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To Bow or Not to Bow? (An Essay on Daniel 3)

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This essay is both a historical and expository treatment of Daniel 3.

The outline of this paper is as follows:

Introduction:

  1. The Relation of Chapter 3 to Chapter 2
  2. The Relation of Chapter 3 to Chapter 6

Exposition:

Act I: The Command to Worship the Golden Image (3:1-7)

Act II:              The Courage of Daniel’s Three Friends (3:8-18)

  • The Accusation of the Chaldeans (3:8-12)
  • The Response of the Jews (3:13-18)

Act III:              The Miraculous Deliverance (3:19-27)

  • The Fire of the King’s Wrath (3:19-23)
  • Deliverance through the Seven-Fold Tribulation (3:24-27)

Epilogue: The Acknowledgment by the King of the Most High God (3:28-30)

Introduction

Daniel chapter three does not contain a shred of prophecy. Since the book of Daniel is purportedly about prophecy, such a fact certainly gives one pause. Is this chapter all that significant? And if this chapter is not important--if it contributes nothing to this book (or, at least, nothing to the prophecies of this book)--then why did the author record the events here and why did this chapter slip into the canon of Holy Writ?

Of course, it could be argued that God put this chapter here because it would “preach.” It will certainly do that! The courage of Daniel’s three friends to face the worst that men could do because they knew their God was a sovereign God and a God of mercy and justice is almost without parallel. Their humbleness before YHWH in acknowledging his ability, without being so arrogant as to claim a knowledge of his decretive will for their lives, serves as a model prayer for all saints of all generations. Yes, this chapter will preach--and anyone with spiritual eyes can clearly see its value in the canon of the Old Testament. But the nagging question still will not go away; it is not so transparent as to why Daniel put this into his book.

Daniel was a very thoughtful composer. He exercised real genius in his literary art. And it seems that the focus of his entire book has to do with the future of the Gentile powers and of Israel. He spends quite a bit of time discussing how Gentile world leaders respond to the divine will. He does this both prophetically (cf., e.g., chapters 11-12) and historically (cf., e.g., chapters 4-5, etc.).

So the question that we must return to as we begin our look at chapter 3 is, How does this chapter function within the overall picture of the book? That is, How does it contribute either to prophecy or to the response to prophecy by some world leader? Or does it do this at all?

In order to answer these questions, we should really look at two things by way of background: (1) the relation of chapter 3 to chapter 2; and (2) the relation of chapter 3 to chapter 6 (since both of them are arranged in a chiastic order).

1. The Relation of Chapter 3 to Chapter 2

Most commentators do not make a connection between chapters 2 and 3. Yet, some reflection should suggest that Daniel is not attempting to write a complete biography of Nebuchadnezzar. Indeed, in all of Nebuchadnezzar’s long reign, Daniel selects only three events to tell about the king (one each in chapters 2, 3, and 4). Thus, since Daniel is highly selective in what he says about Nebuchadnezzar, we should give him the benefit of the doubt and allow his selection to make a contribution to his overall theme. In other words, we should see mostly clearly a connection between chapters 2 and 3 if there are any internal clues of such a connection.

A major clue immediately presents itself: in 3:1 Nebuchadnezzar builds an image of gold and in 2:38 Daniel describes the king himself as the head of gold of the image he saw in his dream. In other words, it seems transparent that Daniel is portraying chapter 3 as the king’s reaction to the prophecies of chapter two. Now the head of gold represented Nebuchadnezzar--and the head was the shortest/smallest part of the statue (assuming the statue was relatively realistic). Further, the chronological sequence that the statue represented moved from top to bottom, from head to toes. Therefore, the conclusion seem evident that Nebuchadnezzar built this statue of himself (not a statue of Marduk, as some have maintained), and he made it entirely out of gold1--from head to toe--in defiance of Daniel’s God. He is saying by this statue, in effect, “I will reign forever! And you better bow down and acknowledge this or you will get fired!” In very graphic terms, then, Nebuchadnezzar was attempting to thwart the divine will.

In light of such a possibility, we would have no problem suggesting that this is a political statement, not a religious one--as many commentators have suggested. At the same time, the political statement is a religious one in that by this statement Nebuchadnezzar is declaring that he, not YHWH, is omnipotent! History will never get to the fifth kingdom unless it gets past the first kingdom. And Nebuchadnezzar wanted to stop the whole process before it began. Surely Marduk’s will could be thwarted; perhaps YHWH’s could, too. Nebuchadnezzar would soon learn otherwise.

