So, in Daniel 1 we read how the Lord delivered Jerusalem into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar; and some of the members of Israel’s nobility were taken away to Babylon to undergo a three year re-education programme to teach them the language and literature of Babylon, so that they would become good Babylonians. Among them were Daniel and his three friends who resolved that they would stand firm and remain faithful to the Lord their God. Though they were now living in a pagan land, they were determined to remain obedient to their God. And the Lord — who is faithful — helped them in various ways. And, in the end, when the re-education programme was finished, they impressed the king with their wisdom and understanding; and they stood out above all the other wise men in the kingdom.
That was chapter 1. In chapter 2 the king had a dream of a great statue which was destroyed by a rock which had been cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands. And this rock, having destroyed the statue, grew and became a mountain that filled the whole earth. That was the king’s dream. None of his wise men was able to tell him the dream or what it meant. The king was furious; and in a rage he issued a decree that all his wise men should be executed. But when Daniel found out about the king’s decree, he and his three friends prayed to the Lord for help; and the Lord helped them by revealing to Daniel the dream and its meaning. Daniel went to the king and told him the dream and its meaning.
And do you remember what the dream meant? The statute in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream stood for four great earthly empires: the first was Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon; the second was the Persian Empire; the third was the Greek Empire; the fourth was the Roman Empire. And the rock which was cut from a mountain, but not by earthly hands, and which destroyed the statue stands for the Lord Jesus Christ, because it was during the Roman Empire, that Christ the King was born; and he came to announce and to establish his kingdom on the earth. All other kingdoms of the earth, and every power and authority that sets itself up against God, will be destroyed in the end, just as the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was destroyed; and in the end, when Jesus Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead, his kingdom will be the only kingdom; and his kingdom, unlike every earthly kingdom, is an everlasting kingdom which will never, ever come to an end. And just as the rock in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream grew until it became a mountain that filled the earth, so Christ’s kingdom is growing throughout the world through the preaching of the gospel by preachers sent from God who call on sinners everywhere to repent and believe the good news. And whoever repents and believes is added to Christ’s everlasting kingdom and they receive from him everlasting life.
And the king was so impressed with Daniel for knowing and interpreting the dream that he promoted Daniel and made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon. And in that way Daniel points us to Christ, because just as Daniel was taken from being a servant to become a ruler, so Christ our Saviour — who made himself a servant and who suffered and died on the cross — was afterwards raised from the dead and exalted to the highest place and given the name that is above all names. And just as Daniel ensured that his friends were also promoted, so Christ our Saviour will ensure that all who trust in him will be raised with him to resurrection life and we will reign with him for ever.
So, that was chapter 2 which speaks to us of the good news of the gospel about Jesus Christ who died, but who was raised; and of how Christ’s kingdom will be extended throughout the world and will outlast every earthly kingdom and every power that sets itself up against God. Today we come to chapter 3 and to the well-known story of the fiery furnace and how the Lord delivered Daniel’s three friends from the flames.
Now, I haven’t said anything yet about the structure of Daniel. There are different ways of dividing up the chapters, but the best suggestion I’ve come across is this: chapter 1 is about going into exile; chapter 2 is about the four earthly kingdoms and God’s kingdom; chapter 3 is about deliverance (God delivered the three friends from the flames); chapter 4 is about humbling Nebuchadnezzar, a proud king; chapter 5 is about humbling Belshazzar, another proud king; chapter 6 is about deliverance (God delivered Daniel from the lions); chapters 7 to 9 are about the four earthly kingdoms and God’s kingdom; and chapters 10 to 12 are about the return from exile. In other words, everything in chapters 1 to 4 is — in a sense — repeated in chapters 5 to 12. And so, chapter 3 is the first of two deliverance stories in the book of Daniel; and both of them teach us how the Lord is able to deliver his faithful people from trouble. But since God’s word is also — from beginning to end — about our salvation, then we can be confident that in these two stories of deliverance, the Lord God Almighty was revealing something about the good news of Jesus Christ who promises his people everlasting life.
But before we move on to look at the passage, it might be worth our while taking a few minutes to remember Romans 13 and Acts 4. What’s in Romans 13? In Romans 13 God makes clear that everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for their is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist — like King Nebuchadnezzar — have been established by God. He placed them in positions of authority so that whoever rebels against the governing authority is rebelling against what God has instituted. Therefore, under normal circumstances, it’s our duty to obey whatever authorities there are. That’s God’s will for us, according to Romans 13. The same point is made elsewhere in the New Testament.
