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Daniel was the “ruler over the whole province of Babylon” (Daniel 2:48), but he was strangely absent when the image was set up “in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon” (Daniel 3:1). Even so, Daniel’s chief officials were there, and so they were summoned to the dedication of the image along with many others.
After the music signaled that all of Babylon’s officials were to submit to the image of gold, some of the watchmen noticed that three men had not responded properly. So we read in Daniel 3:8-12,
8 For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. 9 They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: “O king, live forever! 10 You yourself, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image. 11 But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over all the administration of the province of Babylon, namely, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”
Since the beginning of nations, when by force of arms Nimrod made himself king over men, there has been a conflict between civil and religious authorities. From the dawn of creation it was established that God was the final King of the earth, and that men’s duty was to obey God before man. But Nimrod’s conquests began to usurp that authority, demanding that men should obey man rather than God.
Kings normally do not dare to make such a bold assertion, of course. Instead, they demand that men should obey the gods of the kings. In practice, all false gods are the product of men’s carnal understanding, and men’s idols or images depict men’s imaginations of God and His character. But there is a difference between God and men’s understanding of God, between God’s character and what men believe His character to be, and between God’s law and men’s understanding of His law.
This was the basis of Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders of His day, who upheld the “traditions of men” which nullified the law of God. The same conflict still rages today between the overcomers and the Church authorities and also more broadly between secular governments and Christian believers.
So it was also in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. His gods conflicted with the God of the three Hebrew officials in the government of Babylon. All were expected to worship and honor the king’s gods. The charge against them was not merely that they had failed to submit to a golden image. It was said in verse 12, “they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”
In other words, the golden image was one of the king’s gods—or perhaps his foremost god. This may suggest that the golden image depicted a particular god that was already established in the kingdom. We are not told, but the main lesson for us is that all men were to worship gold (or money). The people were required to adopt the religious value which made the love of money a virtue, rather than a vice.
The love of money is rooted in self-interest. Secular rulers do not understand that if their officials and people adopt such a principle, then money (to them) is the highest god of the land, even standing above the king himself. It breeds corruption and sows the seeds of destruction in all of men’s kingdoms. Kings find themselves in a position where they must continually pass more restrictive laws in order to keep order. The people are thus ruled by fear, rather than by love. Ultimately, the kingdoms are overthrown by the people’s desire for freedom and their lack of love for the government.
Here is where the Kingdom of God differs from the kingdoms of men. Jesus Christ, the King, is the express image of God and “the exact representation of His nature” (Heb. 1:3). He is no mere idol created in the image of men. Beholding Jesus, we see the full nature of the Father and Creator of all things. His unselfish love and His willingness to die for the people sets Him apart from all other kings and their demands.
Jesus never commanded men to disobey the laws of God, whereas earthly kings nearly always make this demand, thinking that their own laws supersede the laws of God. But such is the difference between Christ and the usurper-kings of men. For this reason, the three Hebrews found themselves in trouble by not bowing to the king’s image of gold.
Daniel 3:13 continues,
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?” 15 Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”
It had been some years since Daniel’s interpretation of the king’s dream, so perhaps the king had forgotten about the God of heaven. Life had gone back to “normal” in those intervening years, and once again the king assumed that he was the highest authority in the land. In fact, it is plain that he did not think that ANY god could deliver men out of his hands. Nebuchadnezzar was an absolute monarch, and he believed that his power was above all gods.
In Daniel 3:16-18 the three Hebrews gave their answer:
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this. 17 If it so be, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
The three Hebrews understood that God Himself had required them to submit to Nebuchadnezzar, who was called God’s servant (Jeremiah 27:6). But God’s requirement did not include worshiping false gods. They were required to suffer the penalties for their refusal, unless it were possible for them to flee. Starting a revolution was out of the question, for they had no mandate to revolt and try to overthrow the king.
So they were resigned to undergo the fiery tribulation that the king had threatened, whether God might save them or not. Nebuchadnezzar became very angry at the affront, and we read in Daniel 3:19,
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times [shiba] more than it was usually heated.
Here we see another prophetic indicator. The furnace was to be heated “seven times more than it was usually heated.” The tribulation, beginning with the fall of Jerusalem, was to last “seven times,” (Heb. sheba) according to the law in Leviticus 26:18, 21, 24, and 28. In Daniel 7:25, as we will see, a “time” (Aram. iddan) was to be a length of time. But here in Daniel 3:19 the Aramaic term shiba is used to indicate intensity, rather than a length of time.
The Fiery Trial
Daniel 3:20-23 says,
20 And he commanded certain valiant warriors who were in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, in order to cast them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21 Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. 22 For this reason, because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. 23 But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up.
The king’s “valiant warriors” would have done better to walk by faith into the fiery furnace with their three prisoners! Perhaps God might have spared their lives, too. But the three Hebrews represented the overcomers during the tribulation period during the “seven times” (7 x 360 = 2,520 years) of tribulation. The warriors of Babylon were ill equipped to survive such tribulation. God did not allow the three overcomers to escape tribulation, but stood with them in its midst.
Perhaps if the rapture doctrine were true, the story would have read differently.