The Book of Daniel Chapter Three
by Cooper P Abrams III
Safe in the Fiery Furnace Daniel 3:1-30
Introduction: Nebuchadnezzar was impressed with the Daniel's God and showed great respect for Him as the ending verses of Chapter 2 show. But the king did not accept Jehovah God as the only God. He only added Jehovah to his pantheon of the false gods of Babylon. Almighty God will not share His glory with the nonexistent gods of me, nor can gods who do not exist save. God used Peter to proclaim this truth in Acts 4:12 saying, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." God is a jealous God, because there is no other god and He in His love for men wishes them to be saved by accepting the truth.
So many are like Nebuchadnezzar in recognizing the existence and even the power of God, but will not submit themselves to Him. How often to we hear men refer in flagrant disrespect to God as "the old man upstairs." Such terms are not the expressions of one who savingly has believed and accepted the Lord as their Savior. A true heart acknowledges God demands respect for Him. This brings to mind a dear relative of mine. When presented the Gospel and the need for believers to be faithful in serving the Lord, like so many, the response was that she prayed often to the Lord and relied on His strength. Yet, she never attended church, never spoke of Christ, never read God's word, and was offended when the subject was brought up. So many have a head knowledge of God, but their understanding of God does not come from their hearts or true belief. The soul that believes will be faithful to the Lord. Saving belief brings action to the believer's life, whereas, a head knowledge brings only lip service, with no substance. Paul Harvey the news commentator was once heard to say, "If you don't live it, you don't believe it." God cannot nor will use the unfaithful. This account in Daniel 3 graphically shows how God can and does use those who's faith is real and who faithfully serve Him.
God is long-suffering and He was not finished with Nebuchadnezzar. God's twofold purpose was that He wanted the captive Jews and the Babylonians to know that He had allowed then to take Judah into captivity. It was a rebuke to Judah because of her sin of unfaithfulness. Further, the was going to reveal Himself to pagan Babylon. He had shown the king His power in the miracle of interpreting His dream and proclaiming His sovereignty in putting Nebuchadnezzar in power. Many place the date of this event in 585 BC about fifteen years after Judah was taken into captivity. It seems in the intervening years Nebuchadnezzar has forgotten how his dream was revealed and interpreted. Clearly, he has forgotten his once respect for the power of Almighty God. Once again God works to reveal Himself to this unbelieving emperor.
The Bible does not say why Nebuchadnezzar set up this huge ninety by nine foot image and required all his subjects to worship it. Some speculate that this great image was a representation of the one in his dream and that in setting up the statute, covered in gold, he was defying the interpretation and proclaiming his own power and that his kingdom would last forever. This was clearly in defiance of God who through Daniel had told Nebuchadnezzar that He had placed in on the throne of Babylon. The size of the image also speaks of defiance of God in being six hundred and sixty six cubits (666). That number has special significance as symbolizing the number of man and of the coming Antichrist who will oppose God raise a worldwide kingdom in defiance of God. (Rev. 13) Others suppose it was a representation of Nebuchadnezzar and he was trying to deify himself, but that does not seem likely. If this was the case the passage would probably mention it. The first explanation seems more probable.
The size of the image shows the engineering skills of the Babylonians. The image was probably set on a pedestal and gold plated because as rich as Nebuchadnezzar was he could not have amassed the gold needed to make a solid statue. It was an impressive sight erected on the Plain of Dura a few miles south of Babylon.
Once completed Nebuchadnezzar sends for the leaders of all his subjects, princes, governors, captains, judges, treasurers, counselors, sheriffs, and all the rules of the provinces, to attend the dedication of the image. The king's proclamation is read which decrees: "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: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" (Daniel 3:5-6).
It is worth noting that a great orchestra was assembled at the carnation of worship of this great image. Music can be a part of true worship, but it can also be used by Satan to deceive. H.A. Ironside, the renowned Bible commentator gives us these incites:
"...music excites emotions, and, thus working upon the feelings, gives people a sense of devotion and religiousness, which after all may be unreal. People may call it worship to sit and listen to a trained.....choir and orchestra rendering sweet and touching strains; but the music simply acts upon the sensuous part of our natures, and has nothing to do with true adoration of the Father and Son." 1
God's people must always be very cautious in the music they use in their services. It can be greatly used of the Lord to honor God, but also a powerful force in perpetrating a false worship. The list of instruments reveals that this was highly trained talented orchestra which included even instruments from Greece. The psaltery and dulcimer were Greek instruments which shows international flavor of the music.
Without hesitation the pagans of Babylon bowed down and worshiped this great man-made image. It shows how easy it is for the unsaved world to bow down and give their devotion to new gods that are always being invented. Isaiah 44:6-17 graphical portrays the foolishness of men who will make themselves gods fashioned with their own hands and bowed before it giving its worship. The last two verses of this reference shows how foolish man is:
"He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god" (Isa. 44:16-17).
