DANIEL - CHAPTER 3
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
3:1. “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.”
While chapter two describes a great image which was the symbolic revelation of the succession of Gentile empires that would wield universal dominion from the time of Nebuchadnezzar until the victorious return of Christ to end the Tribulation and set up His millennial kingdom, chapter three furnishes the description of another great image, and even a cursory reading of the details reveals that this second image is pointing to what will be in the coming Tribulation era. As is noted in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, “Nebuchadnezzar ... was instituting a new form of religious worship. (He) purposed to establish a unified government and also a unified religion. The king constituted himself as both head of state and head of religion,” as will the beast in the Tribulation.
It is difficult to believe that the king who had been so awed by Daniel’s declaration of the dream and its interpretation, could have so quickly lost that awe of God as to make this present image, and demand that all worship it. But such is the nature of unregenerate man, that except for an occasional rare instance when confronted with some dramatic evidence of God’s power, he neither fears Him, nor desires the knowledge of Him.
There can be little question that the colossus of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream had been the inspiration for this golden image set up on the plain of Dura, but our concern is with its spiritual significance rather than with what may have inspired its construction. That significance has been recognized by virtually all students of Biblical typology to be the foreshadowing of conditions in the coming terrible Tribulation era.
The parallel between Daniel chapter 3 and Revelation chapter 13 is too obvious to miss. In Re 13:13-14 the two-horned beast out of the earth commands that an image be made in honor of the ten-horned beast out of the sea (the Gentile world ruler in the Tribulation); and, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar’s image, the penalty for refusing to worship will be death. Re 13:18 declares that the number of the beast will be “six hundred threescore and six,” and it is significant that the number six (the Scriptural number of man, wickedness, and weakness) is prominent in connection with Nebuchadnezzar’s image. It was sixty cubits high, and six cubits broad; and six musical instruments are mentioned in connection with its worship, the obvious parallel leading many to see in Nebuchadnezzar the first Gentile ruler, a picture of the beast, the last such sovereign; and in Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, a type of the believing remnant in the Tribulation, suffering persecution and martyrdom because of their refusal to receive the mark of the beast, or to offer him worship.
The question arises here, Why is Daniel not mentioned in this chapter, nor apparently involved at all? Various suggestions have been offered, the most popular being that he may have been out of the country on official business, but another to be considered is that he is a figure or type of the Lord Jesus Christ Who will not be subjected to testing in the Tribulation, as He was when on earth two thousand years ago. Others have taken him to be a type of the Church, which will not go through the Tribulation, the Rapture occurring before that time of judgment begins. Against this latter view is the fact that the Church is always spoken of as being feminine, and is invariably portrayed in Scripture as a woman.
Additional confirmation of this being a picture of Israel’s Tribulation experience lies in its being emphasized that it is Jews who are the objects of the persecution; for while the Tribulation judgments will involve the whole earth, that terrible period is specifically described as “The time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7). Furthermore, a furnace is the instrument of testing, and it is significant that times of testing for Israel are portrayed as being in a furnace, e.g., “a smoking furnace” is used in Ge 15:17 in connection with the foretelling of Israel’s Egyptian bondage; and their deliverance from that bondage is spoken of in De 4:20 as being “out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt.”
Another parallel between the experience of these three young Jews, and Tribulation-age Israel is that they had but recently enjoyed the favor of the king: he had promoted them. After the rapture of the Church, Israel will be living in the enjoyment of a treaty with the Gentile world ruler, by which she will be guaranteed peace, and it will be the violation of that treaty after only three-and-a-half years that will precipitate the great Tribulation.
The absence of any mention of persecution of any Jews other than Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, implies that the others had bowed to the will of the king. This also points to Israel’s Tribulation experience, for it will be only the believing remnant that will refuse to receive the mark of the beast, or accord him worship. The others will bow to his will, receiving his mark, and worshiping his image.
Dura means habitation, and the setting up of the image there may be an oblique indication that when the type is fulfilled by the setting up of the image of the beast in the Tribulation, it will affect the whole habitable earth. The words “in the province of Babylon” may be to remind us that the iniquitous religious systems of which Babylon is the type, will culminate in man’s worship of man (the beast ruler) in the Tribulation. It is significant that the Caesars, the rulers of the fourth world empire, were regarded as gods, and while many of them accepted the title lightly, there were some who insisted on being worshiped on pain of death. These latter are prototypes of the Tribulation-age beast ruler. His worship also will be compelled, with death as the penalty for refusal to yield that worship.
