Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent word to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. 3 Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed: “To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, 5 that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. 6 But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.” 7 Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
Clearly, the dream from chapter 2 still didn’t sit well with Nebuchadnezzar, and in his pride he hoped to at least visually or symbolically stand against the implications of the dream. He wanted his kingdom to endure forever, and he wasn’t interested in being part of the kingdom that would endure forever, God’s kingdom. Thus, he built an enormous statue, approximately 9 feet wide and 90 feet tall. The entire statue was gold or at least overlaid with gold. Whether it was solid gold or not is not nearly as important as the message that the king was trying to declare. In the dream, the gold on the statue was only on the head, but Nebuchadnezzar’s statue was gold from head to foot. In other words, he was trying to defy God’s revelation and declare that his kingdom would last forever. He wanted all the glory and praise for himself, and he wanted people to bow down to the statue. Whether or not the statue was a likeness of him or of a Babylonian deity or something else, what Nebuchadnezzar wanted was worship of himself and of his kingdom and rule. It is one thing to be patriotic and to love one’s country, and it is another to worship it as if it and its king are God incarnate. To worship the statue would clearly violate the first and second commandments of Exodus 20 concerning worshipping God above all others and not making an idol (c.f. Revelation 13:15). Yet the statue was made, and the decree was given that death by fire would stand as the consequence for non-compliance. There was extreme pressure to bow down given that this occurred at a public assembly where everybody was watching everybody including the king, and people from all nations and languages fell down and worshipped, except for a few of the faithful Jews.
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, 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 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.”
It appears from verses 7 and 8 that many of the captive Jews fell down and worshipped the statue in fear of their lives, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego did not deny the God of their fathers. Daniel is not mentioned in this passage, but there is no reason to believe that he buckled to peer pressure at this point. His testimony was still highly regarded in later chapters, and he had not lost credibility with the king concerning his God. What is clear is that Daniel’s three friends were targeted to make a statement to the king and to advance the career of a few Chaldeans who wanted the king’s favor and were perhaps jealous of the promotions that the three Jews had been given. These Chaldeans told the king that the three Jews should be thrown into the fiery furnace on account of defying the king’s edict. Appealing to the king’s pride, these men said that the Jews disregarded the king as though they were rebellious against Babylon or personally disrespectful. Clearly, they did violate the law, but it wasn’t out of spite for the king. Rather, it was in reverence to their King in heaven.
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 do 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?”
Their refusal to comply and bow down to the idol which represented Nebuchadnezzar’s great pride and defiance against the eternal reign of God threw him into a great rage. He gave orders for the three men to be brought before him, and he asked them if the accusations against them were true. Without even hearing their response, he told them again to bow down at the sound of the instruments and engage in pagan worship. He even reminded them that they would be thrown into the fiery furnace, and he mocked their God saying that not even a deity could stop his agenda. He believed that he was the most powerful entity in the world, but the three Jews did not.
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 If it be so, 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 Jews wisely understood that Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t interested in any kind of reasonable exchange, but they could see that he was ready to pour out his rage upon them. They decided simply to say that their God is able to save them from the fire, and they believed that He would do just that. But even if He did not choose to do so for some reason, they wanted it known that nothing would make them change their minds to bow down and worship the golden image. Worshipping a golden image was a legacy of failure for their people (Exodus 32), and it symbolized the very reason that they as a nation were carried off into captivity. But these three were not going to compromise or bow to the king’s threats and pressure. They believed that God would show Himself strong by delivering them, but they didn’t presume on that precise outcome. What was clear, however, is that regardless of what would happen, they were going to serve their God and declare to the king of the world that He was the King of even him.
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 more than it was usually heated. 20 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 refusal of the three to bow enraged Nebuchadnezzar even further, and his facial expression was altered toward the three men on account of the intense rage. He was ready to have them murdered, and he ordered that the fire of the furnace be heated to seven times more than normal. He commanded some of his best and most courageous warriors to tie up the three Jews and to cast them into the fire. They tied the three Jews up even with all of their outer clothes on, so they should start on fire very quickly as they were forced toward the fire. The valiant warriors who escorted the Jews to the fire were themselves killed by its intense heat, and the Jews fell into the fire tied up. The king would have expected them to be incinerated immediately, but that is not what happened.
24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” 25 He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” 26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. 27 The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.
The king was astounded to see four men walking around in the fire and not being burned and consumed. The king noted that the fourth person looked like a son of the gods. Whether it was an angel or Jesus Himself, it was clear to the king that something miraculous and divine had just occurred. This was no magic act or sorcery, but it was an act of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They were no longer tied up, and they had been divinely protected from the fire. The king told them to come out from the fire, which they did. The high officials from Babylon gathered around the Jews and saw that the fire had had no effect whatsoever on the men or on their clothing. They didn’t smell like smoke or have anything singed. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that the three Jews served the Most High God, but he did not yet submit to Him as God over him.
28 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 30 Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar didn’t bow down to them as he had Daniel, but he blessed their God. He didn’t make God his God, but he did acknowledge their God as having great power and as having delivered His servants who put their trust in Him from the fire. He acknowledged their bravery in refusing to bow to his command and instead offering their bodies up to be burned so that they would not sin against their God. The king made a decree that any who would speak against the God of the Jews would be killed and have his house destroyed. He also saw to it that the three Jews would be prosperous in the province of Babylon. He believed that there was something special and powerful about their God, but he still wouldn’t himself bow down before Him. It is not enough to know about God or to say nice things about Him. God wants repentance and those who will worship Him above all other things, including self, something Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t ready to do.