In this chapter we are dealing with a worship issue. An image has been set up by king Nebuchadnezzar with the royal command to bow down before that image and if not done
the person will be executed through a fiery furnace. Apparently the king has forgotten the outcome of his forgotten dream problem and its interpretation as reported in chapter two. Also his confession that the Hebrew God is the God of gods and King of kings has faded from his mind.
The king is back in a mindset of being a despotic autocratic ruler of an empire of which he believes that it will last for ever. Nebuchadnezzar is clearly back in his belief that his god is mightier than the God of the Hebrew captives, even the princes of that God are now subject to him. (1:3)That was the thinking of the rulers of empires in those days. Not just armies versus armies, but gods versus gods. That is the issue here in chapter three, “The conquest is actually between Yahweh and the god of Nebuchadnezzar”. (Ev.Com.p.594) The god of Nebuchadnezzar was Bel or Marduk. So it is a worship issue between the worship of Yahweh, the Hebrew God and Marduk the god of Nebuchadnezzar.
In the book of Esther we have a similar situation over worship, to obey the commandments of the Hebrew God of the Jews or the commandments of the empire in which the Jews lived as captives. (Esther 3:8). According to the last book of the Bible a similar situation will be in the last days before Christ returns to earth (read Rev.13:14, 15 and 14:6, 7 and 9-11)
The outcome of chapter three forces again a confession of the lips of Nebuchadnezzar similar to what he confessed at the end of chapter two, but not yet deep enough. More need to take place in his life before it is genuine. But let’s first enter this chapter part by part.
The first question we may raise is, when did this take place at which time in the life of Nebuchadnezzar or the history of Babylon? Dr.Pfandl in his book about Daniel suggests
595/594 BC. We quote the following from his book: “A more likely date could have been the revolt in 595/594 in which according to the Babylonian Chronicle the king slew many of his own army. The dedication of the image would allow all the king’s officials to show their allegiance to him publicly. It was Nebuchadnezzar’s way of solidifying control over the various elements of his vast empire.” (Pfandl page 33)
Dr.Shea in his book on Daniel suggests the same date. Dr.Shea quotes the Babylonian Chronicle as follows “In the tenth year (595/594BC) the king of Akkad(Babylon) was in his own land, from the month of Kishev(December) to the month of Tebet(January) there was rebellion in Akkad….With arms he (the king) slew many of his own army. His own hand captured his enemy (quoted in Wiseman, (Chronicle of Chaldean Kings, 73) (Shea in Daniel page 73/4)
Shea explains further that most likely the image was set up to make sure his subjects showed openly loyalty to his rulership in order to avoid further rebellion. Then Shea writes “If this speculation is correct then the Babylonian Chronicle provides a possible date for the events described in chapter 3. If the rebellion took place in 594BC, then the episode with the image could have taken place later that year or early the next year as a response to the rebellion” (ibid page 74)
We may conclude that a number of years, in this case about ten, since the event of chapter 2, have passed when Nebuchadnezzar got the idea of setting up an image to be worshipped by his people, in particular his government officials. All were called to come to the plain of Dura to show their loyalty.
The size of the image is interesting. Its height is 60 cubits or about 30 meters or 90 ft. The breadth was 6 cubits or 3 meters or 9ft. The number 6 is used for the measurements, similar to the number 6 used in Revelation 13:18 and where it is called the number of a man. Seven is the number used by God as we see it used many times in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The creation week had seven days and the seventh day was declared the day of the Lord, Exodus 20:8-11. Thus even in numbers it is man versus God, six versus seven.
The image was set up in the plain of Dura. The SDABC comments as follows “Plain of Dura. The name of the plain survives in the name of a tributary of the Euphrates called Nahr Dura which enters the Euphrates 5mi (8km) below Hilla. Some neighbouring hills also bear the name Dura. According to a tradition current among the inhabitants of Iraq today, the events described in ch.3 took place at Kirkuk, which is now the center of the Iraqian oil fields.” (SDABC Vol.4, page 780/1)
What could have been the reason for erecting such an image? We have already mentioned
the revolt which had taken place against Nebuchadnezzar and that he may have aimed at consolidating his authority in the empire. A severe death threat was attached to the order to worship the image. The evil mind creates fear and uses that fear to have people to obey them. God does not want to be worshiped and obeyed because of fear but because of love out of a free will, free choice and not under oppression or duress. Joh.14:15; 1 John 2:3.
