Notes on Daniel
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 18 November 2009; Revised 30 October 2015
Scripture: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). The text for this chapter may be found here. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the article. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here. Citations for Talmud tractates are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); found at Halakhah.com.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish nature of Scripture I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament) and Besekh (New Testament), as well as the terms Yeshua (Jesus) and Messiah (Christ).
Vocabulary: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB."
Please see the Introduction for background information on the book of Daniel, interpretative approaches and historical context.
1― Some time has elapsed since the end of chapter two and Nebuchadnezzar has forgotten his former praise of God. As he reflected on his part of the vision being the gold head must have gone to his head. Since he was the head of gold in the dream-vision, why not impress the people of the empire with his importance in history by replicating that dream statue into reality. Thus, some commentators think Nebuchadnezzar wanted to exalt his achievements. Others believe that he created an image of Babylonís chief god, Marduk (Miller). The image was probably overlaid with gold, rather than being solid gold.
The measurements of the image are immense. The height of sixty cubits and the width of six cubits equals 90 feet high and 9 feet wide, equal to at least a six-story building. This must have looked grotesque because it would be equivalent of a person six feet tall and seven inches wide. The height may well have included the base on which the statue stood. In fact, a French archaeologist discovered a high rectangular brick structure forty-five feet square and twenty feet high, which may have been the base or platform for some colossal image, perhaps the great image of Nebuchadnezzar (Sevener 29). The precise location of Dura cannot be determined with certainty, but excavations uncovered a mound near a small tributary of the Euphrates called Dura.
2― With the image finished and erected in place Nebuchadnezzar summoned eight groups of government officials that represent the hierarchy within the Babylonian empire. Thus, a sizeable crowd assembled for the dedication of the image.
3― Of interest is that the listing of government positions does not include the one man who should have been there ó Daniel, since he was regent of the district of Babylon. Perhaps the king did not wish his capital to be left without leadership.
4-5 With the officials gathered an edict from the king was announced that would affect every language group of the empire. Moment, Aram. iddan, refers to a fixed, appointed or definite time (BDB 1105). To lend a certain ostentatious character to the proceedings a musical ensemble consisting of a variety of instruments played a flourish to gain peopleís attention. The announcement of the kingís decree appears to be a form of a loyalty test. Perhaps in Nebuchadnezzarís mind a formal commitment from the key leaders of the empire would forestall the prediction of the kingdoms of silver, bronze and iron.
6― The furnace of blazing fire could refer to one of three possibilities: (1) a kiln used to smelt metal for the gold plating and for manufacturing the bricks to construct the base and possibly the inner parts of the statue. Mesopotamian smelting furnaces tended be shaped like an old-fashioned milk-bottle with a large opening for inserting ore to be smelted and a smaller opening at ground level for the wood and charcoal to provide the heat. Temperatures in these kilns could reach as high as 1800 degrees Fahrenheit (Miller). (2) The furnace could also have been a crematorium. (3) The furnace could have been specially built for the purpose of executions. Burning is one of the four methods of execution prescribed in the Torah (Lev. 20:14; 21:9), so it was a method of capital punishment in ancient times.
The kiln is the most likely as it would have been in use for the statue building. In any event, failure to bow to the image would result in immediate death. No explanation or appeal would be granted for disobedience of the kingís decree. The furnace had to be of great size to accommodate four men walking around in it.
7― The assembled crowd took the warning to heart and complied with the decree. The use of the word worshipped does not mean that everyone present truly bowed out of conviction. The basic meaning is to prostrate oneself. They may have bowed because the image represented their king and by bowing to it they were acknowledging him as the supreme sovereign over their lives. Or, they may have bowed simply to avoid being killed.
There is a certain irony in this story. God demands absolute loyalty and obedience. A day will come when his judgment will result in many people being separated from his presence forever in a lake of fire (Rev 20:15).
8― The kingís decree created an atmosphere for the "ugly head of anti-Semitism" (Sevener 31). It should be noted that only certain Chaldeans brought the complaint against the Jews. Brought charges ("accuse" KJV) is lit. "ate pieces of." (To "chew someone out" is a comparable English idiom, though not nearly as harsh.) Their attitude may have sprung as much from envy as hatred. From their point of view the Jews were getting away with disobeying the king. Nebuchadnezzar probably didnít set out to persecute Jews, but these adversaries, like Haman of Estherís time, seized an opportunity to destroy Godís chosen people. Satan has always known that the Messiah of Israel and Savior of mankind would come from Israel and has done everyone he could to destroy the chosen people.
9―11 The Chaldeans recount the setting of the occasion and the kingís decree to provide the legal foundation for their complaint.
