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Nebuchadnezzar's Fiery Furnace  (Daniel Chapter 3)

Nebuchadnezzar was a religious man for a king.  He shared the belief of his people in the existence of many gods.  While the dream Daniel interpreted for him convinced him in the existence of the reality of  the God of the Hebrews, it did not convince him that his false god did not exist.  He still believed and worshipped his pagan god, called Marduk. 

Marduk, also known as "Merodach" or simply "Bel", was the national god of Babylon with a temple, called the Esagila, located within the capitol city.  He was believed to be a god of magic and incantation which explains why Nebuchadnezzar looked to the Chaldeans and the magicians when he wanted a dream of his interpreted.  The priest class of the Chaldeans should have been easily able to provide Nebuchadnezzar what he wanted in his earlier dream but were utterly incapable of it.  As we will see in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar again looked first to the priests and wise men of Marduk to interpret a dream before turning to Daniel.  It took at least two failures of the priests of Marduk that we know of before Nebuchadnezzar finally realized the inability of his false god and turned to one true and living God of the Hebrews. 

In this chapter, Nebuchadnezzar is about to get another irrefutable example of the power of the God of Daniel and his companions.  Following the interpretation of his first dream, Daniel asked that his companions be placed in positions of authority to which this was granted.  Obviously there was some jealousy involved here because it was this very group of people who conspired to have them put to death.  As we learned in the previous chapter, these people literally owed Daniel and his companions their lives and we will see how this was repaid.  From this event, Nebuchadnezzar gets a dose of overwhelming proof of the power and existence of the one true and living God and this obviously leads him his conversion later on in his life.

Daniel 3:1
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.

We don't know for certain how long a time span was there was between Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's secret dream and this event.  But it is likely that Nebuchadnezzar got the idea for this statue from the head of gold mentioned in Daniel's interpretation.  Obviously Nebuchadnezzar fancied the idea of him being represented as gold in a vision from God.  Given Nebuchadnezzar's affinity for his pagan god Marduk, the god of magic and incantation, he probably assumed that the vision actually came from him and not from the God of Daniel and his companions.  Obviously Daniel's God got the credit in Nebuchadnezzar's mind for revealing it, but at this point in his life he probably thought the dream actually came from Marduk.  It is too much of a coincidence for Nebuchadnezzar to be given a dream wherein he was represented as the head of a golden statue and then later to actually build one and have it erected to discount the two events as being unrelated.  He likely thought his pagan diety desired him to be seen in that way by his subjects and he was honoring the will of Morduk by building the statue of himself and setting it in the plain of Dura.  Scholars place the building and erecting of the statue at no more than three years after his vision. 

This statue was about 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide at the base.  The text says the statue was made of gold.  It was most likely either stone or wooden in construction and overlaid with gold. 

Daniel 3:2 
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.

Nebuchadnezzar was proud of his statue and he wanted to dedicate it in the presence of all his government officials.   These officials probably made the journey from all over Babylonia to be there for this event. 

Daniel 3:3 
Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, 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.

The officials who were bidden to come to the dedication doubtless thought it wise to do so.  It would have been disastrous for anyone who refused to show up.  Nebuchadnezzar had already demonstrated his capacity for executing those who did not obey him.  Doubtless this was in the back of everyone's mind as they made the journey to the dedication of the king's great statue. 

Daniel 3:4 
Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages,

Every individual at the dedication ceremony of this statue, regardless of where they came from or what language they spoke were being addressed here. 

Daniel 3:5-6 
That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up:  And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace

Nebuchadnezzar wanted the golden statue he had made worshipped by everyone in Babylon.   In the book of Revelation, there were two beasts, one from the sea and one from the earth (Revelation 13).  The sea beast was given his seat, authority and power  from the dragon (Satan) and he required all under him to worship him.  The earth beast rose up and operated under the authority of the sea beast and caused images like Nebuchadnezzar's to be built and worshipped.  Those who refused to worship were persecuted horribly even to the point of being put to death in all kinds of torturous ways.   Pagan worship and the refusal of God's children to bow down to a false god and worship idols is what the book of Revelation was written about.  

Nebuchadnezzar did the exact same thing the beast of Revelation would do almost 700 years later.  Those who lived during the great persecution of the Christians in the first century could look back to this account and relate to these events in a very real and personal way.   They could look back at the examples of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and see what the proper response to this forced pagan worship must be. 

