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Daniel 3:1-30 – No Other God Is Able to Deliver in This Way

Summary

Nebuchadnezzar intensifies his tyrannical demands. From a statue in a horrifying dream, we move to a statue of the king's own making (3:1), which he commands everyone to worship (3:3-6). This directly challenges the faithfulness of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and they are threatened with death (3:13-15). Their faithfulness to God is exemplary, but the deepest source of amazement is God's faithfulness to them. Nebuchadnezzar confesses, "No other god is able to deliver in this way" (3:29).

Analysis

Nebuchadnezzar tests the Jewish exiles' worship of God. Why Nebuchadnezzar set up the golden image is not explicitly stated, and no reference is made to the name of the god his statue is to represent. What is stressed, rather, is that Nebuchadnezzar himself inspired it and set it up (3:1, 2, 3 [twice], 5, 7, 12, 14, 18). Nebuchadnezzar has placed himself beyond God. In the form of a question he boasts that there is no god capable of freeing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He fell to the ground and confessed at the end of Daniel 2 (v. 46), but that show of humility did not seem to last long. Now others must bow (3:5, 6, 11, 15). In addition, Nebuchadnezzar never acknowledges what the narrator asserted in the opening verses of the book: God gave him the victory over Judah and Jerusalem (1:1-2). Nebuchadnezzar places himself at the center. God disrupts Nebuchadnezzar's centering.

The narrative style of the chapter may itself undercut Nebuchadnezzar's presumption. The repeated long lists of officials (3:2, repeated in 3:3) and musical instruments (3:5, 7, 10, 15) mock the pomposity and hubris of the king. His royal ambition is out of control, underscored with the twofold mention of his rage (3:13, 19) and the sevenfold increase in the temperature of the furnace. The situation remains potentially lethal for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but the king also begins to look foolish in his exaggerated conduct. God will mock his power.

Readers may find the statement in 3:18 ("but if not") to be an expression of doubt about God's deliverance. But if the three had known in advance that they would be spared, their faithfulness would not have been put to the test and there would be no example for readers to follow should they find themselves threatened by persecution. As with their prayer in 2:17-18, the three trust God, but do not presume upon God.

The officials had gathered before Nebuchadnezzar's statue (3:3), but by the end of the chapter they stood as witnesses to the work of the true God (3:27). Their worship of the statue had gained them nothing; they end under a new threat from Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar drops all the fury he had attached to the challenge to his power (3:13, 19), but his new decree shows he is still a violent man. He commends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's defiance of his decree, but follows this with a new decree commanding the worship of their God. He commands others, but he does not worship. His death threat is hardly a fitting way to bring people to worship the true God. Promoting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would have been enough.

Daniel 3:1-30

The Golden Image

3King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counsellors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 3So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counsellors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, 4the herald proclaimed aloud, ‘You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.’ 7Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshipped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

8 Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. 9They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘O king, live for ever! 10You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, 11and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. 12There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. 14Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? 15Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good.* But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?’

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defence to you in this matter. 17If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.* 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’

The Fiery Furnace

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace to be heated up seven times more than was customary, 20and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics,* their trousers,* their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. 22Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counsellors, ‘Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?’ They answered the king, ‘True, O king.’ 25He replied, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.’* 26Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!’ So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counsellors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics* were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. 28Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.’ 30Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

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10 February 2011

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