Da 3:1-30. Nebuchadnezzar's Idolatrous Image; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego Are Delivered from the Furnace.
Between the vision of Nebuchadnezzar in the second chapter and that of Daniel in the seventh, four narratives of Daniel's and his friends' personal history are introduced. As the second and seventh chapters go together, so the third and sixth chapters (the deliverance from the lions' den), and the fourth and fifth chapters. Of these last two pairs, the former shows God's nearness to save His saints when faithful to Him, at the very time they seem to be crushed by the world power. The second pair shows, in the case of the two kings of the first monarchy, how God can suddenly humble the world power in the height of its insolence. The latter advances from mere self-glorification, in the fourth chapter, to open opposition to God in the fifth. Nebuchadnezzar demands homage to be paid to his image (Da 3:1-6), and boasts of his power (Da 4:1-18). But Belshazzar goes further, blaspheming God by polluting His holy vessels. There is a similar progression in the conduct of God's people. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refuse positive homage to the image of the world power (Da 3:12); Daniel will not yield it even a negative homage, by omitting for a time the worship of God (Da 6:10). Jehovah's power manifested for the saints against the world in individual histories (the third through sixth chapters) is exhibited in the second and seventh chapters, in world-wide prophetical pictures; the former heightening the effect of the latter. The miracles wrought in behalf of Daniel and his friends were a manifestation of God's glory in Daniel's person, as the representative of the theocracy before the Babylonian king, who deemed himself almighty, at a time when God could not manifest it in His people as a body. They tended also to secure, by their impressive character, that respect for the covenant-people on the part of the heathen powers which issued in Cyrus' decree, not only restoring the Jews, but ascribing honor to the God of heaven, and commanding the building of the temple (Ezr 1:1-4) [Auberlen].
1. image -- Nebuchadnezzar's confession of God did not prevent him being a worshipper of idols, besides. Ancient idolaters thought that each nation had its own gods, and that, in addition to these, foreign gods might be worshipped. The Jewish religion was the only exclusive one that claimed all homage for Jehovah as the only true God. Men will in times of trouble confess God, if they are allowed to retain their favorite heart-idols. The image was that of Bel, the Babylonian tutelary god; or rather, Nebuchadnezzar himself, the personification and representative of the Babylonian empire, as suggested to him by the dream (Da 2:38), |Thou art this head of gold.| The interval between the dream and the event here was about nineteen years. Nebuchadnezzar had just returned from finishing the Jewish and Syrian wars, the spoils of which would furnish the means of rearing such a colossal statue [Prideaux]. The colossal size makes it likely that the frame was wood, overlaid with gold. The |height,| sixty cubits, is so out of proportion with the |breadth,| exceeding it ten times, that it seems best to suppose the thickness from breast to back to be intended, which is exactly the right proportion of a well-formed man [Augustine, The City of God, 15.26]. Prideaux thinks the sixty cubits refer to the image and pedestal together, the image being twenty-seven cubits high, or forty feet, the pedestal thirty-three cubits, or fifty feet. Herodotus [1.183] confirms this by mentioning a similar image, forty feet high, in the temple of Belus at Babylon. It was not the same image, for the one here was on the plain of Dura, not in the city.
2. princes -- |satraps| of provinces [Gesenius].
captains -- rulers, not exclusively military.
sheriffs -- men learned in the law, like the Arab mufti [Gesenius].
3. stood before the image -- in an attitude of devotion. Whatever the king approved of, they all approve of. There is no stability of principle in the ungodly.
4. The arguments of the persecutor are in brief, Turn or burn.
5. cornet -- A wind instrument, like the French horn, is meant.
flute -- a pipe or pipes, not blown transversely as our |flute,| but by mouthpieces at the end.
sackbut -- a triangular stringed instrument, having short strings, the sound being on a high sharp key.
psaltery -- a kind of harp.
dulcimer -- a bagpipe consisting of two pipes, thrust through a leathern bag, emitting a sweet plaintive sound. Chaldee sumponya, the modern Italian zampogna, Asiatic zambonja.
fall down -- that the recusants might be the more readily detected.
