Monday, January 19, 2009
DANIEL CHAPTER 3:1-30
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.Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasures, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, 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.Then an herald cried aloud, 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.Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, all the people, the nations, and the languages fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
We said earlier that kings will be kings, and Nebuchadnezzar was no exception. One moment Daniel had Nebuchadnezzar’s undivided attention, almost persuading him of the’ ultimate power of the one, true God; the next minute, the king was again egocentric and self-promoting, forgetting Daniel’s prophecy and its implications. Perhaps the king was simply denying his mighty Babylonian kingdom would ever really collapse-especially at the hands of the Medo-Persian empire.
A Preview of 666
Imagine the sight of a golden image of Nebuchadnezzar that was ninety feet high (sixty cubits) and nine feet wide (six cubits in all, a cubit being approximately eighteen inches), erected on the plain of Dura. While the golden image may simply have appeared to be little more than a massive statue, it actually holds great prophetic meaning and is yet another end-time mystery about to be unsealed.
For example, the numbers 66 come together here: the number of man (sixty cubits high) and six cubits wide, resembling the number of the Antichrist in Revelation 13:16-18 (six cubits). This gives us a reference to the time when the Antichrist comes into power and his false prophet sets up an image of his likeness in the temple. Revelation 13:15 says,
And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
Faucet’s Bible Dictionary Encyclopedia reports that the archaeologist Opert once journeyed to present day Iraq-the area of biblical Babylon-and excavated what most evangelical scholars believe is the pedestal on which Nebuchadnezzar’s great image had been placed-proving this biblical event really happened! Some believe the gold statue may have been built to honor Nebuchadnezzar’s deceased father, Nabopolassar. Others suggest it was erected to appease Bel or Marduk-the revered pagan gods of Babylon. More likely, the image was a representation of the king himself.
Nebuchadnezzar had a flair for publicity, and he knew where to position the gigantic statue so that no one could miss seeing it. While Babylon was a skyscraper city of its day, the plain of Dura was a huge mound of earth, about six miles southeast of Babylon, probably a walled area that Nebuchadnezzar could have easily used as a focal point to stage an event of this enormity.
Anything constructed in that area would be seen for miles around. Its strategic position allowed for thousands of people to descend on the area at once, thus giving the king a venue for a mass rally where loyal supporters could bow and pay their homage to the king. This seemed to be a carefully planned photo op for Nebuchadnezzar and an event which all the chief officers of the land were commanded to attend-including Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.
Fail to Bow... Pay the Price
Here we catch a glimpse of Nebuchadnezzar’s political acumen and get a dramatic preview of the activities of the Antichrist to come. The king knew he had to keep certain conquered peoples under his thumb at all times, and what better vehicle than native religion to promote the power of the state? Nebuchadnezzar knew that whatever officials saw that day on the plain of Dura, they would take back to those captives under their jurisdiction.
Apparently Daniel was somewhere else in the realm on business for the king, since he was not present at the unveiling of the golden image. In fact, Daniel is not even mentioned in this chapter. For the first time in our story, his three friends are on their own. But because Daniel had exerted such great moral and spiritual influence on his companions, compromise with foreign gods was out of the question.
However, these three faithful Hebrews would pay a terrible price for not bowing to the image. King Nebuchadnezzar would try to have them killed, picturing an approaching day when the Antichrist carries out the same penalty on those who refuse to bow to his image and reject his mark, 666. At first reading this passage simply appears to be a provocative piece of biblical history. Closer observation, however, tells us that this story speaks to where you and I are today-and where we are quickly headed.
For instance, during the Tribulation hour, the Antichrist will make an image of himself (Revelation 13:15), and anyone who will not worship that image will be killed, even as those who refused to bow to the image of Nebuchadnezzar were threatened with destruction in a furnace of fire. The only difference between the two events is magnitude. The Tribulation hour will be a time when fire engulfs the earth. Revelation 8:7 says,And the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
Revelation 9:18 tells us:By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone.
Accompanying all this mayhem will be the Antichrist, who says, If you don’t worship me and my image, you’re going to die. Revelation 20:4 says,And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image.
Matthew 25:31-46, however, declares that there will be multitudes who will survive the seven-year period without taking the number. I’m not sure how, but they will persevere, just as the three Hebrew children ultimately survived their trial by fire.
Nebuchadnezzar-Picture of the Antichrist
So the statue on the plain of Dura was more than just an image of a king. It graphically represented the king’s continued rebellion against God-just as the Antichrist will become the definition of rebellion against the Almighty. The image also indicated that the king was egocentric, offering his image to the people as a symbol of self-deification. Again, there are Antichrist implications (Daniel 11:36).
