciences. But is their course stopped? Are their principles altered? Not at all; so soon as the storm is over, so that they begin to wear out that sense and the terror that was upon them, they return to their former course in the service of sin again (Works, 6:317-18).
(3) Wood believes Neb simply wanted to secure the allegiance of his court ministers, especially the young foreigners from Israel.
2. the assembly of magistrates vv. 2-3
'This dedication, notes Young (86-87), 'doubtless possessed religious significance, by which the image was consecrated as a symbol of the world-power and (in the heathen sense) of its divine glory.
3. the call to worship vv. 4-7
Baldwin is probably correct in saying that 'the fact that all peoples, nations and languages were to fall down and worship it suggests that Neb intended to unite his kingdom under one religion (99). It must be remembered, however, that heathen kings recognized the deities of other nations. They simply demanded that conquered peoples acknowledge their god (i.e., the god of the conqueror) as more powerful than those of the vanquished country. Says Keil:
'A refusal to yield homage to the gods of the kingdom they regarded as an act of hostility against the kingdom and its monarch, while every one might at the same time honour his own national god. This acknowledgment, that the gods of the kingdom were the more powerful, every heathen could grant; and thus Nebuchadnezzar demanded nothing in a religious point of view which every one of his subjects could not yield. To him, therefore, the refusal of the Jews could not but appear as opposition to the greatness of his kingdom (124).
See Exod. 20:3-5; Deut. 5:7-9.
B. The Three Youths Accused 3:8-12
1. the motive of the Chaldeans
* professional jealousy
* racial bigotry
2. excuses for compliance
The three conceivably could have justified their compliance with the decree by appealing to any number of factors, all of which, though illegitimate to the believing heart, would seem plausible to the pagan. For example,
* The expectation that all other Judeans would obey Neb (as evidently they did!) might have swayed their decision. Imagine how isolated and alone these three must have felt as they stood amidst a sea of prostrate bodies!
* Without Daniel's leadership and example (on the assumption that he was not present), they could have easily succumbed to the temptation. Their stand in chp. 1 was made easier by Daniel's influence.
* They might have reasoned in their hearts: 'What has God done to deserve our allegiance? Where was he when Neb destroyed our home and led us into slavery? If God didn't intervene to protect us then, why should we risk our necks now simply to save his reputation? But they didn't.
* The punishment threatened for non-compliance was sufficiently terrible and torturous to overcome all reasons for disobedience. See Jer. 29:22.
[Some suggest that the furnace was upright in form (perhaps with a beehive shape) with a large opening at the top in which material would be placed. A small opening at the bottom would allow for material to be removed, through which one might also look inside. The temperature in such furnaces often reached 1,800 degrees fahrenheit.]
* By not obeying Neb they certainly stood to forfeit any hope for advancement in the court (not to mention losing what little status they already had). And what would become of their families?
3. the three-fold charge
The word translated 'brought charges against in v. 8 = lit., 'ate the pieces of, a phrase suggesting bitter hatred and rage.
* disregard for Neb (false)
* refusal to serve his gods (true)
* refusal to worship the image (true)
C. The Three Youths Interrogated 3:13-18
1. Neb's proposal vv. 13-15
2. their refusal vv. 16-18
Their initial response (v. 16) is simply to concede to the accuracy of the charges against them. They are guilty! But there is no arrogance in their reply, nor the sort of fanaticism that later came to characterize some of the Jews in the Maccabean period. Says Young, 'the three are simply acknowledging the correctness of the indictment laid against them and declaring that there is no defence or apology that need be made. They cast themselves utterly upon God. It is a case where they are compelled to serve God rather than man, and for their noble faith, they are evidently honored by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews as those who by faith 'quenched the violence of fire' (Heb. 11:34) (90).
The statement in vv. 17-18 is not to be taken as if they questioned the ability or power of God to deliver them. 'They do not doubt the power of their God to deliver them from the king's furnace, but they have no right to presume that He will do so (Baldwin, 104). It should also be noted that the 'power to which they refer is the ethical ability, 'i.e., the ability limited by the divine holiness and righteousness, not the omnipotence of God as such (Keil, 127). Cf. Ps. 115:3; Mt. 10:28. In other words, in this case to say 'God cannot is not due to his weakness but to his will. God cannot only because God will not.
Wood makes two important observations:
'First, the young men recognized that God's will might be different from what they would find pleasant, and they were willing to have it so, without complaining. Too often Christians are not willing to have God's will different from their own, and then do complain most vigorously when it proves to be that way (89).
'Second, they did not make their own obedience contingent upon God's doing that which was pleasant to them. They were ready to obey, whether God chose to deliver them from the furnace or not. In other words, they found their object of affection in God Himself, not in what God did for them (89).
The bottom line is that these young men would not have regarded their deaths in the flames to be a failure of faith. Dependent on God's will, faith may indeed quench flames (Heb. 11:34). But by that same faith 'others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword . . . (Heb. 11:35-37).
D. The Three Youths Delivered 3:19-27
1. their 'execution vv. 19-23 (cf. Jer. 29:22; Isa. 43:2)
'The furnace is to be heated to seven times its usual temperature and a number of particularly strong men are called to take hold of and bind the three. Neb has decided to take no chances. Perhaps the fire at ordinary heat would have been no match for the God of Sharach, Meshach, and Abednego, but surely this excessive heat will keep him at bay. Perhaps it is in the divine plan to wrest them out of his hand, but this phalanx of burly henchmen should foil any such attempt. If the God of the Jews was going to intervene, Neb was determined to thwart him at every turn. The polytheism of the king could entertain a contest between equals. The monotheism of the author allows him to make sport of his enemies. The story is not without its element of satire (Anderson, 35).
2. their deliverance vv. 24-27
Three things are worthy of note.
First, the description of the 'fourth person in the furnace as 'a son of the gods (v. 25 is a typical pagan way of describing a divine being. He is again referred to as the 'angel (cf. 6:22) of God (v. 28). Who was this being?
Second, what is the meaning of Neb's declaration that the God of the Jewish youths is the 'most high God (v. 26)? Cf. Gen. 14:19; Num. 24:16; Isa. 14:14. According to Young (95), 'the king does not rise above the level of paganism. So, the Greeks called Zeus the Most High. Neb does not acknowledge that the Lord alone is God, but merely that the God of the Confessors is the highest of Gods. Even the performance of this mighty miracle does not convert him.
Third, note the elaborate description in v. 27 of the total protection afforded these young men: no effect on their bodies, no hair singed, trousers undamaged, not even the smell of smoke!
E. Nebuchadnezzar's Reaction 3:28-30
1. doxology v. 28
They 'put their trust in God . . . but to do what? Did they bargain with God ('We'll trust you if you promise to save us . . . if you tell us in advance what your will is for our lives . . . then we will trust you)? No. They said: 'Our obedience is not dependent on what God chooses to do. You may destroy our bodies, Neb, but God has redeemed our souls (cf. Mt. 10:28).
See especially Heb. 11:35-38 (consider Isaiah, Jeremiah, Stephen, James, Paul).
2. decree v. 29
3. promotion v. 30