Daniel Chapter 3: The Determination Of The Three!
At the commencement of every chapter I tend to look for the key verse of that chapter if one is to be found that stands out, the reason being, so often that key verse will highlight what I should be looking for throughout the whole of the chapter and while that be a labour of love and a lengthy process at times, it very often opens up the passage as a whole, not least in this chapter is there such a verse “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us out of the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king” (Daniel Ch.3v17) So at once we can deduct there is to be some kind of test, trial, trouble or tribulation coming to the three Hebrew children through which God will allow them to prove that their God reigns. In Daniel Ch.2 the image, which Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his night-dreams, shadowed out, according to Daniel's authoritative interpretation, the whole course of the times of the Gentiles. It is therefore a general picture, but a picture so distinct in its outline, that no one who gives himself earnestly to study the subject can possibly mistake its import. Even the busiest may read the character of the kingdoms that bridge the space between the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the appearing of Christ in glory. After this general outline, our attention is called, by the Spirit of God, to what may be termed the moral characteristics of the Gentile powers, chiefly as displayed in Babylon; but, though displayed there, the several features are typical or representative of what will be seen throughout the whole duration of the Gentile sovereignty. In other words, we are now permitted to see the use, which the Gentiles will make of the power, entrusted to them in responsibility. This is abruptly brought before us in the opening verse of this chapter: "Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was three-score cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon" (Daniel Ch.3v1), and that if I may say so is the imagination of a proud heart. Such is man! Nebuchadnezzar had learnt from Daniel, if he had not known before, that the God of heaven had given him his universal kingdom, and he had confessed that Daniel's God was "a God of gods and a Lord of kings," and yet he will use his absolute power to have a god of his own, to assert his own will over the consciences of his subjects throughout his vast dominions, and thus to usurp for himself the place and authority that belonged alone to the God of heaven. That is, he used the power that God gave him to deny God and to put himself in the place of God, although this feature is subsequently expressed in a still more distinct form. Such conduct would be wholly inexplicable were we not acquainted with the subtle motives that animate and govern the human heart, and did we not remember that we ourselves have often used the blessings vouchsafed of God for our own profit and exaltation. In truth, Nebuchadnezzar might have had strong inducements to the course delineated in this chapter. His empire must have been an immense conglomerate, composed of numberless tongues and religions, (Daniel Ch.3vv4-8) all of which would tend, politically speaking, to disturb the peace of his realm. If, therefore, his heterogeneous dominions could be welded together by a common religion, his empire would be consolidated and the welfare of his subjects promoted. Whatever his thoughts, such was the course he adopted, and he made the magnificent image which he determined should serve as the deity for "all the people, the nations, and the languages" that were subject to his authority. The difficulties in the government of India, springing up from the difference of religion, will afford an illustration of this. It has often been suggested that the image of his dreams formed the pattern for his idol. It is certainly remarkable that the one followed so closely upon the other, and that, as the head of the one that symbolized his own kingdom was of gold, he should make his idol of gold. There might have been a connection in his mind between the two, but the wonder is, as already seen, that the impressions made upon his mind by the revelation of his secret, and by the interpretation Daniel gave him, could have been so soon effaced. We all know, however, how transient the deepest feelings are where there is no positive works of the Holy Ghost in the soul.
Take careful note of the king’s next move, the dedication of this idolatrous image. The image erected, all the governing authorities and officials of his realm were summoned to Babylon, to be present at "the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up"; and they were all obedient to the royal command. Assembled "before the image," the decree was proclaimed by an herald — "To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, 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: and whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" (Daniel Ch.3vv4-6).
The decree would be easily understood: it was simple and brief, and the penalty was plain. Nor was there much, according to human thoughts, required. An act of prostration before the king's idol at the appointed moment, and the whole thing was over. But the decree needs a little examination. It was, as before observed, the intrusion of man's will into God's domain. Obedience to the powers that be, as may be hereafter more fully explained, is a sacred duty; but obedience to the powers that be can only be rendered within the circle of their own lawful authority. If they step out of this circle, as the rulers in Jerusalem did when they commanded the apostles not to teach or to preach in the name of Jesus, they must be told, as Peter and John answered, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts Ch.5v29). Absolute monarch, therefore, as Nebuchadnezzar was, he stepped outside of his own domain, and tried to claim for himself what was due to God and to God alone, when he issued his decree.
