Daniel 3 – The Statue
At the end of chapter 2, everything was so beautiful. The king acknowledged that the God of Daniel was the God of gods and the Lord of kings, a Revealer of mysteries. Daniel could do what none of the wise men of Babylon could do and the God of Daniel could do what the gods of Babylon could not do.
Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. What a great time that must have been for Daniel and his friends, and for the people of Israel. An excellent time! Yes, but it didn't last long. So often when mighty men of the world have to acknowledge the power of God, they quickly thereafter forget what happened, and their pride and arrogance change their minds again.
In Daniel 3 we see that the situation has totally changed for Daniel’s three friends. The king, who spoke so positively about God and was so favourable towards Daniel and his friends at the end of chapter 2, now makes a statue which he wants everybody in his entire empire to worship and bow down to. Those who would not bow down will be put to death, a terrible death in the fiery furnace.
In chapter 2, all the wise men were saved from a cruel death by Daniel and his friends. But in chapter 3:8 some of them came forward and denounced the friends of Daniel. Their envy was greater than their thankfulness.
King Nebuchadnezzar was a mighty king, ruling over an empire of many peoples and nations. The king tried to unify all those people to become one strong nation. One of the ways of doing this was transplanting people; taking a conquered people out of their own country and bringing them to other areas, in hope that they would blend in to their new surroundings and the people in whose midst they came to live. This is what happened to the Jewish people as well. (Or at this time still only part of them, as we read in Daniel 1:3-4). The king hoped that in this way, these young men from the royal family and the nobility would adapt to the other people and later on lead their own people in doing the same.
The king also tried to unite all the people in a different way – by having them all worship one god. They all had their own religions and that wasn't wrong in the eyes of the king. In fact they were allowed to keep their own gods. But if they all shared at least one god, the king hoped that they could become united in their worship of that one god, and over time, maybe that god would become the upper god of the united nation.
Therefore Nebuchadnezzar built a huge statue, an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide. Maybe it was one of the existing gods, one of his gods, or maybe it was a new god, or even a statue of himself. In verse 15 the king considered himself to be even mightier than all the gods: “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
The king demanded everyone bow down before this statue, and summoned all the officials in his empire to witness the dedication of this statue. When the music started to play they all had to fall down and worship the image of gold that the king had set up.
The heathen gods and Israel’s God
Here we see the big difference between the religions of other people and the people of Israel. For all the heathen people it was no problem to accept this god. The heathen people could just add the new god to their own gods and continue living their life as it was before. It didn’t matter if they liked the god or not, they still had their own gods.
But the three friends could not do that. God is the only God and does not want his people to bow down before other gods. God does not want to be one of the many gods, maybe even one of the most important gods. He is the only God, and he wants his people to worship him only. No other god could be worshipped. This is why the three friends could not do what all the other officials did. They could not bow down for this statue, because that would mean that they denied God, the LORD, the only true God.
This is indeed why during the whole history of the church, time and again, Christians are persecuted. In the first century, during the Roman Empire, many Christians were brought before kings and governors and were demanded to sacrifice incense for Caesar. Some Christians thought they could do it, because they would not give up God. But the faithful Christians knew that as soon as they sacrificed their incense offerings to Caesar, then they would acknowledge him as god, and would therefore be worshiping other gods beside God.
Throughout all ages, even today, God demands that we shall have no other gods before him (first commandment). Even now, Christianity is an exclusive religion and this is what makes Christianity a threat to this society. Christians claim obedience to one God. The world does not want to give up their worldly ways and so does not have a tolerance for Christians. We live in a very tolerant society, but there is no place for God and not much tolerance for the Christians.
God’s people in a pagan society
Daniel and his friends lived in a society that was filled with false religions. Religion and everyday life were intermingled and there were many customs in daily life which were determined by religious convictions. The friends did not withdraw from that society. They even participated in that society by being appointed administrators over the province of Babylon. They had to accept many things that the peoples over whom they were placed did against God's commandments, and behaviour that was not always in accordance with what they believed it should be. They could not always do what they wanted to do, in the government of the country. That was no reason for them to withdraw from their position, as long as they themselves were not forced to go against God’s commandments. However, when it came to the point that they were forced to worship other gods and bow down before this statue, then they refused. That is what chapter 3 tells us about.
The three friends were important members of the government of Babylon. It is especially that fact that made the king so angry at them for not bowing down to the statue. They were not just three stubborn Jews. If that was the case, then the king would have commanded to throw them in the fire immediately without a second chance.
It was not because the king cared so much for them that he gave them a second chance in verse 15, but because he wanted to show them his power. They were esteemed members of his government who resisted his command. So the king wanted to prove that he was the mightiest king, mightier than the strongest god, even their God. If these three men would also bow down for his image, then he would be totally unchallenged. But if not, even if he would throw them in the fire, then there would still be a stain on his record and he would not have been able to make everyone bow before his statue.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego understood very well what the king was doing now. It was all about the question: Who is God? Is it King Nebuchadnezzar, or is it Yahweh, God in heaven? Who is the God of gods and King of kings? “Who is the God who can deliver you out of my hand?” (v.15) For the three friends the answer to the question of the king was clear. They knew the answer! They knew that God would show it to the king as well.
