“Our God is able”
Chapter two ended with the words:
“Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court“ (2:49).
The request by Daniel that his friends be elevated to the position of administrators, triggers the events in chapter 3. Because the four Jewish teenagers had been promoted to high positions in government, they would have been seen as favourites, causing jealousy. Furthermore, since they would have leapfrogged over the heads of long-term civil servants, there would no doubt have been a lot of bitterness too.
The narrative of chapter three records that the Jews’ faithfulness to God was reported to Nebuchadnezzar in order to cause conflict, and get them out of the way (3:8). Remember the overarching theme of the Book of Daniel is that in spite of appearances, God is in control. That theme is evident to the extreme in chapter 3. There is a clear message for believers that being faithful to God, even to the extent of the loss of life, is an important foundation for believers throughout the ages. The early Church had to witness the martyrdom of their Church leaders as each of the Apostles, apart from John, were martyred. The fledgling Church then had to endure intense persecution from ten Roman Emperors, where hundreds of thousands of believers died.
With the Church moving into the last days, Jesus will be preparing His Bride for His return. To be honest the Church is in a mess, syncretism has contaminated the Church in multiple ways. Jesus is going to draw a line in the sand and define His true Bride. He will not return for a Bride, whose bridle gown is stained with man’s philosophies. How does God refine believers? Through trial and testing. The true Church will be required to courageously stand up for the Word of God. The Church in the West has in the past been required to stand up for Godly principles in their daily lives, confronting a sinful world where they live and work, and standing up for their beliefs despite ridicule. It takes courage to defend Scripture when others are mocking or misusing it. However, that courage will not be enough for what is coming, the liberal left is pushing the world towards globalisation, and the morals of the New World Order are in opposition to those of Scripture. Governments are going to introduce laws which will oppose Christian values. The result will be that believers will lose their jobs; their businesses will be closed down, and they could even face criminal charges, receiving heavy fines or even spend time in prison. Conservatism has been under attack for a while, but things are going to get worse. The left’s Social Justice Warriors are no longer working for the good of society; they have become militant. Their values which are in defiance of God’s Word, are seen as the absolute truth, and they will not tolerate opposition to their ideals. They are motivated by “the ends justify the means” philosophy, so whatever they deem necessary to attain their goals is acceptable. Only the true Church will stand against the persecution, there will be no sitting on the fence, the pressure will be too great. Those churches that cave to the demands, will become part of the apostate Church of the Antichrist.
So, Daniel 3 has an import message for the Church today, God makes it His personal obligation to take a stand for those who take a stand for Him.
The Golden Image (3:1)
Daniel 3 takes place some years after Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar is now an established king, he is no longer out expanding his empire, establishing his borders and dealing with rebellious cities – like Jerusalem was. He is now the victor and he is aware that he is under pressure to maintain his empire. Nebuchadnezzar is a shrewd king, he knows religion ties people together, so he comes up with a plan to unite the empire. He invites all the empire’s officials to attend an event which requires them to worship one deity, a ceremony of unity and togetherness, an occasion that will show political and religious solidarity.
“King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet (27.5m) high and nine feet (2.7m) wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon (NIV).”
The image of gold depicted in the Scripture is a ratio of 10 to 1 height to breadth, not very wide but extremely tall. The image cannot be of Nebuchadnezzar as many suppose, as it does not match human dimensions. Rather the image would have been a type of obelix, gilded in gold, depicting both Marduk the Babylonian God, and Nebuchadnezzar working in concert to secure the empire, containing images of the battles fought, cities conquered and depictions of the greatness of the Babylonian empire. The Image of Gold is an icon of Babylon and the empire, and Nebuchadnezzar is the empire. Therefore, the administrators who are civil servants, are to make the empire their God.
Government Officials Summoned (3:2-3)
“2 He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it (NIV).”
Nebuchadnezzar requires all the empire’s administrators to gather before the image, he then requires all of them to join in the worship of the idol – the leadership of the empire will then be united in worship of the empire, with Nebuchadnezzar at its head. The list of officials is extensive and covers the complete hierarchy:
- Satraps: They were the highest ranked of the government officials, being the governors of the provinces of the empire. As the chief representatives of the great king of kings, they wielded the same power as a king over their territories.
- Prefects: Military commanders.
- Governors: These men were most likely operated under satraps as government officials, further dividing the territories into smaller administrative regions.
- Advisers: Each level of the government of the empire, would have their counsellors, who would give advice when required.
- Treasurers: They were the accountants of the empire, being responsible for the monetary aspects at all levels of the empire.