Another thing may be remarked. The signal for the worship of the image was the outburst of all kinds of music from the finest band in all the king's dominions. If religious feelings did not exist, they must be produced by the sweet and sensuous sounds of harmony. How subtle the wiles of Satan! For we have really here the history of all religious music. It appeals to nature, and begets natural emotions; but in these the Spirit of God has no part, for they that worship God "must worship Him in spirit and in truth." All these expedients do but deceive souls by their enjoyment of what is natural, and at the same time they both shut out God and conceal the spiritual condition of the professed worshippers. Now please do not misunderstand, I am not on a campaign to delete music from our worship services but what I am saying is, be careful of the reason you have for including music in your time of worship. If music is simply to create a well of out poured emotion then its altogether the wrong reason for including it in the first place. Worship is a precious and beautiful business and must be taken seriously, we are remember, to worship the Lord in the beauty of worship, we are to worship God with clean hands and a pure heart that is, as far as within us lies we must endeavour to worship as people of integrity and uprightness, to put it ever so simply, be real in your worship.
There was practically entire unanimity in obedience to the king's command. But think of the expectation of this proud potentate, his desire was that all would bow and do him homage, he desired that which belonged only to a Holy God, for as we are all very well aware, God, and God alone is to be worshipped. The idea behind all of this paraphernalia and elaborate program was to stamp the king’s authority on the procedure, if you won’t bow you would burn; it is either prostration or extermination. And we can be sure there would be those around that great crowd who would be keeping a sharp look out for any who would not comply. Three only, as far as is recorded, refused to comply with his decree. Certain Chaldeans brought these to the notice of the king; who, "came near, and accused the Jews" (Daniel Ch.3v8). After reciting the king's decree, with the accompanying penalty for disobedience, they proceeded: "There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king”, you can almost sense the hatred they had for the three Hebrew children in the verbal accusation, “have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Daniel Ch.3v12). Listen carefully to the accusation of these bitter Babylonians. If the accusation was subtle, and couched in the form most likely to arouse the anger of the king, its motive is very apparent. Jealousy is written plainly upon it. "There are certain Jews" — men of an alien race, belonging to a hostile nation, of those who were brought here as captives, and those whom thou hast promoted over the heads of thine own loyal subjects — it is these who have set themselves up in opposition to thy royal command. Hatred is scarcely less concealed, for, before charging them with refusing to worship the king's image, they say, "They serve not thy gods." The king knew this well from Daniel, and had, notwithstanding, appointed them to their posts of honour; but the Chaldeans could not brook the servants of the true God being thus exalted, and the opportunity had at length arrived for them to express the enmity of their hearts in the accusation they now made. Happy was it for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that no charge could be brought against them, accepting as afterwards in the case of Daniel, concerning the law of their God.
If, however, the manner of the accusation was dictated by jealousy and hatred, it was well calculated to appeal to the conscience of Nebuchadnezzar. The mention of his promotion of the three Jews would, it might be supposed, surely recall to the king's mind that eventful day when Daniel had unfolded his secret and its meaning, together with the confession which Daniel's words had extorted from his lips. But if so, all was forgotten in his "rage and fury" at the men who had dared to disregard his absolute and imperious will. The knowledge which God had communicated to Daniel had, in a certain sense, ministered to the king's desire, whereas now, faithfulness to God crossed his will, and taught him that there were some who believed, and who acted on their belief, that God was, to use the king's own words, "a God of gods, and a Lord of kings." This was insufferable to the insensate and irritated monarch, and he commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego should be brought. "Then they brought these men before the king" (Daniel Ch.3v13). Morally speaking, it was a most impressive scene. On the one hand there was Nebuchadnezzar, the mightiest monarch the world had ever, seen, surrounded with all the pomp and magnificence of his court and realm; and on the other, three men of a despised race, whatever the position they occupied at that moment in the government. And the question about to be raised was this: Who is the master of men's consciences, God or man? Nebuchadnezzar himself raised it. First, he asked them if the accusation was true; and it will be observed that he travels outside his own decree in accepting the additional charge — that they