The third chapter in Daniel happens at an undetermined time after the end of chapter two. The story flows from one chapter to another, and we see the idol from the dream showing up again, but the time difference between the two chapters must be substantial (at least a few months if not years). The reason behind this is that it’s really out of character for Nebuchadnezzar to declare Daniel’s God “a God of gods, and a Lord of kings”, and then immediately thereafter resume idol worship. It’s also highly likely that Daniel wasn’t present for these events he writes about in chapter three, because he doesn’t seem to have any role in the happenings. Some historians have proposed that this chapter takes place shortly after the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and Daniel was either back in that area on official business, or mourning the loss of God’s city and dwelling place.
The chapter starts by stating that Nebuchadnezzar made an idol of gold, and set it up in the plain of Dura. The idol is not described in any detail other than its overall dimensions, which we examined in the previous study. Its height was 60 cubits (90 feet) and its width was 6 cubits (9 feet). I proposed that these dimensions are not very proportional to a human body, so the idol was probably representing something else. It could even be an obelisk, but there’s no certainty about the commonality of obelisks in Babylon at that time, though there are records of Baal worship that involve obelisks. There are certainly records of pillars being used to depict a story. A more modern example of such a pillar is Trajan’s column . In this case, the idol could have been a pillar depicting the destruction of Jerusalem, though this is only conjecture on my part. In any case, Nebuchadnezzar gathered all his officials in order to dedicate this idol.
We see in this chapter that music plays a big role in the worship of this time period, just as it does in our time. The officials are commanded to “fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up” when they hear the sound of all kinds of music. In this case, music represents a sign that worship is about to take place, the worship of an idol. After many years of conquering, Nebuchadnezzar had become proud and full of himself. He forgot about the God of Daniel who reveals dreams, and he forced other people to worship false gods and idols. The punishment for not worshiping this new idol was death by burning in a furnace.
God’s people, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the former favorites of Nebuchadnezzar, did not obey the king’s decree and did not bow down to the idol. In short order, those Chaldeans who wanted to get rid of the three friends, passed the word to the king that the Jews would not bow to the idol. Nebuchadnezzar gave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego an ultimatum: “Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” In other words, bow down or die. It’s pretty amazing to see that Nebuchadnezzar would even give them a second chance. I think he must have remembered that these people are special.
The Jews held fast to their faith and said to the king: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up”. These men put their trust in God to deliver them, but even if He chose not to deliver them, they would still not bow down to the idol. God had commanded them, from the days of Moses, that “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me”.
Nebuchadnezzar reacted with fury and commanded the furnace to be fired up, but to make it seven times hotter than usual. The men that put Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the flames were slain themselves due to the heat of the fire, it was that strong. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not even touched by the flames, bound as they were. As soon as they were put in, Nebuchadnezzar noticed that it wasn’t only the three of them in that furnace, but also one who looked like the Son of God. Their protection and their lives were assured by God, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego really had nothing to fear. This story is used to strengthen Christians in the face of persecution. Even if God doesn’t deliver us, we will not bow down to an idol, to an image, but to God Himself who is the only one worthy of worship and praise.
Revelation 13:15 draws a parallel with Daniel 3. In Daniel 3:4, the people, nations, and languages present in the plain of Dura were commanded to bow down and worship the image or face death by fire. In Revelation 13:15, the image of the beast has the power to kill those who would not worship the beast. The image of the beast in the book of Revelation represents an image of an incarnation of Babylon itself. In the last days before the second advent of Jesus Christ, Christians will be faced with the ancient Babylonian command once again, just as the people on the plain of Dura: “bow down, or die”. If we were to have some music to go along with the command, the parallelism would be complete. These days are coming quickly upon us, and I don’t think many people realize the urgency of the matter. If they do realize it, a lot of people are led astray by messages which have no root in the scriptures. This kind of deception is the work of Satan and his angels in the world.
Back in the plains of Dura, Nebuchadnezzar seemed to repent again of his sin, and said “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon”.
God impressed upon Nebuchadnezzar that there is nothing he can do against His will. What Nebuchadnezzar would consider to be magic, God considers common. There is absolutely nothing that is not in God’s power, and we Christians better remember that. Our faith has to be strong in the face of overt and covert persecution. Satan will attempt to work through good and evil people in order to get us to “bow down” to the image that will come into the world in the last days. I hypothesize that this image will look so good to a Christian, and the deception will be so complete, that most people won’t even notice what’s happened until it is too late. We have to be like the wise virgins in Matthew 25, not like the foolish ones. Jesus commands us to be wise as serpents, but innocent as doves. Being wise to the ways of Satan does not imply that we are also evil; being wise is a defense mechanism. We have to identify his ways, his tactics, and what exactly is the end-time deception that he will set up. so that we can avoid being part of it, even when faced with death as punishment.
I will conclude this study by saying that I cannot impart any oil onto you, my dear readers. You must be wise enough to bring enough oil to the wedding so that your lamps will not run out. It’s extremely important to heed this warning, because the foolish virgins were not allowed into the wedding even after procuring oil. Waiting until the last minute to gain understanding and knowledge of the true character of God will not be enough. Just as the officials of Babylon saw nothing wrong in worshiping the image, so will the majority of Christians not see anything wrong in worshiping the image in the last days. Our eternal lives are at stake and we must dedicate ourselves to understanding God’s character and His prophecies so that we may not be deceived.