It is a bit ironic that Nebuchadnezzar’s first recorded reaction after his initial showering of gifts and blessings on Daniel (chapter 2) was an act of defiance of what Daniel predicted. As deeply as he appreciated Daniel’s unraveling of the prophecy, he assumed that it was not set in stone and hence he attempted to unravel it, too!

2. The Relation of Chapter 3 to Chapter 6

In our approach to Daniel, we see chapters 2 through 7 as a literary unit. Not only is this evident linguistically (since these chapters alone comprise the Aramaic portion of Daniel), but it is evident stylistically, too. As we have suggested in an earlier essay, there seems to be a chiastic structure in these chapters--one evidently intended by Daniel. One of the positive results of seeing these chapters as comprising one grand chiasmus is that chapters 2 and 7 interpret each, chapters 3 and 6 interpret each other, and chapters 4 and 5 interpret each other. We will develop the specifics of such interpretations in due time.

Another point about chiasmus: normally, the second part of a particular chiasmus is expanded--i.e., it elaborates and ‘fills in’ the outline of the first part. Thus, chapter 7 would be an expansion of chapter 2. If we are charged with making the image of chapter 2 “walk on all fours,” Daniel should also be charged with doing the same thing--for he turns the image into beasts in chapter 7!

As a sidenote, what is most intriguing here is the fact that Nebuchadnezzar actually behaves like an animal in chapter 4. He wants to be more than the head of gold; he wants to be the whole statue! So, because of such arrogance, God levels him to the status of a donkey. This might be some kind of foreshadowing to the prophecy in chapter 7, but I have my doubts. (For one thing, Daniel makes the beast prediction during the days of Belshazzar, not the days of Nebuchadnezzar; as well, Nebuchadnezzar is pictured as a lion in chapter 7, not a mule.)

Back to the chiasmus: in chapter 3, Daniel’s three friends are tested by YHWH as to their loyalty to him in the face of the boast of a Gentile monarch’s sovereignty. They are found faithful to YHWH, the king’s actions are exposed as foolish at best and arrogant in the superlative degree at worst. YHWH delivers his people.

In chapter 6, Daniel himself is tested by YHWH as to his loyalty in the face of the boast of a Gentile king’s sovereignty. He is found faithful to YHWH, the king’s actions are exposed as foolish (though, in this case, the king was not angry at Daniel, but at his own stupidity . . . ). YHWH delivers his servant, Daniel.

It is probable that these chapters rise to a climax (in keeping with chiastic patterns) in that (1) in chapter 3, it is Daniel’s friends (he is not mentioned) who are tested, while in chapter 6, it is Daniel himself (his three friends are not mentioned after chapter 3); (2) there is progression from one king of one nation to a second king of another nation. There seems to be some implication in this that pagan world rulers will always have a tendency to be arrogant, in spite of the lessons they should have learned from history and prophecy. As well, these chapters vividly illustrate that God and God alone is sovereign, not only over Babylon but also over the succeeding kingdoms. Surely, he will be sovereign over the third and fourth kingdoms as well! (Thus, chapter 6 in particular would have given the Maccabean Jews great comfort--YHWH is still on the throne!)

We are dealing, then, in chapters 3 and 6, with the reaction of a Gentile monarch to the divine will and the response of the faithful Jews to YHWH while they are caught in a compromising situation. It is interesting to note that although the Jews remained loyal to YHWH during the reign of the third world empire, they faltered miserably in the fourth. Humanly speaking, that which put our Lord on the cross was, in part, the betrayal of his own people: “We have no king but Caesar!” It is not wonder that he wept as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Monday, for the Jews had not learned the lessons from Daniel.

Exposition

Act I: The Command to Worship the Golden Image (3:1-7)

Preliminary Considerations: When Did This Happen? Why Is Daniel Not Mentioned?

In this opening paragraph, the stage is set for the drama of the whole chapter. As we have noted, there seems to be an obvious connection between chapters 2 and 3. However, there may be more to it than that: the question arises as to when this event took place.

