DANIEL CHAPTER 3.
The Test of the Faith of Daniel’s Three Friends.
THE THREE MEN LOYAL TO JEHOVAH. — V. l. Nebuchadnezzar, the king, at some later period of his reign, made an image of gold, an immense idol figure, probably in the form of a human being, whose height was threescore cubits and the breadth thereof six cubits, that is, its height with its pedestal was about ninety feet and its width nine feet; he set it up in the Plain of Dura, very likely in the level country east of the Tigris, or in a smaller valley near the capital, in the province of Babylon. V. 2. Then Nebuchadnezzar, the king, sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, executive officers of superior rank with both civil and military duties, the judges, or chief officers of administration, the treasurers, the financial directors or managers of the public treasury, the counselors, those learned in the law, the sheriffs, the inferior judges, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar, the king, had set up, to have a great celebration in honor of the occasion, all the officials of the empire being the king’s guests during the festival. V. 3. Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar, the king, had set up, proudly obedient to the king’s summons; and they stood before, over against, the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, ready to take part in all the ceremonies of the dedication, since the picture was a symbol of Babylon’s world power and of the king’s divine majesty, as they believed. V. 4. Then an herald cried aloud, literally, “with might,” raising his voice to reach all the members of the assembled multitude, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, this evidently being a formula. used in the official edicts of the Chaldean Empire, by which the sovereign addressed himself to all the subjects of his great empire, v. 5. that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, the horn or tuba of the ancients, flute, the reed-flute, or shepherd’s pipe, harp, a small four-stringed harp like a zither, sackbut, a triangular stringed instrument, psaltery, another kind of harp, dulcimer, a bappipe consisting of two pipes thrust through a leathern bag, and all kinds of music, the enumeration being characteristic of the pompous language used by a world ruler, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar, the king, hath set up; v. 6. and whoso falleth not down and worshipeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. This mode of punishment was in use among the Babylonians, and since all men were required to fall on their faces in the act of adoration, it would be all the easier to pick out all such as might refuse to obey the king’s decree. V. 7. Therefore at that time, in accordance with the announcement of the herald, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, all the people, represented here by their respective rulers, the nations, and the languages, as many as had appeared for the great celebration, fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar, the king, had set up. It is to be noted here that, whereas most of the heathen nations tolerated the gods of the countries conquered by them, they at the same time required of the subdued people a greater veneration for their own gods, whose superiority they considered fully established by the fact of their being victors. V. 8. Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans, who were filled with jealousy on account of the promotion of the strangers, while they were obliged to be satisfied with inferior positions, came near and accused the Jews, literally, “they ate their pieces of flesh,” a term used in the Aramaic for slandering, for casting hateful suspicions. V. 9. They spake and said to the King Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live forever! this being the ordinary form of address in Babylonia. V. 10. Thou, O king, hast made a decree, issued an unmistakable order, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and an kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image; v. 11. and whoso falleth not down and worshipeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. V. 12. There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, who, therefore, as the accusers intimate, were under special obligations toward the king as their benefactor, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, whose influence and example were of such great importance, have not regarded thee, paying no attention to his commands; they serve not thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. What made the behavior of these Chaldeans so particularly odious at this time was the fact that they used this one instance of disobedience to the king’s command on the part of the Jewish officials as an occasion for removing them from their offices, that, in other words, envy was the one motive which caused them to take such steps at this time. “The mention of their exalted official rank was designed to emphasize the dangerous feature connected with the disobedience of such men to the royal command and also to direct attention to the blackness of their ingratitude toward their royal benefactor.” V. 13. Then Nebuchadnezzar, in his rage and fury, in the extreme violence of his anger, commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, to have them delivered into his presence at once. Then they brought these men before the king. V. 14. Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods, literally, “With deliberate, evil intent are ye not serving my god?” nor worship the golden image which I have set up? His gods were here taken together and represented under the golden image, and Nebuchadnezzar construed the absence of the three men from the festive assembly as an endeavor purposely to avoid any participation in the ceremonies. V. 15. Now, if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made, well, the completion of the conditional clause being omitted in the Aramaic, as in Ex. 32, 32; Luke 13, 9; but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? This was not a direct blasphemy of the true God, but it was a very presumptive statement, since the king thereby declared the deliverance from the fiery furnace to be a work which no god was able to perform. V. 16. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, the directness of their address giving added emphasis to their statement, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter, that is, they did not consider it necessary to search for a reasonable excuse or explanation. V. 17. If it be so, our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, rather, “If our God is able to deliver us,” and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. This was not casting doubt upon the strength and ability of the Lord to help them; it only left the matter under the disposition of the gracious and good will of Him whose actions are always right and good. V. 18. But if not, that is, if a deliverance is not in agreement with His counsel and will, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. We have here a fine example of the loyalty of faith and of meek submission to the will of God. Christians in a similar situation may also find it impossible to produce an understanding of the issues involved in the minds of their adversaries. They will, therefore, not attempt to justify their attitude, but leave the matter entirely in the hands of God, whose ways are always good.