- Judges: They presided over the legal system, being the administrators of the law.
- Magistrates: They were those who passed judgment in keeping with the law.
Daniel finishes of his list by writing “and all the other provincial officials,” and in doing so covers all other officials not mentioned above, emphasizing that all offices of the empire were required to report to the dedication of the image.
Fall Down and Worship the Image (3:4-7)
“4 And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5 that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” 7 Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up“.
The gathering of government officials would have been extensive, a vast crowd. The command then was given that at the sound of the music they were to “fall down and worship.” These men are the wealthiest, most powerful men in the empire, and their clothing would display their rank. They would be dressed in their finest, most expensive garments of the day, with all the elaborate insignia identifying their rank and status. They were the Lyre birds of their era, flashing their finery to gain attention. Imagine now the spectacle, as all these men had to drop to their knees in the dirt and press their heads to the ground in reverence to the image.
Daniel 3 is a chapter of lists, from the lengthy list of officials, Daniel then repeatedly details all the musical instruments involved. The point is not so much an accurate record of events, rather, Daniel is using a literary technique to highlight the severity of the situation, and draw out the suspense for the reader. The three young men are under enormous pressure to comply, there is the threat of death from the king, their rank and status requires them to follow orders, and there is also peer pressure, as all the others official would be bowing before the statue.
The Fiery Furnace
Over history, many societies have used burning as a punishment for treason and rebellion. The Babylonian Hammurabi’s Code (eighteenth century BC) specified burning as punishment for certain crimes. Sadly, the list of countries that engaged in such brutal practices is long – an indictment against human nature.
Nebuchadnezzar’s logic was clear, to ensure that everyone followed his instructions there had to be a motivating factor, in this case a stick was used rather than a carrot. If any of the administrators disobeyed the king’s instructions, it would be tantamount to treason, there would be an accountability. The punishment had to fit the crime, rebellion against king and empire was extremely serious – and was to be stamped out, or in this case burnt out. Nebuchadnezzar threatened those who did not bow down with being thrown into a “blazing furnace”. Jeremiah records that two false prophets, who by their deceptive announcements and immoral behaviour had been leading the exiles astray, were publicly burnt to death by the Babylonian rulers (Jeremiah 29:22), rebellion against his rule could not be tolerated by Nebuchadnezzar. The deaths of these two men were so horrendous that it became a proverb amongst the Jews in Babylon, and was said as a curse, wishing the fate of the two roasted prophets on another person. The cries of pain and the death throes of men being burnt alive in the kiln, would be a warning to others not to go against the king.
Kilns are very common in the Mesopotamian valley, as there is not a lot of stone, but a plentiful supply of clay, as the continual flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers leaves vast deposits through silting. The kilns are beehive shaped, as this gives the greatest heat capacity for firing the bricks. From the Scriptures description of events, the kiln had an opening at the top for the men to be thrown through, and an opening in the front for observers to watch the gruesome results. To find the source of such an oven, we need only turn to Nebuchadnezzar himself – a great builder during his reign. Following the defeat of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC, Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt the city of Babylon on a grand scale. It has been estimated that 15 million baked bricks were used in the construction of official buildings. The British Museum has examples of such bricks, stamped with Nebuchadnezzar’s name. Sun-dried bricks were easy to make, but would disintegrate in a heavy rainfall, while bricks burned in a kiln were virtually indestructible. Kilns built to fire bricks on such a scale would have been close to the city of Babylon, and of such a size as to easily enclose several men.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego Denounced (3:8-12)
8 Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. 9 They declared[b] to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. 11 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up”.
The NIV in verse 8 records that “At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews,” and most likely, of all the administrators, it is their fellow Maggi that were reporting them. A strong indicator that they were still jealous over the rapid rise in authority of the young Jewish foreigners.
It would seem that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have stood off to one side, so not to be conspicuous when all the administrators were bowing down. Daniel does not record who was responsible for monitoring the compliance of the officials to the command to fall down and worship the image. But it is clear that jealousy amongst the official would ensure their noncompliance was reported. They would have been certain that the Jews’ faith in God would not allow them to bow to the image. It seems that not all heads were touching the ground, and some eyes were scanning the crowd.
Daniel does not feature in the narrative, and this is not to say that he was among the masses bowing in deference to the image. Daniel is the leader of the four young men, the others are continually following his example. It seems that Daniel was either ill at the time, or he was away on affairs of state. Daniel 6, recording the narrative of Daniel in the lion’s den, makes it very clear that Daniel would not have compromised his relationship with God to save his life.
