This chapter is quite different from the one we studied in the last essay. In it we studied Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation. We saw that it was an apocalyptic picture of the future. It concerned four kingdoms that were to succeed one another in future history, the first of which was Nebuchadnezzar’s own kingdom. Because scholars differ on the identification of the others, we put off our discussion of that until we get more information from later visions in the book.
At chapter three, Daniel comes back to the events of his own time; and he tells the wonderful story of his three friends’ experience in the fiery furnace. The context is set up in verses 1-7.
During the days of king Nebuchadnezzar, he set up a large golden image on a plain. The word used implies an image in the form of a man, perhaps inspired by Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of chapter two.
The statue was huge. It was 90 feet tall, and 9 feet wide. Since the height of typical humans is about 5 times greater than their width, it is assumed that the height of the statue includes the statue’s base as well as the statue itself.
On the day of the dedication of the statue, all of the important officials in the land assembled at the site. The satraps were heads of provinces. That was Daniel’s rank. But for some unexplained reason, Daniel was not present.
Scholars believe that the other officials were listed by rank from the highest to the lowest. Prefects were the military commanders; and the governors were heads of the civil government under the satraps. This was the rank held by Daniel’s three friends.
Advisors, or counselors were the chief judges; and of course the treasurers supervised the public treasury. The justices or judges were the lawyers; and the magistrates were the minor judges. The last phrase, “and all the other provincial officials,” covered any who were not in the categories specifically mentioned.
So everyone of any importance whatsoever was gathered for the dedication. The official orchestra consisted of six kinds of instruments. The horn was the ram’s horn or trumpet, the pipe a reed flute, and the lyre a zither. The trigon was a triangular-shaped instrument with four strings, the harp a type of dulcimer with the strings underneath the sounding board, and the bagpipe a form of that instrument we all know.
The assembled oficials were directed to fall down and worship the statue when the music began. And anyone who would not do it was to be cast into a fiery furnace. That set up the dramatic moment. Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were faced with a quick decision that had extreme consequences. Being in the third rank they would have been near the front; and it would have been painfully obvious if they chose not to bow down.
They quickly made their decision and refused to bow. Notice that the actual refusal to bow is not described; but it is clear that they did not. Their enemies immediately went before the king and charged the three Hebrews with disobeying the king’s decree(vv. 8-12).
The Chaldeans who accused them apparently were some of the wise men, who were jealous of the status of the Hebrews. The charges were three-fold: (1) they pay no heed to you (that is, to the king); (2) they do not serve your gods; and (3) they did not worship the image. The last two charges were true.
Nebuchadnezzar called them in and from his point of view treated them fairly. He didn’t simply take the accusers word. He asked the Hebrews if the last two charges were true; and he gave them another chance to bow in worship to the image (vv. 13-15).
Then comes the response of the three young men (vv. 16-18). As you see, they offered no excuse. The charges were true. And their response to the question, “what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” is one of great faith.“ The God we serve is able to save us” (v.17). “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up.”
What faith! They were perfectly aware that God was under no obligation to deliver them, even though he is all-powerful. They realized that they could perish in the fire. In other words they not only had faith in God’s delivering power, they were realistic in their faith. They understood perfectly that God might not save them. And they were perfectly submitted to His will in the matter.
This showed considerable spiritual maturity. They understood that doing God’s will is not necessarily a matter of what is most pleasant for us. And they did not base their obedience on a presumption that God would protect them.
Then came an astounding miracle, which is seen in verses 19-27. The fire into which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown was so hot that it killed the men who threw them in. The deaths of those men serve as a contrast to the lack of effect the fire had on the Jews.
As Nebuchadnezzar looked into the fire, he was astonished to see that the three Hebrews were unbound and unharmed. But even more astonishing was the fact that he saw a fourth man, one who looked “like a son of the gods.” It is not possible to know he identity of the fourth person in the fire. Most believe it was Christ himself. But it could have been an angel.
Then the king called the three Hebrews out of the fire, and they came out (vv. 26-27). The king and the attending officials immediately saw that the flesh of the three men was untouched. Even their hair was not singed, nor their clothing scorched.
And then in verses 28-30 we see Nebuchadnezzar’s response to the miracle. His response was three-fold. (1) He blessed (not worshiped) the God of the Hebrews. (2) He made a decree that no one should speak against the god of the Hebrews. And (3) he promoted the three young men, though what the promotion consisted of is unknown.
The primary lesson from this chapter is that we should aspire to the kind of mature faith shown by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They not only risked death, they did not presume upon God to save them. They knew that he might not intervene and that they might die. But they completely trusted God in the situation. May God help us to trust him in complete faith.