But the king may have a second reason for erecting the image. The forgotten dream as told about in chapter two, which was revealed by the Hebrew God through Daniel, may have bothered him. The interpretation which Daniel gave revealed to him that he was only the head of gold and that after him other empires would follow. They would be of lesser value, and Nebuchadnezzar’s empire would not last forever as he intended it to be.
Dr.Pfandl comments as follows:” For a time after the vision of Daniel 2, it seems the fear of God continued to influence him. However ‘the prosperity attending his reign filled him with pride (EGW in PK 504) and in time he resumed his idol worship with increased zeal and bigotry (ibid). The golden image most likely reflected the dream-image that Nebuchadnezzar had seen, but he determined that his image should be entirely of gold- a symbol of the kingdom of Babylon that should stand for ever.” (Pfandl page 34)
Pride got again the better part of his life and led to a smashing defeat. The image was not of solid gold but gold plated. We find this mentioned in Isa.40:19. Many items in the desert tabernacle (sanctuary) of Israel were gold plated. Read Exodus 37:2, 10, 11, 26.
Heathen nations made big and tall images of their idol gods and placed them in temples. The Philistines took the ark of God from Israel and placed the ark in their idol temple near their idol god. Dagon. It was for them a token of victory of their god over the God of Israel. However it did not turn out good for them. The ark had to be sent back to Israel. Read 1 Sam.5
In Egypt even today big images are visible from Egypt’s past. What Nebuchadnezzar did in making a complete, from top to bottom gold plated image, indicated clearly what he had in mind. He wanted to show the world and his government officials that he was in charge and his empire would last for ever. It would be of no use to get involved in another revolt against him and his empire.
Royal orders are given to all people in a government position to come to Babylon for a grand display of image worship, the inauguration of the image set up and ordered by Nebuchadnezzar. This may have taken some time of travel to arrive in Babylon from all corners of his empire. Dr.Pfandl suggests that king Zedekiah of Israel may have been among them. “According to Jeremiah 51:59 Zedekiah in his fourth year made a journey
to Babylon, possibly in response to Nebuchadnezzar’s summons mentioned in Daniel 3:2” (Pfandl p.33)
In 2Kings 24:17-20 we read about Zedekiah’s evil reign and also that he” rebelled against the king of Babylon”. If that is the case that he was present, we can be sure that while he bowed down for the image he must have seen that three men of his country did not bow down and were later delivered out of the fiery furnace
Music played a major role in this act of worship in order to make it more attractive and a pleasant occasion for the ear and the mind. Satan always makes his evil temptation pleasant and sugar coated, but the result always being the opposite. When Balaam could not curse Israel he counselled Balak to get Israel involved in one of his Moabites idol worship feasts. Balaam knew that if Israel would fall for the temptation they would incur God’s curse. Balak accepted Balaam’s counsel. And the result is known from Numb. 25:1; 31:16 and Rev. 2:14. We can be sure that music in this case also played a major role to attract the people.
Vernon McGee in NUBR writes: The music was used to appeal to the flesh. Music that is spiritual is a wonderful aid to worship, but in some of our churches today it is very difficult to tell the difference between spiritual music and worldly music”.
In the book “Last Day Events” a compilation from Ellen G.White writings we find the following statement “The lord has shown me (what, JTK)) would take place just before the close of probation .Every uncouth thing will be demonstrated. There will be shouting with drums, music, and dancing. The senses of rational beings will become so confused that they cannot be trusted to make right decisions…” (LDE p.159)
Religious gatherings, so-called celebration meetings, are often a copycat of ungodly pop music concerts. People are listening to the same type of music but the words are different
thinking that it will justify the worldly music being played. But music itself also has an influence for good or evil.
