Dan 3:1 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.
We don’t really know when this happened, other than it was after Daniel’s companions were promoted to their positions of authority, which occurred after Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. We know this because we see that the other wise men make reference to their promotion in verse 12, and seem to be jealous of it.
Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image
I have always assumed that this big statue was a likeness of Nebuchadnezzar himself, but I’m not so sure it was. In no place does the text say that it was made to look like Nebuchadnezzar, instead it always uses the phrase: “the image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.” This or a similar phrase is said eight times in this chapter. That is the only connection to Nebuchadnezzar it has; that is, that it was “set up” by him.
It also seems to directly refute the idea that it was a statue of Nebuchadnezzar himself in verse 14 which says Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up?”
The idea is further refuted by noting that the Babylonians did not seem to have a concept of the divine King.1
It seems here that what was being asked of them was to serve his gods. The image that he set up was apparently for this purpose. There is no indication that there was any other way for them to “serve his gods” other than the worshipping of the image he set up.
Also in verse 28, when Nebuchadnezzar ends up giving them praise for not giving in to his commandment (this is post furnace) it suggests that it was about the worship of a god.
Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! - Dan 3:28
As we will see this was a test of loyalty, given only to the state employees, and it was considered a loyalty to the gods of Babylon. It was a test that, we will see, was probably designed specifically to expose these three Jewish men or Jews in general, as they could not, as good Jewish men, bow down to a false god without disobeying the covenant. It is clear from the verses we have already read that Nebuchadnezzar considered the worship and service of his gods to be the point of this particular test. Again there is no indication in the Bible or in the historical record that Nebuchadnezzar considered himself to be a god, or solicited worship of himself.
Whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits
One thing that folks argue about is this monument’s size, and these measurements work out to a very tall and thin object. Think of two tractor trailers stacked end to end and you have the sense of it. It was basically a big obelisk. The relevant point is that the proportions are wrong if this is of a man. Those that insist this is of Nebuchadnezzar will say that there was a big platform and that the height of a podium should be taken into account.
If this statue was made of pure gold it would be a lot of gold. Most scholars think it was overlaid with gold, perhaps with a wooden frame and sheets of gold laid on top. Such an idea has precedent in the scripture (Ex 27:1-2, 39:38, 30:3)
Dan 3:2 And King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to gather together the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Dan 3:3 So the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered together for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
I could go through each of these titles of people and describe their duties, but it should suffice to say that all these people were Nebuchadnezzar’s government employees. (The administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces.)
This was not every citizen in Babylon, this was only for those that were employees of the state.
The plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.
This was probably about 15 or 20 miles outside the city. So it may explain why this event could have been an unexpected surprise for these officials, which would seem to be necessary if it was indeed a test of their loyalty to the Babylonian god(s). It is also close enough, that is it was in the province of Babylon, so that Nebuchadnezzar‘s decree for them all to leave the city and come to this place would have been able to be done relatively quickly.
This is also one possible argument as to the reason Daniel was not here during this story.
Some scholars point out that the last verse of the chapter before this, Dan 2:49, is meant to explain his absence:
Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court - Dan 2:49
In other words they say that this verse is intended by Daniel to explain his absence from the next event; that is, since he was to remain at the royal court it would mean that he was still in the city taking care of official business in the absence of the king who had gone to the plain of Dura.
Other explanations for Daniel’s absence may be that since he was such a high official in the government, perhaps he was on official duty in a foreign land, or perhaps he did catch wind of this plan and found an excuse not to go. The latter being the most unlikely of the three, given Daniel’s character.
Dan 3:4 Then a herald cried aloud: “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages,
Dan 3:5 that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up;
So here we see that all these people were gathered together and then someone explains why they are all there, and what the plan was.
This was a documented way for communication in the ancient near east.
Peoples, nations, and languages
This shows the Babylonian government was a multinational one, though the herald probably spoke to them all in Aramaic which was the “lingua franca” of the day.