Job Chapter 1 makes is clear that Satan goes to and fro around the world seeking to destroy those that love God and serve Him. He is the great accuser of God's people who believe and serve the Lord. (See Job 1:9-11). Here in Babylon, the center of every evil which opposed God, Satan had his servants as well, those that hated God and in turn hated God's people. Through history the Jews have been a people held in contempt by the ungodly. Their very presence of people who love the Lord and honor Him is a rebuke to those who will not bow their knee to their Creator and God. The Jews represent to the world the existence of God and the reality of His stated plan. Israel is a testimony to existence of God and of man's responsibility to Him. Like their father the Devil, the sly and cunning Babylonian leaders quickly saw a way to destroy the godly young men whom they great envied and remove God's faithful witnesses.
God had honored the faith and devotion of these young Jews placing them in high positions over all the "wise" men of Babylon. Like a cunning lion these sinful men patiently waiting for the opportunity moment to devour them. Nebuchadnezzar gave them their chance with his decree that any who refused to bow to the image and worship it would be thrown into the fiery furnace. You can imagine how they relished the moment when they told the king that his Jewish servants Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had not bowed and worshiped the king's new god. Note too how shrew they were in presenting their news to the king, beginning with vain adoration saying "Oh king, live forever!"
They restated the king's decree to worship the image concluding by explaining the three Jewish men he has set over Babylon "have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image"(v12). Clearly they were not happy that Nebuchadnezzar had rebuked and dishonored them in placing Jews as rulers over his people. They saw their revenge as being fulfilled in short-order.
This news struck at the heart of Nebuchadnezzar's egotistical pride. Who were these men to defy him and not bow to his demands? He in a fit of rage orders them brought before him. Some fifteen years had passed since Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had been appointed to their positions of ruling over the provinces. There is no hint that during these many years they did not served the king with loyalty and professionalism. They could not have held their positions if they had not pleased the king, but their past service held no merit in this matter. They had defied the king's order and thus were defying him.
Nebuchadnezzar's questions to them was both a warning and intended to seek the truth in the matter. He pointedly revealed his ugly pride and stating his false idea of his own power saying "who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" Clearly the making and erection of this giant image was a subtle a rebuke against Almighty God. The king's statement was also a challenge to God, made before the ungodly wise men of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar would not share his self conceived glory with anyone, especially not the God of the Jews.
In the Ten Commandments the Lord has commanded Israel to worship no other gods before Him.
" Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me" (Exodus 20:3-5 )
These young Hebrews had diligently lived according to God's laws even in captivity in a pagan land and they had no intent of bowing before Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. When questioned they said they would not "be careful" in answering the king's question. In other words there was no need to evade their answer and there would be no compromise of the godly principles in their actions. They, as god fearing Hebrews, would not under any circumstances bow to the graven image thus obeying the Lord. Their unhesitating decision did not protect or spare themselves the wrath of the king. Their duty to the Lord was clear....they would not bow to the will of the king nor to his image.
They did not test the Lord with their stand, but stated plainly that God could deliver them if He choose too, but if He did not it would not change their decision. They would not serve the king's gods nor worship the golden image. These young men were committed to the Lord and undeterred in their rejection of idolatry and in their devotion to God's will.
Their defiant answer to mighty Nebuchadnezzar made him fly into a blind rage. He was not satisfied just to have them thrown into the normal furnace, but commanded it be heated to seven times its regular temperature. You can imagine the enemies of these godly young men were elated at how their plot had developed. It had worked perfectly and now it would be only minutes before they would be rid of their "thorn in the side" as the flames would consume these men of whom they were so envious. They could probably see themselves in positions of power that these Hebrews would vacate.
Surely, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were emotionally the same as you and I and very apprehensive. Yet, God gives grace in desperate times to those who faithful stand for truth. Like so many other saints of God, they stood in God's grace in His strength and in the face of a horrible fate remained faithful. The Bible's Fall of Faith, Hebrews 11, speaks of those who believed God and were faithful to Him. Many suffered great afflictions, torment and death at the hands of the God haters and God commends them stating "Of whom the world was not worthy." They suffered even unto death all the while trusting in the Lord.
History has always recorded the "recanters," the unfaithful who when the test of their faith came they folded under pressure and denied the Lord Jesus to save themselves embarrassment or their lives. The recanters are those who chose the easy way and give up their testimony at any threat they face. It is a traumatic thing to face death and be given the option to deny the Lord and save one's lives. It is hard for us who have never faced such a trial of faith to imagine what it would be like and how we would react. Foxe's Book of Martyrs records the testimonies of tens of thousands who were persecuted for their faith and the many who chose death rather than to deny the Lord Jesus. Dying faith is supreme faith because there is nothing more precious to us than our lives.
