Message 3 | Daniel 3:1-30 | November 19, 2017
A sad reality of which most of us would probably concur is that we too often cave to external pressure. As we consider Daniel 3, we will quickly see that the vast majority of people (including most, if not all, of the other Jews) yielded to the intense pressure placed upon them. This same pressure is as well present today. The pressure doesn’t have to be nearly as intense and still most people will cave to the pressure. Standing for truth is challenging in and of itself and it is often intensified by having to stand alone.
This is the second time, in Daniel, God revealed His power in the midst of a situation where men acknowledged the inability of any man or god to do the specific task. In chapter 2 the wise men say that no man on earth could know and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and yet God reveals the dream and the interpretation through Daniel. Here in chapter 3, verse 15, Nebuchadnezzar says “and who is the God who will deliver you out or my hands.” Obviously he is implying that there is no god that can deliver them out of his powerful hands. And yet by the end of the chapter (3:28-29) Nebuchadnezzar admits, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego . . . there is no other God who is able to rescue in this way.”
Two test. This chapter is a test of allegiance on two fronts. While the story of a fiery furnace involves Nebuchadnezzar’s test of loyalty or allegiance to his rule, the true test of allegiance ends up being Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s allegiance and devotion to God. While they may have failed Nebuchadnezzar’s test, they did not fail God’s test which was far more important.
Two perspectives. We will as well look at two different perspectives in these tests. We will learn of and benefit from SMA’s perspective and observe a wonderful example of commitment and faithfulness to God, but we will as well consider an even more important perspective – that being God’s perspective in this story.
“King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold.” It’s dimensions seem a bit off. The image was 9 feet wide by 90 feet tall which probably included a base which the image sat on. The image itself was most likely a wooden or earthen structure that was covered in gold. It’s not likely that they would have had enough gold to make an entirely golden image.
His Purpose. Nebuchadnezzar desired to test his people’s loyalty to his rule. While we can only speculate as to why he felt the need to do this, there are some ancient text that may offer a reason. The Babylonian Chronicles indicate that there was a revolt in the Babylonian Empire between 595 and 594, nearly 10 years after the beginning of Judah’s Babylonian Captivity. Potentially due to this uprising, Nebuchadnezzar sensed the need to confirm his subjects’ commitment to his rule. Whether or not his decision to build an image was dependent on this insurrection is subjective and somewhat irrelevant.
As well it is likely that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from chapter 2 in which he was the head of gold was the framework for his building of a gigantic golden statue. We as well can’t know that for certain. We can know with certainty that he did in fact build an image and then demand that everyone “fall down and worship the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.” Any awe Nebuchadnezzar may have had of Daniel’s God following the events of Daniel 2 seems to be lost.
His Motivation. Nebuchadnezzar was driven by pride. It is this pride that God is going to directly confront in Daniel 4. His pride is displayed through a number of means. First, the statement “that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up” seems to point to some kind of infatuation.
Have you ever accomplished a significant task and wanted other people to take note of it – usually with the hope that you’ll get a few, “Wow! That’s amazing.” Kids do this with their drawings that you end up hanging on the fridge. Adults do it with the antlers they hang on the wall following hunting season or the presentation they nailed at work and have to show all their fellow employees and maybe even their spouse at home. At these moments we all desire the response to be some kind of amazement or at least positive acknowledgement. We hate indifference – whatever, meh.
Nebuchadnezzar comes off as an incredibly insecure artist needing everyone’s affirmation. Nine times in the first 18 verses the point that Nebuchadnezzar set up this image is stated. Everyone is commanded to come to the dedication of “the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.” All the officials of the land gather for the dedication of “the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.” The herald proclaims that everyone must fall down and worship “the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.” The Chaldeans are irate that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t bow to “the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up” and they go tell on them. Nebuchadnezzar is enraged and asked them why they didn’t bow down to the “image that I have set up.” He then offers them one more opportunity to fall down and worship “the image that I have made.” Their response is nothing short of “whatever.” He offers them one more chance and they tell him they don’t need any time to think about it. They aren’t going to fall down and worship “the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.” An already enraged Nebuchadnezzar becomes even more enraged and is “filled with fury” (3:19). He demands that the burning fiery furnace be heated up seven times hotter and that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be thrown in.
His pride is potentially even more clearly seen in his taunt to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. “If you do not worship you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace and who is the God who will deliver you out of my hands [emphasis mine]” (Dan 3:15).
The Chaldeans Pass Neb’s Test. Some Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. (vs 8-12). They as well implied disloyalty to the king. It’s possible that these Chaldeans were responsible for watching out for anyone who may be stupid enough to not fall down and worship. Maybe they were just doing their job, but the way the passage reads seems to indicate that there was bitterness and prejudice in their actions. The fact that they were Chaldeans probably means that such a menial task as looking out for offenders was below them. Instead they were probably racists. This comes out in their statement, “there are certain Jews,” as if it mattered whether they were Jews or not. Their bias probably goes even a little deeper. They were Jews “who you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon,” almost as if to throw the responsibility back on to Nebuchadnezzar. These are the guys you foolishly placed in positions of power. They go on. “These men, O King, pay no attention to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan 3:12).
