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Chapter III

Integrity Tested by Fire

Verse 1 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.

We may well believe that this image had some reference to the dream of the king as described in the previous chapter. In that dream the head was of gold, representing Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom. That was succeeded by metals of inferior quality, denoting a succession of kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar was doubtless gratified that his kingdom should be represented by gold; but that it should ever be succeeded by another kingdom was not so pleasing. Therefore, instead of having simply the head of his image of gold, he made it all of gold, to denote that his kingdom should not give way to another kingdom, but be perpetual.

Verse 2 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. 3 Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, 5 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: 6 And whoso falleth not down and worshipeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. 7 Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.

Dedication of the Image.--The dedication of this image was made a great occasion, for the chief men of the kingdom were called together. To such pains and expense will men go in sustaining idolatrous and heathen systems of worship. Alas, that those who have the true religion should be so far outdone in these respects by the upholders of the false and counterfeit! The worship was accompanied with music; and whoever failed to participate therein was threatened with being thrown into a fiery furnace. Such are ever the strongest motives to impel men in any direction--pleasure on the one hand, pain on the other.

Verse 8 Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews. 9 They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever. 10 Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image: 11 and whoso falleth not down and worshipeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. 12 There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

Three Hebrews Under Trial.--The Chaldeans who accused the Jews were probably the sect of philosophers who went by that name, and who were still smarting under their failure to interpret the king's dream of Daniel 2. They were eager to seize upon any pretext to accuse the Jews before the king, and either disgrace or destroy them. They worked upon the king's prejudice by strong insinuations of their ingratitude. Thou hast set them over the affairs of Babylon, and yet they have disregarded thee, they said. Where Daniel was upon this occasion, is not known. He was probably absent on some business of the empire. But why should Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, since they knew they could not worship the image, be present on this occasion? Was it not because they were willing to comply with the king's requirements as far as they could without compromising their religious principles? The king required them to be present. With this requirement they could comply, and they did. He required them to worship the image. This their religion forbade, and this they refused to do.

Verse 13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? 15 Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

The forbearance of the king is shown in his granting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego another trial after their first failure to comply with his requirements. Doubtless the matter was thoroughly understood. They could not plead ignorance. They knew what the king wanted, and their failure to fulfil his command was an intentional and deliberate refusal to obey him. With most kings this would have been enough to seal their fate. But no, said Nebuchadnezzar, I will overlook this offense if upon a second trial they comply with the law. But they informed the king that he need not trouble himself to repeat the test.

Their answer was both honest and decisive. "We are not careful," said they, "to answer thee in this matter." That is, you need not grant us the favor of another trial; our minds are made up. We can answer as well now as at any future time; and our answer is, We will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. Our God can deliver if He so desires; but if not, we shall not complain. We know His will, and we shall render Him unconditional obedience.

Verse 19 Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. 20 And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21 Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. 22 Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flames of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. 24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. 25 He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.

Nebuchadnezzar was not entirely free from the faults and follies into which an absolute monarch so easily runs. Intoxicated with unlimited power, he could not brook disobedience or contradiction. Let his expressed authority be resisted on however good grounds, and he exhibits the weakness common to our fallen humanity under like circumstances, and flies into a passion of rage. Ruler of the world, he was not equal to that still harder task of ruling his own spirit. Even the form of his visage was changed. Instead of the calm, dignified, self-possessed ruler that he should have appeared, he betrayed himself in look and act as the slave of ungovernable passion.

Cast Into the Fiery Furnace.--The furnace was heated seven times hotter than usual; in other words, to its utmost capacity. The king overreached himself in this for even if the superheated furnace had the expected effect upon the ones he cast into it, the victims would only have been destroyed the sooner. The king would have gained nothing by his fury. But seeing they were delivered from it, much was gained on the part of the cause of God and His truth; for the more intense the heat, the greater and more impressive the miracle when the young man were delivered from it.

Every circumstance revealed the direct power of God. The Hebrews were bound in all their garments, but came out with not even the smell of fire upon them. The mightiest men in the army were chosen to cast them in, but the fire burned them before they came in contact with it. But upon the Hebrews it had not effect, although they were in the very midst of its flames. It is evident that the fire was under the control of some supernatural intelligence, for while it consumed the cords with which they were bound, so that they were free to walk about in the midst of the fire, it did not even singe their garments. They did not spring out of the fire as soon as free, but remained in it; for the king had put them into the furnace of fire as in the delights and luxuries of the palace. Let us in all our trials, afflictions, persecutions, and straitened places, but have the "form of the fourth" with us and it is enough.

The King Gets a New Vision.--The king said, "the form of the fourth is like the son of God." The language is by some supposed to refer to Christ. A more literal rendering, according to the Revised Version, and other good authorities, is "like a son of the gods," that is He had the appearance of a divine being. Though this was doubtless Nebuchadnezzar's accustomed way of speaking of the gods he worshiped (see comments on Daniel 4: 18), it does not at all prevent its referring to Christ, inasmuch as the word {HEBREW CHARACTERS IN PRINTED TEXT}, elahin, used here in its Chaldean form, although in the plural number, is regularly translated "God" throughout the Old Testament.

What a scathing rebuke upon the king for his folly and madness was the deliverance of these worthies from the fiery furnace! A higher power than any on earth had vindicated those who stood firm against idolatry, and poured contempt on the worship and requirements of the king. None of the gods of the heathen ever had wrought such deliverance as that, nor were they able to do so.

Verse 26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire. 27 And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counselors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them. 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.

When bidden, these three men came forth from the furnace. Then the princes, governors, and king's counselors, through whose advice, or at least concurrence, they had been cast into the furnace (for the king said to them, "Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?" Verse 24), were gathered together to look upon these men, and have tangible proof of their miraculous preservation. The worship of the great image was forgotten. The interest of this vast concourse of people was concentrated upon these three remarkable men. How the knowledge of this deliverance would be spread abroad throughout the empire, as the people should return to their respective provinces! What a notable instance in which God caused the wrath of man to praise Him!

The King Acknowledges the True God.--Then the king blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and made a decree that none should speak against Him. This the Chaldeans had done. In those days, each nation had its god or gods, for there were "gods many, and lords many." The victory of one nation over another was supposed to be won because the gods of the conquered nation were not able to deliver it from the conquerors. The Jews had been wholly subjugated by the Babylonians, who had no doubt spoken disparagingly or contemptuously of the God of the Jews. This the king now prohibited; for he plainly understood that his success against the Hebrews was the result of their sins and not of any lack of power on the part of their God. In what a conspicuous and exalted light this placed the God of the Hebrews in comparison with the gods of the nations! It was an acknowledgment that He held men amenable to some high standard of moral character, and that He did not regard with indifference their actions in reference to it. Nebuchadnezzar did right in publicly exalting the God of heaven above all other gods. But he had no right, either civil or moral, to attempt to force his subjects to similar confession and reverence, and to threaten men's lives for not worshipping the true God, than he had threaten death to all who refused to worship the golden image. God never compels the conscience.

Three Hebrews Promoted.--The king promoted the young captives, that is, he restored to them the offices which they held before the charges of disobedience and treason were brought against them. At the end of verse 30 the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, adds to the Hebrew text: "He advanced them to be governors over all the Jews that were in his kingdom." It is not probable that he insisted on any further worship of his image.

Table of Contents
Daniel Chapter 2: The King Dreams of World Empires
Daniel Chapter 4: The Most High Ruleth