12― The Chaldeans then name three specific Jews, Danielís friends as the offenders. Remember, this is a gathering of government officials, not the general public. Just as Haman singled out Mordecai, so the Chaldeans are quick to denounce Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. The charge reminds the king that he had appointed these three men to their posts, which refers to the legal authority for appointment. No mention is made of Daniel as the one who actually appointed them.
The Chaldeans list three charges: (1) they paid no attention to the kind (and his commands), (2) they did not serve the kingís gods, implying they worshipped different gods than the king and (3) they refused to worship the gold statue the king himself had set up.
13―15 The king flew into a rage over the thought of anyone daring to disobey an order of his. The three men are quickly summoned. Apparently they werenít too far away. Nebuchadnezzar demanded the men answer the truth of the charges and gave them a chance to obey his order. The narrative curiously repeats for the fourth time the ceremonial role of the musical ensemble. The musical flourish apparently was very important to the king, not merely as a signal for starting something (like a gunshot starting a race), but as symbolic of the peopleís unquestioning and instant obedience at the exact moment he wants his command to be obeyed. The contrast between absolute authority and absolute submission could not be more stark.
16―17 The theology of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego is striking. They know of Godís omnipotent power, to wit, He is able to deliver them. The verb he will deliver is actually imperfect tense. The imperfect essentially represents action that is incomplete. It can be translated in a variety of ways. (1) It may represent action to be completed in the future. (2) It may represent continuous action in the present. (3) It may represent action that is hypothetical or contingent and be translated with such words as "may," "might," would, can, should, wants to, ought to. Context determines which of these, if any, is the intended meaning. Most versions translate the verb as future tense. In view of the next verse it probably should be translated as "he can rescue" (HCSB) or "he may deliver." They are making a theological defense, not offering prophecy.
18― But if not is an example of Hebraic logic. They know that sometimes God does not deliver, since righteous men were taken into captivity. They trust in the goodness of God and His sovereign care. However, they will not abandon their covenant loyalty to Him to serve any pagan deity, including the image erected by Nebuchadnezzar. This is the biblical meaning of faith - trusting faithfulness. Their words are similar to Jobís, "though he slay me, yet will I hope in him" (Job 13:15). In pagan thought (and the modern mind) the failure to deliver from harm directly impugns the power of God. Surely a loving and powerful God will always deliver. Thus the logic of the Jewish men flies in the face of worldly logic. The three Jewish men feared God more than they feared man. As Yeshua later said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28). The three men did not doubt Godís power. There was plenty of history in the Torah that recorded great wonders that God performed on behalf of Israel. However, God only acts in accordance with His sovereign will. The truth is, God permits trials to come. We may not know the purpose for trials, but God asks us to continue to trust Him.
19― The kingís anger at the defiant answer of the Jewish men was immediately visible on his face and he perhaps had to restrain himself from physical violence. He immediately ordered that the furnace be made even hotter. This is an irrational order since the fire didnít have to be hotter to burn human flesh. Seven times is a proverbial saying; cf. Proverbs 24:16, "For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity" and Proverbs 26:16, "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can give a discreet answer." No device for measuring temperature existed before the 1600s and a standard scale was not adopted until 1724 when Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit produced a temperature scale which now (slightly adjusted) bears his name.
20― Nebuchadnezzar ordered valiant warriors to bind the three Jews. KJV "most mighty men" may allude to courage or physical strength, but other versions as the CJB, HCSB and NIV render the description as "strongest soldiers." The king may have anticipated resistance and the choice would also prevent interference by anyone trying to rescue the Jewish men.
21― It is an interesting detail that the captives were not stripped of their clothing, but tied up and cast into the fire still dressed. Normally, the clothing would immediately ignite and the body would be engulfed in flames.
22― Apparently the soldiers didnít take precautions to protect themselves and carried out their instructions so quickly that they were killed in the process of throwing the three Jews into the furnace. Godís protection of the Jews was apparent before they ever landed inside the furnace.
23― The fact that the men fell into the middle of the furnace suggests they entered through an opening in the top of the furnace. A kiln would have an opening in the top and at the side (Miller).
24― The king prepared to watch the three Jews burn through the opening in the side of the kiln, but was completely surprised to see the men still alive and not alone. He queried one of his officials to determine whether someone else might have been cast into the furnace along with the Jews.