In dating the events of chapter 3, we must first note that they occurred after the completion of the events of chapter 2. The statements in 3:12 and 3:30 seem to imply that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were already in a position of authority in the kingdom and therefore chapter 3 is subsequent to chapter 2. (On the surface, one might expect such to the be case, but chapter 2 actually records events that took place before all that was recorded in chapter 1 took place.)

Secondly, the events of chapter 3 took place before the events of chapter 4 (as we hope to demonstrate in our exposition of that chapter).

However, once the broad terminus a quo and terminus ad quem are established for chapter 3, we are hard-pressed to determine its date any more precisely. Some, such as Walvoord, suggest that the events described here took place twenty years or so after the events of chapter 2 (see his commentary on Daniel, 80). He follows the LXX/Theodotion on this chapter which connect these events “with the destruction of Jerusalem, which, according to 2 Kings 25:8-10 and Jeremiah 52:12, places this event in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar” (ibid.). Walvoord, of course, is not saying that the LXX’s reading is original, but he does see it going back to an accurate historical tradition. It would be most appropriate if this date were true, because it would suggest that Nebuchadnezzar erected his statue once he thought the God of Israel was defeated! (By the way, the dream of chapter 2 may have been part of the impetus for Nebuchadnezzar to make more raids on Jerusalem after 605 BCE; he was simply trying to thwart the divine will. In other words, he knew that Daniel’s God was big enough to reveal and interpret eschatological dreams, but he thought YHWH was not big enough to restrain a monarch as magnificent as Nebuchadnezzar.)

Leon Wood has another view: “This thinking [i.e., that the LXX reflects an accurate tradition] assigns too much importance to the fall of Jerusalem, however, for many other great cities were also taken by the great king” (Daniel, 78). Wood suggests that two or three years after the events of chapter 2 would be an appropriate time (ibid., 79). However, if the point of the statue-erection in chapter 3 is a polemic against the dream of chapter 2, then the taking of Jerusalem would be the most appropriate time to make such a statue, because it would be directly against the God who revealed the contents and interpretation of the dream. Although there would be other great cities conquered, there would not be other great gods--for no other god revealed the dream or its interpretation.

Nevertheless, there is a third possibility. In an article in AUSS the author attempts to coordinate the events of this chapter with extra-biblical historical records. (See William H. Shea, “Daniel 3: Extra-Biblical Texts and the Convocation on the Plain of Dura,” AUSS 20:1 [Spring, 1982] 29-52.) Shea looks at a clay prism which is from the time of Nebuchadnezzar. It has five columns and gives the names of five classes of leaders in Babylon. Over fifty names are actually mentioned. It is a memento/record of some sort of ceremony under the direction and rule of Nebuchadnezzar. What is intriguing about this list is that actual names are given, including Nebuzaradan (at the head of the list and mentioned in 2 Kings 25:8-10 and Jer 39:13). He is noted here as the one who burned Jerusalem and who excluded Jeremiah from being deported (p. 44). Also, there is Neriglissar, who would later become a king in Babylon! But most interesting are the names Hanunu, Ardi-Nabu, and Musallim-Marduk. Through a rather ingenius look at cognates, polemic reasons, etc., Shea puts forth an excellent case for the possibility that these names refer to the three friends of Daniel: Hanunu = Hananiah (= Shadrach), Ardi-Nabu = Abed-nego, and Musallim = Meshach.

Shea adds other evidence and suggests, on the basis of several strands of data, that (1) the events of Daniel 3 are the same as recorded by this Babylonian clay prism; and (2) these events took place somewhere “during the interval between the spring of 594 and the summer of 593 B.C.” (p. 51). There had been a revolt in the early part of 594 in Babylon itself, and Nebuchadnezzar had to kill even some of his own soldiers in purging the city. Then, he went west to collect tribute from his vassals and in the process reaffirmed his sovereignty over all he surveyed.

If Shea’s reconstruction is correct, then the reason for the events of chapter 3 is for Nebuchadnezzar to be reassured of the loyalty of his leaders and vassals. It is indeed possible that he was feeling pretty good about squelching any rebellion: he had captured the leader of the rebels with his own hands, according to one Babylonian text! Consequently, he would not only feel somewhat invincible at this point but would also want to make sure everyone in his kingdom knew it and agreed! Therefore, even though this would have occurred eight years before the fall of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar would have reason enough to believe that the prophecy/dream of chapter 2 could be circumvented by his own cunning and by a demand of abject obedience to him by all his leaders. The fact that Daniel’s three friends could not bow down before the image, then, may have been a statement to the effect that YHWH was still on the throne and that his prophecies would come true! No human king could alter the plan of God!

