The Latter Major Prophets – Daniel 3

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. 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. 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.
Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 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. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
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.
At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! 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, and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 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.”
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 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? 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?”
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 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. 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.”
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 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 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, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.
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.”
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.”
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, 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.
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. 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.”
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

  • Daniel 3:1-30

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Daniel 3 ‘The Fiery Furnace’: “Soon after this experience the king has a colossal image made. It is overlaid with gold, ninety feet high, and nine feet wide. It probably was erected in honor of Nebo (or Nabu), the patron god of Nebuchadnezzar. The Valley of Dura, where the statue was set up, is unknown as a place name. It simply may have been a place designated for the occasion.
“Filled with self-esteem the king demands that all his officials worship the image. He calls on the satraps, prefects, governors, advisors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all provincial officials to join him in dedicating the image he has set up.
“The king decrees that at the signal of the music, all his subjects proclaim allegiance to him, the Babylonian kingdom, and to Nabu. Whoever disobeys will be thrown into a blazing furnace (v. 6).
“However, the Jews do not submit to this decree. Daniel’s friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) are readily singled out by the royal counselors, who may still have had an axe to grind with Daniel. The astrologers piously accuse the three Jewish leaders, acknowledging their own complete devotion to the king and thereby further implicating the Jews. They rightly assert that these Jews do not serve any of the Babylonian gods. The king’s anger with the three Jews is mitigated by his concern, which explains his giving them another chance.
“The contest is actually between Yahweh and the god of Nebuchadnezzar. The Jews express their conviction that their God is able to deliver them. Their faith is so strong that they are determined not to submit to this act of state worship, even if the Lord does not miraculously deliver them.
“So desperately does Nebuchadnezzar want his god and state to be victorious over the God of the Jews that, without any further ado, he changes his decree and requires that the oven be made ‘seven times’ hotter. He then has some of his strongest men throw the Jews into the oven. The writer emphasizes the king’s zeal, as everything moves toward the destruction of the three ’radicals’ from his empire. The god of Babylon must win! However, in his zeal to destroy the three Jews, his own soldiers, who throw the Jews into the fire, are killed by the blazing heat of the oven.
“Nebuchadnezzar again faces the superiority of Israel’s God, as he suddenly spies four men walking in the fire. The narrative portrays the transformation of a powerful and rational emperor into an irrational and overzealous monomaniac. He has to recognize that these men are ‘servants of the Most High God’ (v. 26). He promotes Daniel’s friends and promulgates a decree giving protection to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

Daniel 3:1,2 ‘image of gold’: “The statue, which the king arrogantly made, represented himself as a grandiose expression of his greatness and glory and reflected the dream in which he was the head of gold (2:38). It was not necessarily made of solid gold, but more likely would have been overlaid with gold, like many objects found in the ruins of Babylon. The word for ‘image’ usually means a human form. The height of the figure was about ninety feet and the width nine feet; it would have been comparable in height to date palms found in that area. The self-deifying statue of the king need not have been grotesquely thin in proportion to the height since a massive base could have contributed to the height. This established the worship of Nebuchadnezzar and the nation under his power, in addition to the other gods.
“Leaders attending the ‘summit conference’ for Nebuchadnezzar’s display are: satraps, i.e., leaders over regions; administrators, i.e., military chiefs; governors, i.e., civil administrators; counselors, i.e., lawyers; treasurers, judges, i.e., government arbiters; magistrates, i.e., judges in our sense today; officials, i.e., other civil leaders.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 3:6 ‘furnace’: “Some ancient kilns were found to have been shaped like a vertical tunnel open at the top, with a dome supported by columns.  Charcoal normally served as fuel.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 3:14 ‘’: “The world, like Nebuchadnezzar, expects us all to follow its fashions and to obey its rules. The god of this world is the devil, and he claims implicit obedience. Sin in some form or other is the image Satan sets up and requires us to serve. If we mean to be a Christian, and therefore intend to cast off the bondage of this present evil world, our resolve must be taken to bear all consequences rather than worship the idol of the hour. The world’s flute and harp must sound for us in vain. A nobler music must charm our ears and make us bid defiance to the world’s threats. The true believer’s stand must be taken, and we must determine that we will obey God rather than man. That which commends itself to our conscience as right and pure and true we must follow without reserve, but what is wrong and foul and false we must quit with fixed resolve. We cannot be Christ’s disciples unless we have come to this point and abide by it, for Jesus leads only in the ways of righteousness. The world may demand that we should to its mandates,-but as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will refuse to do so. As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said to Nebuchadnezzar, so will true believers say to the world, ‘We will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’ (3:18).”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Daniel 3:15 ‘who is the god’: “The king’s challenge would return to embarrass him.  The true God was able to deliver, just as He was able to reveal a dream and its meaning.  Nebuchadnezzar had earlier called him ‘the God of gods’ (2:47) but, having let that fade from his attention, he soon would be shocked and humiliated when God took up his challenge (3:28, 29).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 3:16 ‘we have no need to answer’: “The three men meant no disrespect. They did not have any defense, nor did they need to reconsider their commitment, since they stood fast for their God as the only true and living God. Their lives were in His hands as they indicated in verses 17, 18 (cf. Is. 43:1, 2).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 3:17 ‘’: “When the three Hebrew children disappeared into the seven-times-heated furnace no doubt many who watched turned away, shaking their heads in pity; but things looked different the next moment when the king discovered that the men of God were preserved whole without the smell of fire upon them. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had not been sure how whole thing would turn out. They had told the king boldly, ‘God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods’ (Daniel 3:17-18). And possibly for one breathless minute they thought their time had come. But God saw otherwise and turned their defeat into victory.”

