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, Werent 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 kings 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 kings 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 Gods 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 Gods 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 kings 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 Gods power. In chapter 1, only the chief official in the palace knew about Gods power. In chapter 2, Gods ability to reveal mysteries awed the king. In chapter 3, all the high officials are eyewitnesses to Gods power in rescuing his own. In chapter 4, Gods 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.

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 Majestys 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 kings 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 kings 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. Gods 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 kings 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 Nebuchadnezzars 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 kings 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 kings 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.

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.