Daniel 3:1-2, “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. And King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to gather together the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.”
Though it’s impossible to say with 100% certainty, most scholars believe approximately 15 years have transpired between chapters 2 and 3. Historically, what happens during this timeframe establishes a greater context for the event recorded in our text this morning.
Since Nebuchadnezzar’s ascent to the throne in 605 BC, over the following decade and a half, his time was spent consolidating power which included putting down several different rebellions. By the opening of Daniel 3 Jerusalem and the Temple likely lay in ruins, Egypt had been willed into submission, and a coup attempt had been foiled in Babylon.
Though his authority had been tested, King Nebuchadnezzar emerged stronger than ever. With his enemies conquered, peace finally achieved, and his attention now focused on building up and refortifying the capital city, our chapter opens with “the king making an image of gold” to be displayed “in the plain of Dura” which was a “province of Babylon.”
Specifically, we’re told the “height” of this “image” was “sixty cubits and its width six cubits.” Since a Babylonian “cubit” equates to 20.3 inches, we understand this image to be roughly 100 feet tall and 10 foot wide. Furthermore, when you consider such a towering structure was completely overlaid with gold, there is no doubt it was awesome to behold.
One of the great misconceptions of this story is that King Nebuchadnezzar created an “image” of himself in defiance of the image God had revealed to him in the dream recorded in chapter 2. The idea is that since Nebuchadnezzar was the “head of gold” he was defying God’s revelation by seeking to render a new version of what his future would look like. Nebuchadnezzar was establishing a kingdom on this earth that would last forever!
Though I wish this were the case because that idea will preach, the problem with this theory is threefold. First, if you accept a 15 year gap between chapters, the timing doesn’t really make much sense. Secondly, the text never provides a description of the image itself leaving us to only speculation. Finally, the typical human body has a height to width ratio of 5:1. Since the ratio of this image was 10:1, it’s highly improbable it was that of a human being. Example: The Washington Monument is 555 feet tall and 55 foot wide — 10:1 ratio.
What we can say for sure about this “image of gold” from the very context that will be established later in the chapter, is that it was “set up” by King Nebuchadnezzar specifically to commemorate one of the many Babylonian gods — probably Marduk or his son Nebo.
Once completed, Nebuchadnezzar sends a notice commanding “all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication.” One historian believes the crowd that would have amassed for this ceremony would have numbered between 200 and 300 thousand.
Daniel 3:3-6, “So the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered together for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Then a herald cried aloud: ‘To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.’”
Once the masses have gathered it doesn’t take long for everyone to realize this was much more than a “dedication” ceremony. King Nebuchadnezzar intended to use this great “image” as a test of loyalty to the gods who governed Babylon. Considering the events of the last decade or so, you can understand his underlying motivation for such a test.
The “herald’s” proclamation of what was really King Nebuchadnezzar’s edict is about as straightforward as you can get — zero ambiguity. When the people “heard the sound” of all this “music” playing in “symphony” everyone was required to “fall down” or literally prostrate oneself in order to “worship” or pay homage to “the gold image.”
In fact, the ancient Aramaic of this phrase “fall down” can be translated as “get low, get low, get low, get low.” You see “to the window, to the wall” anyone who failed to bow down and worship would “be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”
In these ancient, pagan, religious practices it was customary that a “fiery furnace” be included in the place of worship in order to consume the required sacrifices. While the passage never provides a description of the “furnace,” we know the temperature could be controlled, was prone to backdrafts at the entry, you could see into it, and walk out of it.
Though we can reason Nebuchadnezzar cooked up this scheme to be a test of allegiance — refusal to bow was a sign of treachery and disloyalty, the implementation of this word “worship” (which will be used 11 times in the chapter) implied a deeper motivation. This Babylonian king was seeking to solidify power by establishing a universal religious system.
In many ways this scene was one large counterfeit crusade. You had this massive center stage. A worship band rocking out to stir the masses. A herald delivering the message and invitation. You even had a counterfeit hell as the judgment for those who refused.
What’s interesting about this religious system is that Nebuchadnezzar was polytheistic. He believed in a multitude of various gods. In fact, the edict doesn’t prohibit anyone from worshipping their own gods. All he requested was for the people to worship this image as well. You see this is what makes this counterfeit religion of Babylon so slick.
By in large, few believers have been martyred because they worshipped Jesus. Instead, Christians have been put to death because they refused to worship anyone other than Jesus. Babylon’s appeal is a subtle compromise to add to Jesus other things to worship.
