Facing the Fiery Furnace

Biblical Truth: When believers are called on to stand publicly for their faith, they must refuse to compromise.

Threatening Demand:  Daniel 3:1-2, 4-6.

[1]  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. [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.  [NASU]

[1]  We do not know the length of time that passed between chapter 2 and the events of chapter 3. It was a common practice of the Assyrian kings to erect images of themselves with laudatory inscriptions in conquered cities, or provinces, as symbols of their dominion. But we do not know the reason behind the making of this image. It could be connected to Daniel’s interpretation of the king’s dream so that Nebuchadnezzar constructed this image of gold because Daniel said that Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold. Even though Nebuchadnezzar praised Daniel’s God for the interpretation of his dream [2:47], the building of this statue showed that Nebuchadnezzar was not ready to recognize God’s sovereign control over history. Not wanting to be just the head of gold like the interpretation of his dream, Nebuchadnezzar makes the entire statue out of gold.

[2-5]  It was, apparently, a universal custom of antiquity to observe dedication rites. To this ceremony the officials of the kingdom are invited. This dedication doubtless possessed religious significance, by which the image was consecrated as a symbol of the world-power and of its divine glory. The three words (peoples, nations, … language) placed together denote all nations. No one in the whole kingdom was to be exempt from obeying the command. The expression recurs in 3:7,29; 4:1; 5:19; 6:25; and 7:14. Fall down and worship the golden image make clear the religious character of the act.

[6]  This command evidently presupposes that there will be instances of refusal. Among the Assyrians and Babylonians, cruel punishments were practiced. Refusal to do homage to the image, since it was erected by the king and for his glory, would be regarded as equivalent to treason to the state. For devout Jews to worship this statue would have been to deny their cherished conviction that there is One alone to whom worship is due. The edict of the king, therefore, was certain to work hardship upon the faithful Jews.

Determined Defiance: Daniel 3:8,12-14.

[8]  For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. [12]  “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.” [13]  Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; then these men were brought before the king. [14]  Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?”   [NASU]

The trouble began with the Chaldeans, or astrologers, for whose work the four young Jews had been trained. They told the king that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were defying the decree that whenever the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other instruments sounded, everyone was to fall down and worship the great golden image. Why did they accuse these from among their own number? Evidently they bore jealousy and resentment toward those who had been part of the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s earlier dream, which they themselves had been unable to discern. The convictions of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego provided their enemy coworkers with an opportunity to accuse them of treason, and this is what they did, phrasing their remarks in such a manner as to work Nebuchadnezzar into the greatest possible agitation. Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar brought the three young men before him and probed for a confession in the case. They must have told the king that what he had been told about them was correct. Nebuchadnezzar offered to give them another chance [15].

Confident Defense:  Daniel 3:16-18.

[16]  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego 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.”   [NASU]

When the ultimatum was put to these three men, we do not read that they took time to think the issues through. They seem to have responded at once in verses 16-18.They acknowledge the correctness of the indictment laid against them and declare that there is no defense or apology that need be made. They cast themselves utterly upon God. It is a case where they are compelled to serve God rather than man, and for their noble faith, they are evidently honored by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews as those who by faith quenched the power of fire [Heb. 11:34]. The three Jews see that their standpoint can never be clearly understood by Nebuchadnezzar, and therefore they give up any attempt to justify themselves. But that which was demanded of them they could not do, because it would have been altogether contrary to their faith and their conscience. This is the religion of principle; and when we consider the circumstances of those who made this reply; when we remember their comparative youth, and the few opportunities which they had for instruction in the nature of religion, and that they were captives in a distant land, and that they stood before the most absolute monarch of the earth, with no powerful friends to support them, and with the most horrid kind of death threatening them, we may well admire the grace of that God who could so amply furnish them for such a trial, and love that religion which enabled them to take a stand so noble and so bold. 

There were three things that gave Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego the strength to stand firm in this great test of their commitment.

1. They knew that God was sovereign. Nothing is clearer in their response to King Nebuchadnezzar than this: our God whom we serve is able to deliver us and if He chooses to do so, He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. This is no airy, speculative abstraction. This is faith in the furnace. It is a firm conviction of the sovereignty of God in the midst of all things contrary. These men knew that God is sovereign, and therefore it was not foolish but wise for them to entrust their lives to Him in this matter.

