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Da 3:1-30. NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S IDOLATROUS IMAGE; SHADRACH, MESHACH, AND ABED-NEGO ARE DELIVERED FROM THE FURNACE.
Between the vision of Nebuchadnezzar in the second chapter and that of Daniel in the seventh, four narratives of Daniel's and his friends' personal history are introduced. As the second and seventh chapters go together, so the third and sixth chapters (the deliverance from the lions' den), and the fourth and fifth chapters. Of these last two pairs, the former shows God's nearness to save His saints when faithful to Him, at the very time they seem to be crushed by the world power. The second pair shows, in the case of the two kings of the first monarchy, how God can suddenly humble the world power in the height of its insolence. The latter advances from mere self-glorification, in the fourth chapter, to open opposition to God in the fifth. Nebuchadnezzar demands homage to be paid to his image (Da 3:1-6), and boasts of his power (Da 4:1-18). But Belshazzar goes further, blaspheming God by polluting His holy vessels. There is a similar progression in the conduct of God's people. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refuse positive homage to the image of the world power (Da 3:12); Daniel will not yield it even a negative homage, by omitting for a time the worship of God (Da 6:10). Jehovah's power manifested for the saints against the world in individual histories (the third through sixth chapters) is exhibited in the second and seventh chapters, in world-wide prophetical pictures; the former heightening the effect of the latter. The miracles wrought in behalf of Daniel and his friends were a manifestation of God's glory in Daniel's person, as the representative of the theocracy before the Babylonian king, who deemed himself almighty, at a time when God could not manifest it in His people as a body. They tended also to secure, by their impressive character, that respect for the covenant-people on the part of the heathen powers which issued in Cyrus' decree, not only restoring the Jews, but ascribing honor to the God of heaven, and commanding the building of the temple (Ezr 1:1-4) [AUBERLEN].
1. image--Nebuchadnezzar's confession of God did not prevent him being a worshipper of idols, besides. Ancient idolaters thought that each nation had its own gods, and that, in addition to these, foreign gods might be worshipped. The Jewish religion was the only exclusive one that claimed all homage for Jehovah as the only true God. Men will in times of trouble confess God, if they are allowed to retain their favorite heart-idols. The image was that of Bel, the Babylonian tutelary god; or rather, Nebuchadnezzar himself, the personification and representative of the Babylonian empire, as suggested to him by the dream (Da 2:38), "Thou art this head of gold." The interval between the dream and the event here was about nineteen years. Nebuchadnezzar had just returned from finishing the Jewish and Syrian wars, the spoils of which would furnish the means of rearing such a colossal statue [PRIDEAUX]. The colossal size makes it likely that the frame was wood, overlaid with gold. The "height," sixty cubits, is so out of proportion with the "breadth," exceeding it ten times, that it seems best to suppose the thickness from breast to back to be intended, which is exactly the right proportion of a well-formed man [AUGUSTINE, The City of God, 15.26]. PRIDEAUX thinks the sixty cubits refer to the image and pedestal together, the image being twenty-seven cubits high, or forty feet, the pedestal thirty-three cubits, or fifty feet. HERODOTUS [1.183] confirms this by mentioning a similar image, forty feet high, in the temple of Belus at Babylon. It was not the same image, for the one here was on the plain of Dura, not in the city.
3. stood before the image--in an attitude of devotion. Whatever the king approved of, they all approve of. There is no stability of principle in the ungodly.
4. The arguments of the persecutor are in brief, Turn or burn.
5. cornet--A wind instrument, like the French horn, is meant.
6. No other nation but the Jews would feel this edict oppressive;
for it did not prevent them worshipping their own gods besides. It
was evidently aimed at the Jews by those jealous of their high position
in the king's court, who therefore induced the king to pass an edict as
to all recusants, representing such refusal of homage as an act of
treason to Nebuchadnezzar as civil and religious "head" of the empire.
So the edict under Darius
was aimed against the Jews by those jealous of Daniel's influence. The
literal image of Nebuchadnezzar is a typical prophecy of "the image of
the beast," connected with mystical Babylon, in
The second mystical beast there causeth the earth, and them that dwell
therein, to worship the first beast, and that as many as would not,
should be killed
(Re 13:12, 15).
