Daniel Chapter 3 Bible Study Lesson: When things get hot!

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Book of Daniel Bible Study Commentary Chapter 3

Daniel Chapter 3: When things get hot!

by I Gordon

Daniel chapter 3 is a well known and well loved chapter in the Bible. It contains things we all like in a story... 90 foot idols, furious kings, fiery furnaces hot enough to kill people who are just passing by... That sort of thing. When we left our friends at the end of chapter two everything was going along very nicely thank you very much. Daniel and his three amigos Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were exalted to a position of privilege and power in Babylon. But unfortunately things have a habit of changing in this life. And so they did, for King Nebuchadnezzar decided to setup a golden image that was ninety foot high and nine foot wide! And what's worse, everyone is commanded to bow down and worship the image! Oh great! Now there are a couple of ways to take a passage such as this - personally and prophetically. While I'll focus more on the former, there are some really interesting prophetic implications of this chapter that will definitely be noted!

A defiant image

Dan 3:1-3  King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide  , and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 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. 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.

Book of Daniel Bible Study Commentary Chapter 3So king Nebuchadnezzar makes an image of gold and it is no small undertaking. This image is 30m high! So the first question is where do you think they got this idea from? While the Bible doesn't say exactly what the image was of, many commentators believe that the king would have been inspired by the vision that he had had in chapter 2 and created an image of a man. It could even have been in his own image. The Bible states it was all in gold. You may remember from chapter 2 that in the dream of the statue, he was the head of gold but he also learned that this head of gold would come to an end. It is therefore likely that king Nebuchadnezzar had this image set entirely in gold to indicate that his Babylonian empire would never perish or be conquered. While this is speculation, knowing the pride of Nebuchadnezzar it's probably on the money. So the king gathers all his leaders in preparation of some grand dedication. Seems like something big is on the way!

'The times, they are a changin'

 Dan 3:4-7 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, 'This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.' Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 

This passage and event constitutes a change for the lives of all Jews exiled in Babylon. They had faced indoctrination before but not persecution for their religious beliefs.  [1]  That is now beginning. Note also the extent of this decree - whatever is happening here with the proclamation and decree is going to affect all peoples and men of every language. Everyone is going to be put on the spot - do you obey the king? Do you go with these new laws of the land? What about if you are Jewish and to bow down and worship this image would break the first two of the Ten Commandments? But what of the alternative? To not do so will probably cost you your life.

Christians in persecuted countries have faced these questions since the time of Christ. In the West however it is a recent development where the laws of the land are coming into conflict with the laws of God. But this has been increasing and changing fast. Christians in employment associated with marriage (such as florists, cake makers, signing marriage licenses or officiating in the ceremony) now have to decide whether they will participate in homosexual marriages. Many have declined and been fined heavily and faced public persecution and ridicule for not doing so. Some have lost their business. An officer in the US army was recently court marshaled for refusing to remove a scripture that he had put up. Students face ridicule and persecution for standing up for what they believe in.

There are many areas where the laws of the land are now coming into conflict with the ways of God. An 'Answers in Genesis' article  [2]  states that the Government is:

  • Attempting to force pastors to officiate at gay weddings.
  • Coercing Christian colleges to accept homosexual behavior or lose government aid.
  • Telling ministries to open their hiring to non-adherents to their faith, including practicing LGBT people
  • Effectively forcing religious and pro-life groups based in Washington, DC, to hire people who are pro abortion and provide them the insurance coverage that includes abortions

Eventually we will all, more and more, be put on the spot about what values and beliefs we hold to and whether they will influence the decisions we make... or whether we 'go with the flow' of the world's opinions.

When the world puts you on the spot!