Please take note how different the religious system of Babylon is to the Kingdom of God. What sets Christianity apart is that at its core it presents a loving invitation for the unbeliever to convert. In contrast, Babylon demands you capitulate or accept the consequences.
Daniel 3:7-12, “So at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the horn, flute, harp, and lyre, in symphony with all kinds of music, all the people, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the gold image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and accused the Jews.
They spoke and said to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the gold image; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.’”
Of all the multitudes that had gathered for this dedication ceremony only three refused to bow down and worship: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego” or as they were first introduced using their Hebrew names back in Daniel 1 — “Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.”
When the worship band cranked up to eleven and everyone bowed to the image of gold, only Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were left standing! They didn’t budge! When word finally reaches the king “certain Jews” didn’t bow to his idol we’re told he’s furious!
The accusations the “Chaldeans” levied at these men before Nebuchadnezzar were simple enough: (1) “They have not paid due regard to you.” Their actions demonstrated a measure of disrespect towards the king. (2) “They do not serve your gods.” Broadly speaking, these men had rejected the king’s religious system. (3) “They do not worship the image which you have set up.” They’re engaging in direct civil disobedience to his implicit commands.
If you haven’t been with us over the last few weeks I should point out that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had already drew a line in the sand upon their arrival to Babylon. Along with their friend Daniel, these men had determined they would dutifully serve King Nebuchadnezzar as long as to do so didn’t go against their moral principles.
There is no question this entire proposition had placed these three men into a difficult position. What the king had required of them was something they simply could not do. They understood a stand was necessary — even if it meant being thrown into a fiery furnace.
As followers of Jesus you and I have been called to be good citizens and obey the laws of the land (even if they’re stupid) UNTIL our obedience to those laws no longer allow us to be good Christians. Here’s how you know when it’s time to engage in civil disobedience — when that decision results in a fiery furnace.
And yet, while these type of moments can be unavoidable for those living in Babylon, one of the things I find compelling about these men is while they took a stand by refusing to worship this idol they did so without making a scene. They didn’t protest. They didn’t raise a fuss. They didn’t picket the dedication or seek to crowd source a following on Facebook in opposition of the king’s obvious overreach. Amazingly, knowing there would likely be consequences for their actions, they quietly chose not to participate!
Here’s what grieves me about certain churches and their decision to defy the orders of their State by reopening their doors… They’re making it into a public spectacle! You know there is a big difference between a person who decides to stand on their convictions and the person seeking to defy an order of the State. One would like to avoid conflict while the other actually wants a fight. One oozes meekness while the other reeks of self-righteousness.
I’m not picking on anyone in particular — every pastor has been placed into a difficult spot when it comes to the decision to reopen. For some States in more liberal areas I completely realize a stand needs to be made. The necessary separation that has protected the Church from the State for 250 years has been completely disregarded. The shutdown no longer seems to be only about public health, but power! It is likely an appropriate time to take a stand, because a fiery trial has been promised to the disobedient.
That said… If Jesus told you to reopen the doors of your church, He didn’t ask you to also be an ass in the process! Emphasize standing on conscious instead of defying orders. Quietly reopen Sunday services without it being a protest. Remain meek and mild. Don’t seek a confrontation. And then go to jail if that ends up being the consequence.
It’s worth taking a moment to address the elephant in the room… Where’s Daniel? Honestly, we have no idea because the text doesn’t tell us! Since it’s safe to assume Daniel would have stood right alongside “Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” in their refusal to worship this idol, his absence should be viewed as just that — He was absent!
At the end of chapter 2 we read that, in response to his interpretation of the king’s dream, Nebuchadnezzar “promoted Daniel” by “making him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief administrator over all the wise men.” While “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego” were also promoted and placed “over the affairs of the province of Babylon,” we read, “But Daniel sat in the gate of the king.” The language is interesting.
Because of Daniel’s high position in the king’s court (“sitting in the gate” implies he’d become a special advisor) he may have been out of town on official diplomatic business or that his attendance to this ceremony hadn’t been necessary. Either way, I will say the stand his three friends take in his absence was a testimony of Daniel’s influence. It’s been said, “The test of leadership is what the followers do when the leader is gone.”
Daniel 3:13-14, “Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up?’”
Accusations are made against these men. They are subsequently brought in “before the king” to give an account. Though Nebuchadnezzar is clearly worked up about the situation, he asks them, “Is it true?” I love the fact he doesn’t take hearsay at face value — especially considering the stakes. Instead, he checks for himself and in many ways provides Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego a way out of their present predicament.