2. They knew the Scriptures. This is the reason they refused to bow down: God had forbidden it. But knowing the Scriptures is also important for the reason that moral issues seldom come to us in black-and-white terms. The world makes moral issues as ambiguous as possible, because when that is the case, it seems to free us to do what we want to do – or at least to do what we judge best in the circumstances. If we are to do the right thing in such circumstances, we must know the Word of God, because only the Word of God will cut through such ambiguity. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego triumphed because their minds were filled with Scripture and because they kept coming back to Scripture as the only fully trustworthy and inerrant authority in all matters.

3. They were willing to die for their convictions. This is important because it is possible to believe in a sovereign God and know from Scripture what that sovereign God requires and yet fail to do the right thing because you are unwilling to pay the price of obedience. It is true that not many of us are likely to be faced with a choice between compromise or execution. But the issue is the same regardless of the penalty. Many fail because they will not pay the price of a loss of popularity or loneliness or ridicule or persecution or economic hardship. Only those who are willing to pay such prices make a difference.

Amazing Deliverance:  Daniel 3:24-26,28.

[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 Abednego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the midst of the fire. [28]  Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 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.”   [NASU]

Some people do pay for their faith by dying. But in other cases, God intervenes to spare His servants. He spared Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Nebuchadnezzar was furious that the three young Jews would not obey him, so he ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and had Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego thrown into it. The flames from the superheated furnace killed the men who took the three Jews to it, but Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not killed.

Through the opening at the bottom of the furnace by means of which it was heated, the king could see within. What he saw put him in astonishment, causing him to rise up in a hurry to ask of his counselors whether three men had been cast into the fire. The question of the king is elicited by the fact that he now beholds four men in the furnace. The fire has burned the bonds, but left the men themselves untouched. Their freedom is emphasized by the statement that they are walking. The king recognized in the presence of the fourth Person one who was a superhuman being, in the sense that he was Divine. The theological question remains: What was the identity of the fourth Person? Since the language of the text would have us understand that a supernatural Person was present, we must ask whether this supernatural Person was merely an angel or whether we are face to face with a pre-incarnate appearance of the second Person of the Trinity. The angel [28] could be the “angel of the Lord” who is a visible manifestation of God Himself [see Genesis16:7; Exodus 3:2]. In any event, the Lord God had promised His presence when Israel walked through fire [Isaiah 43:1-3].

The king approached the opening through which the furnace was heated and commanded the men to come forth. Nebuchadnezzar does not acknowledge that the Lord alone is God, but merely that the God of the Jews is the highest of gods. Even the performance of this mighty miracle does not convert him. The statement in verse 28 constitutes at least an acknowledgment of the fact that there is a god who can deliver from the king’s hand. It is an expression of awe called forth by the miracle, but it is not the utterance of a truly converted heart. He was going to have to sink much lower before he was ready to acknowledge that there is but one God and to worship Him.

This passage is a vivid portrayal of the fact that God stands with His people in their troubles. God does go with His people in their trials. Countless believers have testified to that. So let us be confident in the promise of that presence and be strong. Let us stand for the right and do it. Let us refuse to compromise. Let us stand with unbowed heads and rigid backbones before the golden statues of our godless, materialistic culture. Let us declare that there is a God to be served and a race to be won. Let us shout that we are determined to receive God’s prize, which is far greater than this world’s tinsel toys, and that we are servants of Him before whom every knee will bow.

Questions for Discussion:

1.      Try to place yourself in this situation with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. What thoughts and temptations may go through your mind when you hear of the king’s edict; when you are called before the king; when you are asked to give a reason for your defiance and given another chance to fall down and worship the image?

2.      What three things gave them strength to stand firm in their faith and not compromise with the culture and peer pressure around them? How can these three things sustain us and enable us to stand firm in our faith in the temptations we face to compromise?

3.      If these three things are so important in our remaining firm in our faith, what things can we do in order to grow stronger in each of these three things?


Daniel, James Montgomery Boice, Baker Books.

The Prophecy of Daniel , Edward J. Young, Eerdmans.

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