Nebuchadnezzar commanded the most valiant of his soldiers to bind the Hebrews and cast them into the fiery furnace. The reason the king chose these men could have been for their loyalty because this was a dangerous assignment. Had the men refused they would have been killed for disobeying an order. The soldiers tied the Hebrews up with all their clothes on including their hats and then cast them into the furnace. The furnace was an inferno and so hot that it killed these the brave and loyal soldiers who had the misfortune of being chosen for this task.
Probably to make sure the job was done correctly and to gloat, the king came to the furnace and was shocked to see four men inside the flames walking around. In his astonishment he asks those with him if they had cast three men into the fire and they answer that truly only three men were cast into the fire. Nebuchadnezzar then exclaims that he sees four, not three men walking around in the fire. Further he sees that they are not harmed by the flames and the fourth man "is like the Son of God." We are not given a description of the fourth man, but Nebuchadnezzar was greatly impressed with his image that he sensed him to be a divine being.
There is controversy over who was the fourth person that was seen in the fiery furnace. Some suppose that it was an angel sent from God to protect them in the fire. In other places in the Old Testament angels are referred to as "sons of Gods" and this is possible (See Genesis 6:2-4, Job 1:6, 2:1). Later when Daniel was throw into the lion's den Daniel 6:22 states that God sent an angel to protect His servant and shut the mouths of the lions. Others believe both these personages to be a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus. Daniel 3:25 says the fourth person was "like the son (Hebrew "bar" referring to a son or grandson). The phrase "the angel of the Lord" is used repeatedly in the Old Testament is accepted widely as referring to the Messiah. The word "angel" in both Testaments means a messenger and this "angel" in Daniel could be a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. Either position is creditable and we cannot be dogmatic about either view. The author of this paper lends toward this being an appearance of the Lord Jesus. Certainly the magnitude of the event could lend itself to the Lord's personal hand being involved in the miracle.
Stunned by what he was witnessing the king came near to the mouth of the furnace and calls to the Hebrews to come out of the fire. The miracle was unmistaken and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked out of the flames untouched by the fire. The Bible says not even one hair on their heads was harmed and their clothes were unaffected and there was not even the smell of smoke on them.
The same evil and cunning men who had hatched this plot to destroy these Hebrews were witnesses to this miracle. The faith of these young men who "were the servants of the most high God" had delivered them and this was a sharp rebuke to these men who worshiped and served the false idols of Babylon. Their plan in getting rid of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was to promote themselves as the servants of the gods of Babylon and to defend their false gods. Those who serve nonexist gods have no power, nor true wisdom. Whatever their efforts they will always in the end failure even as these foolish men did.
We must be careful to understand the heart of Nebuchadnezzar in praising God. Once again God reveals Himself to the king and this time in a spectacular miracle. The king recognises the power of God in delivering the Hebrews from the fiery furnace and recognizes that God delivered them because they trusted in Him and refused to compromise their faith even to save themselves from certain death. Clearly, the king was greatly impressed and recognizes God's power, but his profession is lacking and hollow..
Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that "no other God can deliver after this sort" but this statement falls short of accepting that God is our only God and Creator. Once again the king leaves the door open for the worship of the false gods of Babylon. He puts God above the other the idols of Babylon, but he makes no personal commitment to Him. God will not bless error or untruth. Because He loves us and wants us to come to the truth, God cannot compromise with non-exist man made gods. Only truth sets men free and therefore He cannot give any credence to the existence of false gods or their doctrines, because to do so would be a lie and misleading. Only God is our Creator and only He exists. God could not honor the praise of Nebuchadnezzar because it was not true and was not accompanied by genuine faith in Jehovah God alone. His professions sounded good, but came from the corrupted heart of a man who's faith was in his own power and the gods of Babylon. He was only adding God to the false gods of Babylon for selfish reasons. Surely, Nebuchadnezzar did not truly honor God, and had not yet learned the truth stated by Daniel when he interpreted the king's dream that it was God who had placed him in his position as king. (See Dan. 2:37-38).
In response the king makes another decree that was directed at the high officials who had plotted against Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He decreed that no one in the kingdom was to speak any thing against the God of the Hebrew young men. The punishment for breaking the king's command would be that the offending person would be cut to pieces and they houses utterly destroyed. Though the decree had some benefit in protecting the Hebrews, it clearly did not reflect the mind and heart of Almighty God. God does not force men to serve Him nor honor forced obedience.
The intent of the king's officials was to destroy Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, but instead Nebuchadnezzar promoted them to even a higher place in his government. Further, these officials and all the Babylonians were now under the penalty of death if they said anything derogatory against God.
Thus the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was vindicated and Almighty God was glorified by the faithfulness of these three young men who loved God and thought to obey him was more precious than even life itself.