Exposition of Daniel 3:24–30 A showdown to reveal who rules

Daniel 3:24–30

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Verse 24 contains sharp, but concealed, humor. Recall that in verses 22–23 the powerful soldiers were afraid because of the king’s haste and rushed to their deaths at the mouth of the blazing furnace while carrying the bound but still-clothed captives. Now, moments later, Nebuchadnezzar “leaped to his feet in amazement” (NIV), but HCSB better says he “jumped up in alarm.” The noun in question conveys a haste driven by fear.[1] The great king had used his power to dish out fear to his subjects, but now the mighty acts of a greater King impel him into a state of alarm.

Trying to make his alarming observations match his memory, Nebuchadnezzar checks to make certain that only three men and been cast into the furnace. The gathered officials did not initially realize that the king was watching four men inside the blazing furnace. As if that were not enough, the four are walking about “unbound and unharmed” (verse 25). The binding ropes had burned away.

But the greatest revelation is the fourth man who “looks like a son of the gods” (verse 25). Before we jump to conclusions, Miller says: “Nebuchadnezzar was polytheistic and had no conception of the Christian Trinity. Thus the pagan king only meant that the fourth figure in the fire was divine.”[2] Chisholm takes matters deeper by saying: “In verse 28, Nebuchadnezzar explains what he means as he identifies the figure as God’s ‘angel’ (literally, ‘messenger’). The identification of this angel as a ‘son of the gods’ is consistent with the use of the comparable Hebrew expressions ‘sons of God/gods,’ which consistently refer in the Hebrew Bible to members of God’s heavenly assembly.”[3] Might this fourth person have been Jesus in an appearance prior to his incarnation? Yes, that is possible, but we cannot be certain.

For a second time on this momentous day, Nebuchadnezzar summons the three Judeans to appear before him (verse 26), but he does so in a way that recognizes their allegiance to “the Most High God” (verse 26). By delivering his loyal servants, God makes compelling evidence of his supremacy.  Wood describes the change in Nebuchadnezzar: “This fine reference to God shows a marked change on the king’s part from what he had manifested earlier.”[4]

You have to wonder what the three Judeans are thinking when they emerge from the furnace to face the king, who had tried to execute them. Immediately they are swarmed by the dignitaries from all over the empire (verse 27). Through this hands-on inspection the officials confirm four things: (1) no harm to their bodies from the power of the fire, (2) no hair on their heads is singed, (3) no scorch marks appeared on their robes, and (4) no smell of smoke lingers on them. But they all know that the ropes are gone and the executioners were consumed in the fire.

After this spontaneous inspection, Nebuchadnezzar praises God, commends the faith of the three Judeans and issues one of his trademark decrees: violent death for any people who speak against this God, who alone can save his own (verses 28–29). To the probable dismay of the Chaldeans, he also promotes the Judeans even higher in the province of Babylon (verse 30).

So, the official demonstration of loyalty and worship to Marduk has, through the faith of the three Judeans, been transformed into a demonstration of unbreakable loyalty to “the Most High God.” Even the king is beginning to grasp the sweep of God’s power. In chapter 1, only the chief official in the palace knew about God’s power. In chapter 2, God’s ability to reveal mysteries awed the king. In chapter 3, all the high officials are eyewitnesses to God’s power in rescuing his own. In chapter 4, God’s fame will spread even wider.

All praise belongs to the one who lives forever and rules over the kingdoms of men.

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

 

[1] Goldingay, Daniel, 66, concurs in a note.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 123.

[3] Chisholm, Handbook on the Prophets, 300.

[4] Wood, Daniel, 94.

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