Politically, Nebuchadnezzar needed a strong, unifying force to continue to bring together the disparate tribes and nations that fell to the power of Babylon. In short, Nebuchadnezzar’s purpose was to institute a totalitarian regime, and this was one way to galvanize the people’s attention and allegiance. What better description can we find in Scripture of the political prowess of the Antichrist to come!
Not surprisingly, when the word went out that this was bow down time, the officials, governors, and whoever else had managed to get to Dura that day paid obeisance to the king right on cue. Imagine the scene. Nebuchadnezzar was so fully in control of this grand event that he even had it choreographed. When the conductor of this desert orchestra of cornets, flutes, harps, sackbuts (stringed instruments), psalteries, and dulcimers lowered his baton, it was time to fall to one’s knees. And that’s what the masses did: They looked at the great statue, and they fell down to worship. Why not? To remain standing in defiance of the king’s order would mean certain death in a fiery furnace.
Three Young Men Who Refused to Compromise
No exceptions to the king’s rule would be tolerated. Now, once again, Daniel’s three friends had to make a decision. They knew the Scriptures, and I’m sure their minds were racing to the first two commandments of Moses they’d memorized years before from the Book of Exodus:
Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Exodus 20:3-4).
For these three Hebrew children that was all they needed to remember. It was no longer a dilemma. They had always obeyed the law of God. Daniel served under six kings and always honored them-even when their point of view differed with some of his own opinions. But on the question of allegiance to the God of Israel, Daniel never compromised.
Early on, his three Hebrew friends had also refused to compromise. Rather than worry about incurring the wrath of an earthly king, their greater concern was that they not subject themselves to the wrath of their living God. Now, once again, even as they had earlier refused to eat the rich food from the king’s table, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to sacrifice their respect for God’s law on a pagan altar.
Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews.They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live forever.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 music, 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 Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee, they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
The people who bowed to the ruling powers had a problem with our three Hebrew friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Jealousy and a large dose of anti-Semitism were factors in their dislike of these foreigners who had been given lofty positions by the king. Undoubtedly, some of these threatened Chaldeans snitched on Daniel’s companions, and before long, word of the Hebrews’ insubordination was passed on to the king. Their charge: rebellion against the king and the law of the land. And what better proof of the allegation than the fact that the young men had remained standing before the image while Nebuchadnezzar’s minions lay flat on their faces in worship. Get the furnace ready for three young Hebrews.
Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded them to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king.Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sack but, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, 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?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, 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 know unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
Mission accomplished. When Nebuchadnezzar heard of the acts of the rebellious young Jews, he flew into one of his typical rages, demanding that these alleged traitors be brought before him. But to his credit-and perhaps the first crack in Nebuchadnezzar’s becoming more compliant-he asked Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego if they’d really done this dastardly deed, perhaps secretly hoping the report was not true.
King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t take the Chaldean’s word at face value. He left the door open for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to take the trip out to the plain of Dura again and make amends for their unpatriotic actions-or lack of action. All they would have to do would be drop to their knees when the desert orchestra struck up its opening number once again.
I can almost hear Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego saying, 0 king, we really don’t want to go out there to Dura again. Because even if we did, we would not bow to the great gold statue. It’s not that we don’t respect you, it’s just that you are not God, and we bow only to God. Spiritual guts! That’s the best phrase I can think of. Intestinal fortitude and courage born of spiritual integrity, all of which translated into a resounding, No, king, we just can’t do that. And with their final refusal, they told the king they were prepared to be led into the fiery furnace.
We Christians today need to appreciate the resolute spirit of these young men: They were not arrogant before the king. The Hebrews did not equivocate or evade the issue. They spoke their minds as children of God. How many times have we kept our allegiance to Jesus under wraps, saying, along with Peter, I never knew the man!? Not so for these young men. They spoke the truth without fear, knowing what would happen if the king refused to change his mind.
These three young Hebrews were prepared to abide by the rules, even if it meant suffering as a consequence. Only God knows how many millions of other faithful followers throughout history have gone to their own fiery furnaces or lions’ dens for their faith-including the torture and persecution that continues to exist throughout our world today for all modern-day Shadrachs, Meshachs, and Abed-negos.
The die was now cast. The young Hebrews admitted that they were guilty as charged. They felt no need to justify their position because they knew God would protect and defend them. But note one of the most amazing verses in this entire passage: But if not, be it known unto thee, 0 king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up (3:18). Imagine the maturity and faith of three young men who could say, King, even if our God does not deliver us from your fiery furnace, we still will not serve your gods or worship your desert statue. We just will not do it!