7. None of the Jews seem to have been present, except the officers, summoned specially.
8. accused the Jews--literally, "ate the rent limbs," or flesh of the Jews (compare Job 31:31; Ps 14:4; 27:2; Jer 10:25). Not probably in general, but as Da 3:12 states, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Why Daniel was not summoned does not appear. Probably he was in some distant part of the empire on state business, and the general summons (Da 3:2) had not time to reach him before the dedication. Also, the Jews' enemies found it more politic to begin by attacking Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who were nearer at hand, and had less influence, before they proceeded to attack Daniel.
12. serve not thy gods--not only not the golden image, but also not any of Nebuchadnezzar's gods.
13. bring--Instead of commanding their immediate execution, as in the case of the Magi (Da 2:12), Providence inclined him to command the recusants to be brought before him, so that their noble "testimony" for God might be given before the world powers "against them" (Mt 10:18), to the edification of the Church in all ages.
14. Is it true--rather, as the Margin [THEODOTION], "Is it purposely that?" &c. Compare the Hebrew, Nu 35:20, 22. Notwithstanding his "fury," his past favor for them disposes him to give them the opportunity of excusing themselves on the ground that their disobedience had not been intentional; so he gives them another trial to see whether they would still worship the image.
16. not careful to answer thee--rather, "We have no need to answer thee"; thou art determined on thy side, and our mind is made up not to worship the image: there is therefore no use in our arguing as if we could be shaken from our principles. Hesitation, or parleying with sin, is fatal; unhesitating decision is the only safety, where the path of duty is clear (Mt 10:19, 28).
17. If it be so--VATABLUS translates, "Assuredly." English Version agrees better with the original. The sense is, If it be our lot to be cast into the furnace, our God (quoted from De 6:4) is able to deliver us (a reply to Nebuchadnezzar's challenge, "Who is that God that shall deliver you?"); and He will deliver us (either from death, or in death, 2Ti 4:17, 18). He will, we trust, literally deliver us, but certainly He will do so spiritually.
18. But if not, &c.--connected with Da 3:18. "Whether our God deliver us, as He is able, or do not, we will not serve thy gods." Their service of God is not mercenary in its motive. Though He slay them, they will still trust in Him (Job 13:15). Their deliverance from sinful compliance was as great a miracle in the kingdom of grace, as that from the furnace was in the kingdom of nature. Their youth, and position as captives and friendless exiles, before the absolute world potentate and the horrid death awaiting them if they should persevere in their faith, all enhance the grace of God, which carried them through such an ordeal.
19. visage . . . changed--He had shown forbearance
(Da 3:14, 15)
as a favor to them, but now that they despise even his forbearance,
anger "fills" him, and is betrayed in his whole countenance.
21. coats . . . hosen . . . hats--HERODOTUS [1.195] says that the Babylonian costume consisted of three parts: (1) wide, long pantaloons; (2) a woollen shirt; (3) an outer mantle with a girdle round it. So these are specified [GESENIUS], "their pantaloons, inner tunics (hosen, or stockings, are not commonly worn in the East), and outer mantles." Their being cast in so hurriedly, with all their garments on, enhanced the miracle in that not even the smell of fire passed on their clothes, though of delicate, inflammable material.
23. fell down--not cast down; for those who brought the three youths to the furnace, perished by the flames themselves, and so could not cast them in. Here follows an addition in the Septuagint, Syrian, Arabic, and Vulgate versions. "The Prayer of Azarias," and "The Song of the Three Holy Children." It is not in the Chaldee. The hymn was sung throughout the whole Church in their liturgies, from the earliest times [RUFINUS in Commentary on the Apostles Creed, and ATHANASIUS]. The "astonishment" of Nebuchadnezzar in Da 3:24 is made an argument for its genuineness, as if it explained the cause of his astonishment, namely, "they walked in the midst of the fire praising God, but the angel of the Lord came down into the oven" (vs. 1 and vs. 27 of the Apocryphal addition). But Da 3:25 of English Version explains his astonishment, without need of any addition.
25. four--whereas but three had been cast in.