From this forced idol worship we see a connection between Daniel and the Revelation.  In Nebuchadnezzar's dream the statue looked forward to the fourth empire under which God set up his eternal kingdom with the stone not cut by human hands crushing all the parts of the image.  This fourth kingdom, being the Roman Empire, also forced her citizenry to worship her emperors who had statues erected in their honor just like Nebuchadnezzar did.  The consequences for both the Babylonians and the citizens of Rome which refused to bow down and worship the statues of the kings was death (Daniel 3:6, Revelation 13:15).  In Revelation 17, we see the great whore who's name was given as "Babylon the great, the mother of harlots" in verse 5.  The great whore in Revelation who was responsible for the blood of God's people (Revelation 17:6 and who held in her hand a cup full of the abominations of fornication, which was idol worship, (Revelation 17:4), was associated with the Babylonian Empire who carried away God's people into captivity and likewise tried to force them to bow down to idol worship.  Babylon really was the Mother of Harlots to the children of God who were forced by the king to bow down and worship his statue.  The identity of the scarlet dressed woman in Revelation chapter 17, looking back to Babylon can be none other than the city of Rome herself and is identified in Revelation 17:18 as "that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth".

Daniel 3:7 
Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.

God considered idolatry by his people to be on a level with adultery as illustrated in Ezekiel 23:37 in reference to the Israelites, "That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them."  Those who are not his people who engaged in idolatry were said to be committing fornication (Revelation 17:1-2).  In either event, God viewed idolatry as a very personal and serious transgression against him personally comparing it to the infidelity of a spouse.  One can easily respect how God views idolatry by considering oneself's own reaction to an unfaithful spouse.   Both Daniel and Revelation teach that God would prefer his children go to their physical deaths than practice idolatry.  There are no circumstances under which idolatry is acceptable to God and to engage in it is the equivalence of infidelity to Him.   Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah knew this and so refused to bow down to the image of Nebuchadnezzar. 

Daniel 3:8-12
Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews.  They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever.  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 musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.  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.

Those ungrateful Chaldeans owed these men and Daniel their very lives.  These same Chaldeans were ordered slain by the king for their inability to reveal Nebuchadnezzar's dream to him.   Daniel, at great personal risk, acted in haste to intervene in the King's decree and save their lives, even telling the king the dream was revealed to him for the saving of their lives.  The Chaldeans had to know why Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had been placed over them.  But for these three men and Daniel, they would have died under the swords of the king's guard. 

This was a contrived plan by a jealous and prideful priesthood to rid themselves of someone who humiliated them in front of the king and the people of Babylon.  What a parallel we can draw here between these Chaldeans and the Jewish priests who contrived the death of Jesus Christ unlawfully.  Neither group could deny the hand of God on them in the face of the evidence but yet they allowed their jealous pride to seek the deaths of those who tried to help them.  They full well knew the rage Nebuchadnezzar would exhibit over this and like tattling children bent on mischief, they hastened to inform the king of these three men's refusal to engage in idolatry.   

Daniel 3:13 
Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Then they brought these men before the king.  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?

Nebuchadnezzar has demonstrated his propensity toward fits of rage.  The Chaldeans knew this well and they were counting on it.  They figured it was his fit of rage that got them into a situation where a former Jewish slave was set in authority over them and now it will be a fit of rage that will get them out from under at least three Jews. 

Daniel is not mentioned in this narrative which demonstrates that  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were strong individuals who acted upon their own initiative without being led around by Daniel.  These three men were managers over certain affairs of the Babylonian province therefore they had great authority and position granted to them by the king.  These men were quite capable of directing themselves in matters of righteousness. 

Daniel 3:15 
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 musick, 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?

Nebuchadnezzar obviously does not wish to have Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego executed so we see him giving them a chance to obey his decree before the people.  Nebuchadnezzar was a proud and prideful king.  He knew the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to bow down to his statue was public knowledge in view of the report of it coming from his own subjects like it did.  His authority had been challenged.  Nebuchadnezzar probably did not expect anyone to challenge his decree and face being burned to death in his furnace.  But now that they had, he finds himself in the predicament of having to carry through with it for the sake of his own decree.  One is reminded of Herod Antipas who was manipulated into having John the Baptist beheaded in prison over an oath he swore in front of his subjects.   Neither one of these men wanted to have their subjects executed but because of something they said they had to in order to preserve their credibility and pride. 