3:2. “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
3:3. “Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, 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.”
This gathering together of all the officials of the Babylonian empire points to what will be in the Tribulation during the reign of the beast. Only spiritually blind eyes fail to see that the ultimate end of present day ecumenism will be the gathering together of all the denominations of apostate Christendom into Satan’s great “Babylonian” counterfeit of the true Church, which will be then, as now, centered in Rome. Following the rapture of the true Church, that great harlot system will be left on earth for judgment, and will rule briefly as a queen over countless multitudes of Satan’s blinded dupes (Re 18:7). For all the outward glory and false piety of that Satanic travesty, however, God describes her as “the great whore that sitteth upon many waters (i.e., peoples),” having upon her forehead a name written, “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Re 17:1-5). By means of the ecumenical movement, whose nefarious work is being aided by millions of deluded professing Christians, that harlot mother is gathering her harlot daughters back home to Rome - but in ignorance of the fact that that gathering is by God’s appointment for their destruction.
It is that coming unification of apostate Christendom which is being portrayed in the gathering together of the vast multitude assembled in the plain of Dura to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image.
3:4. “Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages,”
3:5. “That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up:”
This herald is a clear type of the false prophet, for as the herald called the multitude to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, so will the false prophet command that all worship the image of the beast when it is set up in the Tribulation (Re 13:12).
The music associated with the worship of Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image shouldn’t be dismissed as of little importance, as is indicated in the fourfold repetition of the musical instruments. It is very important, for no one will deny the power which music possesses to influence men’s feelings, sometimes to such an extent that reason becomes so subservient to emotion that the individual engages in uncontrolled conduct of which he would never be guilty were reason in control.
A Christendom that has long since lost the ability to discern the relevance of the OT to the Church, has failed to read the spiritual meaning of the fact that in the OT there was no musical ministry for the Levites until Solomon was about to ascend the throne, and the Tabernacle replaced the Temple. Spirit-taught believers have never had any difficulty in seeing that the Tabernacle foreshadows the experience of the Church; the Temple, that of Israel and the nations in the Millennium. As there was no musical ministry in connection with the Tabernacle, neither is there for the Church, God’s command to believers of the Church age being expressed in the words of Paul, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19), “...teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16).
It isn’t just believers who are aware of the evil character of much of today’s music: many of its critics are the unconverted, yet this same music with its hypnotic power to inflame the emotions, and dull the mind, is invading the professing church at an alarming rate. Equally ominous is the rejection of hymns, not only harmonic in rhyme, but also Scriptural in content, and their replacement with hymns so-called, which consist of the mesmerizing repetition of one line, or of the name Jesus, a type of music favored by charismatics, better known for their emotional excesses than their knowledge of Scripture. It requires little stretch of the imagination to foresee the influence such music will exert on the minds of men in the coming Tribulation.
Inasmuch as six is the number of man, weakness, and wickedness, the mention of six musical instruments alerts us, not only to the evil of Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, but to the coming idolatrous worship which it foreshadows.
3:6. “And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”
Little did the multitude know that in saving themselves from Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace by bowing to his great image, they were condemning themselves to a far more terrible fate: consignment to the eternal torment of the lake of fire.
As noted earlier, the furnace is used in Scripture as a figure of Israel’s afflictions, e.g., Dt 4:20 “But the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt,” and long before, when that time of affliction was being foretold to Abraham, the same figure was used, “And it came to pass, that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace....” (Ge 15:17). The present mention of the furnace therefore appears to confirm the view that this chapter is a foreshadowing of what will befall Israel in the coming Tribulation era, the similarity of the language used here, to that used in Re 13:11-15 being too obvious to miss, “And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth ... and he causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast.... saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast.... and he had power to give life unto the image ... and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.”
3:7. “Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.”
“All” here is a general term applying to the majority, for there were at least three who did not bow, namely Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, three faithful men whose loyalty to God foreshadows that of those Tribulation-age believers who will choose to die rather than worship the image of the beast.