Finally, what is somewhat puzzling to many commentators is the fact that Daniel’s name is not mentioned along with his friends. Walvoord suggests (p. 85):

It is useless to speculate how this related to Daniel himself. [But then he proceeds to speculate!] Either Daniel considered this a political act which did not violate his conscience, or Daniel did not worship and his high office prevented his enemies from accusing him, or more probably, Daniel for some reason was absent.

Even apart from the information given to us by Shea, we would still want to reject the first option because this political act was also a religious act--designed as a polemic against the God of Judah and Israel. But now, in light of Shea’s findings, since neither the name Daniel or Belteshazzar was found on the clay prism, it seems that we can rule out the first two possibilities. Daniel was apparently absent during the ceremony. We could speculate as to why he was absent (e.g., is it not possible that Nebuchadnezzar sent him out of the country while he was planning this little shindig, because he knew that Daniel would raise a stink about its implications, possibly even calling on YHWH to get to the “body” of the statue of chapter 2?), but we must refrain from speculation because it is useless!

3:1 Critics have pointed out two problems with the accuracy of verse 1 of chapter 3: (1) the dimensions (60 cubits by 6 cubits) are hardly the shape of a man; and (2) this much gold is a bit unbelievable, even given the fact that Babylon was not too bad off financially. In answer to this, other scholars have argued, first, that:

The image may have had a high base, taking up to a third or more of the height. Also, the image may intentionally have been made somewhat grotesque, for much of Babylonian sculpture was so characterized. In any case, the oddity of the numbers does not argue for the unreliability of the account, for no writer, whether contemporary or of a later date (as critics hold), would have had any reason to use odd figures unless they were accurate [Wood, 80].

We might further add that a large brick square with the dimensions of forty-five feet square and twenty feet high has been found in one of the locations alleged to be the ancient Dura. The archeologist Julius Oppert found this platform and affirmed his conviction that this was the pedestal for the statue, a view also shared by Montgomery (cf. J. Oppert, Expedition scientifique en Mesopotamie. vol 1, pp. 238ff., and Montgomery, Daniel, 197). If this was the platform for the statue, then the statue itself would have the proportions of 70 feet tall by 18 feet wide.

Second, With reference to the gold in the image, John Whitcomb made the interesting suggestion that:

The image was not made of solid gold, but rather was gold-plated. If it were solid, it would have contained 5,467 cubic feet of gold [assuming that it was not on a pedestal, I presume]; but all the gold produced in the past half-millennium (1493-1955), from the vast hordes of Mexico and Peru, California, Alaska, Australia, and South Africa, would bulk no larger than a fifty-foot cube (125,000 cubic feet), worth sixty billion dollars [at $35 an ounce?] (cf. Life Nature Series: The Earth, p. 96). This is not deceptive language, for the Old Testament speaks of “golden” items which were, in reality, gold-plated (cf. Exod. 39:38 with 37:25-26; cf. also Isa. 40:19; 41:7; Jer. 10:3-9).

3:2-3 On vv 2-3, there are again some critical problems, but problems which cut both ways. First of all, some of the officials’ names are Persian loan words, purportedly confirming the view that this book was written after Persia had come into power. Altogether, there are nineteen Persian loan words in Daniel (cf. Kenneth Kitchen, “The Aramaic of Daniel,” in Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel, edited by D. J. Wiseman, p. 35). Kitchen argues that these Persian loan words are consistent with the earlier date of Daniel (6th century BCE) rather than with the later date. He points out, for instance, that “Words must be weighed, not merely counted” (ibid., 40). In other words, the mere existence of Persian loan words does not argue for a later date. In weighing the evidence presented by these words, he argues that (1) “the impact of Old Persian upon Imperial Aramaic was considerable. The Persian kings appointed Person and Median officials to govern their empire, and Aramaic was the means of communication between these and the polyglot nations so ruled. In the administrative sphere, the impact was intense” (p. 40). Walvoord suggests: “The speculation as to why Persian terms should be used is much ado about nothing. It would be natural for Daniel, who may have written or at least edited this passage after the Persian government had come to power, to bring the various offices up-to-date by using current expressions” (p. 82). Back to Kitchen: (2) “The almost unconscious assumption that Persian words would take time to penetrate into Aramaic (i.e., well after 539 BC) is erroneous” (p. 41). (3) “[T]he Persian words in Daniel are specifically Old Persian words. The recognized divisions of Persian language-history within Iranian are: Old down to c. 300 BC, Middle observable during c. 300 BC to c. AD 900, and New from c. AD 900 to the present” (p. 43). This, too, then argues against a second century BCE date.