In the next verse he more clearly explains this situation to them.
Dan 3:6 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”
It appears that there was a furnace built within view of the statue. Such furnaces have been discovered by archeologists in Babylon. They were huge, often built on the side of hills so one could walk up to the top of it and throw things down in it. They had another door on the side at ground level as well. They even know that these furnaces were used for executions in those times.
There was probably a temptation to fall down. They may have made excuses like: “well maybe we can just act like we are worshiping but in our heart…”
We are told by the Lord that though we should make every effort to flee and avoid situations like this, if we are ever caught in a situation where we are required to choose to deny Christ or die, we are called to die. The Lord was very serious about this aspect of our discipleship. We are expected to count the cost that our following Him may require our lives, and I believe we are also told to expect such a scenario in the end times in which Christians will be massively persecuted before the rapture.
Dan 3:7 So at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the horn, flute, harp, and lyre, in symphony with all kinds of music, all the people, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the gold image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
I’m not sure what the significance of the music is, and the naming of each instrument. It may be just a good historical account of the events, or it may have some significance. If it does, I don’t know it.
Dan 3:8 Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and accused the Jews.
This word here “Chaldeans” is in other translations called “astrologers”. In chapter 1 I mentioned some of the issues with this word and how it could be used both as an ethnic Babylonian person, or a specific job in the occult administration, namely an astrologer. Basically these were the people that Daniel was put in charge of in chapter 2 by Nebuchadnezzar.
These guys were probably jealous of Daniel and his friends’ promotion, or perhaps they resented being governed by Jews, or both, and they might have put the king up to this whole idea in order to get rid of these Jewish men.
There is circumstantial evidence for this, for example in Daniel 6 this is exactly what happened. These occultist that Daniel was in charge of learned enough about Daniel and his God to come up with a scheme which they convinced Darius of which was similar to this one, in that the only people that could ever be found guilty of it would be the Jews.
The same is true for this situation. It is not surprising that everyone on the plain of Dura bowed down that day, not just because of the furnace situation, but because in a polytheistic society there was nothing wrong with bowing to other gods that you may or may not know -- the more gods you worshipped the more bases you covered so to speak. There were certainly no people other than the Jews who would consider dying rather than worshipping another god. It would seem that whoever came up with this scheme had to have the Jews in mind, and this seems to be confirmed in the next few verses.
Dan 3:9 They spoke and said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever!
Dan 3:10 You, O king, have made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the gold image;
Dan 3:11 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
Dan 3:12 There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.”
First these men remind the king of his oath to kill anyone who didn’t do this. This may be because they knew Nebuchadnezzar liked these guys, which was another reason they probably resented them, and so they may have thought he might not be inclined to kill them.
There are a few things that give us a reason to suspect these men as having planned this entire thing as in the case of Daniel 6, or at least planned how to take advantage of this situation.
They mention that these men are Jews in verse 12. They also mention that Nebuchadnezzar appointed them to high positions. They remembered this event, and cited the job promotion, the very thing that Daniel 6 tells us was the reason they plotted a similar event to kill Daniel; that is, jealous ambition.
Dan 3:13 Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king.
Dan 3:14 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up?
Dan 3:15 Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”
So they brought them before the king. This is all probably taking place in the plain of Dura. It may be a distinct place where the king was, perhaps a royal tent or some other structure.
It appears that the king is making an exception for these three men, because verse 6 says that whoever did not worship would be immediately cast into the furnace. It also seems as though he is making sure to confirm this with them as opposed to take it on hearsay which means that Nebuchadnezzar did not himself see them refuse to bow. This possible special treatment may have been because he remembered them and was impressed by their work, which I tend to think is the case based on an upcoming verse. But he certainly is not happy about it regardless of this. Verse 4 uses the words rage and fury to describe his disposition at this point.