However, what about Acts 4? Well, in Acts 4 the authorities forbade the apostles from doing something the Lord commanded. The Lord had commanded them to preach the gospel; but the authorities commanded the apostles to stop preaching the gospel. In those circumstances — when the governing authority forbids a believer from doing what the Lord commands, or when the governing authority commands a believer to do what the Lord forbids — the believer must obey God rather than man. Under normal circumstances, we’re to obey the governing authority. But when the word of the ruler contradicts the word of God, we’re to obey God. And that’s the case here in Daniel 3: the King commanded the people to worship an idol; but God forbids the worship of idols. Therefore Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were right to disobey the king. They were right to disobey the king, because that had to obey the King of kings.
Well then, having said that, let’s turn to Daniel 3 which can be divided into three sections. First, in verses 1 to 7, we read how the officials obeyed the king’s command. Second, in verses 8 to 18, we read how the three friends disobeyed the king’s command and entrusted themselves to God. Third, in verses 19 to 30, we read how the three friends are thrown into the furnace, but are saved by God.
Verses 1 to 7
So, verses 1 to 7 first of all where we read in verse 1 that King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold which was 90 feet high and nine feet wide. Perhaps he got the idea of the statue from his dream, but whereas the statue in the dream was made of different materials, this one was made entirely of gold. Once the statue was in place, he summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the other provincials officials to come to the dedication of the image. So, all his officials were summoned to the opening ceremony. And, sure enough, according to verse 3, all of them — the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the other provincials officials — assembled for the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar set up. So, the king summoned them and all of them — every last one of them — responded to his summons.
And then, according to verse 4, the king’s herald announced that these people — who represented the peoples, nations and men of all languages — were commanded to fall down and worship the image of gold which the king has set up as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.
Well, let’s think for a moment about what kind of image this was. Some commentators suggest that since it was made of gold, and since the golden head in chapter 2 stood for Nebuchadnezzar, then perhaps the statue was an image of Nebuchadnezzar himself. Others suggest that it was an image of one of the Babylonian gods, such as Marduk — who is sometimes known as Bel — or perhaps Nabu, after whom Nebuchadnezzar was named. Those are two suggestions. However, we can’t be certain who it represents, because the text does not tell us. However, the text very deliberately makes the point again and again that the image was set up by Nebuchadnezzar. We’re told this in verses 1 to 3 and in verses 5 and 7 and 12 and 15 and 18. In other words, more than anything else, the image represented Nebuchadnezzar’s power and prestige and wealth. And by commanding his officials to fall down and worship it, he was testing their loyalty. Would his officials do what he commanded and bow before the image he had set up? By bowing to the image, they were — in a sense — bowing to him and his will and proving their willingness to serve him as loyal subjects of the great king Nebuchadnezzar.
And since the penalty for disobedience was death, it’s no surprise to read in verse 7 that when the music started, all the peoples, nations, and men of every language fell down and worshipped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Well, as we’ll see in a moment, Daniel three’s friends did not fall down and worship the image. But people often wonder where Daniel was, because he doesn’t appear in this story. Surely if he was there, he too — like his friends — would refuse to bow down before this image? So, why don’t we read about him? Where was Daniel? Well, some commentators suggest he was away on business: he was an important man, ruler of the entire province of Babylon; so presumably he was out of the country, on some official business. But that’s only speculation. A better answer is found in the text, because in verse 2, where it mentions all the types of officials who were summoned, it finishes by referring to ‘all the provincial officials’. In other words, he summoned to Babylon the officials who served him in the different provinces in other parts of the empire. He wanted to test their loyalty and to find out whether or not he could trust them to serve him faithfully in the provinces, far away from his court. But Daniel didn’t serve him in one of the far away provinces; Daniel served him in the province of Babylon itself, and in the king’s own court. That’s what we read in the last verse of chapter 2. And presumably the king was already convinced of the loyalty of the members of his court; that’s why they were in his court, serving him closely every day. He trusted them already. But he needed to be sure about those officials who served him in far away places; and so, they were ones he summoned at this time, whereas Daniel and the others who served in his court, were not summoned. That’s why Daniel doesn’t appear in this chapter.