Nebuchadnezzar gave these three men a chance to escape his decree of execution by fire for their refusal to obey but as we see, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused anyway. 

Daniel 3:16 
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.  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.  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.

These are some of the most awe-inspiring words of resolute spirit and conviction this Bible student has ever read.  These men full well knew that they would be executed by being burned to death for their answer.    This raw courage they exhibited in the face the most dreadful danger is unsurpassed in history. 

Nebuchadnezzar asked them who the God was who could deliver them out of his hands.  Their response was that the God they served was entirely capable of delivering them from his hands if He so chose to do so.  And they went on to say to the supreme monarch of the Babylonian empire, the most powerful man on earth at that time, that even if God does not deliver us, "we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up".  It didn't matter to these three men whether God intervened on their behalf or not, they were going to be faithful to Him even to the point of death.  True faithfulness to God is the determined purpose to do right, and not to do wrong, whatever may be the consequences in either case. 

In about 700 years from the time of this event, multiplied thousands upon thousands of Christians would face similar circumstances.  Worship pagan gods or suffer the most intense of persecutions.  An entire empire made their faith illegal and set out to destroy them from the face of the earth.  They have here in examples given by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego what the proper response to this is to be. 

Daniel 3:19-21
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.  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.  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.

Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful king on earth had been defied by three of his own trusted government high officials.   The men in charge of executing these three men were ordered to heat the fire up as hot as possible.  They were then commanded to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in their clothes.  These clothes were probably their articles of official attire.  In his rage Nebuchadnezzar was going to make an example out of them before the whole empire by having them thrown into the furnace with their official clothing on. 

At this point the Chaldeans must have been quite pleased with themselves, having successfully manipulated Nebuchadnezzar into removing these men from their positions of authority and were most likely eagerly awaiting their executions with bated breath.  One can almost hear their smug comments amongst themselves in their own private language. 

Daniel 3:22 
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-negoAnd these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.

Nebuchadnezzar wanted these men executed quickly.  His decree stated that anyone refusing to bow down and worship the image would be thrown into the furnace within "the same hour", so it was a matter of urgency on the part of the king.  The furnace was evidently blazing exceptionally hot because the soldiers who carried Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, bound in their clothing and throwing them into the flames were killed from the heat.  This likely happened because Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were thrown into the furnace from an elevation position and when the doors of the furnace were opened the sudden burst of flame from the superheated furnace erupted unexpectedly upon the men who were carrying Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to their executions.  When they were killed by the heat and fell, the bound bodies of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego fell into the furnace anyway. 

Daniel 3:24 
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.

Nebuchadnezzar confirmed with his counselors about the number of men thrown into the furnace.  Obviously he did not actually see Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego thrown into the furnace and was watching all this from another vantage point, probably at a lower level where the floor of the furnace could be seen by a number of people.  Doubtless the Chaldeans were in attendance for the viewing of this execution, staying close by the king anxious to be the recipients of any favor from him that might be forthcoming. 

Daniel 3:25 
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 saw four people walking in the flames of the furnace.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were tied up when they were thrown into the furnace, but now they were all free and walking around in the midst of the flame.  Herein the king of the Babylonian Empire was an eyewitness to two remarkable things.  One was the obvious miracle which preserved the lives of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.  Miracles are more than just astounding wonders. They are a supernatural occurrence designed as a witness of God's power and authority. Such wonders occurred only when it was necessary to confirm the authority and power of God before mankind.  This miracle in the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar was designed to show the sovereignty of the true God over the gods of the pagan nation that had taken Israel captive.  It also legitimized the Jewish religion in the eyes of the Babylonians at least throughout the life of Daniel and probably beyond.  This event certainly made a big impression on Nebuchadnezzar as we will see in his reaction to this miracle. 

