Exposition of Daniel 3:1-12 A deadly test of loyalty

Daniel 3:1-12

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.

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.

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.

No one could have an experience such as Nebuchadnezzars dream of a terrifying image without being affected by it. This seems the most obvious explanation for the kings decision to erect a huge image at a location that was probably about 16 miles southeast of Babylon.[1] The image height and width (sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, verse 1) fit right into the Babylonian numerical system based on the number 60. The height and width of the image are believed to convert to 90 feet by 9 feet, and the image is likely to have rested on a base.[2] For comparison, a contemporary image of the Texas hero Sam Houston stands 67 feet tall on a 10-foot base beside I-45 in Huntsville.

The base of Nebuchadnezzars image may have been discovered by a team that included the French archaeologist Julius Oppert; the brick structure they found consisted of a square base measuring 14 meters (46 feet) on a side and 6 meters (20 feet) high.[3] The statue would have risen another 70 feet above the base. Similar to the kings frightening dream, this golden image was designed to impress and probably represented a Babylonian deity,[4] likely Marduk, since Nebuchadnezzar demanded worship of it (verse 5). Its gold-plated form would have been visible for many miles. It is perhaps not accidental that, based on our calculations, the golden top of the image would have been visible from the walls of Babylon 16 miles away. Perhaps you can imagine the proud Nebuchadnezzar gazing at his mighty work, gleaming in the distance.

Having built so impressive an image, Nebuchadnezzar invited high officials from every province to assemble at the dedication (verse 2). The highest office was the satrap, a term unfamiliar to us. Satrap was a word from Old Persian that meant protector of the realm.[5] A satrap was roughly equivalent to one of our governors but may have had some military powers as well. All the lower officials were also summoned.

The situation at the dedication of the image was quite simple even if the logistics were complex. The herald instructs the officials that when the orchestra plays, they must fall down and worship the golden image (verses 4-5). But Nebuchadnezzar had left nothing to chance. Nearby stood a blazing furnace, probably used to fire the bricks for the base and structure and to smelt the gold for the plated image. The herald proclaims that anyone not performing as ordered would immediately be thrown into the blazing furnace (verse 6). Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer describes such furnaces by saying, Judging from bas-reliefs, it would seem that Mesopotamian smelting furnaces tended to be like an old-fashioned glass milk bottle in shape, with a large opening [at the top] for the insertion of the ore to be smelted and a smaller aperture at ground level for the admission of wood and charcoal to furnish heat.[6] Such furnaces could reach 1830 degrees F.

Soon the musical instruments sounds, and the many officials fall down and worship the golden image (verse 7). Except for three.

In seconds, certain Babylonians, who were either astrologers (NIV, NLT) or Chaldeans (ESV, NET, HCSB, CEB) approach Nebuchadnezzar, who was himself a Chaldean, to snitch on those who did not fall down. The accusers first identify the men by ethnicity, Judeans or Jews (NIV) and then by name: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (verses 812). Miller expresses the intensity of the accusations by saying, Denounced [NIV for verse 8] is literally ate the pieces of, a phrase suggesting severe hatred and bitter language.[7]

Many have pointed out that Daniel is apparently not present, since there is no doubt that he would have behaved as his friends did. The most likely explanation is that he is back in Babylon tending to the affairs of government while these proceedings take place. After all, Nebuchadnezzar has no reason to doubt Daniels loyalty, and this ceremony is all about loyalty.

But there is a much more important reason that Daniel is not mentioned. The Book of Daniel is not primarily about Daniel! While Nebuchadnezzar designed the image to demonstrate the supremacy of the Babylonian gods, chiefly Marduk, and the splendor of his own reign, the actual outcome of the chapter is to dramatically show the supremacy of Yahweh, the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. But, in saying this now, we run ahead of the story, which continues in my next post.

Copyright 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Tolul Dura is located at 32.3963889 N, 44.6711111 E, on the southwest side of Al Madhatiyah, Babil Province, Iraq. Ancient Babylon is located at 32.536389 N, 44.420833 E, 4 miles north of the Iraqi city of Hillah.

[2] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973)80.

[3] Julius Oppert, Expedition Scientifique en Mesopotamie (1862), page 1:239. For the text (in French) see this link:http://bit.ly/TgydG3

[4] John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993)182.

[5] Wood, Daniel, 81.

[6] Gleason L. Archer, Daniel, EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985) 56.

[7] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994)116.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!