Dan 3:7-15 Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, 'O king, live forever! You have issued a decree, O king, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon - Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.' Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, 'Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace.  Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?  '

So what do you do? You've been led into captivity to a foreign country and suddenly the king, whose favourite saying is that he will 'tear you limb from limb and turn your house into rubble', is commanding that you fall down and worship this golden oversized monstrosity. You know that to do so will break the first two commandments in that you should not have any other 'gods' or idols. There are times when Christians have to disobey the law of the land when it goes against what is being commanded by God. There are times, in the words of the apostle Peter, that 'we must obey God and not men' (see Acts 4:18-20, 5:27-29). The interesting thing about this chapter is that it is not just historical. It is actually prophetic of what conditions will be like in the last days. Please read the following footnote to see this important point.  [3] 

So we've left our three friends with quite a decision to make. The horns of a dilemma you might say. The king, without a hint of a smile on his face has just challenged them with 'if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?' So it seems that the king has already forgotten about the God of Daniel and his friends that he was introduced to in chapter 2. So here is the moment of choice for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

True faith in the face of the fire

Dan 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace,  the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand  , O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.  '

What amazing faith our three amigos had! Having committed themselves to the God of Israel  [4]  , God now commits Himself to them and supplies  [5]  the boldness and strength to stand and defy the king! What an amazing testimony they gave  [6]  . You would think that they would fall somewhat silent as they contemplated how to respond to such a threat but they spoke immediately with grace yet firm resolve and faith. It is one thing to 'think' that we will be strong in such a time but another to actually do it. Peter told Jesus that even if all deserted Him, he never would. Great speech! Yet at the moment of testing, he even had to lie to a small girl saying he didn't know Jesus! (Matt 26:69) The moral of this story is that we should never have such great pride and confidence in ourselves but rely on God to give what is needed in such times. That is the answer to the confidence that our three amigos exhibited.

So how do you think the king would respond? What's going to happen to these three little worms that don't want to go along with this new one world religion?

A furious fuehrer and a fierce flaming fire

 Book of Daniel Bible Study Commentary Chapter 3Dan 3:19-23 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 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 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, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

 How would Nebuchadnezzar respond? Well, not well. He heated the furnace up seven times hotter and decrees that our three friends will be thrown in alive. It is about now that we should be reminded that God's ways are not our ways! You can probably imagine the prayer groups leaping into action as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are lead away. If we were a fly on the wall it might have gone something like this:

God's will and our prayers (sometimes)

Prayer Group: 'Oh Lord, we beseech thee, change Nebuchadnezzar's heart!' 

God: 'No' 

Prayer Group: 'Oh Lord, don't let your faithful servants be thrown in the fire... please, think of their families!' 

God: 'I want them thrown in the fire' 

Prayer Group: 'Oh Lord, they're getting close, um... I command the flames to be gone in Jesus name!' 

God: 'My child, it is my will and desire that they go through the flames - I have something for them but it is only found in the midst of the fire.'

If you think about it, probably 95% of your prayer life is spent telling God what He should do. But God didn't take the fire away. He can, and sometimes does, but in my experience he usually has a purpose in letting people go through the fire. So let's look at that very purpose:

The purpose for the flames

Dan 3:24-25 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, O king.' 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.' 

What a result! In direct fulfilment of Isaiah 43:2 the flames didn't even touch them! In fact, the only thing burnt by the flames were the ropes that the king had used to bind our three friends! That is God for ya! He can even use a nasty trial to free us from the things that would seek to bind us. And notice why it was that they were able to come through this fiery trial (quite literally!) intact - because one like 'a son of the gods' was with them. That is Jesus, who is with His people through their trials.  [7]  So what was God's purpose for the flames?

The purpose for the flames
  1. It was for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego themselves. They were able to experience God! They were able to experience His protection, fellowship and peace when circumstances would state otherwise! Think about your own life... I would suspect that the times when you have experienced God the most have come in the midst of fiery ordeals.

  2. It was for Nebuchadnezzar and those looking on - They got to see that with God you could go through the fire and not be burned. They got to see that they were upheld, loosed and free. They got to see that someone ('a son of the gods') was with them. Never underestimate God's desire to witness to others when you go through a trial!

Dan 3:26 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!'