So we find here in Daniel 3 that music played a major part in making it attractive to people. Good music is wholesome and uplifting. Questionable music can contaminate the mind leading away from God and from true worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:23)
Ellen G.White writes as quoted in “Evangelism”p.507 “Music forms a part of God’s worship in the courts above. We should endeavour in our songs of praise to approach as nearly as possible to the harmony of the heavenly choirs”
Report has gone out to the king that three men have not obeyed the king’s command to bow down for his image. It says that “certain Chaldeans accused the Jews” (3:8). They could have been of the same group of Chaldeans who were not able to tell the king’s forgotten dream and its interpretation. (2:2-4).They may have felt much hurt, and defeated by the Hebrew captives, prisoners of war. This would be their opportunity to have revenge on them. Their time had arrived and they took advantage of it. They may have been watching these three men and when they saw they were not bowing, quickly made it known to Nebuchadnezzar.
The three Hebrew young men had obeyed the command to come to the plain of Jura. That was about as far as they would go. They knew their limit and would not pass it. A very strong lesson for all of us, to know how far we can go in this world and not compromising our first duty to worship God, our Creator and Redeemer. Let’s remember this in this time of post-modernism and secularism.
The Chaldean accusers are very clever in how they report it to the king. First they remind the king that they are Jews, Hebrew captives or prisoners of war. Second, they remind the king how these men have been greatly rewarded and honoured with responsible government positions. Thirdly they tell the king that these men “do not regard thee, O king”. What they like to make clear to the king is that he has rewarded them so much and done them so much good, but now they do not show any gratitude for what the king has done to them. Last but not least they make clear to the king that these men have not bowed down for the image you have set up.(3:12)
Any despotic ruler listening to such a well formulated accusation about one of his trusted
government officials would take that most serious and deal with it immediately.
The king gets “red hot under the colour”, so to speak He gets into “his rage and fury”.
Such a thing is most dangerous and intolerable, setting the wrong example and is
undermining his authority.
Nebuchadnezzar asks to bring these men before him. Nebuchadnezzar asks of these three if this it true what is told about them. Is it true that you do not serve my gods and worship my image? Then in one breath he gives them a second chance and if they still disobey for sure they will thrown in the fiery furnace. He adds, “And who is that God who will deliver you out of my hands?”(3:15).This is openly defying and challenging the living God of Heaven, the Hebrew Creator God, Yahweh. The king has completely and wilfully forgotten what happened some years ago and the confession he made publicly as reported in Daniel chapter 2. (2:47)
Nebuchadnezzar shows the same attitude as Pharaoh did when Moses stood before him. (Exod.5:2). Also he shows the same spirit as we find described about the beast from the bottomless pit in Revelation 11:7, 8 which was fulfilled in the godless movement of the French revolution at the end of the 18th century. (See my study in the Revelation section, part III, of this website). It is the spirit of Atheism, evolutionism, materialism and secularism, no regard for God and His word as we find it today in post modernism. Mankind is law and god to himself, boasting their own achievements, as we will see in Nebuchadnezzar’s life in Daniel chapter 4
But let’s go back and listen how the three men are responding. We find that in Daniel 3:16-18. Politely but firmly and decidedly their answer is “No, we will not bow down”.
They say, we don’t even see any need to answer you about this. “We are not going to serve your gods or worship your image” (NASB) Then they add “The God we worship is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace and He will deliver us, but even if He does not deliver us we will not bow down for your image”. What a tremendous expression of faith in God, unwavering and solid as a rock can be. No compromise in any shape or form.
That’s the kind of faith which has to be shown at the time when the last day image will be erected worldwide. Rev.13:14, 15 and when Satan will be raging in his fury against God’s faithful remnant people, Rev.12:17; 17:14.
