So far as the Jewish actors in the scene are concerned, they exhibit a true religious spirit from the O.T. standpoint, with an unshakeable firmness of conviction that Jehovah alone should be worshipped.
The episode shews (in common with the canonical part) that the Captivity had already produced a stubborn opposition to idolatrous temptations among the Jews. The tendency to follow after other gods, and to depart from Jehovah in this way, had been outrooted from the habits of these exiles; and their example now would be for all time an incentive to others to resist, at any cost, the pressing inducements to become idolaters.
It is difficult to find anything really inconsistent with the religious position, so far as we know it, of Israel in Babylon. Bissell, however, writes strongly to the contrary, in company as he avers, with almost all non-Romish scholars. This opinion is based on little more than the supposed inappropriateness of the Prayer and Song to the occasion, and on the discrepancy of v.15 (38) with the circumstances of the time, and with other parts of the composition (p.445 and on v.15). This |discrepancy| is dealt with under 'Chronology.' Bissell also quotes with approval the exaggerated comparison of Eichhorn, who deems the three |like dervishes gifted in penitential exclamations, which they interrupt by abuse of Nebuchadnezzar.| A consistent religious ground is maintained throughout by the three; there is for them no |doing at Rome as Rome does| in vital matters of religion. And their condition is evidently compassionated by God, their faithfulness approved, amid the persecutions of a foreign land.
Considerable talent and art in devotional composition are manifested in confession, petition, and praise -- talent and art of which the Christian Church has widely availed herself from a very early period. The tone of Azarias' prayer is not discordant with Daniel's description of his own prayer in ix.20, nor with the prayer itself immediately preceding that verse, either in sentiment or phraseology. They may well have come from the same editor, whether the prime author of the whole book or not. Verse 16 (39) apparently contains phrases culled from Pss. xxxiv.18, li.17. M. Parker on Deut. xxviii.56 (Bibliotheca Biblica, Oxf.1735) thinks that the declaration of the three in v.9 (32) corresponds with Deut. xxviii.49, 50, being in fact a public acknowledgment that national impiety had brought upon them the distress in which they were at present involved. If so, it shews knowledge of the law on their part. But the connection is one solely of idea, and not of phraseology. There is a strong connection in phraseology, however, between v.27 and Deut. xxxii.4 in LXX. In any case the religious tone of the whole production is not inconsistent with what we might have expected.
The nature of this piece does not afford much scope for the display of the social condition of Babylon and its inhabitants. It is to be expected therefore that it will shew us far less of these matters than either Susanna or Bel and the Dragon. But so far as it gives any indications, it is in accord with the canonical Daniel, and with what we know from other sources of the customs of the country. Evidently Israel was in a state of subjection to the Babylonian king, who ordered idolatry to be practised by captives and natives alike. It is shewn by v.9 (32) sqq. that the former smarted under his tyranny, and appealed to God for redress, like their forefathers in Egyptian bondage.
The punishment of burning, on which the whole story turns, is quite Babylonian. Jer. xxix.22 is another instance, so that there is no lack of vraisemblance in its introduction here. (See Hastings' D. B. art. Crimes and Punishments, I.523, for other instances). It has been thought (Smith's D. B. ed.2 art. Furnace, I.1092b) that this furnace in Daniel is alluded to by our Lord in St. Matt. xiii.42, 50; but how opposite on this occasion are the consequences of being cast into it! Here prayer and praise from the righteous, there weeping and gnashing from the wicked. The allusion must be considered a very doubtful one.
The subservience of the king's servants in performing their cruel work, and the absence of a protesting voice or of a helping hand from any quarter, is very characteristic of the results of Eastern despotism. All, except the three martyrs, were afraid of Nebuchadnezzar, whose murderous rage under contradiction is of a piece in both the Chaldee and the Greek portions of the chapter. No one else on this occasion dared to disobey his decree, and there is no sign of anyone venturing so much as to intercede for the Jewish victims.
In such small glimpses as are given, in this extension of chap. iii., of the social state of Babylonia there is nothing clearly indicating that the interpolation (if such it be) is of an unhistoric or untrustworthy character, nothing wholly irreconcilable with the rest of the book. Indeed the author (W. T. Bullock) of the note on Daniel iii.23 in the S.P.C.K. Commentary goes so far as to write of |that noble canticle Benedicite,| as an |historical document.| This expression may require qualification, but it is not beyond the bounds of possible fact.