"But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego yelled back saying "Na, na, naaa! How about you come on in where we are!' Ok, so that's not their real response but it would have been a good one! Here is the real response.

One amazed king and three thankful believers

Dan 3:26-30  So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 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. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, '  Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!  They trusted in him 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. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.' Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar was obviously, and rightfully, blown away! Probably couldn't believe his eyes but one thing he knew for sure is that the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was unlike any other 'god' he had come across before! And so, our three friends received a job promotion. From zero to hero you might say. Straight from the depths of the fire and into a new job ruling over the provinces of Babylon! Not bad. The king is obviously very impressed, once again, with the God of Israel. Would this last? Unfortunately, as we shall see in the next chapter, he still isn't as impressed with the God of Israel as he is with himself! Oh mankind! When will you ever learn? Well, that is another study. For now, let me just leave you with the words of Peter:

1 Peter 1:3-9

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.


[1] ↩  I see a parallel coming for the church in the west. Things seem to be moving from being influenced to being persecuted. We are moving from Daniel 1 to Daniel 3. Maybe not in the same extent because we would consider ourselves slightly more 'civilized' but the times they are a changing and the picture given in Daniel 3 is where things will end up under the coming world ruler.

[3] ↩  Daniel is a prophetic book. I'm sure you know that. But apart from the overtly prophetic portions of scripture in Daniel, there are also some glimpses of the end times through the stories that occurred in the life of Daniel and his friends. This chapter, chapter 3, is definitely one of those times. Here is what we have... a wicked King, with absolute power, setting up an image that must be worshipped. Disobey and you'll lose your life. A global decree has gone out: 'All peoples, nations, men of every language had to bow down!' What exactly is happening here? What is Nebuchadnezzar doing? I believe he is uniting world religion! He would have known that the kingdom that was struck and smashed in chapter 2:41 was a divided kingdom. That's what made it weak. So the king's thought is to unite religious belief in the worship of his image! Note also that this new image is 60 cubits by 6 cubits! (Remembering that the number 6 is the number of man). If this is not yet clear. let me spell it out. In the last days, this shall happen again as we read in Revelation 13:11-18. A king will rule the entire earth and will unite worship unto himself. The false prophet shall setup an image that the entire earth has to worship. One religion once again! And he will give that image power to speak and cause those that will not bow down in worship to be killed. Although, like in the days of Daniel, there will be some that it cannot touch (more on that later). That is where things are heading. As it was in the days of Daniel 3, so shall it be again.

[4] ↩  Commitment is becoming a rare quality in this age (in the west at least). Especially this type of commitment that places no conditions on God whatsoever. We tend to give in and give up. This happens in jobs, marriages, faith and even our lives. Even Christians can sometimes believe that God primarily exists for their benefit... He exists to bless them. Nope. We exist for His pleasure. Our friends placed no such conditions on God - deliverance or not, God is good and worth obeying!

[5] ↩  Probably said this story before but I like it. When Corrie Ten Boom was afraid as a small girl that she would never have the courage to put her faith on the line for Jesus, her godly father simply said to her 'Corrie, when we take the train to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks early? No. I don't give you the money until we approach the ticket office. So it is with God. He provides the strength we need at the time we need it.' That's how it would have been with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego I believe.

[6] ↩  What they did in the midst of this fiery ordeal is what Peter tells us to do:

'...don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you... if you are suffering according to God's will, keep on doing what is right, and trust yourself to the God who made you, for he will never fail you.' (1 Pet 4:12,19)

[7] ↩  Now, as a prophetic side note, this passage also reminds us of the another set of Jewish males who will not bow down in the end times. But they also will not be harmed. In the last days, 144,000 Jewish males will be set aside by God and will have His seal in their forehead. This will mean that they will not be able to be harmed by the different trials that will come upon the earth. (See Rev 7:1-8). No doubt, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stand as a type of this group that in the last days will be similarly protected. Just as Daniel, who is completely absent from this whole scene, represents the Church that is removed before the tribulation comes upon the earth.