Verses 8 to 18
Well, let’s move on to verse 8 to 18 where we read how the three friends disobeyed the king’s command and entrusted themselves to God.
So, everyone else, when they heard the sound of the music, fell down and worshipped the image. But according to verse 8 some men came forward and denounced the Jews, and specifically, Daniel’s three friends: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The men tell the king that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego paid no attention to the king and they neither served the king’s gods or worshipped the image of gold which the king had set up. And if you look at verse 12 — where they mention how the king had set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon — it appears that perhaps one reason why these men wanted to get the three friends into trouble with the king was out of jealousy. They were perhaps jealous of the three friends and the positions they held in the empire.
Well, when the king heard this report, he became furious with rage. And he summoned the three friends to appear before him. And when they arrived, he once again commanded them to fall down and worship the image. But if not, they will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And he added:
What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?
Well, the king did not believe any god would be able to rescue them. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego believed in the God who revealed himself to be the one who created all things in the beginning, and who sustains all things day after day, and who rules and reigns in heaven over all that he has made. The king thought there was no one to help them, but they trusted in the God who revealed himself to be a rock and refuge and a strength and an ever-present help for his people. The king thought there was no one to help them, but they trusted in the God who revealed himself to be the good shepherd who takes care of his people, even when they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. They trusted in the God who revealed himself to be the Saviour of his people who had saved them when they were slaves in Egypt and who had brought them through the Red Sea and safely through the wilderness to the Promised Land and who in the days of Moses had bound himself to his people and to their descendants after them to be their God for ever and ever. That’s the God they believed in; and the God they believed in had commanded them to have no other gods before him and who forbade them from worshipping idols.
And so, believing in that God, they said to the king in verse 16 that they don’t need to defend themselves in this matter. In other words, they’re unapologetic; and they will not change their mind. If we’re thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it. Nothing is too hard for him; nothing is impossible to him; just as he saved his people from the Egyptians, and brought his people through the Red Sea, so he can save them and bring them through the flames. Nothing is too hard for him and he can rescue them from the king’s hand.
And so, they testified to their faith in God. However, they’re not presumptuous, are they? Just as the Lord Jesus bowed before his Father in heaven and prayed, ‘Not my will, but yours be done’, so Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said to the king:
Yes, our God is able to save us. But even if he does not….
They do not presume to know what God’s will is; they don’t presume to know what God’s plans are for them. If it’s God’s will, he can and will save them. But who knows? Who knows? Perhaps his will for them is for them to die in the flames. They don’t know. They can’t tell. They don’t know the future and what God’s will for them is.
However, even if the Lord does not save them on this occasion, they will not serve Nebuchadnezzar’s gods or worship the image of gold that he set up. They may not know God’s secret will — his plan for their lives; and whether they’ll live or die — but they know God’s revealed will: his commandments and his laws, forbidding them from worshipping false gods and idols. And so, they resolved to stand firm and to remain faithful and to obey the Lord’s revealed will and what he had commanded them to do.
And resolved to stand firm and to remain faithful, they entrusted themselves to their God. And whether they lived or died at that time, the truth is that God would ultimately save them — and all who believe in him — from death, because he promises to raise all believers from the grave so that we will live with him for ever and ever in glory. God will go on in chapter 12 to reveal to Daniel how multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will one day awake. He was speaking of the resurrection of the dead and the great hope God gives to all who trust in him of everlasting life in his presence, when we will shine like the brightness of the heavens. And it was the hope of the resurrection which sustained Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego so that they were able to refuse to obey the king and to entrust themselves in body and soul to their God.
And this is the hope God gives to all his people, to all who trust in his Son. Just as Christ died and was raised, so all who believe in him will live, even though we die. And so, we do not need to fear the future, and we do not need to dread the grave, we do not need to fear what men may do to us, because even if they destroy our body, we know that our Redeemer lives and in the end we shall see him with our own eyes and we will live with him in glory. And believing this — believing that no matter what our enemies may do to us, we will triumph in the end — we do not need to be afraid, but can resolve like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to stand firm in the faith and to remain faithful to our Lord, and to do his will here on earth, no matter what others may do to us, because whatever they do to us cannot compare to the glory that will be ours in the life to come.
And while we go on living on the earth, we can trust in him to be with us and to help us. And that takes me to the final section of today’s passage, verses 19 to 30 where we read how the three friends are thrown into the furnace, but saved by God.