They’re the kids on the playground that tell on everyone who does anything to bother them. They’re the adults who at work feel compelled to inform management of any infraction. They’re the sibling who is constantly telling her parents on the mean, older sibling. They’re probably the people nearly everyone else didn’t really care for and only tolerated. What’s important here is that from their perspective they were loyal to the King and they passed his test.
Other Jews passed Neb’s test. It is quite safe to say that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not the only Jews present during this test of loyalty. Both the Jerusalem Chronicle and Jeremiah 51:59-64 inform us that King Zedekiah was in Babylon during this time and likely present for this event. As well, due to nearly 10,000 Jews being sent into Babylonian captivity during 597 BC, it is most probable that there were a great number of other Jews in attendance at this event. We can’t say definitively that there were other Jews present or that those Jews, if present, fell down and worshiped the image. But, it seems incredibly likely. It appears highly probable that there were other Jews present and by the fact that the story doesn’t mention any of them being brought forward, the safe implication is that they all bowed. I’m quite certain that there were a host of Jews that while they bowed low and worshiped the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had built were offering creative justifications for doing so. After all, they weren’t being told to give up their worship of YHWH. They just had to bow to show allegiance this one time to Nebuchadnezzar. After all, they had been given a fairly decent life in captivity. Why not just play along? Couldn’t they just take care of it later? Couldn’t they just ask for forgiveness later? They passed Nebuchadnezzar’s test. They lived through that day! Shoo!
The test that is not implicitly mentioned in the passage but is the more significant test and the test that is often overlooked is God’s testing of his people. Will his people remain committed to Him? These other Jews may have passed Nebuchadnezzar’s test of allegiance they failed to pass God’s test of allegiance. Their creative justifications allowed them to “save their skin” on that particular day. In contrast, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego apparently didn’t succumb to any of the justifications. They stood their ground and endured one of the most significant test of allegiance to God in all of Scripture.
First, their refusal to bow results in being confronted by the King of the world. And, the King of the world was enraged. Nebuchadnezzar seems to calm himself just long enough to offer them one more opportunity to bow down and worship his image. If they don’t he’ll have them thrown into the burning fiery furnace, and then Nebuchadnezzar asked a question even though it was more of a declaration. “Who is the God who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan 3:15). His implicit point is that there is not a god who can deliver them from him. This intimidating confrontation is quickly dealt with. They respond.
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. [We don’t need to take time to carefully think through our response.] 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Dan 3:16–18 ESV).
There is no hesitancy in these three young men. They didn’t need to take time to think through how to best respond. They didn’t need to take time to try to craft some kind of creative exception for themselves. They were certain of who God was, what he could do, and what they were going to do. They knew that God had the power to save them from both the fiery furnace and from Nebuchadnezzar. But even if their powerful God chose not to save them, they had no intention of worshiping that image. So then, they failed Nebuchadnezzar’s test in a big and public way, but they passed God’s test of allegiance.
As we consider SMA’s allegiance on that memorable day, there are a couple of perspectives from which we can view the story. Of course, the natural perspective would be to view the story through the lens of SMA. We’re going to do that, and we’ll be appropriately challenged by their perspective. But, we’re going to push a little deeper into the story and consider as well God’s perspective in this story, a perspective of which I would argue is more important for us to grab hold.
Practical example of Philippians 2:12-13. In viewing these two perspectives we will find a practical example of the principle found in Philippians 2.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13 ESV).
There are two perspectives in this verse. From our perspective we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling – as if our salvation depended upon our work; but we are to as well realize that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” and in this realization rest and trust in the fact that God is doing the work in and through us. As we consider SMA in this story, we come to realize (from our perspective) that our commitment to God is contingent upon our knowledge of God and His will as revealed in His word.
Knowledge of His Word. SMA are aware of God’s expectations. The clear command in the law to not bow down to any graven image and the command to have only one God was permanently impressed upon their hearts. They knew what God expected of them at that point. Their actions displayed both an awareness of God’s laws or expectations and also a willingness to actually obey God’s laws.
Awareness of God’s Attributes. Not only were they aware of God’s expectations, but they were as well aware of God’s character. There are a number of different character qualities that God displays in this story. (1) God was present with them. They knew that God was aware of what they were going through and was present with them. The New Testament truth that “I will never leave your or forsake you” (Heb 13:5) was as well imprinted on their hearts. (2) They had a personal God and that personal God cared about them. (3) They also were full well aware of his power. I’m certain they sat and listened to the stories of the cloud and pillar of fire that led their people. I’m sure they were told about the dry path through the Red Sea that their people fled through to escape the Egyptian army. They were told about how manna came and fed their people. How water came from the rock to care for them. How God won battle after battle for his people as they came into the promised land. They knew God was powerful and they knew God could save them from this burning fiery furnace – if he so chose.