did not serve the king's gods — which the Chaldeans had brought. Now comes an amazing happening, it really is a head on collision of wills, there is a contest of determination between both the monarch and the men. Next, he gives them a further opportunity of proving their loyalty when the band of music should once more break out in exciting strains. If then "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" (Daniel Ch.3v15). Lastly, carried beyond all bounds by his rage, he dared to challenge the interposition of anyone superior to himself, and thereby to assert his own omnipotence, for he added, "Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" (Daniel Ch.3v15c). This was in truth a gage of battle, and the conflict now commenced was between Nebuchadnezzar and God. But notice especially the determination of this tested trio. The answer of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, quiet and subdued in tone, is sublime in the confidence in God and in His power which it breathes, and in the calm courage it expresses in their determination to dare all and to endure all rather than be unfaithful to their God. They say, "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" (Daniel Ch.3vv16-18). As wisdom, divine wisdom, was found to be with the remnant in the previous chapter, so now faithfulness, indomitable faithfulness, to God is exhibited. Grace gave to them both the one and the other, for it was God who had taken up His servants to display, through them, His own wisdom and power. Some translate, "It is not necessary to answer thee on this subject." But this answer of the three children of Judah to Nebuchadnezzar must be examined to understand its full import. They were refreshingly truthful. First, then, they declared that they were not careful, or that it was not necessary, to reply to the king in "this matter," meaning, undoubtedly, that as the king had defied God, it was He alone who could deal with him, and that they fully counted on His interposition to rebuke his arrogant and profane presumption, and to vindicate His own name and supremacy. They then proceeded calmly to confess their faith in the power of their God to deliver them should Nebuchadnezzar carry out his threat of casting them into the furnace, and their confidence that He would deliver them out of his hand. They added, moreover, that should He not deliver them, their determination was fixed not to yield to the king's command they were resplendently trustful. They knew whom they had believed, and that He was able to preserve them from the king's fury; but if it were His will they were ready to die as martyrs for His name's sake, they were resolutely thankful. Their faith and obedience were as absolute as the will of the king. This attitude of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defines with exactitude, as already remarked, the true position of the believer in relation to the powers that be. Everywhere in the New Testament, submission to these is commanded, and such is to be the path of the Christian in the midst of political agitations and confusions. He is neither to raise questions, nor to examine the lawfulness of constituted authorities. It is enough for him that they are in power, and he pursues his way in peace as he renders the required obedience. But if these authorities, whether they be emperors, kings, or magistrates, travel outside of their own province, as Nebuchadnezzar did, and seek to substitute their will for the word of God, and to impose that will on the consciences of their subjects putting themselves, in fact, in the place of God then, in very faithfulness to God, like these three children of the captivity, and at whatever cost, the believer is bound to disobey. The limit of his obedience to kings is obedience to God in obeying them. The moment he is called upon to disobey God by yielding to a monarch's demands, he must, if he would retain a good conscience towards God, refuse the demanded subjection, even at the cost of life. Such was the ground taken in this conflict between Nebuchadnezzar and these three subjects of his realm.
This was a new thing to this master of the world. Absolute in authority over all the kingdoms of the earth, was he to be flatly and publicly disobeyed by three Jews — members of a nation, which he had conquered? Such a thing could not for one moment be tolerated; and hence he was "full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego"; and he spake, “and commanded that they should heat the furnace 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 Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace."
A public example must be made of these rebels to the king's commands, and a salutary impression produced on all the representatives of the government. In some measure, one can understand the wrath of this arbitrary monarch. He had devised an expedient for securing the unity of the various races of his dominions, and it seemed likely to be successful. Not a hand nor a foot was moved against the project, when suddenly three Jews, and these the special objects of the king's favour, were brought before him and charged with resisting his commands. His entire scheme was thus imperiled, and hence the ungovernable passion with which he ordered the rebels to his authority to the cruelest doom that could possibly be devised.