A second problem in this verse again deals with these officials’ names: the fact is that the LXX renderings are “hopelessly mere guesswork” (Waltke’s article, p. 324). But this is a problem for one who wishes to date the book of Daniel in the second century BCE, not for the one who sees the book written substantially earlier. Kitchen points out the significance of this fact (p. 43):

If the first important Greek translation of Daniel was made sometime within c. 100 BC–AD 100, roughly speaking, and the translator could not (or took no trouble to) reproduce the proper meanings of these terms, then one conclusion imposes itself: their meaning was already lost and forgotten (or, at the least, drastically changed) long before he set to work. Now if Daniel (in particular, the Aramaic chapters 2-7) was wholly a product of c. 165 BC, then just a century or so in a continuous tradition is surely embarrasingly inadequate as a sufficient interval for that loss (or change) of meaning to occur, by Near Eastern standards.

Thus, a certain bias against the possibility of real prophecy seems to have been exposed by this datum: the evidence (when weighed, not merely counted) points in the direction of a genuine work of the sixth century BCE. (Along these lines, what might be significant is the fact that Daniel lists seven categories of officials, while the clay prism examined by Shea lists only five. In keeping with the Persian terms here, it seems antecedently possible that Daniel was even following their groups. In other words, while the Persian empire had seven categories, the Babylonian had five--thus, Shea’s identification of the two events is not in jeopardy on this account.)

3:5 In v 5, we again see some loan words. This time, the words are from Greek. The contention of ‘late-daters’ in this instance is more weighty because Daniel did not live during the reign of the Greek empire. Yamauchi has done some of the best synthesis here (though he bases much of his discussion on the work of Coxon and Kutscher, not to mention Kitchen). Almost the entirety of Yamauchi’s discussion is quoted here, for the problem of Greek loan words is usually considered the trump card for a late date of Daniel [Edwin M. Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Daniel,” BSac 137 (1980) 11-12]:

As expressed long ago in S. R. Driver’s classic statement, the Greek loanwords in the Aramaic of Daniel have been regarded as objective proof for the late date of Daniel. As restated by Coxon [Peter W. Coxon, “Greek Loan-Words and the Alleged Greek Loan Word Translations in the Book of Daniel, Glascow University Oriental Society Transactions 25 (1973-74) 24], “Of all the linguistic arguments which have been used in the debate concerning the date of the composition of the book, the Greek loans seem to provide the strongest evvidence in favour of the second century B.C.” Though Hartman and DiLella list Kitchen’s study [same study as mentioned above, vv 2-3] which demonstrates otherwise, they reiterate the standard critical position: “The Greek names for the musical instruments in 3:5 probably do not antedate the reign of Alexander the Great (336-323 B.C.).”

The three Greek words in Daniel 3:5 are all musical terms (variant spellings are found in other verses):

Aramaic

Greek

srtyq

qayteros

κίθαρις

kitharis

nyrtnsp

pesanterîn

ψαλτήριον

psalterion

hynpmws

sumpone

συμφωνία

sumphonia

The first instrument was a kind of lyre. As to the specific Greek word which was borrowed, Coxon observes that its spelling indicates that the loan was adopted in the pre-Hellenistic period:

The fact that the Ionic form kitharis found its way into the list in Dan. 3 and not the Attic kithara is a striking one, especially in view of the consistent use of kithara in Greek material of the post-Alexander period. Heirs of Attic literary tradition, the Septuagint, the New Testament and patristic sources alike know only kithara. One might suppose that the kitharis-form stems from Asia Minor and/or the Greek islands and that it was absorbed by Official Aramaic as a result of cultural and linguistic contacts at a period much earlier than the second century B.C. [ibid., p. 31]

Though the Greek psalterion was a harplike instrument, Sendry [Alfred Sendry, Music in Ancient Israel, p. 297] suggests that Daniel’s pesanterîn was more akin to a dulcimer. He further suggests that it had been one of a number of musical instruments originally imported from the east, improved by the Greeks, and re-exported to the east.