Verses 19 to 30
In verse 19 we read how Nebuchadnezzar was furious with them and his attitude to them changed. Up to that moment, he was willing to give them another chance to bow down to the statue and so save their lives. But not now; now he was so furious with them and he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than normal. And then, he commanded his strongest soldiers to tie them up securely before throwing them into the furnace. Perhaps these furnaces had been used to melt the gold for the golden statue; and Daniel’s three friends were thrown into the opening at the top, still wearing their robes and trousers and turbans and other clothes. And, you’ll remember that the furnace was so hot, that the soldiers themselves perished because of the heat.
Well, there must have been some way for the king to see inside the furnace, because in verse 24 we read of his amazement when he noticed that he could see in the furnace, not three bound men, but four men, walking around unbound. And they were apparently unharmed. And the fourth man looked like ‘a son of the gods’.
Well, who was this fourth man? Many commentators believe it was the Son of God who appeared at this time in the form a man. Others believe it was an angel, sent from God to help them. The text itself does not help us and there’s no way of telling for sure whether it was the Son of God or whether it was an angel. However, in one sense, it doesn’t really matter, because the thing that matters most is the fact that the Lord God Almighty did not abandon these men in their time of need, but he was there with them, to help them. Whether he sent his Son to help them, or whether he sent his angel to help them, the fact is that he sent them the help they needed. And when the king called them to come out of the furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out, unharmed in any way. Look at verse 27: the fire had not harmed their bodies in any way; not a hair on their heads was singed; their robes were not scorched; there wasn’t even a smell of fire on them.
And God came to their rescue and caused this story to be recorded for us to teach his people in every generation that when we resolve to stand firm as they did, and when we remain faithful as they did, we can count of the Lord to be with us. The world may hate us, as Nebuchadnezzar hated them; and the world might despise us for what we believe; but no matter what the world does to us, and no matter what troubles and trials we may face, we can count of the Lord to be with us and never to leave us or forsake us. We can always count on the Lord to be at our side and to help us.
Troubles and trials will come. Isn’t that what Paul said to Timothy? He said:
everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Read through the Scriptures, and you’ll read again and again of the suffering of the Lord’s people. Read the history of the church, and you’ll read of the suffering of the Lord’s people in every generation. Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. And not only have we to endure the wrath of an unbelieving world, but we have to endure all the sorrow and suffering which everyone has to endure in this troubled and fallen world. But the Lord’s people can count on the Lord to be with us and to help us to endure all kinds of suffering for the sake of Christ.
Think back over your life and think of those occasions when you were in trouble and you wondered how you could cope and how you could manage. You wondered how you would get through that trouble you were facing; and how you could survive. And yet, here you are today. Here you are today, because the Lord helped you and gave you the strength you needed; and though everything seemed hopeless at the time, and you felt helpless, the Lord was with you to help you. And perhaps you didn’t even realise it at the time, but he was with you.
And even those believers who faced troubles and trials and sorrow and suffering — and we prayed for them — but they still died, they too can testify to the fact that the Lord did not abandon them or turn his back on them or leave them alone, because those believers who died are now with their Lord in heaven above, where they’re enjoying rest from all their labours and everlasting peace. Just as he was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, so he will be with us.
Well, in the end, after Nebuchadnezzar brought Daniel’s three friends out of the furnace, he praised their God and commanded the people under his authority not to say anything against their God, because he had come to see that no other god can save like their God can. He did not become a believer; he still continued to worship other gods. But once again he was compelled to acknowledge that their God was greater than any other god he believed in. And then he promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
Well, by lifting them out of the furnace and promoting them in the province of Babylon, these three friends serve as types of Christ. They point us to Christ, because just as they went down into the furnace because of their obedience to God, so the Lord Jesus Christ went down into the grave because of his obedience to God. Out of obedience to God the Father, he suffered and died on the cross to pay for our sins. And just as they were raised up out of the furnace, so the Lord Jesus Christ was raised up from out of the grave. And just as they were exalted by the king, so the Lord Jesus Christ was exalted and given the name that is above every name.
And because he died for us and was raised afterwards, we know that all who believe in him will one day rise to live with him in body and soul for ever and ever in glory. And while we wait for that day to arrive, we can be assured that the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will not abandon us, but will remain with us to help us to stand firm and to be faithful even to the end of our life here on earth.