The Fiery Furnace – Daniel 3
Read the Passage: Daniel 3
Construction of the Idol (3:1–7)
This chapter recounts the story of King Nebuchadnezzar constructing a giant statue of himself for his subjects to worship. The statue was made of gold, likely depicting the dream that was recorded in Dan. 2. There, Daniel told the king, “You, O king, are a king of kings . . . you are this head of gold” (Dan. 2:37–38). While Daniel’s interpretation entailed the fall of the Babylonian empire, the fact that Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold appears to have filled the mercurial king with pride. This gold statue was over 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. These proportions are grotesque, but are in line with typical high art sculptures from the Babylonian empire. Note that it was common for ancient near eastern kings to erect statues of themselves to worship. Ironically, Nebuchadnezzar likely got some of the gold for this statue from the Temple in Jerusalem.
It appears that the king made the statue on the occasion of a leadership summit. At this summit the king ordered the national leaders to worship the statue at the sound of music. On account of Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s earlier dream, and the king’s placing him in a position of power, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were made rulers in the land (cf. Dan. 2:48–49). Therefore, they would have been at the leadership summit at which worship of the idol was commanded. It is unclear where Daniel was during these events, as he is absent from this chapter, which is the only chapter he is not mentioned in within this book. Note that the redundant mentioning of the leaders is likely a derogatory literary device. The instruments mentioned contain both Hebrew and Greek instruments, so this truly was meant to be an international event.
Disobedience of the Friends (3:8–25)
Dan. 3:8–25 contains one of the most well-known instances of civil disobedience and trusting in God in Scripture. The narrative describes the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego to worship the statue, and the report of this fact to the king by jealous Chaldean colleagues. This account of disobedience is interesting, for earlier, after Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the king had referred to God as “the God of gods” (Dan. 2:47). Yet, in this passage, the volatile king forgets his earlier statement and becomes enraged by the failure of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego to worship himself via the statue. The non-arrogant response of these three Hebrew men is instructive, “We have no need to answer you in this matter. . . . [Let] it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:16ff).
After ordering the fiery furnace to be overheated, even hot enough to incinerate the guards who were directing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, king Nebuchadnezzar had the three Hebrew men thrown into the fire. Note that the kiln or furnace was likely built against a cliff. It had an opening at the top through which the men were cast. It also had an opening at the bottom where fuel was added and through which the men could be seen. What happens next is well-known, “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Dan. 3:24–25; cf. Isa. 43:1–3).
Reaction of the King (3:26–32)
The deliverance of Daniel’s friends from the fiery furnace shows that God has always been God of the resurrection. While these men were not delivered from the fire, they were delivered in the fire. This narrative shows that paganism is ultimately no threat to Christianity. Even in hopeless circumstances God can make His power known by miraculous deliverance or by bringing His children into His presence. The spiritual progress of Nebuchadnezzar in these chapter is interesting. In chapter 1 the king recognizes the impact of God upon Daniel (cf. Dan. 1:19–20); in chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar declares God to be God (cf. Dan. 2:47); here in chapter 3 the king learned that no one should speak against God (cf. Dan. 3:29). God’s work in Nebuchadnezzar’s heart continues in chapter 4 before he disappears from the text.
- Can you order or command worship? What would you do if the secular rulers commanded you to sin? When should Christians obey or rebel again the state?
- Do you think Daniel and his friends were unwise in accepting leadership roles that they knew would put them in compromising circumstances?
- In what ways do you foresee Christian values being attacked and believers being accused as culture becomes more secular and even anti-Christian?
- What is the value of God’s presence in times of trouble and suffering since believers still get martyred for their faith?
- How can you see God’s working in the heart and mind of Nebuchadnezzar over the first three chapters of the book of Daniel?