It is altogether surprising that the Anchor Bible commentary reverts to the discredited view of sumpone as a “bagpipe” in the light of clear evidence that this was a very late sense of the word. The earliest meaning of the Greek word sumphonia was “sounding together,” that is, the simultaneous playing of instruments or voices producing a concord. Jerome, commenting on Luke 15:25 where the word occurs, noted: “The sumphonia is not a kind of instrument, as some Latin writers think, but it means concordant harmony. It is expressed in Latin by consonantia.” Coxon concludes as follows [p. 36]:

We have tried to show that the use of sumphonia in Dan. 3 accords with its older meaning and not, as in the later classical sources, with an individual musical instrument. But since the traditional meaning of “harmony, concord of sound” is also found late (Polybius, Athenaeus, etc.) the classical evidence in so far as it affects Dan. 3 may be pronounced neutral.

Rowley in his review of Kitchen’s work still maintained that the evidence of these particular Greek words was proof of the late date of Daniel’s Aramaic. Kutscher’s appraisal of this argument is worth quoting at length [E. Y. Kutscher, “Aramaic,” Current Trends in Linguistics VI, ed. T. A. Sebeck, pp. 401-402].

Rowley’s argument that the Greek loans ψαλτήριον and συμφωνία as names for musical instruments occur in Greek several hundred years after the suggested date of Daniel also does not sound convincing. After all, if we assume Greek influence prior to Alexander, it is not the Attic dialect, or other dialects of Greece, that must be taken into consideration as the place of origin of these loans, but rather dialects of Asia Minor and/or those of the Greek isles. What do we know about the Greek of Asia Minor and of the Greek isles during the period in question? To the best of my knowledge, very little . . . .

The fact that the field of music is the only one where Greek influence has come to light, calls to mind Otto Jespersen’s words . . . : “If all other sources of information were closed to us except such loan-words in our . . . North-European languages as piano, soprano, opera, libretto, tempo, adagio, etc., we should still have no hesitation in drawing the conclusion that Italian music has played a great role all over Europe.” . . . Greek musicians might have been dominant enough to make their impact felt in those (Near Eastern) languages, as the Italian musicians did in English.

As this writer has shown elsewhere [Yamauchi, Greece and Babylon, pp. 19-24; and “The Greek Words in Daniel in the Light of Greek Influence in the Near East,” in New Perspectives on the Old Testament, ed. J. Barton Payne, pp. 176-77], the exchange of musicians and their musical instruments played a prominent role at royal courts from time immemorial.

Two final points on the Greek loan words: (1) Montgomery himself recognized that the late-date argument was not airtight: “The rebuttal of this evidence for a late date lies in stressing the potentialities of Greek influence in the Orient from the sixth century and onward” (p. 22). And Yamauchi has provided just such evidence. (2) In his classic work, Greece and Babylon, Yamauchi concluded this portion of his study with the comment, “The only element of surprise to this writer is that there are not more Greek words in such documents” (p. 94). Thus, the earlier date of Daniel seems to withstand the most rigorous test put forth. Indeed, it not only stands the test, but the fact that these Greek loan words can all be seen to antedate the Attic dialectal influence seems to indicate that the Greek of Daniel may well be quite early.

3:6 In v 6 we read of the decreed punishment to be doled out on the one who does not fall down and worship the image: a fiery furnace! Baldwin points out concerning this furnace (Joyce Baldwin, Daniel, 103, n. 3):

t is difficult to envisage what the furnace is likely to have looked like, for, despite excavations, proper drawings and dimensions are rarely available. There is, however, a significant diagram in R. J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, VI, 1958, p. 67, representing an ancient Mesopotamian pottery-kiln of Nippur, c. 2000 BC. It resembles a railway tunnel blocked at one end but with an entrance at the other. Uprights at frequent intervals support the dome and serve as ventilation shafts also. Charcoal provides the heat, and it is estimated that the temperature would have been 900o–1000o C. the suggestion that the furnace was an open surface pool of gas or oil set alight, such as may be seen today in the Near East, e.g. at Kirkuk, does not satisfy the requirements of the text.