Maybe God would not deem it necessary to save the three friends. Even then, they were willing to sacrifice their lives, rather than deny God. They knew that God would rescue them from the hand of the king, whether it was by saving their lives, or in another way. The king could kill their bodies, but not their souls. They knew that they were on their way to a better, heavenly country. In Hebrews 11:34 we read about those “who quenched the power of fire.” About them and many others it is said there that they did not receive what had been promised yet, but that together with us, they would be made perfect.
The Kingdom of Heaven
The three friends of Daniel believed that they were citizens of another Kingdom: the Kingdom of God. Being a citizen of God’s kingdom means to have eternal life. God will protect his kingdom and he will defend all the citizens of his kingdom.
God put Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego on this earth, in the time of King Nebuchadnezzar, and made them administrators in the government of the king. It is his will that they had to stand before the king and resist him. God made them able to do the task that they were given. He worked in them so that they were willing to give their own lives as a sacrifice, because they knew they would get much more after this earthly life. These three Old Testament believers, along with many more in the Old and New Testament are all children of God, who look forward to a heavenly dwelling place, which God has prepared for all believers.
In Hebrews 11 and what follows in Hebrews 12, the witnesses are mentioned as an encouragement to us, so that we will also stand firm in the faith and resist even kings and mighty governors who go against God’s commands. We do not stand alone in our battle against sin and Satan. We do not stand alone in our struggle with temptation and in times of persecution. God gave us the communion of saints to encourage and help each other to remain faithful in our service to God.
We have to fight the good fight, which is about eternal life or eternal death. We should not seek persecution, if it is not necessary, but we should not flee from it either, if it comes to the point of professing the name of our God before the people of this world. Sometimes we have to accept persecution, because there is no other way to remain faithful to God. We should never accept that others force or tempt us to deny God's will and go against his commandments. We should give up our own lives rather than saying or doing anything that would go against the will of our heavenly God and Father.
The three friends knew that God was able to rescue them from the hand of the king, and in the end God did save them. He protected them in the fiery furnace. He sent his angel, the angel of the LORD, to guard them. King Nebuchadnezzar told them to choose: bow or burn. But God decided that there was a third way: not to bow, not to burn, but to believe and be victorious.
King Nebuchadnezzar had to acknowledge that indeed, their God was able to rescue them from his hand, that God was mightier than he himself was. In the end he had to bring praise to God and he commanded his entire empire to do so, too. Instead of worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, his whole empire worshipped the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
This was a battle between the powers of Antichrist, Satan, and God’s Kingdom. The battle came to a climax when Christ came on earth, and ended when he finally defeated Satan decisively when he died on the cross and subsequently rose from the dead. To him is given all authority in heaven and on earth. No king can resist him and go unpunished. His Word is conquering the entire world and he will come again in glory, and then God will make all his enemies his footstool (Psalm 110).
This is an encouragement to the church. God will always deliver his church from all persecution. It is not always immediate or in the way we would like him to act. Even though he delivered the three friends, it does not mean that he will always send deliverance in this life. Sometimes Christians will indeed be killed by their persecutors. At that moment they may die as if they were criminals, and the persecutors will make many believe that those Christians were indeed enemies of their country. At the time it may seem as if their persecutors win. But God's believers may expect their vindication from God. In the end they will be vindicated when Christ returns, then he will reveal the truth. He will reveal the truth about all the Christians, who were falsely accused and punished. When this happens the whole world will acknowledge their evil deeds and receive punishment.
In Matthew 10:33-34 Christ said that whoever acknowledges him before men, he will also acknowledge before his Father in heaven. But whoever disowns him before men, he will also disown before his Father in heaven.
- Summarize this chapter in terms of moves in the “chess match” between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of heaven. How is Satan consistently outmatched?
- Regarding the position of Daniel and his friends in the government of Babylonia: Can we now, in Canada, support a government that leaves room for sinful acts like abortion, same-sex marriages, euthanasia, etc.? Support your position.
- Where do you see in our society that almost any opinion is tolerated, except those that are based on the Bible?
- How can we encourage each other not to be afraid to speak up, as Christians, and be witnesses of our Lord Jesus Christ?
- The three friends of Daniel were active in the government of Babylon. They had a task there, but it also brought them into the difficult situation described in Daniel 3. Do we, as Christians, have a task in this society in which we live, or should we withdraw within our own ‘safe’ Canadian Reformed circles and try to find work as much as possible at Canadian Reformed employers, participate only in Canadian Reformed sports leagues, start our own ‘Canadian Reformed’ or at least ‘Christian’ political organizations, etc?