At this point these Three Amigos have another choice in front of them. Taking a stand by refusing to bow to this idol was one thing when there was a possibility no one would notice. Now that you’re standing in front of the king himself it’s clear there will be no wiggle room.
Nebuchadnezzar continues… Daniel 3:15, “Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”
Nebuchadnezzar isn’t messing around. He issued an edict and these men should have already been thrown into the furnace for being disobedient. His orders were absolute. And yet, he likes these guys, knows their friends of Daniel, so he gives them a mulligan.
“Listen, I like you guys and am willing to show a little leniency because you’ve been trusted servants. We’ll chalk this all up to a misunderstanding! When you hear the music get low and we’ll be good.” This pompous statement the king makes, “And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” will soon be answered in a most incredible way.
Daniel 3:16-18, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.’”
What bravery, tenacity, faith, and conviction in the face of such a daunting set of prospects. These three men afford their minds zero opportunity for temptation or compromise. No sooner had the king made his offer that they collectively turn him down! “King, thanks, but no thanks! If this is the way that it is, there’s no need for any of us to wait around for the music to play… We will not serve your gods and we will not worship the image you set up! Go head and point us in the direction of this fiery furnace and we’ll get on with it!”
You know it’s one thing to claim to have principles, but entirely another when you stand fast on those principles even when it’s potentially going to cost you everything. It’s just a truth “fiery furnaces” tend to be an effective way of revealing what a person really believes.
Let’s break down exactly what they say to the king because it really is astonishing… They begin, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace.” For starters, these men immediately go on the record as to why the entire situation was untenable. “Because we already have a God we worship and serve, there is no way we could ever bow down and serve this image of gold!” “Our God” denoted a relationship!
The very first commandment… Exodus 20:2-5, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image — any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.”
After bringing up the existence of their God, with no logical explanation as to how this might even be possible, these men then claim their God was more than “able” to intervene and “deliver them” from what was to be a terrible death — the fiery furnace. Please notice, they don’t presume to claim God would deliver them. They’re just clear to the king that if God so decided to act on their behalf He was “able” to do so!
They follow this by issuing a definitive statement, “He will deliver us from your hand, O king.” Whether or not God would act to deliver them from the “fiery furnace,” these men were absolutely confident that whatever happened God would deliver them “from the king’s hand.” “God’s in total control! If He want to save us, we know He’s able. If He choose not too, then we’ll be home in heaven. In the end the king really had zero power over them!”
Lastly they say, “But if not, let it be known to you, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” They knew God was able to deliver them from the fiery furnace, but they didn’t know if He would. You see Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego didn’t presume to know God’s will or plan for their lives. In fact, they acknowledge God might very well end up acting in a way they didn’t expect.
In the end their faith was placed not in what God would do (they weren’t sure what He would do), but in who God was! They knew God was able and in effect the king had no power to disrupt His plan for their lives. Sure, being delivered from the fiery furnace would have been preferable, but if God decided to act contrary to what they might have desired, they still trusted that His will for their lives was always perfect.
“He is able to deliver, but if not!” is the ultimate statement of faith in the goodness of God. It declares you don’t serve or worship Him because you want God to do what you want. You serve and worship Him because He’s worthy and worth trusting with your life.
If you really think about it these guys had no problems standing on their convictions in the face of such consequences because they cared more about God’s opinion of them than Nebuchadnezzar’s! Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego cared more about living their lives to please their heavenly God than they did about appeasing this earthly king!
Daniel 3:19-23, “Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace.
Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. (When they opened up the furnace the backdraft was so severe the heat and flames consumed these men of valor.) And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.” (Imagine that moment.)
Daniel 3:24-25, “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ ‘Look!’ he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’” (Rabbinical tradition says these three men were worshipping this Christophany or pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus.)
Daniel 3:26-27, “Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying (no doubt his tone has changed), ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.’ Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire. And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.”
Daniel 3:28-30, “Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! (These men trusted God to the point they disobeyed the king fully prepared to suffer the consequences.)
Therefore I make a decree (keep in mind they didn’t ask him to do this) that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.’ Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon.”
It’s been said, “The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone ever gets out alive!” Life can be difficult! It’s ill-intentions towards its tenants possesses no limits! Life is in a fight against man. Henry Tillman once said, “Life is something everyone should try at least once!”