6. No other nation but the Jews would feel this edict oppressive; for it did not prevent them worshipping their own gods besides. It was evidently aimed at the Jews by those jealous of their high position in the king's court, who therefore induced the king to pass an edict as to all recusants, representing such refusal of homage as an act of treason to Nebuchadnezzar as civil and religious |head| of the empire. So the edict under Darius (Da 6:7-9) was aimed against the Jews by those jealous of Daniel's influence. The literal image of Nebuchadnezzar is a typical prophecy of |the image of the beast,| connected with mystical Babylon, in Re 13:14. The second mystical beast there causeth the earth, and them that dwell therein, to worship the first beast, and that as many as would not, should be killed (Re 13:12, 15).
furnace -- a common mode of punishment in Babylon (Jer 29:22). It is not necessary to suppose that the furnace was made for the occasion. Compare |brick-kiln,| 2Sa 12:31. Any furnace for common purposes in the vicinity of Dura would serve. Chardin, in his travels (A.D.1671-1677), mentions that in Persia, to terrify those who took advantage of scarcity to sell provisions at exorbitant prices, the cooks were roasted over a slow fire, and the bakers cast into a burning oven.
7. None of the Jews seem to have been present, except the officers, summoned specially.
8. accused the Jews -- literally, |ate the rent limbs,| or flesh of the Jews (compare Job 31:31; Ps 14:4; 27:2; Jer 10:25). Not probably in general, but as Da 3:12 states, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Why Daniel was not summoned does not appear. Probably he was in some distant part of the empire on state business, and the general summons (Da 3:2) had not time to reach him before the dedication. Also, the Jews' enemies found it more politic to begin by attacking Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who were nearer at hand, and had less influence, before they proceeded to attack Daniel.
9. live for ever -- A preface of flattery is closely akin to the cruelty that follows. So Ac 24:2, 3, &c., Tertullus in accusing Paul before Felix.
12. serve not thy gods -- not only not the golden image, but also not any of Nebuchadnezzar's gods.
13. bring -- Instead of commanding their immediate execution, as in the case of the Magi (Da 2:12), Providence inclined him to command the recusants to be brought before him, so that their noble |testimony| for God might be given before the world powers |against them| (Mt 10:18), to the edification of the Church in all ages.
14. Is it true -- rather, as the Margin [Theodotion], |Is it purposely that?| &c. Compare the Hebrew, Nu 35:20, 22. Notwithstanding his |fury,| his past favor for them disposes him to give them the opportunity of excusing themselves on the ground that their disobedience had not been intentional; so he gives them another trial to see whether they would still worship the image.
15. who is that God -- so Sennacherib's taunt (2Ki 18:35), and Pharaoh's (Ex 5:2).
16. not careful to answer thee -- rather, |We have no need to answer thee|; thou art determined on thy side, and our mind is made up not to worship the image: there is therefore no use in our arguing as if we could be shaken from our principles. Hesitation, or parleying with sin, is fatal; unhesitating decision is the only safety, where the path of duty is clear (Mt 10:19, 28).
17. If it be so -- Vatablus translates, |Assuredly.| English Version agrees better with the original. The sense is, If it be our lot to be cast into the furnace, our God (quoted from De 6:4) is able to deliver us (a reply to Nebuchadnezzar's challenge, |Who is that God that shall deliver you?|); and He will deliver us (either from death, or in death, 2Ti 4:17, 18). He will, we trust, literally deliver us, but certainly He will do so spiritually.
18. But if not, &c. -- connected with Da 3:18. |Whether our God deliver us, as He is able, or do not, we will not serve thy gods.| Their service of God is not mercenary in its motive. Though He slay them, they will still trust in Him (Job 13:15). Their deliverance from sinful compliance was as great a miracle in the kingdom of grace, as that from the furnace was in the kingdom of nature. Their youth, and position as captives and friendless exiles, before the absolute world potentate and the horrid death awaiting them if they should persevere in their faith, all enhance the grace of God, which carried them through such an ordeal.
19. visage ... changed -- He had shown forbearance (Da 3:14, 15) as a favor to them, but now that they despise even his forbearance, anger |fills| him, and is betrayed in his whole countenance.
seven times more than it was wont -- literally, |than it was (ever) seen to be heated.| Seven is the perfect number; that is, it was made as hot as possible. Passion overdoes and defeats its own end, for the hotter the fire, the sooner were they likely to be put out of pain.
