Chapter 3: THE FIERY ORDEAL

“VERSE 1. Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits; he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.”

There is a conjecture extant that this image had some reference to the dream of the king as described in the previous chapter, it having been erected only twenty-three years subsequently, according to the marginal chronology. In that dream the head was of gold, representing Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. That was succeeded by metals of inferior quality, denoting a succession of kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar was doubtless quite gratified that his kingdom should be represented by the gold; but that it should ever be succeeded by another kingdom was not so pleasing. Hence, instead of having simply the head of his image of gold, he made it all of gold, to denote that the gold of the head should extend through the entire image; or, in other words, that his kingdom should not give way to another kingdom, but be perpetual. It is probable that the height here mentioned, ninety feet at the lowest estimate, was not the height of the image proper,
but included the pedestal also. Nor is it probable that any more than the image proper, if even that, was of solid gold. It could have been overlaid with thin plates, nicely joined, at a much less expense, without detracting at all from its external appearance.

“VERSE 2. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. 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; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4. Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, 5. That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up; 6. And whoso falleth not down and worshipeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. 7. Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.”

The dedication of this image was made a great occasion. The chief men of all the kingdom were gathered together; so much pains and expense will men undergo in sustaining idolatrous and heathen systems of worship. So it is and ever has been. Alas, that those who have the true religion should be so far outdone in these respects by the upholders of the false and counterfeit! The worship was accompanied with music; and whoso should fail to participate therein was threatened with a fiery furnace. Such are ever the strongest motives to impel men in any direction, – pleasure on the one hand, pain on the other. Verse 6 contains the first mention to be found in the Bible of the division of time into hours. It was probably the invention of the Chaldeans.

“VERSE 8. Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews. 9. They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live forever. 10. Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut,
psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image; 11. And whoso falleth not down and worshipeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. 12. There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee; they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

These Chaldeans who accused the Jews were probably the sect of philosophers who went by that name, and who were still smarting under the chagrin of their ignominious failure in respect to their interpretation of the king’s dream of chapter 2. They were eager to seize upon any pretext to accuse the Jews before the king and either disgrace or destroy them. They worked upon the king’s prejudice by strong insinuations of their ingratitude: Thou hast set them over the affairs of Babylon, and yet they have disregarded thee. Where Daniel was upon this occasion, is not known. He was probably absent on some business of the empire, the importance of which demanded his presence. But why should Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, since they knew they could not worship the image, be present on the occasion? Was it not because they were willing to comply with the king’s requirements as far as they could without compromising their
religious principles? The king required them to be present. With this requirement they could comply and they did. He required them to worship the image. This their religion forbade, and this they therefore refused to do.

“VERSE 13. Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Then they brought these men before the king. 14. Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? 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: 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? 16. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 17. If it be so, our 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. 18. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

The forbearance of the king is shown in his granting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego another trial after their first failure to comply with his requirements. Doubtless the matter was thoroughly understood. They could not plead ignorance. They knew just what the king wanted, and their failure to do it was an intentional and deliberate refusal to obey him. With most kings this would have been enough to seal their fate. But no, says Nebuchadnezzar, I will overlook this offense, if upon a second trial they comply with the law. But they informed the king that he need not trouble himself to repeat the farce. “We are not careful,” said they, “to answer thee in this matter.” That is, you need not grant us the favor of another trial; our mind is made up. We can answer just as well now as at any future time; and our answer is, We will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. Our God can deliver if he will; but if not, it is just the same. We know his will, and to that we shall render unconditional obedience. Their answer was both honest and decisive.

