The theology appears to be of a perfectly orthodox character, quite what might have been expected from the three children; nor is it inconsistent with that contained in the rest of the book of Daniel. The exile had not now contaminated the Jewish religion, but had rather purged it of its corruptions, and eradicated in particular the fatal tendency to |serve other gods.| Such sins are thoroughly confessed by Azarias in a style not without resemblance to Daniel's confession. (Cf. v.6 (29) with ix.5 in both versions; also Esther xiv.6, 7.)
The God of their fathers is He alone to whom prayers and praises are to be addressed. He is regarded as the Lord of all creation, both as a whole and in its specific parts. He is looked up to to make good the old promises (13), being full of mercy (19), as well as of power and glory (20, 22, 68). He is a king (33), just (4), and gracious (67), with an ear open to the addresses of his people. The righteousness of even His heavy judgements is acknowledged in the prayer; and the hymn throughout shews that the gratitude of man is plainly deemed acceptable to Him.
As to the question of praise being called for from inanimate things or irrational beings, we must remember that though unfitted, so far as we understand them, for conscious praise, their creation, maintenance, and usefulness give evidence of God's greatness and goodness. As Cornelius à Lapide notes on v.35 (57) |Inanimes creaturæ benedicunt Deum creatorem suum, non ore sed opere, ait S. Hieronymus,| giving, however, no reference to the passage in Jerome. Ps. civ.4 and Heb. i.7 afford some helpful clues to the operations of Nature in this connection. Man is treated by our author as the interpreter of Nature, with a right, as made in the image of God, to call upon it to glorify its Maker. He offers vocal praise on its behalf as well as on his own; though things without life praise God silently, by fulfilling the parts for which He made them. A somewhat similar idea of the elevating influence exerted by natural beings may be discerned in the second of the New sayings of Jesus as restored by Messrs. Grenfell and Hunt (Lond.1904, p.15). And Addison fitly writes (Spect. No.393), |The cheerfulness of heart which springs up in us from the survey of Nature's works, is an admirable preparation for gratitude| (cf. 'Early Christian Literature and Art,' s.v. Hippolytus').
Azarias desires that the rescue of the party may redound to the knowledge among all men of the sole deity of Jehovah (22) -- a petition for the conversion of the Gentiles The phrase in the last verse of the Song, theos ton theon, might be taken as an admission of the existence of other gods over whom Jehovah was supreme. But clearly this is not so intended, as may be proved from the use of the phrase in Deut. x.17,Pss. xlix.1(LXX), cxxxvi.2 . Yet it is not unlikely that Nebuchadnezzar used the phrase in this acceptation in ii.47. The other occasion, however, on which it is used in Daniel (xi.36), allows it to be taken only in an orthodox sense; nor is any other likely in the mouth of Azarias, who resisted to the utmost the command to sin by idolatry. It is observable that Azarias omits the clause |in thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed| (Gen. xxii.18, xxvi.4) from his quotation of the patriarchal promise. This might arise from dislike to the nations who had conquered Israel; but on the other hand, the gist of it is contained in his concluding petition in v.22.
The objection that Ananias, Azarias, and Misael are invoked as saints (which probably caused the omission in 1789 of v.66 (88) from the American P.B.) is sufficiently answered by pointing out that the Song is praise, not prayer; and that these three do not stand on a different footing in this respect from the other objects apostrophized. Moreover, a highly poetical composition of this kind is not to be too literally interpreted. As Liddon remarks in his Elements of Religion (Lond.1892, p.182), |The apostrophes of the Psalms and Benedicite are really acts of praise to God, of which his creatures furnish the occasion;| and Addison again (Spect. No.327), |Invocations of this nature fill the mind with glorious ideas of God's works.| v.43 (65) is oddly applied by Archdeacon Frank, Serm. XLII. to Pentecost (Oxf.1849, II.254).
Belief is plainly shewn in an angelic ministry, sent down to help God's suffering servants, and endued with miraculous powers. The angel comes, too, after their humble confession and prayer for rescue (vv.43-45), and before their song of praise. The very propriety however of this arrangement, from a theological point of view, induces Rothstein to deem the prayer a subsequent introduction, in order to supply the want of request for deliverance before praise for its accomplishment; and he thinks that the opening in the narrative for the insertion of the prayer (between vv.23 and 46) was not, in the O', very deftly effected (Kautzsch, I.175,181).
The natural and the supernatural, without any incongruity, are blended as being all under one control, all subserving the same great ends, as in the Hebrew Bible. But there is no increase of the miraculous element beyond that in chapter iii., in which this piece is inserted; and at a later age increase would have been highly probable. What essential difference is there to be found between the miracles of the Chaldee and of the Greek Daniel? Surely none.
A typical resemblance was discerned by St. Antony of Padua (Moral Concordances, ed. Neale, p.123), between v.26 (44) and the Annunciation, but this will be regarded by many minds as a very fanciful theological discovery, and one surely not in the purview of the composer of the passage.