Bible Commentaries
Daniel 3

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



Verse 1

1. Kuenen ( Onderzoek, ii, N. 487), following Reuss ( La Bible, 1 879) and others, emphasizes the disproportion between the height and the breadth of this image, and also points out the “great improbability” that a “column of gold” of this size should have been erected. But if the height of 60 cubits (about 100 feet) is supposed to include a pedestal, the proper proportion for the figure is retained, while there is no reason to suppose that the writer here was speaking of a statue of solid gold of this size (which Meinhold has calculated would have contained gold worth $2,000,000,000), but rather of a statue covered with gold, which was very common at this time in Babylonia. The story of its immense size has recently been rendered less incredible by the discovery at San (Zoan), in Egypt, of an erect colossus of Ramses II sculptured out of hard red granite, standing 100 feet high from head to foot, or 115 feet high including the pedestal, and weighing 1,200 tons. Professor Fuller has even supposed that Nebuchadnezzar may have been led to erect his statue because of his admiration for this great Ramses colossus, which he might have seen during his invasion of Egypt. He thinks it may have been a statue of himself to celebrate his successful campaign there (in his “eighteenth year,” LXX.). The Pharaohs carved their effigies in stone, but he would cast his in gold. In favor of this it is also urged that the Aramaic word for statue used here is “a likeness.” Professor Jastrow, taking this to be a statue of Nebuchadnezzar, says that this “may be regarded as an authentic picture of a custom that survived to the closing days of the Babylonian monarchy, except that we have no proof that divine honors were paid to these statues,” and gives a corresponding act on the part of one of the earliest kings, Gudea ( Religion of Babylonia, 1899, p. 669).

But rather than regard this story as a Maccabean invention, or the command to worship his own image as the eccentric act of a king soon to become entirely insane, it may with more probability be supposed that this was a statue of some great Babylonian divinity rather than of the king. This very term “image” has been found used in the Sendjirli inscriptions of a date shortly preceding that of Nebuchadnezzar for the “statues” of the gods, as also in the Palmyrene inscriptions of the second century B.C. Dr.

Budge is sure this statue was the image of the god Bel, whose chief shrine at Babylon was called E-sagili, “lofty-headed.” The inscriptions speak of the setting up of such statues of the gods, as, for example, by Asurnazirpal, who says, “I erected an image of Ninib… of choice mountain stone and of pure gold.” While the gods were usually represented seated rather than standing, some erect statues have been found, like that of Ramses previously mentioned, and Pausanias states that Bathycles of Magnesia was just at this era (550 B.C.) erecting near Sparta a throne for a bronze standing statue of Apollo 30 cubits in height. If this were indeed an image of Bel-Marduk, then those who refused to bow down before it defied the great god of Babylon, to whom Nebuchadnezzar in his inscriptions is constantly ascribing lordship over the four quarters of the world. Origen, Irenaeus, and other early commentators often describe this as the figure of Antichrist, “the image of the beast” (Revelation xiii; xiv), whose satanic number was 666, “the devil no doubt inducing Nebuchadnezzar to erect it.”

It is worthy of notice that the dimensions given (60, 6) are distinctly Babylonian, since they used not the decimal but the sexigesimal system of notation.

In the inscriptions there is often found mention of a duru (“wall,” “fortress,” or “hill”). Lenormant and Oppert located a “plain of Duru” some dozen miles east of the city of Babylon, where there is a mound even yet bearing this name.

Verse 2

2. “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the satraps, the deputies, and the governors, the judges [ chief soothsayers, margin], the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs [ lawyers, margin], and all the rulers of the provinces” (R.V.). Noldeke and others have recognized most of these as Persian official titles. This would not of itself prove the late origin of the book, as in referring to ancient dignitaries it is natural, instead of retaining the ancient term, to substitute for it a modern title which corresponds as nearly as possible to the old one, as is vividly illustrated in every translation; for example, when Wyclif names these officials “magistratis, jugis, duykis,” and the “herald” of Daniel 3:4 “a bedel.” As Prince says, it is difficult to distinguish between these various officials; and it is hardly necessary to do so, as they are probably grouped together for the sake of the local coloring and need not be a complete list of all the provincial officers. The names as given in Daniel 3:3 are not in every case exactly the same or in the same order. The new discoveries have thrown some light upon the formerly unknown functions of certain of these officials, the “counselors,” for example, mentioned here appearing in a multitude of texts of the fifth century B.C. as well-known officers stationed all over the fertile plain between the lower Euphrates and the Tigris to gather the taxes and look after the interests of the government. These officials are called da-a-ta-ba-ra or da-ta-bar-ri, corresponding exactly to the term used in Daniel ( dettrabarim) the meaning of which has never before been understood (see Hilprecht, Babylonian Expedition, 1898, ix, pp. 8, 28).

