The Fiery Furnace

For more study see commentary on Daniel 3.

Daniel 3 shifts its focus away from Daniel for a moment and onto the other major player in the book, Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 2 closes with Nebuchadnezzar acknowledging that the God of Daniel is a revealer of mysteries and the God of gods. Certainly he meant it at the time as he had witnessed an impressive display of God’s power in the interpretation of his dream.  Acknowledging God is not the same as following Him however.

Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

Being a follower of Jesus is more than just issuing a statement or praying a prayer. Belief means that you are willing to back it up. Nebuchadnezzar is not at that point yet. He had witnessed something incredible and acknowledged that what he witnessed was the power of God. However he is nowhere near ready to place his trust in God’s power.

Daniel 3 probably takes place in 586 BC, shortly after the fall of Jerusalem. There is nothing in the Bible to back up this date but other evidence outside of the Bible points to this being the likely time. If this is the case, Daniel and his friends are no longer young men exiled in a foreign land but men in their mid thirties to early forties who have spent at least half of their life in Babylon. It has likely been sixteen years since Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and he and his friends have been in Nebuchadnezzar’s close service ever since.

Daniel 3:1-3

1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

There are a few parallels to be made here with Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. The first is an parallel with the statue of his dream in Daniel 2. This dream would have been impossible to forget. While Nebuchadnezzar was obviously pleased to be told that he was the head of gold on the statue he probably wanted to share this news with others. Considering the size of the statue, it might not have taken 16 years to build but it was likely a long project that took a few years.

It’s possible that Nebuchadnezzar is not content with just being the head of gold in the dream. Instead he wants to establish an empire that will reign for a long time. Although it is purely speculation, this may explain the dimensions of the statue. It is much longer than a normal person. On average a person is 4 to 5 times as tall as they are wide. This statue was ten times as tall as it was wide. Nebuchadnezzar could be declaring that he is establishing a long reigning empire and not just a short one that will be replaced by an inferior one shortly after him.

Another parallel to this statue comes from approximately 3000 years before. In the same region the tower of Babel was built. In Genesis 11:4-5 it says, Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

The people who constructed the tower of Babel sought to create a name for themselves. They sought to establish themselves as a people by creating some magnificent that would bind them together. Nebuchadnezzar does the same thing by creating this magnificent statue that would cause his name to be revered everywhere. It would be an everlasting tribute to his kingdom just as the pyramids still stand today as a testament to the ancient pharaohs.

There is a third parallel to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue. During the tribulation the antichrist will set up an image to be worshipped as well. Daniel 11:31 tells us, “His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation.”

Daniel 12:11 establishes that this will take place in the middle of tribulation. “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.” This equals 3 ½ years, the length of time that is known as the Great Tribulation.

Daniel 3:4-7

4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
7 Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

No one is willing to resist Nebuchadnezzar. They are well aware of his temper and the sentence has already been pronounced for anyone who doesn’t comply with the order. There are certainly other Jews who had been brought to Babylon who are among this group of people but they all compromise their faith.

As Christians, we are often put in the position where we rationalize our sins. Everyone else is doing it. God will forgive me. It won’t really cause any problems. That rule was meant for other people or another time. And my personal favorite – God wants me to be happy. The last is my favorite because it is the justification used for the stupidest of sins. Happiness is found in obedience to the Lord, not in whatever foolish and sinful thing we are chasing after. God does want us to be happy – He wants us to be happy in Him. If you justify a behavior with “God wants me to be happy” I can almost guarantee you that it isn’t a behavior that you should be doing and it won’t actually make you happy.

Everyone justifies bowing down to this image in one way or another, all except three men.

Daniel 3:8-15

8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! 10 Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”
13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Jealousy by some of the king’s court causes them to point out that there were three Jews who did not heed the king’s decree. Their charge is threefold: they don’t pay attention to the king, they don’t serve the gods of the king, and they do not worship the image the king set up.

Nebuchadnezzar is still a man full of pride at this point. In the previous chapter he was enraged when his officials basically admitted to him that they were frauds. This affront is just as great. Nebuchadnezzar is a man who is used to getting what he asked. No one had the nerve to tell him no and the few who did most likely met an unpleasant end. Like a spoiled child, he throws a fit. Nevertheless, he offers Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego one final chance to worship the image that he set up.

Nebuchadnezzar’s statement “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” is ironic but also telling of his mindset. Nebuchadnezzar had set himself up as a god to be worshipped. He mocks the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as being less powerful than him. If this did occur in 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar had just destroyed Jerusalem and carried the remaining Jews away to Babylon. He honestly believes that he is more powerful than the God of the Jews or he believes that their God is dead altogether. He defeated the entire nation and their God didn’t stop him, why would God respond now to the plight of three men?

Daniel 3:16-18

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s faith in God is not shaken. They believe that He can rescue them. They saw His hand at work when they were teenagers, training for service to the king. They saw Him rescue them and Daniel when Nebuchadnezzar had ordered the death of all of the wise men. They knew that God could rescue them. But they also knew that God may have a purpose in not rescuing them.

This addresses one of the great questions of all time. If God exists, why is there evil in the world? If God exists, why do bad things happen to good people? The short answer is that while God does not cause people to sin, He gives us freewill and can even use evil things to accomplish His purposes. Joseph said as much in Genesis 50:20. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

There are terrible tragedies that strike at times that cause people to turn to God. God can use all kinds of circumstances to bring people to Him. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego know that there may be a greater purpose in harm falling upon them. For all they know, they could be martyred for their faith and this stirs the other Jews back to God.

Daniel 3:19-25

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”
25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

Nebuchadnezzar does not respond well to not getting what he wants. He orders the furnace to be heated seven times its normal temperature. This is what we call excessive because rest assured the normal temperature would have been just as deadly and painful. The fire is so hot that the king’s strongest men are killed by the heat of just getting near the furnace.

This is obviously a large furnace if it is big enough for several men to fit into and there must have been a large opening at the bottom so that Nebuchadnezzar could see what was happening in the furnace. When he witnessed that there were four people in the furnace rather than three and that they were walking around unharmed, he was amazed.

This is likely more than an angel who is in the furnace with the three as even Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges the majesty of the fourth person. This is most likely what is known as a theophany. A theophany is when God takes on human form. This is likely Jesus in human form before His birth.

Although the concept sounds strange and it is hard for us to grasp there is reason to believe that this is more than just an angel. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a man. We won’t go over the story except to note Jacob’s conclusion in Genesis 32:30, “So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Regardless whether this is an angel – although Daniel never identifies the man as an angel, only Nebuchadnezzar – or God in flesh, the three are miraculously saved and Nebuchadnezzar is humbled.

Daniel 3:26-30

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”
30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Daniel 3 ends the way the previous two chapters have ended. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges the power of God and rewards those who follow the Lord. One would think the Nebuchadnezzar would see the light and repent of his ways and put his full faith in the Lord. But this is not the case. Nebuchadnezzar, while acknowledging God’s power, is still a very prideful man. Pride comes before a fall and Nebuchadnezzar has to be broken of his pride before he will turn to the Lord and rely completely on Him.

The same is true of us. Every Christian is at a different stage in their walk with the Lord. The people who are going to walk closest to the Lord are the ones who are the most humble and who rely the most on Him. Any time we rely on our own strength, on our own knowledge, on our own abilities, we say that we don’t need God. When we humble ourselves and ask God to work through us, we are able to do great things.

Nebuchadnezzar recognizes the power of God but he is not ready to submit to it. Because Nebuchadnezzar will not humble himself, God will have to humble him. We will see this in the next chapter.

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