Just One More Miracle, God
They knew their God was a God of miracles, and I’m confident that their minds quickly raced back to how Moses had led the children of Israel through the Red Sea, and how tens of thousands of the children of Israel walked through on dry ground, without one of them dying. If God could do that kind of miracle then, why not another miracle now!
Later, the apostle Paul would write in Philippians 1:21, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. That was the courageous spirit of the three Hebrew teenagers. Each time I read this passage, I’m overwhelmed at the bold faith of Daniel’s friends. It’s my earnest prayer that you and I would trust our God enough to be just as faithful were we to find ourselves in a similar situation.
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 Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.
Just like a chameleon, Nebuchadnezzar changed his tune from the earlier conciliatory let’s give them one more chance to his usual uncontrollable rage as he sent the three Hebrew men to their death in the furnace, now heated seven times hotter than usual.
The king had perhaps expected that the determined, Hebrews would strike a deal. After all, what’s a little thing like bowing down to an image if the only alternative is burning to a crisp in a furnace? But the king was wrong. Again: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were in no mood for deal-making. I’m sure those who were eavesdropping on this tense palace discussion also may have expected some form of compromise to emerge, but there would be no compromise when it came to things of the living God.
Here was a king before whom the nations trembled, and to whom rulers of the known world willingly gave homage.. . and now three young Jewish upstarts had the audacity to just say no! The king probably wanted to save their lives from destruction, but he’d painted himself into a political corner with his incontrovertible decree, a manifesto that was as immutable as any law of the Medes or the Persians. The king found himself with no choice but to heat up the furnace.
More Than Just a Bible Story
Again, this is more than biblical history. This is a dramatic picture of Jewish people and Gentile converts. The Bible reminds us that millions will be saved during the Tribulation hour. Revelation 7:14 says,These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
They will be going through the seven years of Tribulation, which the body of Christ, the Church, escapes via the Rapture (Revelation 4:1). On the other hand, 144,000 Jewish evangelists will proclaim the message of the coming Kingdom, and millions of Jewish and Gentile converts will somehow survive, though rejecting the mark of the beast.
So just as Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace be made seven times hotter for the three Hebrew children, so the seven-year period of Tribulation will be a hot, volatile period in which millions of God’s newly born-again children will be placed in the fire of an anti-God atmosphere. But I repeat-multitudes of Jews and Christians will somehow miraculously survive, though rejecting the mark of the beast (Daniel 12:1; Matthew 25:31-34).
Daniel 3:21 - 23
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.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 Abednego.And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the fiery furnace.
Think of the hottest steel plant furnace you have ever seen. Now imagine the temperature as seven times hotter-an increase of 700 percent. Anger often displays itself in overstatements, and Nebuchadnezzar was furious. A small fire would have sufficed. Heating the furnace twice as hot would have roasted these rebellious spirits, killing them ever so slowly. But true to his volatile nature, Nebuchadnezzar was determined to incinerate them, attempting to show the world that he was in charge. . . and that no God of Israel would be a match for his prowess. This would be one more graphic display of a king’s power-and a prediction of the earthly power of the Antichrist to come.
Can you feel the heat? But think also of this: Fire not only purifies gold, but it also gets rid of the dross-the flaws and the alien material that cling to the precious metal. That’s why gold is so valuable. It’s pure. Unadulterated. Free of foreign matter. It was the same that day when the three Hebrew children were shoved into the furnace. The dross-the mighty men of the kingdom commissioned by the king to do the terrible deed- were destroyed the moment they opened the fiery furnace door, while Daniel’s friends-wearing highly flammable clothing and bound head to foot-found themselves in for further purification of their lives.
Daniel 3: 24 - 27
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, 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.Then Nebuchadnezzar came near 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.And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counselors, 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.
The Fourth Man in the Fire
Nebuchadnezzar didn’t retreat to his private quarters to wait for an official report on the demise of the three Hebrew children later in the day. He sat there in rapt attention, eagerly watching what his decree would do to anyone who refused to bow to his image. The king was not prepared for what he was about to encounter. Scripture says that he jumped up, astonished at what he saw.
As he did, he asked his high officials what was certainly a logical question: Didn’t we just put three men into the furnace? Why then do I see four men-all unhurt? Are my eyes playing tricks on me? And look. . . no one is bound. Didn’t I see you tying them up? Then, why aren’t they on fire? This makes no sense. They’re still walking around as if nothing happened. But what’s really got me confused is that fourth man. Who is he? How did he get in there?
Perhaps the most telling comment of all comes from the mouth of the king when he says, the form of the fourth is like the Son of God (3:25). A more accurate translation of what the king said would be like a son of the gods. The Babylonians believed that their gods had progeny, so Nebuchadnezzar was commenting on what he thought was a supernatural being in the fire-the fourth man-a son of one of the Babylonian deities. Still unwilling to admit that the one true God might be involved in this miracle, the king continues to credit pagan deities for this bewildering turn of events.