Occupation with the prophetic should not, however, blind us to the practical application to ourselves. We too, are under continual pressure to worship the world’s false gods, of whom Mammon and Pleasure are the chief today. The frantic pursuit of money and pleasure by the vast majority of today’s professing Christians, announces the sad truth that now, as in the days of Daniel, there are only a few, a very few, who refuse to yield this idolatrous worship.
3:8. “Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews.”
The word “certain” in the present context means some, indicating perhaps that not all of them sought the lives of these three faithful Hebrews. There were, it would seem, some who remembered that they owed their lives to Daniel’s having interpreted the king’s dream.
The motive of the accusers is immaterial, for their enmity is simply an illustration of the animosity of the old nature against the new, its deadly nature being declared in the fact that what they sought was nothing less than the deaths of Daniel’s companions. The warfare between the flesh and the spirit is also to the death.
3:9. “They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar , O king, live for ever.”
3:10. “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 musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image:”
3:11. “And whoso falleth not down and worship-peth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”
There can be detected here the same subtle type of pressure as was used in a later day by the Jewish rulers to induce Pilate, against his will, to hand Christ over for crucifixion. Since Nebuchadnezzar himself had promoted Daniel and his three friends, these accusers were probably afraid that he might possibly be inclined to make an exception and remit the sentence. But these shrewd agents of Satan well knew how to balance the king’s pride against any inclination he might have had toward leniency. Against the background of his explicit and publicly proclaimed command, his failure to execute it would make him look like a fool, just as Pilate’s disposition to release Christ was made to cast the governor in the role of traitor to Caesar. Satan often imbues his agents with his own fiendish cunning.
3:12. “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.”
It is recorded relative to Pilate that, “He knew that for envy they had delivered him” (Mt 27:18), and the Chaldeans’ reference here to the king’s having promoted the three accused, leaves no doubt, that as Christ’s accusers were impelled by jealousy, so these also were constrained by the same envious spirit.
3:13. “Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king.”
One cannot but wonder whether the king’s rage and fury may not have been as much due to his being compelled to execute his own decree, as against the three faithful Hebrews for having violated it. Anger, seemingly directed against another, is often the mask used to try to hide exasperation felt against oneself. Be that as it may, the fact remains that the fury of Nebuchadnezzar is a clear foreshadowing of the murderous anger to be vented by the coming beast ruler against those of the Tribulation era who will refuse to bow to his image and worship him.
3:14. “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?”
3:15. “Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, 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?”
It would be futile to debate whether the king’s offer indicates his willingness to save them, or announces his desire to hear their defiance from their own lips. The fact remains that in the final analysis it demonstrates the truth that a genuine faith, and a fearless confession of that faith, are inseparable, as it is written, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Ro 10:9-10). Faith and confession of it cannot be separated!
Nebuchadnezzar’s blasphemous defiance of God will be repeated by the final world ruler, for it is written of him that, “He shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High....” (Dan 7:25).
3:16. “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.”
We cannot but recall the Lord’s words to His disciples, recorded in Mt 10:19-20, “But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” That command applies no less to us, but sadly it is little heeded today: lack of courage, and a willing compliance with the world’s ways, ensure its favor, and preclude the possibility of our being “brought before governors and kings for (Christ’s) sake, for a testimony against them....” (Mt 10:18). But in the coming Tribulation there will be found again that same courageous loyalty to Christ as imbued the Apostolic-age believers; and this response of Daniel’s three friends is but an OT foreshadowing of that uncompromising spirit which the Lord values so highly.
3:17. “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.”
3:18. “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.”
Whether their response was based on God’s promise, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Isa 43:2), the fact remains that it still required phenomenal courage to render such a reply. That they were prepared to die, however, is made clear in the words “If it be so.” They very obviously took account of the fact that it might not be God’s will to save them from the furnace, but to deliver them out of the king’s hand by taking them home to heaven through death. Their attitude foreshadows that of the Lord Himself in Gethsemane when He concluded His prayer for deliverance, with the words, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk 22:42).
3:19. “Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.”
It is very possible that in Nebuchadnezzar’s change of attitude towards the three young Hebrews (he had promoted them, and had obviously been favorable to them), God is pointing symbolically to what will be in the coming Tribulation era. The first half of that period will be a time in which Israel will enjoy the favor of the beast emperor, under the terms of the seven year treaty, the signing of which will mark the beginning of the Tribulation. But at the mid point of the seven years he will violate the covenant (9:27), and for the final three and a half years will be merciless in his persecution of Israel. There can be little doubt that the experience of these three Hebrews in the furnace, foreshadows the suffering to be experienced by the believing remnant in the Great Tribulation.
