In chapter 2, we saw how Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream led to the king acknowledging Daniel’s God as “the God of gods and the Lord of kings” (2:47). But it seems the king isn’t quite ready to act like that’s the case. As in the very next chapter, we read this:
Daniel 3:1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.
That’s about as tall as a twelve-storey building. But what’s it for?
Daniel 3:2-5 He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 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.”
Worst game of musical statues ever.
And what if we don’t?
Daniel 3:6 “Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
Ah, OK then…
Daniel 3:7 Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Smart peoples. After all, what’s the problem with adding another god to your To-Worship list?
No problem. Unless you’re a Jew. Unless you happen to believe there’s only one true God. And unless that one true God’s first commandment is about having no other gods before him. And unless his second commandment is about not making idols or bowing down before them. Then it’s a big problem.
And so it was for Daniel’s three Jewish mates, who at the end of chapter 2 had been appointed administrators over the province of Babylon. I wonder how that went down with the Babylonian political elite?
Daniel 3:8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews.
Just waiting for the opportunity, weren’t they!
Daniel 3:9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever!”
Or at least that’s what it sounded like, but it was hard to tell with their lips pressed so firmly to the king’s backside.
Daniel 3:10-11 “Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
It’s sounding repetitive, but apparently it’s supposed to be building narrative tension or something. But here’s the important bit of the plot:
Daniel 3:12 “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.”
“…But we’re not jealous or anything. We just thought you’d like to know.” Riiight. They plan to use this to stop these foreigners taking the jobs of hard-working Babylonians. And they appeal to the king’s ego to make it happen.
Daniel 3:13-14 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?”
Just in case you’ve forgotten the key points, maybe the king would be so kind as to run through them once more?
Daniel 3:15 “Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
Here’s their response, which is the centrepiece of the story:
Daniel 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 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. 18 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.”
Let’s stop and notice a few things in their response.
Firstly, notice the bravery. They’re prepared to confront the most powerful man in the known world by telling him that they don’t answer to him; that there’s a higher authority than the king. And they’re prepared to die for their stance. That takes courage.
Secondly, notice their confidence in God’s sovereignty. They believe that God is able to deliver them. His capacity to intervene on their behalf is, in their minds, unquestionable.
But thirdly – and this can be easily overlooked – they’re going to remain faithful to God whether he does deliver them, or whether he doesn’t. Their trust is not conditional on whether God saves them. It’s not based on an expectation that they will be rescued, just that he can if he chooses.
And this is more remarkable when you remember that a developed understanding of resurrection – of reward and punishment in an age to come – is not really part of the Jewish worldview at this time. The whole “to live is Christ, to die is gain” thing belongs to a later era. If God didn’t rescue them now, in this life, when would he rescue them?
To think about
We’ll continue the story tomorrow. But for now, think about what the basis of your faithfulness is. Is it conditional? Are you expecting something (in this life) in return?