“And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”
When Nebuchadnezzar says this It may be an indication that he was aware their God was Yahweh. It would be very improbable, no matter how many people he saw a day, that he would have not remembered these guys, at least by now when reminders of who they were had been offered. I am sure that the subject of Yahweh had come up often in connection to the Jews and even specifically Daniel and these guys. So Nebuchadnezzar may be specifically saying to them, look guys even your God can’t help you with what I am about to do to you. Nebuchadnezzar obviously didn’t know much about Yahweh at this point, or it could be as many say that he was being intentionally blasphemous at this point.
David Guzik says the following:
“This was an even greater test for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. It is one thing to make a stand for God; it is a greater thing to stick to your stand when pointedly asked, “Is it true?” Peter could follow Jesus after His arrest, but he wilted and denied Jesus when asked, “Is it true?”“
Dan 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.”
Stephen Miller says of their answer:
“No apology was to be given for their stand. This was not a “proud reply” as Lacocque thinks; it was a “firm” reply. Their minds were made up.”
So they look around at Nebuchadnezzar‘s ragtime band, all the musicians probably looking at them as they played, and they said to the court, “You don’t need to do all this, we can go ahead and give you our answer.” And they give one of the best answers of all time.
Dan 3:17 If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.
Dan 3:18 But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
If that be the case:
“Our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; either to prevent their being cast into it, or to preserve them unhurt in it, and to bring them safe out of it: instances of his power in other cases, such as the passage of the Israelites through the Red sea safe, when their enemies were drowned, with others, confirmed their faith in this:
“And he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king; they might have a well grounded hope and persuasion of deliverance, arising partly from former instances of the divine power and goodness in such like cases; and partly from the consideration of the glory of God, which would be greatly conspicuous herein; and chiefly because of the king’s defiance of God, and blasphemy against him [What God can save you], which they had reason to believe would be taken notice of; for it does not appear that they had any foresight of certain deliverance, or any secret intimation of it to them, or a full assurance of it, as is evident by what follows.” - Gills Exposition of the entire Bible
“They did not doubt God’s ability but neither did they presume to know God’s will. In this they agreed with Job: Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him (Job_13:15). They recognized that God’s plan might be different than their desires. I have my own desires and dreams and I pray that God fulfills them. But if He doesn’t, I can’t turn my back on Him.” -David Guzik
We know from several passages in the Bible and from history that it is sometimes God’s desire for believers to be martyred. We even see in Revelation 6: 9-11 that God waits to judge the world specifically until more martyrs are killed. God has His purposes for this. This is also why He tells us not to think of what we will say as our last words but that He will say them for us. It is one of the most powerful testimonies possible for a child of God.
This “But if not” is a stinging rebuke to the Word of Faith movement. The idea that any lack of answered prayer is because of your lack of faith rather than the will of God. These men are listed in the so called “hall of faith” in the book of Hebrews, but you can see that they were decidedly unsure if God was going to save them or not. They realized that sometimes it is God’s will not to answer their prayers. They would be considered to have a lack of faith by the modern Word of Faith movement because they weren’t claiming this deliverance.
This is similar to Paul with his thorn in the flesh, or Jesus in the garden praying for the cup to pass if possible. They all said, in effect, “not my will but yours be done.”
Dan 3:19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.
Ok, now they really angered the king! The expression on his face changed and he was full of fury. He orders something in his anger here that he will come to regret, that is heating up the furnace past its normal operating temperature.
Miller quotes another scholar about the phrase “Seven times hotter”
“Baldwin points out that “seven times” is a proverbial expression and cites Prov 24:16 and 26:16 as examples.60 Hartman calls this “an idiomatic way of saying ‘as hot as possible,’”61 and he seems to be correct. Thus the expression signifies that the furnace was heated to maximum intensity.”
Dan 3:20 And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace.
Dan 3:21 Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
Dan 3:22 Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.