  • A. W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous

Daniel 3:17-18 ‘Tested by Fire’: “Notice that while they expected God to rescue them—they added, ‘even if He does not . . . we will not serve your gods.’ They decided entrust to their fate to God. They valued obedience to God above life itself. Whatever happened, even if it meant perishing in the flames, they would not worship the Babylonian gods nor the golden image Nebuchadnezzar has erected.
“These young men had learned that it was better to be dead and obedient to God than alive and disobedient. An individual profits more from walking with God and dying with God than by living apart from Him.  God honored these men in a mighty way, taking them safely through the furnace.”

  • Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible

Daniel 3:19 ‘seven times hotter’: “The king’s fury at being defied to his face led him to cry for an intensification of the heat. He was not literally requiring the fire to be seven times hotter as a gauge would indicate, or requiring seven times as long to heat, or seven times the amount of fuel (cf. v. 6, ‘cast immediately’). The angry king means ‘intensely hot,’ using ‘seven’ figuratively to denote completeness (as Lev. 26:18-28; Prov. 6:31; 24:16), similar to ‘ten’ in Daniel 1:20. Cf. ‘exceedingly hot’ (3:22). A stone or brick furnace with an air draft could be made hotter by more fuel and air.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 3:25 ‘four men loose’: “The king seemed only to have known that the fourth person was a heavenly being. He called him a son of the gods (a pagan reference to one who appeared supernatural) and an ‘angel’ (v. 28). The fourth person could possibly have been the second person of the Godhead (Jesus Christ) in a preincarnate appearance … .”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 3:25 ‘Christ with us’: “A fourth man in the furnace was so bright and glorious that even the heathen eyes of Nebuchadnezzar could discern a supernatural luster about him. ‘The fourth,’ he said, ‘looks like a son of the gods.’ We must go into the furnace if we would have the nearest and dearest dealings with Christ Jesus. Whenever the Lord appears, it is to his people when they are in a militant posture. Moses saw God at Horeb, but it was in a burning bush (Ex 3); Joshua saw him, but it was with a drawn sword in his hand, to show that his people are still a militant people (Jos 5:13); and here, where the saints saw their Savior, it was as himself in the furnace. The richest thought a Christian perhaps can live on is this – Christ is in the furnace with him. When we suffer, Christ suffers. No member of the body can be pained without the head enduring its portion. And so we, as members of Christ’s body, in every pain we feel, pains the head, Christ Jesus. He takes us through no rooms so dark but what he is, himself, there in the darkness, and makes that darkness by his presence light, cheering and gladdening our hearts.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Daniel 3:27, 28-30 ‘the fire had no power’: “When God enacts a miracle, He supernaturally controls all details so that His power is unmistakable and there is no other explanation.
“The king was convinced and eager to add the God of these men to his panoply of deities.  Soon, he learned that God was not one of many, but the only God (Dan. 4).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

My Thoughts

When I started the study of Ezekiel, I noted a Bible commentary that summed up Ezekiel as fiery wheels and dry bones.  We could say the same about Daniel, with a fiery furnace and a lion’s den, but not so fast.  In only twelve chapters, there is a lot that we should know about the book of Daniel.  The fiery furnace comes early in the book but only after a dream gets interpreted and Daniel with friends are tested on the dietary restrictions.

Being a furnace guy for about 20 years, I am going to come at this from an odd angle, the furnace angle, but I hope I get to the right place in the end.

To have such a huge statue, you probably had a huge furnace.  Rev. Ray Stedman, just prior to the quote above, said that the statue was the height of a NASA booster rocket.  That’s safe in that there were a lot of NASA booster rockets over the years, but we are talking about a huge statue, about 90 feet high and nine feet wide.

The Buddha Mountain near Pattaya, Thailand, is roughly 110 meters high, about 350 feet.  It was nearing completion when I visited the mountain in 1998, a rare day off from work.  They did the carving using a laser and then inlayed the cuts with gold.  The rock face was already there, not far from some Buddhist temples.  The mountain is not gold.  There is just a thin layer of gold filling the laser cuts.  It is quite possible that Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue was gold plated.  Even so, a lot of gold would have to be refined.  Note:  The photo above was taken within two weeks after going to the Buddha Mountain.  It is a photo of an electric arc furnace, much hotter than Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, pouring molten steel into a ladle.  I was stranded on a dead-end walkway, high above the furnace, stranded because it was not safe to get any closer until the molten metal had been emptied and the ladle moved.