In those days and today any despotic ruler or dictator would not wait long to give expression to his anger about being opposed. Nebuchadnezzar gives order to heat up the furnace seven times more to make it even hotter (3:19). Order is giving to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and to throw them into the fire. Some strong men are commanded to do the job. The fire is so hot that these men who did it were killed by the heat of the flames of the furnace. The three men were bound as if they could run away out of the fire by themselves, and then dressed and all thrown into the furnace. (3:20-23)
The king watches it all very carefully and instead of being devoured by the fire he sees them walking freely in the furnace and even more instead of three he sees four persons.. Immediately he called for his counsellors and asked them didn’t we throw three men into the fire, how come I see them walking around with a fourth person. (3:24).The counsellors could only confirm what the king said. Then the king adds: I see four men walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (3:25)
In 3:17 we have noticed that the three men had declared that God was able to deliver them and that He will deliver us. Now their faith has been rewarded and God has delivered them. This is the event the apostle Paul writes about in Hebrews 11:34 “Quenched the violence of fire”. By their faith in God this has been made possible for them. These men may also have known what the prophet Isaiah wrote long before in Isa.43:1-3 “When thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee”. In a most dramatic way the truth of this has been demonstrated in this experience. But even if God had not done so they still would not have bowed down for the king’s image. (3:18).That kind of faith was later demonstrated by the many martyrs who perished in the flames of the stake. Singing and confessing their faith in God they took the flames and were burned alive. Papal power was not strong enough to break their faith in God and in His message of salvation by faith and not by human works.
We can clearly see that God was working in the life of Nebuchadnezzar. First by a dream he received from God but forgot the dream at the same time and in need of God to bring it back to his mind, Daniel ch.2. Now God is working through this experience of what happened in his fiery furnace.
When describing the fourth person, the confession comes from his lips that the fourth person “is like the Son of God” (3:25). Some commentators have indicated that this could have been an angel sent by God. MacArthur writes that “the fourth person could possibly have been the second person of the Godhead (Jesus Christ) as a pre-incarnated appearance as in Joshua 5:13-15 and by Gideon in Judg.6:11ff”. (NUBR)
McCready Price writes as follows:” If someone should ask how that heathen king could be expected to know what the Son of God was like, the answer is readily given. For a decade and a half he had been constantly in touch not only with Daniel but also with these other Jewish high counsellors, who were not only highly intelligent concerning the best teachings of their own religion, but who were by no means backward about giving these truths to others. One of the prime ideas of the Jewish religion was that the divine Son of God was to come some day and rule the earth as its King. Theoretically Nebuchadnezzar was probably about as familiar with this idea as Daniel and the three worthies were” (Price p.96)
Ellen G.White confirms this statement of Price in her book “Prophets and Kings” “How did that heathen king know what the Son of God was like? The Hebrew captives filling positions of trust in Babylon had in life and character represented before him the truth. When asked for a reason of their faith, they had given it without hesitation. Plain and simply they had represented the principles of righteousness, thus teaching those around them of the God whom they worshipped. They had told of Christ, the Redeemer to come; and in the form of the fourth in the midst of the fire the king recognised the Son of God”. (PK p.509)
These men did in their time what we must do in our time “be ready always to give an answer to every one that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you”. (1Pet.3:15)
They experienced in reality what we learned of Christ being the Emmanuel, God with us,
Matthew 1:23 (Hag.1:13)
The glorious pinnacle or culmination of this event is that Nebuchadnezzar calls the three men to come out and calls them “ye servants of the most high God. (3:26) .As many as possible are coming near to them and become convinced that not even “the smell of fire had passed on them” (3:27) Nebuchadnezzar again turns from one extreme to the other. First those who would not obey him would loose life and property. Now those who would speak anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would loose life and property and cut into pieces. (3:29). NASB reads the person that speak anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb and their house reduced to a rubbish heap”
Still Nebuchadnezzar is not yet where God wants him to be in his personal spiritual experience and relationship with God. He still speaks about their God; it is not yet his God and says what their God has done for His servants. (3:28). He has not yet given up his gods in favour of their God and to make that his God. However he is willing to make the confession that: “there is no other God that can deliver after this sort” (3:29) or as it reads in the NASB. ”There is no other God who is able to deliver in this way”.
The three men instead of perishing in the fiery furnace are now promoted, may be to a higher government position in the province of Babylon. They are not sent to a far away place in the empire, in a corner, in order that people could forget about them. They remain in the centre of the empire Babylon itself and by their presence and public contact be a faithful witness to the living Hebrew God, Yahweh.
This chapter and the event revealed should be an encouragement to all today who may experience hardship or problems because of serving God according to His word. God is able and He will deliver in one way or another and He will reward those who are faithful
Revelation 22:12. Even the martyrs who perished in the past are not forgotten. The Lord remembers them and will reward them. Revelation 6:9-11
Pastor Jan T.Knopper
Edited October 2010
Revisited August 2013