Daniel 3:1–2, 4–6, 8, 12–14, 16–18, 24–26, 28comment (0)
September 13, 2007
By Jim Barnette
Related Scripture: Daniel 3:1–2, 4–6, 8, 12–14, 16–18, 24–26, 28
Associate Professor of Religion and Director of Ministerial Formation, Samford University Facing the Fiery Furnace
Daniel 3:1–2, 4–6, 8, 12–14, 16–18, 24–26, 28
Threatening Demand (1–2, 4–6)
Mighty rulers often erected colossal images to mark special occasions. The images were at times of the king or at times of the deity who led the king and his people to victory. It is likely that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream recorded in Daniel 2 prompted him to erect this massive “image” (1). The king’s statue was made of gold; more specifically, the statue was not solid gold but rather a wooden statue with gold overlay. The image was enormous: approximately 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. These dimensions served to highlight the power of the king or deity represented.
For the dedication of the image, the king summoned all officials of his government. “Satraps” (2) is a Persian title meaning “protectors of the realm.” “Governors” served as lords of an administrative district. “Advisers” were probably military counselors. “Magistrates” is translated “sheriffs” in the King James Version. Most believe that this entire list is offered in order of rank within the king’s hierarchy.
The “herald” (4) proclaimed a command to “peoples, nations and men of every language.” In a kingdom that spread from India to Ethiopia, there would have been many nationalities and languages represented. This reflects Nebuchadnezzar’s policy of appointing native rulers to govern provinces.
The “furnace” (6) was a beehive kiln with a perpendicular shaft through which ore was fed to be smelted. There was also a side opening at the ground level through which wood and charcoal were inserted to furnish heat. This type of punishment is well documented in Near Eastern records (see Gen. 38:24; Lev. 21:9; Josh. 7:15, 25; Jer. 29:22). The passage from Jeremiah records that Nebuchadnezzar burned to death two men named Zedekiah and Ahab.
Determined Defiance (8, 12–14)
“Astrologers” (NIV) is often translated “Chaldeans” (KJV, NASB, NRSV). The former is more helpful, as here the word does not refer to a nationality. Originally it had an ethnic sense but developed to refer to a class of practitioners in magic and esoteric wisdom. The astrologers “denounced the Jews.” The verb for “denounce” is literally “to eat pieces of,” suggesting severe hatred.
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” were named as the guilty parties. Three charges were brought against them. First, they paid no attention to the king’s commands. Second, they did not serve the king’s gods. Finally, the three men refused to worship the golden statue that the king had erected. Nebuchadnezzar responded to this news “furious with rage,” literally “in rage and burning anger.”
Confident Defense (16–18)
There was really nothing that the three Hebrews could say in their own defense. They were technically guilty but they had also been misrepresented. All they could do was cast themselves on their God whom the king had defied. They did not doubt the power of their God to deliver them from the king’s furnace, but they had no right to presume that He would do so. If He did not, they were ready to take the consequences rather than compromise their principles.
Amazing Deliverance (24–26, 28)
Instead of three men shackled and suffering, Nebuchadnezzar saw “four men … unbound and unharmed.” Even more surprising, the fourth man looked like “a son of the gods.” The King James Version renders this phrase “the Son of God.” Most recent translations agree with the New International Version rendering (e.g. NASB, NRSV: “has the appearance of a god”). In this context, the latter is to be preferred, as Nebuchadnezzar was polytheistic and had no comprehension of the Christian Trinity. However, it is clear that the pagan king saw the fourth figure as divine.
All believers face fiery trials on this side of reality. The good news is that as we face those fires, the living Christ is there with us through it all. Such is His promise, particularly at points when we take a strong stand for our faith.
Associate Professor of Religion and Director of Ministerial Formation, Samford University
Facing the Fiery Furnace