Do you support a nation or state that mandates practice of a certain religion? Here’s what happened to Daniel’s friends who opposed the mandate in Babylon. ◊
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 friends, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego in leadership positions as well.
When Does This Happen?
Daniel 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.
State Religion: 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 statue set up on an 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. Most people complied. Both Babylonians (also known as the Chaldeans) and captive Hebrew people fell in lockstep obedience and bowed 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 between 14,000 to 18,000 Hebrews were taken to the capital city of the Babylonian empire.2
Then a malicious and envious group of Chaldean astrologers called out 3 Hebrew holdouts to the king’s decree:
At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “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 3:8-12)
King Nebuchadnezzar was furious with rage and confronted Daniel’s 3 friends. They held their ground even when threatened directly with death for disobedience to the king:
“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
The men were then tied up and brutally thrown into the burning fiery furnace:
Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. (Daniel 3:19-23)
The King’s Eyewitness Account
The king is then 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. (Daniel 3:24-27)
The King’s Turnaround
Though his religion was polytheistic (a belief in many gods), King Nebuchadnezzar realizes that the God of the Hebrews was a special God to be praised:
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. (Daniel 3:28-30)
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. This 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 certainly 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
1 The Golden Image of Nebuchadnezzar, http://bible.org/seriespage/3-golden-image-nebuchadnezzar
2 The New World Encyclopedia, Numbers and Conditions, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Babylonian_Exile
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