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.
The Babylonians were a diverse population, and Nebuchadnezzar wanted to unify them through common worship. So he put up a statue of gold, about a hundred feet tall, and summoned his officials to a dedication ceremony. Nebuchadnezzar demanded loyalty, and worshipping the statue likely implied allegiance to him.
Daniel 3:3 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.
Nebuchadnezzar assembled an orchestra, and at the sound of the first note, everyone was to bow down and worship the image. To ensure compliance, anyone who refused to bow down was to be thrown into a blazing furnace.
Most bowed down, of course, but there were three exceptions: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. From childhood they were taught not to worship idols. You shall not bow down to them or worship them (Exodus 20:5), said God. As far as they were concerned, that settled the matter. But Nebuchadnezzar was not pleased.
Daniel 3:13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
The purpose of this event was to create a show of unity. But the noncompliance of these three men had the opposite effect, and it filled the king with rage. They were not surprised, of course, since they knew this day was coming. They may have had some sleepless nights, but they considered it better to cross the king of Babylon than to cross the Lord Almighty.
Daniel 3:16-17 King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 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.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego seem to have known what God was going to do for them. God does not always deliver his people, but somehow they sensed that God would deliver them. Perhaps God had spoken to them through the prophet Daniel, or maybe they simply felt in their hearts that God was going to save them.
Regardless, they were not obeying God because he was going to save them, but because God is to be obeyed. [E]ven if he does not [deliver us], we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up (Daniel 3:18), they replied. This is the kind of faithful resolve that brings glory to God.
Daniel 3:19-20 Nebuchadnezzar was furious [and] ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.
The nearby furnace was likely used to prepare the gold for the statue. It was probably built into the side of a hill, with openings at the top and front, and was big enough for people to stand inside. At the king’s command, the furnace was made so hot that it actually killed the soldiers who threw in the servants of God.
Daniel 3:24-25 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire? They replied, Certainly, Your Majesty. He said, Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.
The fourth person was likely a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me (John 5:39), said Jesus. We cannot be emphatic, but it is not wrong to see Jesus caring for his own in their time of need. This is good to remember when everything around us seems to be on fire.
Daniel 3:27 They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
The only effect the fire had was to burn off the ropes that bound them. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze (Isaiah 43:2), wrote Isaiah. The fiery trials of life can actually set us free from things that normally bind us.
Daniel 3:28-29 Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! . . . Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.
This was a wonderful outcome for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and for all the Jews in Babylon. If these three men had bowed down to the statue, other Jews would have followed, resulting in widespread apostasy. Not only that, but whoever refused to bow down would have been killed. We never know how God may use our faithfulness for the good of those around us.
It must be said, however, that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are exceptions to the many Christian martyrs who have gone up in flames. They endured the devil’s worst in order to receive God’s best. And many more will be killed before the Lord returns (Revelation 13:7).
The world may threaten us with momentary fire, but Jesus threatens them with worse. Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). The promise of Christ is not that we will never be burned, but that we will never perish (John 10:28). Be faithful [unto] death, and I will give you life (Revelation 2:10), he said.
Reflection and Review
Why are Christians willing to die for their faith?
How can fiery trials set us free?
How did God use the faithfulness of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?