The King on a Losing Streak
Braving the intense heat, and now bewildered, Nebuchadnezzar approaches the furnace door and personally calls for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to come out, addressing them as "servants of the most high God. Has the king come a step closer to believing in this God of the Hebrews? How many miracles-or dream interpretations- will it take for this stubborn king to see the light? It does appear that Nebuchadnezzar is becoming somewhat impressed with the power of the God of Israel-the God, he realizes, who has now overruled his decree, leaving these Jewish boys unscathed.
At this moment he must also be rethinking Daniel’s prophecy-the dream of the statue that would be pulverized by a rock and encompass the whole earth. The scoreboard in the furnace room now reads:
Three Hebrew Children-1 King-0
The king is on a losing streak. He does not know that the fourth person in the fire is the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. He does not know that Jesus has existed from all eternity-from everlasting (Micah 5:2)-and that He is the mighty God (Isaiah 9:6).
Jesus Will Never Leave Us
Jesus Christ is the Son from all eternity. So, therefore, it really is no surprise that He should appear as a protector of the three Hebrew children during their ordeal. Christ existed before He came to earth. He truly is from everlasting. He is God, the second member of the Trinity. But how did He appear in the fiery furnace, one asks? By a Christophany, an appearance of Jesus Christ occurring in the Old Testament.
And now we see Him, this time in the fiery furnace with three men who’d been faithful to their God. What is the message for you and me in this passage? Simply this: Whatever our trials may be, Jesus is always in our midst, administering comfort to us in our greatest hour of need. Hebrews 13:5 states: I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. That’s the message for you and me. We don’t have to go through our fiery furnaces alone. Jesus says, I’ll go through them with you.
Daniel 3:28 - 30
Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and 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 and god, except their own God.Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nations, 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 not other God that can deliver after this sort.
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.
Here, again, God blesses those who are faithful to Him. The king has little choice but to praise God for delivering Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He now admits that an angel- which can also be translated deity-was sent to deliver them from the furnace. Now King Nebuchadnezzar switches gears again, this time decreeing that anyone who speaks against the great God of Israel shall be cut to pieces, and their houses made into dunghills-a threat, you’ll remember, reserved earlier for the wise men and magicians who could not interpret his dream.
The Flaming Flame Will Not Be Quenched
Again, this is more than just a story. The deeper meaning of this passage-and of this entire chapter-is this: During the Tribulation period the false prophet will set up an image of the Antichrist and make people bow to it. If they do not worship the image, they will be put to death. During that same Tribulation period the entire world will become a fiery furnace. Psalm 97:3 says, A fire goeth before him. Ezekiel 20:47 reads, The flaming flame shall not be quenched. Zephaniah 1:18 tells us, The whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy. Malachi 4:1 reads, The day cometh that shall burn as an oven.
The Great Tribulation is going to be a horrendous time for earth’s inhabitants. But remember . . the three Hebrew children went through their fiery trial unscathed. Their clothes were left intact, and not even a hair on their heads was singed. There was no smell of fire or smoke on their bodies-all a dramatic picture of the remnant of Jews who are going to be spared during the Tribulation hour as well as millions of newly converted Christians. God always has, and always will, have a way of protecting His own. There is a terrible time coming. Jeremiah 30:7 says,
Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.
That’s the good news. In Daniel 12:1 we also read:There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
Yes, this will be a time of great difficulty for the Jews. But there are also two great statements of encouragement: they shall be saved out of it and thy people shall be delivered. Jesus said in Matthew 24:22,And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
This is a key verse because of the word elect. Some Christians believe the Church will be compelled to endure the Tribulation hour because the elect are present. But it’s important to determine which group of elect God has in mind. The elect group mentioned here is that group meeting on the Sabbath day, in synagogues, and fleeing from Judea to the mountains of Petra. This cannot be a reference to Christians, but rather to the Jewish elect, referred to in Isaiah 42:1, 45:4, 65:9, and 65:22. Yahweh is speaking here about His wife Israel. They are going to be spared the wrath of the Tribulation period, and this is what the Hebrew children represent and, essentially, what the entire chapter portrays.
Now, as we move on to chapter four of the Book of Daniel, will we continue to encounter a hostile, volatile King Nebuchadnezzar? Or will we begin to see some permanent changes in his attitude toward Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to the one whom he now admits to be the true God? I think you’ll be amazed-not only at how the drama unfolds, but how chapter four takes us another step closer to the further unsealing of final end-time mysteries.