THE MIRACULOUS PRESERVATION OF GOD’S SERVANTS. — V. 19. Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, of extreme and unreasonable anger, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, his expression showing the extremity of the fury which possessed him; therefore he spake and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. He did not realize in the heat of his passion that he was really defeating his own ends; for the hotter the fire. the sooner his victims were liable to be put out of misery. V. 20. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army, upon whom he could depend for absolute obedience and trustworthiness, to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace, a task which was here connected with considerable danger because it involved a close approach to the intense heat of the furnace. V. 21. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, rather, “in their undergarments, their tunics, and their mantles,” and their other garments, part of which at least were of delicate, easily inflammable material, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace, the repetition of this phrase tending to make the element of danger stand out more prominently. V. 22. Therefore, because the king’s commandment was urgent, because he. spoke in fury, and the furnace exceeding hot, far in excess of its usual degree of heat, the flame of the fire, a blast sweeping out from the opening, slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, after the king’s servants had cast them through the opening above. V. 23. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound, as they had been trussed up by the executioners, into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. V. 24. Then Nebuchadnezzar, the king, was astonied, greatly astounded, and rose up in haste, due to his great agitation, and spake and said unto his counselors, the ministers, or governors, who formed his council, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? The king’s chair seems to have been placed opposite the side door of the furnace, which was open to permit a strong draught to fan the fire, and it was from here that he witnessed the execution. They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. V. 25. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, no longer bound as they had been cast in, walking in the midst of the fire, not leaving it, but waiting for God’s time to leave them out, and they have no hurt, as one might have expected by reason of the rough treatment accorded them; and the form of the fourth, on account of the compelling dignity of his appearance, is like the son of God, rather, “like a son of the gods,” one pertaining to a divine family and generation. The fourth man was an angel of God, sent for the protection of His pious servants, so that the flame could not harm them. God protects those who place their trust in Him in the midst of death and destruction, so that not a hair may fall from their heads without His will. V. 26. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, which was now opened at his command, and spake and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the most high God, of whose superior greatness he had just received an overpowering impression, and whom he was therefore willing to designate in this manner, come forth and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego came forth of the midst of the fire, V. 27. And the princes, governors, and captains, the representative rulers of his entire empire, and the king’s counselors, the members of his own privy council, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, having had not the slightest effect upon them, nor was an hair of their head singed, this being ordinarily the first result of fire, neither were their coats changed, their undergarments touched by fire, nor the smell of fire had passed on them, in other words, one could not even notice that they had been anywhere near fire. V. 28. Then Nebuchadnezzar spake and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, whose superiority to his own gods the king thus recognized, who hath sent His angel and delivered His servants, that trusted in Him and have changed the king’s word, boldly transgressing his commands, and yielded their bodies, offering them without flinching in the interest of their loyalty to their God, that they might not serve nor worship any god except their own God. V. 29. Therefore I make a decree, literally, “ And from me is set forth a decree,” That every people, nation, and language which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill, cp. chap. 2, 5, because there is no other god that can deliver after this sort. While this confession does not imply faith in the one true God, it decreed toleration to the worshipers of Jehovah throughout the empire of Babylon. V. 30. Then the king, having once more restored the three men to his full favor, promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in the province of Babylon. So the firmness of these men in confessing their God, far from bringing misfortune upon them, resulted in further blessings upon them. Note also that the miracles which the Lord performs in the interest of His Church result in benefits for the state as well, so that men are obliged to acknowledge the hand of God in the affairs of men, even if they do not accept Him as the God of their salvation.