Great examples, but the story doesn’t stop here. Too often this is where the moral of the story stops. We see SMA as great examples of commitment and faithfulness. Due to their knowledge of God’s Word and their awareness and trust in God’s character they are able to stand firm through adversity and testing. That is a great moral challenge to draw. In fact we are encouraged to draw a similar conclusion in Hebrews.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 11:32–12:2 ESV).
The author of Hebrews desires for us to view these wonderful and memorable examples of saints who followed God, and then as a result of observing them, fight against sin and pursue Christ and his sacrificial example. So then, we are to appropriately draw moral conclusions from the life and actions of SMA, but it’s not enough to stop with their wonderful moral example, we must look further and see God.
What we will find as we consider God’s perspective is that he orchestrates everything for His glory, and more pertinent to the message of today is that our commitment to God is contingent upon His continued grace.
God desired to be glorified by displaying his character. His power. I can only imagine what God was thinking when Nebuchadnezzar said “no god can save you from me,” and of course my imagination at that point would be flowing from my sinful and fleshly frame. Therefore it’s highly unlikely that this is what God was thinking, but I would imagine as Nebuchadnezzar taunted, God looked forward to the moment in which he would humble Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful king in the world at that time, and yet God, with very little effort, displayed himself to be much more powerful than Nebuchadnezzar. It would still take at least one more significant moment of humbling Nebuchadnezzar for him to finally accept God is all powerful.
His faithfulness in keeping his promises. God didn’t have to spare SMA. In fact there were plenty of martyrs that would later burn to death for standing up for Christ. But in saving them, God reinforced a few important truths. (1) He promised to always preserve a remnant of his people. This incident is tangible evidence of that important reality. (2) He rewards those who obey him. Throughout the OT, God promises to reward those who obey his law. This is tangible evidence of him fulfilling that promise.
His care. He not only saved them but he came to them in their time of need. We can’t be sure, but either God himself or an angel came to them in the fiery furnace. Imagine the conversation that took place at that point! God could have simply spared them. His saving of them didn’t require his presence or some angelic presence. But, I believe that it was God that came to them, and in so doing beautifully displays the reality that God is a caring God. He is not only aware of our trials but is present with us through them.
God desired to be glorified by drawing Nebuchadnezzar to himself. Remember, God is the one who gave Nebuchadnezzar the dream that ended up being the blueprints for this monstrosity out in the dessert. God is the one who allowed Daniel to interpret the dream for Nebuchadnezzar so that he would see God’s amazing power. God is the one who spared SMA so that Nebuchadnezzar would once again see His immense power. We find that it takes quite a bit of doing, but God will, in his timing, effectually draw Neb to the point of brokenness and repentance – but that story comes a little later.
The Final Result. (1) SMA is spared and their reassurance in their God is bolstered. (2) Nebuchadnezzar glorifies the one true God. He does so in his own way – by threatening to dismember anyone who speaks against SMA’s God. He has a way to go, but he’ll eventually get there. (3) God is ultimately glorified. His attributes are displayed and he is seen to be glorious. His sovereign power is clearly seen. His care for his children is seen, his presence among his people, his faithfulness to his covenant promises – all are experienced and displayed.
While there are wonderful moral truths to be drawn from this story, we must never forget that first and foremost the Bible intends to reveal God. In this story God is gloriously revealed to be an all-powerful, present, and personal God.
As we take into consideration the story of two tests of allegiance and two perspectives, we attempt to draw an appropriate conclusion. To do so, we take the conclusions drawn from each perspective and bring them together. As we viewed SMA’s perspective I noted that, from our perspective, our commitment to God is contingent upon our knowledge of God and His will as revealed in His word. As we viewed God’s perspective, I noted that our commitment to God is contingent upon His continued grace. Therefore we close with this concluding purpose.
Purpose Statement. Work like your salvation depends on your works while trusting and resting in the reality that it doesn’t.
 ABC 5. Jerusalem Chronicle. Accessed November 15, 2017. http://www.livius.org/sources/content/mesopotamian-chronicles-content/abc-5-jerusalem-chronicle/ [Rev.11′] In the seventh year [598/597], the month of Kislîmu, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, [Rev.12′] and besieged the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Addaru he seized the city and captured the king. . . . [Rev.21′] In the tenth year [595/594] the king of Akkad was in his own land; from the month of Kislîmu to the month of Tebetu there was rebellion in Akkad. [Rev.22′] With arms he slew many of his own army. His own hand captured his enemy.