If we were all being honest the difficult nature of life was one of the main reasons we were ultimately drawn to Jesus in the first place! Most of us gave our lives to Jesus hoping He would make good on His promise to provide “life and that more abundantly!”
With this in mind, it should then come as no surprise that one of the biggest struggles people face after initially coming to Jesus is the reality He doesn’t eliminate our problems like we hoped He would! In fact, sometimes we’re left to face fiery furnaces.
I must say and this is an important point, the problem isn’t Jesus failing to make good on His promises, rather it’s you and I having misconceptions as to what those promises actually are. Contrary to our ideas and notions, nowhere in Scripture will you ever read of Jesus granting His followers immunity from the trials of life! As a matter of fact, Jesus told the disciples quite the opposite! He challenged them by asking, “If the world nailed Me to a cross, what should you expect the world to do to My followers?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego find themselves facing a fiery trial because they were obeying God! They had done nothing wrong, but God still allows them to be bound and thrown into this furnace anyway! And yet, here is the grand lesson illustrated by our story… More often than not God delivers His people through the fiery trials of life and not from the trial, because in the end we come out the other side better for it.
Consider that apart from this fiery furnace these men would not have encountered the person of Jesus in the miraculous way they did! Here they are thrown right into the midst of a trial – uncertain of the outcome. And yet, the very moment they needed Him most, Jesus revealed Himself to them, comforted them in the fire, shielded them from the fire, and carried them safely through the fire.
Often when we experience such a trial our reaction is to say, “This situation has brought me closer to Jesus.” While I understand the sentiment, in contrast to these Three Amigos and within the framework of our New Testament context, this statement is only partially true. If you are a born again believer, regardless of how you feel and the way things seem, there are never times when Jesus is any closer than He’s always been!
You see for you and I trials don’t necessarily bring Jesus closer as much as they help us become more aware of His presence already in our midst! Be encouraged by this! Even though life brings with it all kinds of obstacles — fiery trials, God has not left you to face them alone! No matter how dark your plight or hopeless your path, the Bible is clear… “Jesus will never leave you and He’ll never forsakes you!”
Friend, if your goal in life is greater comfort and ease, you will find it impossible to follow Jesus for more often than not following Him will lead you into fiery trials. And yet, not only will Jesus walk with you through the trials of life, but for these men this fiery furnace was the closest to hell any of them would ever be!
One of the other interesting things about the fiery trial was the practical effect it had on their lives aside from their incredible encounter with Jesus. In verse 20 the men of valor were directed to “bind them.” Verse 21, “They were bound.” Verse 23, they “fell down bound into the midst of the furnace.” Verse 24, the king asks, “Were not these men bound?” But in verse 25 he says, “Look! I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire!”
Babylon had thrown them into the fire bound, but it was the fire that set them free. Nothing but their ropes were consumed. Christian, I hope you know that as gold is purified in the fire, so are we refined by the fiery trials of life! You see God will use these type of difficult situations to burn away the very things that bind and restrict our walk with Jesus.
Also notice the way these men handled this trial eventually spoke volumes to the lost world around them! These guys were such an amazing witnesses for the Lord that even the king who dared ask, “Who is the god who will deliver you?” now concedes at the end of verse 29, “There is no other God who can deliver like this!”
You know it’s one thing to be an example for Jesus when things are going well, but it’s an entirely different thing to be an example of Christ when your life takes a turn for the worse! It’s a simple fact the world pays more attention to how you handle the bad times than how you handle the good ones. And here’s the reason… The world is desperately looking for an answer for how they can make it through their own fiery trials!
In times like the one we’re presently facing people are curious to know if Jesus actually offers anything of practical use! What does your life say? Friends, it’s easy for our lives to be full of love, anchored by peace, and exude joy when life is swell, but can these same descriptions be made of you and I when we’re talking in a fiery furnace?
In closing… Have you ever noticed your prayer life tends to get more passionate when you’re facing a fiery trial? And what will you pray, “God get me out of this mess! God give me escape from this trial! I can’t make it! I don’t want to be in the fiery furnace anymore!”
When facing a fiery set of circumstances it’s only human to pray for a way out. And yet, the challenge is that you just might be praying for God to get you out of the very thing you need most! Fiery trials are a part of life, but they aren’t without purpose. You see they can be used to reveal the presence of Jesus in a more profound way, strip from your life the things the bind and restrict you, and increase your witness to the world. Our God is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, but sometime His plan is to lead us through!
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