The second remarkable thing that Nebuchadnezzar got to witness was he and possibly several others who were present got to see the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ walking with and preserving the lives of his three faithful followers.  Nebuchadnezzar made the exclamation that the fourth individual was like the Son of God.  Many modern translations render the original language here as "He is one like to a son of the gods" or something similar which detracts the view of this away from Jesus Christ and towards something a little more like what Nebuchadnezzar might have actually been thinking at the time.  It is a certainty that Nebuchadnezzar did not know the full prophetic meaning of the words he used in this exclamation.  However, call to mind that Caiaphas, the high priest at Jerusalem did not know the meaning of his prophecy of the death of Jesus Christ (John 11:59); but God put true words into the mouth of that unbelieving high priest, just like he did here in the case of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.  The KJV which is being used for this study is the most accurate translation of the original language into English that we have today.   The Septuagint (LXX) also rendered this passage as, "One like to the Son of God." That is what the words mean.  It is this Bible student's firm conviction that the fourth individual in that fiery furnace with those three young Israelites was non other than the pre-incarnate form of Jesus Christ and Nebuchadnezzar identified Him for who He would be identified as in the future. 

Daniel 3:26 
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.

Nebuchadnezzar came to worship and honor the one true and living God in a progression of steps.  This verse illustrates the next step in Nebuchadnezzar's journey toward righteousness.  He has not acknowledged that God is the only god, but he now acknowledges that He is the God supreme among the rest.  He refers to God as the "most high", in other words, the greatest of the gods and he affirms this in his decree as recorded in verse 29. 

Daniel 3:27 
And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counsellors, 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.

All the officials of Nebuchadnezzar's empire were there to see Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego after they walked out of that furnace unscathed in any way.  This thing was not done in a corner.  What an impact this must have made both to the unbelievers and to the children of God living in the Babylonian captivity.  Bear in mind that the vast majority of them were there because of their rebellion against the one true and living God.    

Daniel 3:28 
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.

Nebuchadnezzar asked Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego before they were thrown into the furnace, "who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?"  He got his answer and it made such an impression on him that he blessed the one true and living God who delivered His servants who:

1)  "Trusted in Him"
They demonstrated this by opposing the king who they knew would execute them for their refusal, trusting their all to God whether He chose to deliver them or not.  That is the epitome of trust; the willingness to die before transgressing the will of God.  The Christians in the first century were going to need this example of trust in about 700 years.   

2) "Changed the king's word"
The king decreed their execution for their refusal to worship the golden statue.  The king's word was not fulfilled. 

3)  "Yielded their bodies"
They refused to worship the idol no matter what the consequences.  They yielded their physical bodies to the consequences of Nebuchadnezzar's decree rather than practice idolatry in transgression of God's will.  God could either choose to deliver them or choose to save them from the fire.  It made no difference either way to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego because they were determined to obey God in either event.

4)  "that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God"
Nebuchadnezzar now knew that the God these men served was the "most high" and that He demanded of His servants that they serve no God but Him.  He was an eyewitness to the power of God and He was allowed to see the Son of God in a pre-incarnate form walking with the men he had thrown into the fiery furnace.  Nebuchadnezzar was a religious man, but he believed in a multiplicity of gods rather than the one true and living God.  This event proved to Nebuchadnezzar that God was most high, and that his servants could not serve other gods no matter what.  And being a religious man, he respected the will of God and the wishes of the faithful Israelites to serve nor worship any god, "except their own God".

Daniel 3:29 
Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing 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.

Nebuchadnezzar made it official that the Israelites could serve their God without danger of retribution.  Because of the extraordinary faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, God was glorified and established in the sight of the Babylonians.  Nebuchadnezzar made it an official royal decree that the God of the Israelites could not be spoken against.  The punishment for breaking this law was death and the decimation of ones whole family.  

"because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort"
Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the power and authority of the God of the Israelites.  He confessed by royal decree to his entire empire that there was no other God that could deliver His servants like this.  Nebuchadnezzar still has not given up on his belief in his own god, but he now knows that his own false god is vastly inferior to the "most high" God and that God is supreme. 

Daniel 3:30 
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, in the province of Babylon.

The Chaldeans who instigated this whole affair have the tables turned on them.  Instead of ridding themselves of the Israelite governors in the Babylonian province, they saw them promoted to higher offices yet.   They should count themselves fortunate that they did not lose their lives over this incident.  The instigators who undertook a similar plot against Daniel under king Darius were not so fortunate and paid for their treachery with their lives and the lives of their entire families.   


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