Verse 4

4. Compare Daniel 4:1; Daniel 6:25. Recent excavations prove that Babylon was a city of many tongues. Hilprecht has been able to declare that, from the amalgamation of languages used in the texts, it is clear that at a time only a little later than this “the population of Babylon was as thoroughly mixed as that of the States of New York and Pennsylvania at our own time” ( ibid.); but this amalgamation of languages could not have taken place in an hour. It is absolutely certain that in Nebuchadnezzar’s time all the tongues of the civilized world could be heard in the streets of the capital, and representatives of these languages no doubt took part in his great triumphs and festivals. (See Introduction, III, 2.)

Verse 5

5. Prince gives the names of these musical instruments as “the horn, syrinx, lyre, triangular harp, upright harp, bagpipe (?).” (See also Hebraica, Daniel 4:7.) There can be little doubt that he is correct as to the first three instruments, but as to the “triangular harp” there may be a difference of opinion. The only thing certainly known is that it was not a sackbut (trombone). The “upright harp” (A.V., psaltery) must also remain only a probability, as the term used was a general name for several kinds of instruments, especially for such stringed instruments as were played upon by the fingers of both hands. (See Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible, under “Music,” vol. 3:1900.) The last instrument is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible and has provoked much discussion. It, like the “psaltery” ( psanterim), is certainly a Greek loan word. “The Greek συμφωνια , from which the word is derived, did not originally denote an instrument but a concordant interval. Tradition applies it to the bagpipe. Originally the form of this instrument may have been developed from the double flute, one of the pipes being shorter and being used for the melody while the longer furnished a droning bass accompaniment. We are told by Athenaeus (Lib. X, p. 439) that Antiochus Epiphanes used to dance to the sound of the symphonia. To this day the Italians have a bagpipe called zampugna or sampogna, and a chifonie or symphonie was an instrument of the same class used in the Middle Ages. In Rome this instrument was introduced in the time of the empire under the name of tibia utricularis or chorus, and soon became highly popular” ( ibid.). Too much stress has been laid by most modern scholars upon the modern form of these Greek names, together with the fact that they never appear on the Babylonian monuments and never in Greek literature until a very late period. It is natural for an editor or translator to modernize obsolete terms. As Francis Brown has said in another connection, “It is one thing to argue that a document is late because it contains words not found in old documents, and quite another thing to argue that words are new because they occur only in a late document.” That the Babylonians and the Greeks were in close touch toward the end of the sixth century B.C. cannot be rationally denied. (See Introduction, III, 2, and compare Margoliouth, Expository Times, February, 1901.) While Driver makes the Greek words the chief proof of late date, Meinhold considers this proof rather weak and thinks the presence of Persian words is most significant; while the word which Kautzsch declares to be of all others the one which dates Daniel linguistically as a late production Behrmann shows is not a Greek word at all, but pure Aramaic. It has even been argued with some force that these particular terms are interpolations and were not a part of the original Daniel text (Thomson). But all such discussion is now obsolete. The argument as to the date of this book no longer centers upon the decision of such questions (Introduction, II, 4-7).