25― Loosed indicates that their bonds had disintegrated without causing a problem for their clothing or skin. Four men points to the fact that the fourth man was in human form. Walking about indicates the men were standing on a surface and moving about. Probably the fourth man was offering encouragement to the three victims. A son of: Aram. bar, can refer to either character or biological descent, in this case having the likeness of. the gods: pl. of Aram. elah, God or god, corresponding to Heb. eloah (BDB 1080). So, l'bar elahin is a divine being. Many commentators believe the fourth man to be a theophany, a physical manifestation of Yeshua, the Son of God (so DSB & Miller). In the Tanakh an important figure known as the "Angel of the LORD [Heb. Malak-YHVH] meets with and speaks to twelve different people: Hagar (Gen 16:7), Abraham (Gen 22:11), Moses (Ex 3:2), Balaam (Num 22:22), Deborah (Judg 5:23), Gideon (Judg 6:11), the wife of Manoah (Judg 13:3), Manoah (Judg 13:13), Gad (2Sam 24:11, 16), Elijah (1Kgs 19:7), Isaiah (2Kgs 19:35), and Zechariah (Zech 1:11), as well as the nation of Israel (Judg 2:1). The "Angel of YHVH" does not refer to an ordinary angel, but is a direct spokesman of Elohim, most likely a pre-incarnate visitation of the Son (cf. John 1:1; 8:58).
However, here we have only Nebuchadnezzarís words influenced by pagan myth. The fourth man more likely was an angel (see verse 28) since angels are called "sons of God" in Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7 (cf. Luke 20:36). Celestial messengers or angels figure prominently in Scripture as ministering spirits (Mark 1:13; Heb 1:14) and are far different from the Hollywood depiction and popular assumptions about angels. Angels are not glorified humans that earn status in heaven by doing good works on earth. All individual angels mentioned in Scripture have human form (Gen 18:2; Judg 13:6) with masculine names or descriptions, contrary to popular art and media, which sometimes depicts them as female. In addition, only a special group of heavenly beings are mentioned in Scripture as having wings (Ex 37:9; Isa 6:2; Ezek 10:5; Rev 4:8). Angels appear in the book of Daniel at 4:13, 17, 23; 6:22; 10:21 and 12:1, including the notable archangels Gabriel at 8:16 and 9:21 and Michael at 10:13, 21 and 12:1. The fourth manís different manner of appearance may have been a glorious light (cf. Ex 3:2; Judg 13:6; Matt 28:1-3; Luke 24:4; Acts 12:7; 2Cor 11:14 ["angel of light"]; Rev 18:1).
26― The king approached the door, but did not get so close as to risk his life. He ordered the three men to come out of the furnace, which suggests that there was an exit close by.
27― The king and all the government officials witnessed the great miracle. The three Jews were not harmed in any way by the fire. Two particular details are given to indicate the degree of their safety: their hair was not singed and they did not even smell smoky.
28― The king amazingly offers a bírakhah and praised the God of the Jews. His angel is an interesting reference and clarifies the son of the gods in verse 25. "His angel" also occurs at Gen 24:7, 40; Dan 6:22; Acts 12:11, 15; Rev 1:1; 22:6. This angel is a special messenger with the status comparable to an aide-de-camp to a modern commanding general of military forces. It is possible that this same unnamed angel is the one who led Abrahamís servant to find a bride for Isaac (Gen 24:7, 40), protected Daniel in the lionís den (Dan 6:22), rescued Peter from imprisonment (Acts 12:11) and served as a guide to John the apostle throughout his Revelation experience. A specific parallel expression "the angel of the Lord" occurs 54 times in the Tanakh, but not in the Besekh, and likely refers to this very angel that serves the Son of God.
The king noted the three virtuous actions of the Jewish men: (1) they trusted the God of Israel; (2) they refused to commit idolatry and (3) they presented their bodies as living sacrifices to God (cf. Rom 12:1).
29― The king issued a decree to hallow or sanctify the name of the God of Israel. The decree may have been an attempt to appease God to avoid divine retribution for the mistreatment of the three Israelites. The question of whether Nebuchadnezzar's blessing God and issuing a decree to institutionalize fear of God constituted salvation is variously debated. Some would say that salvation requires not only acknowledging the God of Israel but accepting Him as one's personal redeemer (DSB). These circumstances did enable Nebuchadnezzar to experience the prevenient grace of God, who could have easily killed him (as He does to other wicked monarchs in Scripture). Just as the piety of Cornelius was remembered before God (Acts 10:31), so this brief time in the light of God helped prepare the way for the king's repentance in Chapter Four.
30― The three men of God were honored and rewarded. This might be considered a form of restitution, but certainly people would hold them in awe. They became instant celebrities and were accorded hero status among Jews (Heb 11:34). Their courage and loyalty to God will always be an inspiration to godly people. Unfortunately we are not told the answer to the question that would have been asked repeatedly, "so what did the fourth man in the fire say to you? What did you talk about?"
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