One final note on 3:1-7: As preposterous as it may seem that Nebuchadnezzar would set up this image for political reasons, in light of the probability that, in chapter 2, the value of each portion of the statue was due to its correspondence to an absolute sovereign monarchy, we can certainly see this as very likely. Such an event occurred in the twentieth century, which might afford a nice analogy (Baldwin, 99, n. 1):

In the recent history of Ghana the President allowed a slightly more than life-size statue of himself to be erected in front of Parliament House, Accra. He ‘could tolerate no disunity in Ghana, which he shaped into a monolithic republic under the complete control of his party and dominated by his own personality as President (1960)’ (J. D. Fage, A Short History of Africa . . . pp. 251ff.). An inscription on the side bore the words, ‘Seek ye first the political kingdom and all other things shall be added unto you.’ The statue was religiously controversial from the beginning and was destroyed after the bloodless coup of 1966.

Act II:              The Courage of Daniel’s Three Friends (3:8-18)

Probably the first thing that strikes us about this paragraph is that Daniel is not mentioned. The Chaldeans brought charges against the Jews, but Daniel is not among them. As we concluded earlier, following Shea, it is likely that Daniel was out of the capital at the time of this convocation. Indeed, it is possible that Nebuchadnezzar had intentionally sent him away because he knew that Daniel would see the implications of such an act and might call on YHWH to deal swiftly with this king. But the suggestion by Walvoord (though he does not prefer this view) that Daniel did not have scruples about bowing down before this image is unsatisfactory because (1) he, too, would see that the political act had religious ramifications; (2) his name was not present at the ceremony, and (3) it seems rather doubtful that Daniel would devote an entire chapter to the bravery of his companions if he did not share their convictions.

The Accusation of the Chaldeans (3:8-12)

3:8 In v 8 we read that the Chaldeans ‘brought charges’ against, or ‘maliciously slandered’ the Jews. Such is a weak rendering of the Aramaic word קרציהונ (qarseyhôn). Literally it means “eat the pieces of flesh torn off from someone’s body” (Koehler-Baumgartner, p. 1121). Obviously, the literal rendering is too strong here, but Daniel seems to have chosen it to indicate the strong animosity of the Chaldeans for the Jews. One could wonder if this were intended to be some sort of proleptic pun, for the punishment the Jews faced was that they were to be barbecued!

3:12 In v 12 we notice that the charge of the Chaldeans was that these Jews “do not serve your gods or worship the golden image.” This text tends to confirm both that the image is a political matter more than religious and that it is a statue of Nebuchadnezzar because (1) there is a distinction between the gods and the statue (note that two different verbs are used and that if the charge were that they were not worshipping this statue as a god, the accusation would probably have put ‘gods’ in the singular, thus equating the two--”they do not serve your god, i.e., they do not worship the golden image”), and (2) the second verb (סגדינ) is really a softer term (in spite of the translation of the NASB), for it can be used of non-deity (cf. Dan 2:46 where Nebuchadnezzar ‘does homage’ to Daniel). Finally, we might add that the reason the Chaldeans bring up the matter of worshiping the gods is not due to anything transparent in the text. But on our reconstruction of the setting, it seems most plausible that the reason the gods are mentioned is that Nebuchadnezzar felt that his gods had overcome YHWH in that they were able to thwart his will as seen in the prophecy of chapter 2. Thus, anyone who did not acknowledge that the gods had blessed Nebuchadnezzar was affirming that Daniel’s prophecy might still come true.

(It may be significant that neither Daniel nor his friends ever say to Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever!” because such might sound like a denial of the prophetic fulfillment. Daniel does, of course, say this to Darius [6:21], but it seems that this is an appropriate response of wish [in both places the verb is a peal imperative from חיה, which has the force of a wish, both in Aramaic and in Hebrew (see Alger Johns, A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic, p. 25; and GKC, pp. 321-24)]. In 3:9 the Chaldeans see this as an obtainable wish, while in 6:21 Daniel is certainly being courteous, but the force of the imperative is probably, “If only you could!”)