The Rage of a Pagan King (3:13-18)
“ 13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, ‘Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?‘”
Nebuchadnezzar sees his command as non-negotiable, not only as an act of loyalty, but a commitment to the empire. He doesn’t care whether or not this is against the Jews’ religion. They must submit or pay the consequences. An indicator that he has grown to like the young men, is that he gives them a second chance.
Notice the king’s insult towards the God of the Jews at the end of verse 15. Nebuchadnezzar knows this is a matter of religious conviction, but doesn’t care. He has no respect for their God, despite the fact that he had previously paid honour to the God (Daniel 2:47). Nebuchadnezzar issues a personal challenge, “what god can save you from my hands” – a big mistake! There are tips for interpreting narrative, such as looking for key statements, the use of repeated words and also rhetorical questions – this is what Nebuchadnezzar does. His question, he believes, does not need an answer – he is sure that no one can be saved from the most powerful king in the world. Remember the theme of Daniel, the narrator is emphasising a point – “God is able” to rescue them from the king’s hand. Nebuchadnezzar should have remembered the quote, “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it”. An Assyrian king called Sennacherib also challenged God, in 701 BC he demanded that Hezekiah surrender Jerusalem to him, saying that no god of any city had been able to resist him, so neither would the God of the Jews. Sennacherib lost that challenge 185 000 to nil (2 Kings 19:35), when an angel of death sent by God passed through his camp at night. Nebuchadnezzar would have done well to remember this.
The Jews’ response to the king isn’t very respectful. Instead of flattering the king, they flatly refuse to comply.
“16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up’”.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are faithful to the covenant promise they have made with God:
“4 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:3-5)
Martin Luther knew his life was in peril, as he had incurred the wrath of the Papacy. Yet despite this knowledge, at the council called so that he could recant his 95 theses (the Diet of Worms, 1521), Luther’s response was “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen”. Any person the Roman Catholic Church determined was a heretic, would most likely be burned at the stake, just as had happened to the early reformer John Hus in 1415. Another example is that Pope Martin V. had the bones of the great theologian John Wycliffe dug up and burnt at the stake in 1428, as he had been declared a heretic, but died before judgement could be carried out. Luther could well expect the same treatment. Luther was a fan of the Book of Daniel; it was the first book of Scripture that he translated into German. So, it is very possible that he followed the courageous example of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, when he made his stand against the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful king with the authority of life and death over his subjects, but God was superior to Nebuchadnezzar, He had authority over all humanity, including Nebuchadnezzar. The answer the young Jews gave was straightforward and direct: our God is able to save us. But if he chooses not to, we still refuse to worship an image. The four words “Our God is able,” when said in faith, have become a statement of great comfort for believers through the ages, in acknowledging the sovereignty of God over their lives. It is also an acknowledgement of the omnipotence of God, and His ability to intervene for good in the lives of His saints.
The Jews Are Thrown into the Fiery Furnace (3:19-23)
“19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace”.
The responce by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was a slap in the face to a powerful king, Nebuchadnezzar’s emotion went from stern anger, to furious rage. With no temperature gauges available at the time, we can be sure that the statement “seven times hotter,” is pure hyperbole from an infuriated king. However, the narrative does reveal that the fire from the furnace was so intense, that it killed those poor soldiers given the duty of throwing the Jews into the furnace.
A Fourth Man in the Furnace (3:24-26a)
“24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, Your Majesty’. 25 He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods’. 26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!’”
Nebuchadnezzar rage dramatically turns into amazement as he sees not three men, but four in the furnace. The description of the fourth individual as “one like a son of the gods,” is seen by most commentators as an angel. When Jesus makes an appearance in Old Testament narratives it is called a Christophany or Metatron, three key examples are:
- An appearance to Abraham in Genesis 18:1-15.
- An appearance to Jacob in Genesis 32:22-32.
- An appearance to Joshua in Joshua 5:13-15.
Jesus make appearances at key times in the Old Testament, and I cannot help but feel that He would want to be the one with His three faithful servants, at this outstanding moment in the history of the Jews.
Examined by the Amazed Administrators (3:26b-27)
“So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them”.
The verses 24 -27 reveal the rescue, the binds that tie them are burnt and they walk free, with not a hair on their heads lost to the flames. God intervenes for His faithful ones and sends an “angel” to ensure that they are not harmed. Nebuchadnezzar’s pantheon of gods has been adjusted, God has moved to the top – the three youths are now servants of the “Most High God” – they are not servants of Nebuchadnezzar anymore, he recognises he is not at the top of the hierarchy, they are servants of God.