Verse 6

6. If this image were indeed that of the chief Babylonian deity there need be no surprise that the penalty of death should fall upon those who would refuse to worship it. Knabenbauer (p. 7) gives an instance in comparatively modern times, on somewhat doubtful authority however, where, on severe penalties, the emperor of Japan suspended all the religious worship of the empire excepting to one particular idol. Those who refused allegiance to the gods of the country were considered as traitors to the government. (See Pusey, 444, etc.) Of course the worship of Bel would not, from the heathen standpoint, have excluded the worship also of Jehovah; but from the Jewish standpoint he who worshiped the One God could worship no other without apostasy. The punishment by fire was according to the Babylonian and Persian custom (Jeremiah 29:22). Bertin and Budge were wrong in formerly supposing that these fiery furnaces were crematories, as it is now known that the practice of burning the dead among the Babylonians was “practically unknown” (Jastrow); but a number of texts speak of the burning alive of the king’s enemies. This custom continued clear down to Maccabean times ( 2Ma 7:5 ). Assurbanipal (668-626 B.C.) says of a prince who had uttered curses against his favorite gods, “Over a furnace they placed him and consumed him” ( Records of the Past, 1:76-79; 9:56). As the fire god ( Nusku) was the “messenger” and “firstborn” of Bel, if the Hebrews had refused to worship this chief deity of Babylon the punishment of death by fire would be peculiarly appropriate.

Verse 7

7. At that time A number of commentators suppose that this burst of music took place at sunrise, when the summit of the statue first caught the blaze of the rising sun; that being from time immemorial the principal hour of prayer in the East.

Verse 8

8. The statement that the Chaldeans (see Daniel 3:2; Daniel 3:5) accused the Jews (literally, ate their pieces) receives illustration in the Tel-el-Amarna tablets, where it is said, “If thou art a servant of the king in verity, why dost thou not eat his stomach before the king?”

Verse 9

9. This was the regular form of address, found in hundreds of inscriptions.

Verse 12

12. The charge is that these Jews who had been such favorites of the king had now disobeyed him in a most flagrant and open way, refusing worship to the gods and to their images. (Compare notes Daniel 3:1; Daniel 6:13). The plot which the priests had laid for Daniel and his friends is now revealed, and proves most successful. (Compare Daniel 6:8-17.) It is a curious circumstance that Daniel is not mentioned in this interesting episode.

Verses 13-15

13-15. See note, Daniel 3:5. “Infuriated with rage” (Greek version) against his proteges, the king gives the three Hebrews one more opportunity of saving their lives by excusing themselves for what might have been an unintentional insult, if they would agree to worship the image of Bel (Daniel 3:1) at the next hour of public worship. He had previously, according to the account, recognized Jehovah as the God of gods and Lord of kings (Daniel 2:47) but these were only the formal titles of all the great gods in the Babylonian pantheon, and from Nebuchadnezzar’s standpoint no courtier need refuse these titles to any deity which the king might wish to honor unless by such act he meant to throw off allegiance to the king who reigned through the favor of the national gods. (See note Daniel 3:6.)

Remembering the peculiar faith of the Jews in the God of Palestine as being all powerful, he closes with the caustic warning that not even their boasted God of gods could deliver them if disobedient to the king. (Compare 2 Kings 18:33.) This warning becomes more impressive when we remember that the most common titles of Bel were “the conqueror,” “the lord of lands,” “who fixes the decrees of heaven and earth.”

Verses 16-18

16-18. In answer to the king’s remark concerning Jehovah the Hebrews replied: “We have no need to answer thee a word in this matter. If our God whom we serve be able to deliver us [at all], he is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and out of thine hand, O king; and if not, be it known unto thee” that is, even if for some inexplicable reason Jehovah did not deliver them, they would, nevertheless, die trusting him and refusing allegiance to any other god or idol. Prince translates: “If our God… exists, he is able to deliver us… and from thy hand, O king, he will deliver us.”

Verse 19

19. This public and outspoken act of disobedience naturally infuriated the king, who was in the habit of having his own way absolutely. It is still customary in the East to say of one who is angry with another “his face is black against him.” This does not prove that as late as Daniel 3:14 the face of the king was white to these men (Thomson), but that he was now excessively and additionally furious. De Wette ( Allgemeine Encyclopedia) remarks that the king’s order to heat the furnace “seven times more than it was wont to be heated” was impossible, since “heating has its limits,” and seems to hold the Book of Daniel responsible for the king’s lack of scientific knowledge! The use of the number seven here is decidedly oriental, and this phrase only means that the furnace must be made as hot as possible. This was done to make the circumstances of their death more frightful.

Verse 20

20. This choice of executioners was made in order to add impressiveness to this public warning against disobedience to the king and disrespect to the national gods. How puny and weak these Hebrew youths appear beside these giants of the royal bodyguard.

