The 3rd chapter of the Book of Daniel highlights the arrogance and corruption of government leadership. This behavior contrasts with Godly obedience even in the face of dire consequences. Does goodness and truth prevail? ◊
At the end of Chapter 2 in the Book of Daniel, young Daniel, the devout Hebrew captive serving in the Babylonian king’s court, is rewarded for correctly describing and then interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s odd dream. Daniel is promoted to a key government position in Babylon and successfully places his 3 best friends, Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego, in leadership positions as well.
Chapter 3 takes place sequentially later, debated to be perhaps even up to 20 years later coinciding with the destruction by the conquering Babylonians of the Hebrew temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC.1 The young friends of Daniel, having been deported to Babylon in the first wave of attacks, are still in positions of government authority at this time and find themselves in another life and death quandary.
Pledge Allegiance or Die
Many people are familiar with the popular and compelling Bible story of Daniel’s 3 friends with the funny names surviving the king’s fiery furnace. The king has erected a 90 foot golden image set up on a open plain within the province of Babylon. The king has apparently taken the best part of Daniel’s chapter 2 interpretation of his odd dream years early and is honoring himself as the first golden kingdom, “the head of gold” in the dream statue image. At the statue’s dedication ceremony, the following edict was proclaimed:
“Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe 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.” (Daniel 3:4-6)
So a state religion was decreed and made compulsory. The people, both Babylonians (also known as the Chaldeans) and captive Hebrew people naturally fell in lockstep obedience and bow down before the image for fear of their lives. Note that not all of Israel was deported to Babylon over the years of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem – somewhere over 10,000 Hebrews were taken to the capital city of the Babylonian empire.
Malicious and envious enemies of the Jews called out 3 holdouts to the king’s decree:
“May the king live forever!…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, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:9, 12)
King Nebuchadnezzar is furious and confronts Daniel’s 3 friends. They hold their ground even when threatened directly with death for disobedience to the king:
“…be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:18)
The men are tied up and plunged into the burning fiery furnace.
The King’s Eyewitness Account
The king is astonished when he sees 4 men loose and walking freely in the midst of the blazing furnace. He confronts the odd reality he has just personally witnessed, in fact, a miracle:
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, Your Majesty.” 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.” 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!” 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.
It’s interesting to see that this is the second religious turnaround for King Nebuchadnezzar. In Chapter 2 he praises Daniel’s God as the “God of gods and Lord of kings.” Here in Chapter 3 he proclaims praise and blessing to the God of Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego and vows to protect any people, nation or language that follows this God.
Yes, quite the turnaround for a very secular king surrounded by self-serving and malicious advisers. No matter the political posture, wise kings acknowledge, honor, and respect the God of gods and Lord of kings. And this is not an issue of a so-called line separating Church and State. That is simply personal prudence and faith in God as God. As Nebuchadnezzar would painfully find out in Chapter 4, God is in control and people, kings, and nations that bow down to Him in full freedom, without compulsion, are all the better for it.
One final note. An interesting question can be raised about Daniel’s whereabouts throughout the events of Chapter 3. He’s not mentioned at all. Where was he? No one knows for sure. After 20 years in leadership, he may have been on assignment traveling throughout this whole statue episode. There is no indication that Daniel would have succumbed to the king’s edict – he would have stood firm in God’s hands as did his friends. Of course, we know the episode of Daniel being placed in the lions’ den still lies ahead for the devout and obedient Daniel.
Would you stand up to a state controlled religion opposed to Christianity?
“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.” – Daniel 3:29
1The Golden Image Of Nebuchadnezzar, http://bible.org/seriespage/3-golden-image-nebuchadnezzar