Dan 3:23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
The king’s command was urgent
Nebuchadnezzar had an anger problem here, and he was “full” of fury, and what is happening here is people following orders which are probably a little hasty, but it doesn’t sound like the time or place to tell the king that he should rethink his orders. It was probably best to walk on eggshells around the king at this point given his disposition, unless you had a death wish.
I have often wondered how this fire killed the men that opened the furnace. I think the answer is almost certainly the phenomenon known as “backdraft.” Here is the definition of this:
“A backdraft is an explosive event at a fire resulting from rapid re-introduction of oxygen to combustion in an oxygen-starved environment, for example, the breaking of a window or opening of a door to an enclosed space.”2
So when they opened the door of this now superheated furnace it reintroduced oxygen and took out some of Nebuchadnezzar’s best men.
Dan 3:24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”
So Nebuchadnezzar is getting confirmation of this, because he is noticing something.
Dan 3:25 “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
This is almost certainly a “Christophany,” an appearance of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. And there are a lot of good lessons to be learned from it. The idea that in the time of fiery trial in your life Jesus will be there with you.
It is a temptation when trials come to get angry with God and move away from Him, but if we decide to use the trial as a reason to draw even closer to God, He will be nearer than ever before. I often think of that famous footsteps poem where God carries you in your times of trouble. When you are at your worst, God is at His best, but we must not run away from Him in troubles but to Him. It has been said that sometimes God does not want to yank you out of trials; He wants to go through them with you, and use them to break the things that bind you as we see these men also only had their bindings loosed from the fire and nothing else.
The translation of Son of God, as to what Nebuchadnezzar said he saw in the fire with them, is probably a bad translation according to many of the language scholars I have read, though I know there are disagreements about that.
I agree with those that say this phrase is probably referring to a member of the “Divine Council” or so-called “Sons of God.” The Babylonian religion had a huge emphasis on the so-called Divine Council. Much of their mythology dealt with what we would call the Sons of God or high ranking angels from Genesis 6. There are a large number of parallels between their stories and the stories in the Bible. Michael Hesier even points out that a certain number of the Sons of God in their mythology became confined to the underworld while another number remained in heaven, though the reason for this is not stated in their mythology. Their version of the Sons of God were also involved in a mixing of angels and human beings and creating unnatural offspring which resulted in a flood being sent.
Basically the Babylonians had a sort of shady understanding of the truth, but the bad part is that in their culture they worshipped the created beings rather than the creator.
Dan 3:26 Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire.
Dan 3:27 And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.
Servants of the Most High God
Even before they are out of the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar recognizes that these men serve the Most High God.
The three Hebrews experienced literally the promise, “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isa 43:2).
Dan 3:28 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!
Nebuchadnezzar is giving them praise for their conviction to disobey him here. He recognized that this was about their refusal to worship any God but Yahweh and that he was trying to get them to do what he now knows Yahweh is not okay with at all.
Dan 3:29 Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.”
Nebuchadnezzar here makes it illegal to slight Yahweh, and such an offence would be upon the penalty of what seems to be Nebuchadnezzar’s favorite punishment, that is being cut into pieces and making their houses an ash heap.
This could have been done by Nebuchadnezzar out of fear, as he recognized he had blasphemed this powerful God who obviously did exist and was serious, and this was perhaps his attempt to appease Him.
This and the next line make me think that Nebuchadnezzar was onto these guys who were trying to plot against the Jewish employees - I think a good boss knows about the office politics to some degree. This decree about not talking bad about the Jewish God may have been a way to prevent something similar from happening again.
He does to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the next verse the very thing that seemed to anger the occultist the most - he promotes them.
Dan 3:30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon.
It should be noted that there was found a tablet that appears to confirm the names of these men as employees of Babylon, as well as two other Babylonian employees that are mentioned in the Bible.
Nabuzeriddinam=Nebuzaradan (2 Kgs 25:8, 11; Jer 39:9–11, 13; 40:1, etc.) and Nergalsharusur (Neriglissar)=Nergal-Sharezer (Jer 39:3, 13).3