“VERSE 19. Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. 20. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace, 21. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. 22. Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. 23. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. 24. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. 25. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

Nebuchadnezzar was not entirely free from the faults and follies into which an absolute monarch so easily runs. Intoxicated
with unlimited power, he could not brook disobedience or contradiction. Let his expressed authority be resisted, on however good grounds, and he exhibits the weakness common to our fallen humanity under like circumstances, and flies into a passion. Ruler of the world, he was not equal to that still harder task of ruling his own spirit. And even the form of his visage was changed. Instead of the calm, dignified, self- possessed ruler that he should have appeared, he betrayed himself in look and act as the slave of ungovernable passion. The furnace was heated one seven times hotter than usual; in other words, to its utmost capacity. The king overreached himself in this; for even if the fire had been suffered to have its ordinary effect upon the ones he cast into the furnace, it would only have destroyed them the sooner. Nothing would have been gained by that means on the part of the king. But seeing they were delivered from it, much was gained on the part of the cause of God and his truth; for the more intense the heat, the greater and more impressive the miracle of being delivered from it. Every circumstance was calculated to show the direct power of God. They were bound in all their garments, but came out with not even the smell of fire upon them. The most mighty men in the army were chosen to cast them in. These the fire slew ere they came in contact with it; while on the Hebrews it had no effect, though they were in the very midst of its flames. It was evident that the fire was under the control of some supernatural intelligence; for while it had effect upon the cords with which they were bound, destroying them, so that they were free to walk about in the midst of the fire, it did not even singe their garments. They did not, as soon as free, spring out of the fire, but continued therein; for, first, the king had put them in, and it was his place to call them out; and, secondly, the form of the fourth was with them, and in his presence they could be content and joyful, as well in the furnace of fire as in the delights and luxuries of the palace. Let us in all our trials, afflictions, persecutions, and straitened places, but have the “form of the fourth” with us, and it is enough. The king said, “And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” This language is by some supposed to refer to Christ; but it is not likely that the king had any idea of the Saviour. A better rendering, according to good authorities, would be “like a son of the gods;” that is, he had the appearance of a supernatural or divine being. Nebuchadnezzar subsequently called him an angel. What a scathing rebuke upon the king for his folly and madness was the deliverance of these worthies from the fiery furnace! A higher power than any on earth had vindicated those who stood firm against idolatry, and poured contempt on the worship and requirements of the king. None of the gods of the heathen ever had wrought such deliverance as that, nor were they able to do so.

“VERSE 26. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego came forth of the midst of the fire. 27. And the princes, governors, and captains,and the king’s counselors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them. 28. Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any God, except their own God. 29. Therefore I make 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; because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. 30. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in the province of Babylon.”

When bidden, these three men came forth from the furnace. Then the princes, governors, and king’s counselors, through whose advice, or at least concurrence, they had been cast into the furnace (for the king said unto them, verse 24, “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?”), were gathered together to look upon these men, and have optical and tangible proof of their wonderful preservation. The worship of the great image was lost sight of. The whole interest of this vast concourse of people was now concentrated upon these three remarkable men. All men’s thoughts and minds were full of this wonderful occurrence. And how the knowledge of it would be spread abroad throughout the empire, as they should return to their respective provinces! What a notable instance in which God caused the wrath of man to praise him! Then the king blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed- nego, and made a decree that none should speak against him. This the Chaldeans had undoubtedly done. In those days, each nation had its god or gods; for there were “gods many and lords many.” And the victory of one nation over another was supposed to occur because the gods of the conquered nation were not able to deliver them from the conquerors. The Jews had been wholly subjugated by the Babylonians, on which account the latter had no doubt spoken disparagingly or contemptuously of the God of the Jews. This the king now prohibits; for he is plainly given to understand that his success against the Jews was owing to their sins, not to any lack of power on the part of their God. In what a conspicuous and exalted light this placed the God of the Hebrews in comparison with the gods of the nations! It was an acknowledgment that he held men amenable to some high standard of moral character, and that he did not regard with indifference their actions in reference to it; since he would visit with punishment those who transgressed it, and would consequently bestow his blessing on those who complied with it. Had these Jews been time-servers, the name of the true God had not thus been exalted in Babylon. What honor does the Lord put upon them that are steadfast toward him! The king promoted them; that is, he restored to them the offices which they held before the charges of disobedience and treason were brought against them. At the end of verse 30 the Septuagint adds: “And he advanced them to be governors over all the Jews that were in his kingdom.” It is not probable that he insisted on any further worship of his image.

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