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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 3

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-7

The Fiery Furnace (3:1-30)

The Image and the Law (3:1-7)

Nebuchadnezzar set up a huge golden image of himself or of his favorite god, the image measuring sixty cubits by six cubits (90 X 9 feet). This monstrous idol was erected on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon, where the king gathered his official family (satraps, prefects, governors, counselors, treasurers, justices, magistrates) to witness its dedication. The impression this colossus must have made upon people staggers the imagination. Having built the image and called the assembly, Nebuchadne22ar then gave orders that everyone should bow down to the image and that failure to do so would mean forfeiture of life itself. When the musical sound prescribed for times of worship in the Chaldean realm was heard, everyone bowed to the great idol.

There can be little doubt that the story shows veiled contempt for idol worship in any form, but special indignation is aimed at Antiochus IV, who demanded that the Jews be idolaters. Most of the people were so accustomed to conformity to the prevailing code of general behavior that they must have found it easy to obey this specific order.

Verses 8-25

Resistance of Three Men (3:8-25)

Verses 8-11 lead up to the point of this story. Malicious Chaldeans reported that conformity to the royal decree had not been universal. The Jews who had been appointed over provincial affairs of empire, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, did not bow down at the prescribed time.

The three men were summarily hauled before the king. Nebuchadnezzar asked if they had indeed refused to bow down as he ordered. Before they could answer, he gave them another chance to fulfill the requirement and escape death in a fiery furnace. In spite of the somewhat formal style in which the story is now cast, the dramatic effect is not lost.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego made a quick and confident answer. These heroes said that their God was able to deliver them from the death sentence. But then they added this significant and inspiring confession: "But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up." Whether God would or would not deliver from immediate peril was not for these three the final proof of faith.

Religion too often becomes only a way of escape for men and women in danger. To provide escape from life’s perils, however, is not the main purpose of God’s dealing with man. Rather, the Almighty gives meaning to life. The author of Daniel stands on the edge of this great insight and lays the groundwork for later saints to know that meaning, not escape, is the chief product of faith. To submit to the degrading practice of idolatry was unthinkable because it would have taken away that meaning which made life worth living.

Enraged by the men’s open refusal to honor royal authority, the monarch ordered that swift punishment be meted out. The statement that "the expression of his face was changed" means that the king’s attitude changed from helpfulness to outraged dignity. So that there should be no doubt about the severity of the intended execution, the author adds the detail that the furnace was heated to seven times its usual heat. Furthermore, when the three Jews were cast into the flames, bound in their mantles, tunics, hats, and other clothing, the appointed executioners were slain by the heat. Humanly speaking there was no possibility of deliverance from the fiery furnace. The cause was hopeless.

Looking into the fire, the king was astonished to see with three men a fourth person "like a son of the gods." The three prisoners had been loosed from their bonds and no harm had come to them. This fourth figure was some kind of angelic being, sent to protect these heroes of faith from the terror of a fiery furnace (see vs. 28 ) . To an age which had begun to wonder whether God was in fact with them in their distress, the author of Daniel proclaimed that God is always in the fiery furnace of man’s need and is adequate for the most hopeless situation.

Verses 26-30

Epilogue: Protection and Deliverance (3:26-30)

Before the whole official family of the Chaldean Empire the three heroes were now ordered to come forth from the fiery furnace. The pagan king refers to them as "servants of the Most High God," a title which one would hardly expect from Nebuchadnezzar, whose sympathies historically were with his own national deities. Be that as it may, the three heroes stepped forth without hair singed or clothing scorched, and without even the smell of fire about them. The miracle of deliverance was so complete that Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful of kings, blessed the God who was able to set his servants free. This is the second overt confession of faith by Nebuchadnezzar, but not the last (Daniel 2:47).

Not only did Nebuchadnezzar confess his faith, he also supported that confession with a royal decree that any persons or groups speaking against the God of these Jewish heroes would be torn limb from limb and their houses destroyed. At the very least this amounts to toleration of the Jewish worship by Nebuchadnezzar, who is regarded as himself a believer. At the most it would imply establishment of the Jewish faith as the official religion of the Chaldean Empire. Neither of these situations came about in history. However, it is true that exiled Israel was extricated from the fiery furnace of Chaldean captivity when the people were set free by the hand of Cyrus, the Persian.

Only from the perspective of the Maccabean age could a writer deal so freely with Nebuchadnezzar, who was hardly a benefactor of the Jews. But the author’s purpose was served well by traditions that Nebuchadnezzar recognized the superiority of the God of Israel. In the light of all this, the writer is asking, how can anyone take seriously the challenge of a ruler such as Antiochus Epiphanes? To men in every age the message is clear: no king can resist the power of God, who watches over and delivers his people in his own way and in his own time.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Daniel 3". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/daniel-3.html.
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