21. coats ... hosen ... hats -- Herodotus [1.195] says that the Babylonian costume consisted of three parts: (1) wide, long pantaloons; (2) a woollen shirt; (3) an outer mantle with a girdle round it. So these are specified [Gesenius], |their pantaloons, inner tunics (hosen, or stockings, are not commonly worn in the East), and outer mantles.| Their being cast in so hurriedly, with all their garments on, enhanced the miracle in that not even the smell of fire passed on their clothes, though of delicate, inflammable material.
22. flame ... slew those men -- (Da 6:24; Ps 7:16).
23. fell down -- not cast down; for those who brought the three youths to the furnace, perished by the flames themselves, and so could not cast them in. Here follows an addition in the Septuagint, Syrian, Arabic, and Vulgate versions. |The Prayer of Azarias,| and |The Song of the Three Holy Children.| It is not in the Chaldee. The hymn was sung throughout the whole Church in their liturgies, from the earliest times [Rufinus in Commentary on the Apostles Creed, and Athanasius]. The |astonishment| of Nebuchadnezzar in Da 3:24 is made an argument for its genuineness, as if it explained the cause of his astonishment, namely, |they walked in the midst of the fire praising God, but the angel of the Lord came down into the oven| (vs.1 and vs.27 of the Apocryphal addition). But Da 3:25 of English Version explains his astonishment, without need of any addition.
24. True, O king -- God extorted this confession from His enemies' own mouths.
25. four -- whereas but three had been cast in.
loose -- whereas they had been cast in |bound.| Nebuchadnezzar's question, in Da 3:24, is as if he can scarcely trust his own memory as to a fact so recent, now that he sees through an aperture in the furnace what seems to contradict it.
walking in ... midst of ... fire -- image of the godly unhurt, and at large (Joh 8:36), |in the midst of trouble| (Ps 138:7; compare Ps 23:3, 4). They walked up and down in the fire, not leaving it, but waiting for God's time to bring them out, just as Jesus waited in the tomb as God's prisoner, till God should let Him out (Ac 2:26, 27). So Paul (2Co 12:8, 9). So Noah waited in the ark, after the flood, till God brought him forth (Ge 8:12-18).
like the Son of God -- Unconsciously, like Saul, Caiaphas (Joh 11:49-52), and Pilate, he is made to utter divine truths. |Son of God| in his mouth means only an |angel| from heaven, as Da 3:28 proves. Compare Job 1:6; 38:7; Ps 34:7, 8; and the probably heathen centurion's exclamation (Mt 27:54). The Chaldeans believed in families of gods: Bel, the supreme god, accompanied by the goddess Mylitta, being the father of the gods; thus the expression he meant: one sprung from and sent by the gods. Really it was the |messenger of the covenant,| who herein gave a prelude to His incarnation.
26. the most high God -- He acknowledges Jehovah to be supreme above other gods (not that he ceased to believe in these); so he returns to his original confession, |your God is a God of gods| (Da 2:47), from which he had swerved in the interim, perhaps intoxicated by his success in taking Jerusalem, whose God he therefore thought unable to defend it.
27. nor ... an hair -- (Lu 12:7; 21:18).
fire had no power -- fulfilling Isa 43:2; compare Heb 11:34. God alone is a |consuming fire| (Heb 12:29).
nor ... smell of fire -- compare spiritually, 1Th 5:22.
28. In giving some better traits in Nebuchadnezzar's character, Daniel agrees with Jer 39:11; 42:12.
changed the king's word -- have made the king's attempt to coerce into obedience vain. Have set aside his word (so |alter ... word,| Ezr 6:11) from regard to God. Nebuchadnezzar now admits that God's law should be obeyed, rather than his (Ac 5:29).
yielded ... bodies -- namely, to the fire.
not serve -- by sacrificing.
nor worship -- by prostration of the body. Decision for God at last gains the respect even of the worldly (Pr 16:7).
29. This decree promulgated throughout the vast empire of Nebuchadnezzar must have tended much to keep the Jews from idolatry in the captivity and thenceforth (Ps 76:10).