Verse 21

21. “Then these men were bound in their hosen [‘coats,’ Daniel 3:27; rather ‘cloaks,’ or perhaps ‘trousers,’ Syr.], their tunics [margin, ‘turbans’], and their mantles, and their other garments” (R.V.). It was from the “hats” spoken of in the A.V. that George Fox drew his conclusion that no man should remove his hat in the presence of royalty (Bevan). The ancient Greek translators did not seem to know exactly what the garments were corresponding to these Aramaic words. The main point is that these articles of ordinary clothing which would naturally burn easily were preserved, as also the “other garments,” which may possibly refer to the flowing robes so common as the state dress of Babylonian officials (Meinhold).

Verses 22-23

22, 23. Probably because of their haste or nervousness because the king was looking, the soldiers who carried the three Hebrews up to the top of the furnace are represented as being themselves slain by the flames, which leaped from its open mouth as they leaned over it to throw their prisoners in. Some of the old Jewish commentators are responsible for the improbable statement that ordinarily such criminals were thrown into the furnace by machinery. At this point the LXX. contains a long passage, including the Song of the Three Holy Children.

Verse 24

24. Counselors Probably councilors. One version of the Greek has “his friends.” The word is obscure, but it must refer to the Babylonian officials who surrounded the king.

Verse 25

25. The construction of the Babylonian furnace in which there is monumental evidence that high criminals were sometimes executed is not well understood. There seems to have been a side door into which the king could look. Within the fires the astonished king sees not only three men walking unharmed, but another with them, “and the aspect of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” Was this fourth Gibil-Nusku, the god of fire and the “messenger” of Bel, who thus expresses the good will of the Babylonian god toward these men? No; the king is logical enough to see, at least for the moment, that this is the messenger of Jehovah (Daniel 3:28), and therefore that this supreme lord of fire is a greater deity than even Marduk himself. This deliverance of the three Hebrew children has stimulated the imagination of a multitude of artists and poets; so even Caedman sang:

Then was it in the oven

When the angel came

Windy and winsome to the weather likest

when there in summer’s tide,

is sent a falling of drops in the day’s span

a warm shower of the clouds.

So Samuel Wesley (1724) paraphrased the narrative:

Praise we forever thy all-glorious Name,

O Son of God, descending from the Skies

In Form of Man to quell the raging Flame,

Whose Presence makes of Hell a Paradise.

Verse 26

26. On the furnace see Daniel 3:25. On the most high God compare Genesis 14:18; Micah 6:6, and notes Daniel 3:13-15; Daniel 3:25. Thomson well says that this term did not imply a recognition by the king of Jehovah’s supreme divinity “any more than a king of France acknowledged the supremacy of the Holy Roman Empire when in the credentials of his embassador the emperor was called Domiuus urbis et orbis.” It was simply a matter of “religious etiquette” to address the gods thus (Daniel 2:47).

Verse 27

27. See note Daniel 3:21. How triumphantly was Jehovah victor when even the hair of their heads was not singed nor even their loose white trousers scorched. (Compare Isaiah 43:2; Hebrews 11:34, and note Daniel 3:25.) Some Jewish commentators sought to improve even this remarkable climax by saying that while their bodies were protected all their clothes had been burned away excepting this one garment.

Verses 28-29

28, 29. This sounds like the speech of a Hebrew, not a Babylonian, and the decree (Daniel 3:29; compare Daniel 6:25-28) is very unlike those uncovered at Babylon; but see note Daniel 3:26; Daniel 4:1-3. Nebuchadnezzar’s anger now blazes as hot as his furnace against the accusers of the Hebrews (Daniel 3:12) who had, as the king now thinks, so nearly made this mighty God an enemy of the empire and therefore those who shall hereafter say “anything amiss” (“any slander,” Kautzsch) against this God shall themselves perish. The doom pronounced here is not unnatural. Assurbanipal says, “I threw them into the pit, I cut off their limbs and caused them to be eaten by dogs, bears, eagles, vultures, birds of heaven and fishes of the deep.” (See also Daniel 2:5.)

Verse 30

30. Compare Daniel 2:48-49. The LXX. adds to this verse, “And he advanced them to be governors over all the Jews that were in his kingdom.” On this Adam Clarke remarks, justly, “They were more likely to be set over the Jews than over the Chaldeans.”

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Daniel 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.