Many speculations have been offered upon the fact of Daniel's absence from this scene. That he did not surrender his faith, that he was as faithful as his companions, is attested by his subsequent history. Why he does not appear in this chapter is not revealed. His commands were instantly obeyed, and "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 Abednego." What was human life to this willful, raging king? But God will teach him by the very contrast, that what is death to His enemies cannot injure those who are under His protection. (Compare Exodus 14+Mark 16v18.) "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace — and, their confidence in God vindicated, they were not destroyed, which is nothing more, nothing less, nothing else but the protection of the Divine Deliverer. The men who had cast them into the furnace were overpowered and killed by the scorching flames; but they themselves though in the midst of the furnace, were unharmed. Their God was able to deliver them. There was another thing to fill the mind of the king with astonishment. He "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. 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" (Daniel Ch.3vv24-25). Two miracles thus amazed the king: the fact of his intended victims being loose and unhurt, and the presence with them of a supernatural Companion, whom he designates as "like the Son of God." Not that he understood his own speech; but we may conclude that the Spirit of God, as often in the Scriptures, controlled him, and made him proclaim the truth. Isaiah had said, speaking in the name of Jehovah to Israel, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; . . . When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee" (Isaiah Ch.43v2); and this promise was now fulfilled to this believing remnant, as it will be to the remnant of a future day, of which these three children are a type. Jehovah was with His faithful servants in the furnace to sustain, to comfort, and to secure them from harm. Before the very eyes of the king, who had impotently and impiously dared Him to deliver them out of his hand, He appears, and shielding His servants from the power of the flames, vindicates their confidence in Him, and their fidelity to His name. Has He not also said to us, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Hebrews Ch.13vv5-6). Whether the translation be accepted as it stands, or taken as "Son of the gods," the significance remains. He owns that some one, more than mortal, is with them in the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar had provoked the conflict in challenging the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. God came in, and silently exhibited His power before the furious king; and he is conquered! Forgetful of everything else now but the spectacle before his eyes, insensible even to his own public humiliation, he, confessing his defeat, his whole demeanor and aspect changed, advanced "to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came forth of the midst of the fire" (Daniel Ch.3v26). It is to be remarked that it is not said that anyone besides Nebuchadnezzar saw the divine Companion of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. His eyes were for the moment opened to see what was naturally invisible, that he might learn his own folly in entering upon a conflict with the God of heaven. What patience and long-suffering on the part of God, in the presence of the weak profanity of one of His own creatures! Happy is it for man, for us all, that He never allows His purposes to be frustrated by our daring presumption and rebellion.
The king's command was now obeyed, and these "servants of the most high God" came forth; and the truth of their preservation — the miracle wrought — was verified by "the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counselors," who were "gathered together," it would seem, to examine the reality of this miraculous preservation; and they "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" (Daniel Ch.3v27). The deliverance was total and complete, for the fire had only been allowed to burn the bonds wherewith they had been bound: at least they were seen, notwithstanding they had been bound, walking in liberty in the company of their Deliverer and Preserver. Overwhelmed by the undeniable character of the evidence offered, and owning his own impotence and defeat before such a God, Nebuchadnezzar said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, 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" (Daniel Ch.3v28). He thus paid honour to God, who had rescued His servants from the king's wrath, and he justified those who, in fidelity to "their own God," had refused to worship the image, which he himself had set up. He made a decree, moreover, "That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, 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" (Daniel Ch.3v29). All the king's thoughts and projects were thus utterly set at naught. The image he had made had been publicly refused, and as publicly declared to be a false god. Nebuchadnezzar himself was constrained to confess the impotence of himself and of his god, and to proclaim throughout his empire that there was no god like the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. His magnificent assembly had been in vain as far as his own purposes were concerned. Obsequious subjects came from all parts of his dominions to accept and to worship the king's idol: and lo! Even before they dispersed, a trumpet-tongued testimony was raised to the supremacy of; the most High God. God vindicated His own name, and the faith of His servants, before all the notabilities of the realm.
One thing more is recorded: "Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon" (Daniel Ch.3v30). The victory vouchsafed was complete, for not only did God frustrate the designs of the king, but also those of the jealous and malignant enemies of His servants. They had thought to compass the destruction of these faithful men; but the issue was their own further promotion and exaltation. So far the record is historical; but is it only historical? To suppose so would be to miss the main object of the narrative. The actual facts took place, but these actual facts were chosen to set forth what would take place in the last days. As the first Gentile Empire became idolatrous so will also the last, as we may learn from Revelation Ch.13, and as God's faithful remnant was the object of enmity and persecution under the king of Babylon, so will it be again under the last head of the Roman Empire (see Revelation Ch.12vv13-17+Revelation Ch.13vv6-8+15 etc.). But, as we read in this same book, Daniel's people, however hot the furnace into which they shall at that time be cast, "shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." Satan may be allowed to rage, and to sift the people of God, but not a hair of their heads can fall without God's permission. The history, therefore, of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is full of encouragement — especially for the Jewish remnant in the last days, but also for the saints of God in every age when surrounded by the fires of persecution, when Satan, as a roaring lion, is seeking whom he may devour. And the lesson is written large: "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians Ch.10v13). His presence, His power, His protection and His promise all, stand with us in every test and every time.
A question for a man to ask himself as he reviews his past life: Have I written in the snow? Will my life work endure the lapse of years and the fret of change? Has there been anything immortal in it, which will survive the speedy wreck of all sublunary things? The boys inscribe their names in capitals in the snow, and in the morning thaw the writing disappears. Will it be so with my work, or will the characters that I have carved outlast the brazen tablets of history? Have I written in the snow? Charles H. Spurgeon: Quotable Spurgeon.