Gold melts at 1948 degrees Fahrenheit (1064 Celsius).  That is roughly the temperature that my last employer’s furnaces heated steel (well below the melting point of steel), our target being a little over 2000.  Thus, it is safe to say that the furnace was operating at about 2500 degrees Fahrenheit.  I agree with Rev. MacArthur to a point.  Making the furnace seven times hotter was a figurative expression.  In a past post, I suggested bellows were used to stoke the fire (provide forced air into the furnace).  Making it seven times hotter could mean literally to get seven bellows instead of one.  Rev. MacArthur suggests that the only means to make the furnace hotter was to provide both fuel and air in greater quantity.  He is correct.  The heat is contained in the fuel, but that heat is not released unless there is air to combust the fuel.  In fact, an overabundance of fuel without sufficient air would create a smokey flame that would actually be a little cooler, maybe 10-20 degrees, than having just the right amount of fuel for the available air.

To do this, bellows seems the best option for the technology of that day.  Pot bellows were probably available, still used in some areas of the world for small projects.  It is about this time that China refined metals in furnaces using standard bellows, made of animal skins mostly, like the bellows used in the early blast furnaces of only a couple hundred years ago.  China did not develop the continuous air supply (a double-bellows apparatus until about 200-300BC, but the single bellows was common practice before then.

Nebuchadnezzar, or at least his engineer, should have been aware of the miracle when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not die at the furnace entrance.  Daniel 3 says that the soldiers that threw the three Jews into the furnace died, but they did not suffer long.  Whether there was oxygen to breathe is immaterial.  The temperature of the gases at the furnace entrance was hot enough to sear the lungs instantly so that you would never be able to take a second breath.  I had a boss who was hospitalized, long before I met him, by breathing air mixed with gases from the furnace.  He had been safe, but the furnace “belched” with gases escaping the door that he was standing next to.  (We always had them reduce the furnace pressure when we wanted a full view inside the operating furnace, to prevent the hot gases coming toward us.  Even then, we looked in at an angle whenever possible from a safe distance with UV face shields and fire-retardant clothing.)  A typical flame could be as high as 3600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now, with that in mind, you have this huge statue that might drop people to their knees naturally due to the size, out of fear.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship this abomination.  They chose the fiery furnace route, confident that God would save them.  Even if they “tempted fate” too far, they would rather die than worship the statue and the god that it represented (along with Nebuchadnezzar who was elevating himself to godlike status).

Have you noticed an oddity here?  We have a book of the Bible named Daniel and a character in the book named Daniel, but his Babylonian name is Belteshazzar.  Belteshazzar is mentioned eight times in the book of Daniel and nowhere else, but Daniel is mentioned 66 times in the book of Daniel alone.  Yet, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are the Babylonian names of his three friends.  The other curiosity is that Daniel switches from a third-party narrative, thus the large number of mentions of his name, to a first-person account in the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel, about the halfway point, but to refer to his friends by their Babylonian names is odd.

But the point of this chapter is the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  First, they join Daniel in not eating the royal food in Daniel 1.  Now in Daniel 3, they test the king’s resolve directly.  In Daniel 1, it was their instructors who faced the mutiny regarding the food.  Here their open defiance was noticed and passed on to the king himself.  The king got angry.

The punishment was being tossed into the fiery furnace, but it was his anger that required them to stoke the fire more.

And notice how Rev. MacArthur concludes Daniel 3.  After seeing a Christophany, Jesus in the flesh, dancing with the three men, the king sees the miracle that their clothing was not even singed.  Yet, he is only willing to add God to his ton of other gods.  No, no, the fertility god stays because how else did I get so many children?  A huge harem and trying hard had nothing to do with it, I suppose.  The crops are abundant, so the harvest god and the planting god must stay.

How many people today, even some calling themselves Christians, have a universalism approach to their belief in God.  I think it was Sal Mineo in the movie The Halls of Montezuma, a World War II movie, obviously about the Marine Corps.  His character was ready for the assault.  He had rosary beads in his pocket, a star of David, a Bible, Buddha beads, etc.  He didn’t know who was right, so he wasn’t taking any chances.

Yet, when we take that approach, we dishonor God.  These three men knew that.  Not all who were sent into exile had forsaken God.  These three had not and they were not about to start, not even to save their own skin, literally.  And God does not want a little piece of us one day each week.  He wants all we have every day of the week.

And when we face our test of fire, Jesus is with us.  We may get singed.  We may die, but then we immediately receive our reward.  Jesus is right there regardless of our circumstances.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“1. In what ways do you identify, or not identify, with each of the following egos: (a) The colossal ego of the pagan king? (b) The subservient ego of the king’s herald? (c) The jealous ego of the astrologers?(d)The obedient ego of the near-martyrs?
“2. How is God with you in your sufferings? What have your sufferings to do with standing up for what you believe about God? How do you (or anyone) remain faithful ‘if he does not’ rescue you?
“3. How does the king’s affirming the Most High God relate to the Christian belief concerning Jesus (see Php 2:6-11)?
“4. How much are you now willing to risk in order to obey a clear commandment of God?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

The questions seem to speak for themselves.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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