The Response of the Jews (3:13-18)

3:15 In v 15 Nebuchadnezzar seems to be making a direct challenge to YHWH to deliver the three Jews out of his hands. Such a bold statement about his own sovereignty strongly suggests that he had believed himself to be greater than even YHWH (“what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”). Of course, this statement is in line with our hypothesis about the nature and purpose of the image and Daniel’s recording of these events. (Incidentally, Nebuchadnezzar’s confession that only One is sovereign in chapter 4 again seems to be connected with the events of chapter 3--Daniel is clearly demonstrating the cause-and-effect relationship of the boasting of one who claims to be greater than YHWH and how he is reduced, not only to less than a god, but to less than a man!)

3:16-18 In vv 16-18 we see the proper response to a crisis by these three faithful men. They reiterate their faith in YHWH, claiming his ability to deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar, though denying a knowledge of his will. Such, of course, is the attitude all believers should have about personal crises. We simply do not know if God will heal a certain person or bring someone to salvation. But we do know that he is able! By way of contrast, in chapter 2, Daniel claimed to be able to interpret the dream even before YHWH had given him the interpretation. Although on the surface it seems that the faith of Daniel’s friends was not as great as his, it is more likely that Daniel is both highlighting their faith (and faithfulness) in this chapter and affirming that his prophetic gifts were greater than those of his friends. It is significant, then, that Daniel does not portray all faithful believers as having the same supernatural gifts. Such gifts are restricted to a few, though the lack of such gifts should not be seen as a lack in one’s relationship to the Lord. These principles are repeated in the New Testament (cf. especially 1 Cor 13:1-3), and help to give an answer to those Christians who would question the quality of one’s faith if it lacks the supernatural luster of someone else’s faith.

Act III: The Miraculous Deliverance (3:19-27)

The Fire of the King’s Wrath (3:19-23)

3:19 In v 19 we again see evidence of a sixth century BCE date for Daniel. As Baldwin has pointed out (p. 105):

The standard English translations of the various garments named conjure up the picture of three Elizabethan courtiers. Incongruous as this is, the ancient translators were equally puzzled, as the variety of interpretations proves. This points to some long lapse of time between the date of the original, from which the translators were working, and their own day.

In a footnote to this paragraph, she adds the inadvertent conclusion of Montgomery: “Since for each of these three terms every category of gear for head, body and legs has been adduced . . . , the possible permutations are many” (p. 211). The fact that even today we are confused about the garments mentioned here adds something of an O’Henry twist to the date debate: If we ourselves cannot determine with certainty the meaning of certain Aramaic words, how are we able to determine with certainty the date of this book from linguistic considerations?

3:23 One final note of an analytical nature on chapter 3: In v 23 the LXX adds the prayer of Azariah and the song of the three youths. Such an apocryphal addition is certainly not a part of the original text, for, in the words of Baldwin, “Evidence from Qumran has shown conclusively that these additions were not part of the original” (p. 106). Now, the earlier such material was added to Daniel, the more we would expect it to have gotten into various MSS. But if the LXX was translated within 100 years of the writing of Daniel (as late-daters claim), then why didn’t such a story make it into the Qumran MSS? The Qumran MSS apparently go back to a Vorlage behind the time when the LXX was done. In a late-date scheme, the gaps keep on shrinking, eventually getting to the point of being highly improbable reconstructions. The evidence is more easily reconcilable with a 6th century BCE date for Daniel which circulated and was transmitted without the prayer of Azariah for several centuries.

Deliverance through the Seven-Fold Tribulation (3:24-27)

No specific comments. Read the text!

Epilogue: The Acknowledgment by the King of the Most High God (3:28-30)

Chapter 3 concludes much as chapter 2 did: Nebuchadnezzar is again brought to his senses (but still not permanently) and recognizes that YHWH is the sovereign of the universe. He blesses the God of Israel and pronounces a curse on anyone who does not recognize this ‘Most High God’ (a phrase which is possibly still indicative of polytheism for Nebuchadnezzar). The curse is the same one declared against his magicians in 2:5 if they did not reveal his dream: “they shall be torn limb to limb and their houses shall be reduced to a dung hill.” By way of application, I suppose we need to be cautioned that this kind of altar call is usually only effective if one is an absolute monarch!


1 Or gold-plated, as we will see later. The point here is that he does not mix other elements with the gold, such as silver or iron.

Related Topics: Cultural Issues