3:20. “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.”
This is the symbolic foreshadowing of the truth that in the Tribulation all the power given to the beast will be directed toward the extermination of all who refuse to receive his mark, and offer him worship. Their being bound before being thrown into the furnace may point to the fact that the Tribulation era equivalent of the binding will be the fact that refusal to receive the mark of the beast will preclude possibility of employment, thus virtually “binding” the individual to certain death.
3:21. “Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen (a fine upper garment), and their hats (turbans), and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.”
Inasmuch as garments are the Biblical symbol of righteousness (either the mere self-righteousness of the moral but unconverted man, or the righteousness of Christ which clothes every believer), the binding of the three in their garments, may point symbolically to the truth that faith such as they possessed precludes any possibility of its possessor being separated from righteousness. Not even the prospect of death will induce such a man to sin against God.
3:22. “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.”
Beyond the literal statement may be perhaps the symbolic announcement of the truth that the Tribulation will bring death, not only to faithful believers, but to multitudes of unbelievers as well, for war, famine, and disease will slay believer and unbeliever alike. We may detect in it also the proof that God will avenge the wrongs done to His own, though seldom with such promptness, for almost invariably the execution of that vengeance won’t occur until the great white throne is set up. God’s reservation of their punishment until then has led many to conclude that there will be no punishment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether in time or eternity, God will avenge His own, for what is written concerning Israel applies to all who belong to Him, “For thus saith the Lord of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple (pupil) of his eye” (Zec 3:8).
3:23. “And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.”
We can’t contemplate this experience of the three faithful Hebrews without remembering what Peter has written concerning the trial of our faith, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Pe 1:6-7).
3:24. “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and 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.”
3:25. “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.”
God didn’t deliver them from the fire, but He kept His promise, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee ... they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Isa 43:2). Their preservation points to what will be in the Tribulation, for in the midst of those terrible judgments a remnant will be preserved to stand upon the millennial earth as the new converted Israel which will inherit the long-promised blessings of Christ’s millennial kingdom.
But the assurance given them is given to every believer. God doesn’t promise to keep us from the waters or the fire of testing, but the Lord Jesus Christ has said, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (age)” (Mt 28:20). The believer may be called upon to give up his life, but even then he has the assurance that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Co 5:8), and as he faces death he can say, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Ps 23:4).
Nebuchadnezzar had cast three men bound into the fire, but in the furnace he saw them loose, walking, suffering no hurt, and accompanied by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. So is it with everyone who is willing to die rather than disobey God. Man may bind the body, but he cannot bind the soul of him who belongs to Christ, and as in the instance we are now considering, testing simply reveals that the believer is the only man who is truly free: in the furnace they were loose, and walked, as it is written, “For if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be ye shall be free indeed” (Jn 8:36).
3:26. “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.”
3:27. “And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors, 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.”
Beyond dispute, God means us to see in this a picture of what will be at the end of the Tribulation. Out of that terrible “furnace” will walk, not only the new converted nation of Israel, but those also who will constitute the believing nations that will stand upon the earth as Christ’s millennial reign begins.
3:28. “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 any god, except their own God.”
Nebuchadnezzar’s acknowledgement of the supremacy of God, points to the glory that will be brought to God through the faithfulness of the believers, Jewish and Gentile, in the coming Tribulation. The practical instruction of this episode will have been missed, however, if we fail to learn that it is by our obedience in the midst of earthly testing that He is glorified today.
3:29. “Therefore I make a decree, 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.”
This decree of the king continues to point to what will be in the Millennium. During the last thousand years of earth’s history, God will brook no infraction of His will, as it is written, Christ will “rule all nations with a rod of iron” (Re 12:5), and grace beyond comprehension gives the further assurance that obedient believers will also enjoy that same dominion, as it is written, “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron” (Re 2:26-27).
3:30. “Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.”
This promotion of Daniel’s three friends is a figure of the promotion of Israel to a place of supremacy over the nations in the Millennium. Her exaltation, as noted already, however, is a type of our own, for believers of this present age are assured of reigning with Christ from the heavenly Jerusalem over that same millennial earth, as it is written, “For if we suffer (endure) we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12).