Exposition of Daniel 3:13–23 Special retest

Daniel 3:13–23

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?”

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.”

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.

In the grip of his rage, it is surprising that Nebuchadnezzar conducts a hearing for the three accused Judeans before ordering their immediate death (verse 13). Perhaps the king does so out of a concern over treachery, something common in many royal courts. The king asks if the accusation is true (verse 14), but apparently does not wait for an answer before again offering the three a chance to demonstrate obedience and loyalty by falling down when the music plays (verse 15a).

The NIV suggests an even-handed presentation of the choice: “if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I have made, very good” (verse 15). But the italicized words do not occur in the Aramaic text of Daniel, as made clear by NET and HCSB. Instead, all the king’s stress lies on the consequences if they do not worship: “you will immediately be thrown into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire” (verse 15b, NET).

Showing his lack of control, Nebuchadnezzar adds to his threats, “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (verse 15c, ESV). There is great irony here: The three Judeans stand in danger for defying the king, and now Nebuchadnezzar puts his own life in danger by defying the “God of Gods and Lord of all kings” (Dan. 2:47) to deliver the Judeans from his hand. God’s mercy was never more on display than at this moment.

The answer from the Judeans is revealing. First, they declare that no defense to the charges is needed (verse 16). The three Judeans know that Nebuchadnezzar will carry out his threat, so verses 17–18 set out two possibilities: God is able to deliver, and (1) he will deliver them from the king’s hand, or (2) he will not choose to deliver them. Either way, the three will not worship the golden image. Miller aptly says, “Thus, the Hebrews believed that their God could, but not necessarily that he would, spare their lives.”[1]

After the Judeans spurn Nebuchadnezzar’s generously offered — from his viewpoint — second chance to worship, his rage returns and his face changes into an implacable image (verse 19). The noun used here for the image of the king’s face is the same noun that is used for the image of the statue. His attitude toward the three is now just as dead as that of Marduk. Accordingly, he orders maximum heat in the furnace. Captives were often stripped to dishonor them, but here the haste to bind the Judeans for death is so great that they do not even bother. Mighty soldiers hurl the clothed Judeans into the furnace but are consumed themselves in obeying the king’s urgency for death (verses 20–22). The most powerful soldiers, loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, die in the raging flames, but what of the three Judeans, loyal to God?

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

[1] Miller, Daniel, 120.

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