All present are amazed, they crowd around the Jews, each one wanting to examine the young men for themselves. The Jews are like a boy band in the audience at a teen concert, they are not just the centre of attention, they are being mobbed. Their hair, arms and clothes are all being examined with close scrutiny. None of the young men are affected by the fire, they don’t even smell of smoke!
Nebuchadnezzar Praises their God (3:28-30)
“28 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside[f] the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon“.
Notice that Nebuchadnezzar now venerates God, but he does not submit to him – his command is just do not speak against the God of the Jews. The narrator is taking you through the step by step process of Nebuchadnezzar’s salvation. It started with the interpretation of His dream, and the next step is an extention to the revelation of an all powerful God, who not only contols the future, but also protects His servants.
Nebuchadnezzar sums up the lesson that is to be learned from this by all believers; a lesson learned by Martin Luther, and persecuted believers in the past:
“They trusted in [their God] and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.“
Chapter 3 holds a lesson that all believers today would do well to heed, the pressure to compromise our faith will like Nebuchadnezzar’s fire, become more intense, as the spirit of the Antichrist prepares the hearts and minds of mankind for the arrival of the false messiah.
The narrative ends with the king rewarding Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with a promotion. He also makes a decree that no one is to say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, which would have been aimed at those astrologers who tried to have them put to death. The great irony for the jealous civil servants, is that their attempt to destroy the young men because of their rapid promotion, has resulted in their being promoted to an even higher position!
Nebuchadnezzar – a type of Antichrist
Throughout Scriptural records of the lives of individuals, we see that certain characters are a shadow of the reality that point to the prophesied Antichrist. Examples of Biblical types of the Antichrist are: Nimrod, Pharaoh, Goliath, Herod and Judas. Each of the types opens a window to the character and actions of the Antichrist. Nebuchadnezzar is also a type of the Antichrist:
- He was egotistical and proud – arrogant.
- He went to war in the name of a false god.
- He desired the conquest of Israel.
- He laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed it, taking the Jewish people captive.
- He was the King of Babylon and head of the mystery religion.
- He erected an image that was to be worshiped by all.
- He was the head of a unifying religion.
- He commanded all to worship an image that depicted him as a god.
- He sentenced believers to death for not complying.
- He rages against the Jews.
Note that Scripture and Jesus Himself depict the Tribulation as a furnace of affliction (Matthew 24:21). The furnace of the Tribulation will be “seven times hotter” than anything that has gone before. Daniel 3 also tells us that the fire of Tribulation is not the end of the story, because Jesus will bring His people out of the Tribulation. When the three Jewish men are brought out of the fire, they do not even smell like smoke, and this is a picture of the resurrection. The end of the Great Tribulation, both for the martyred followers of Jesus (resurrection from the dead) and Israel (resurrection of the nation) will be a resurrection. It is supernatural. There isn’t even the smell of their final suffering. They will be raised in indestructible bodies.
- The world is fast moving towards globalisation, a one world government and a one world religion. Christian morals and values are already under attack, the furnace of persecution by liberal globalist will intensify. Those that compromise will be consumed by the apostate one world church. We are required to copy the example of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and be faithful, we are to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus.
- Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are examples to us, on what to do when we are confronted because of our faith, and are given an ultimatum. We have a number of New Testament examples as well: Jesus before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:63-64); Stephen before his accusers (Acts 7:51-56); Paul before king Agrippa (Acts 26). All answer their accusers with a firm conviction of their relationship with God. Believers also have the promise from Jesus that in difficult circumstances, the Holy Spirit will guide us on what to say:
“When they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11; see also Matthew 10:19).
- Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had faith that God had a plan and purpose for their lives, and no king, no matter how great, could change that. Just as Jesus was able to tell Pilate that he would not have authority over Him, unless it was given to him by the Father (John 19:11). Our lives are in God’s hands, and the three young Jews were well aware of that fact, and could therefore say “our God is able”.
- There are literally multiple billions of angels, and they are around us, constantly fulfilling God’s will, especially in the answer to our prayers. However, we are not to attempt to contact them, and only on special occasions does God allow them to be seen.
- When we view Nebuchadnezzar as a type of Antichrist, we are able to see that there is an answer to Nebuchadnezzar’s question: “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” There is always a God who can intervene. The narrator through the work of the Holy Spirit is pointing forward to the Antichrist, not even he will be able to stand against God. A message for the end times Church is that GOD IS FAITHFUL.