13 April 2013

Daniel 3:1-18

“If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (vv. 17-18)


This story is a separate one about Nebuchadnezzar, unconnected with chapter 2 where he practically has become a Jew in the way he acknowledges Daniel's God (Daniel 2:47).

As you read this passage, think of it less as repetitive writing, and more as a story to be read out to a crowd, who are invited to join in the 'chorus' by repeating the lists of the officials and the musical instruments along with the storyteller. The officials' names are a mixture of Akkadian and Persian offices; the musical instruments include Greek instruments which were not invented or so-named at the time of Nebuchadnezzar but would have been known in second century BC Judea.

This is because this story is pure allegory. How do you respond in the second century BC to a Greek ruler who has desecrated the temple by erecting a huge metal statue to the god Zeus, and who is burning alive Jews who are refusing to bow down to the other Greek gods? Antiochus IV Epiphanes wasn't content with anannualofficial birthday. He demanded sacrifices were made on hismonthlybirthday - and for all the Jews to take part in the Greek rituals (2 Maccabees 6:1-11).

So the story of Nebuchadnezzar's golden statue was told - standing 90 feet (27 metres) high and 9 feet wide. He too had told Jews to bow down to a statue; he too had threated to burn to death those who disobeyed. There are jealous officials who have lost out on promotion to Daniel's friends and have everything to gain by denouncing them (Daniel 2:49). And the scene is set for a showdown as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stand firm in worshipping God alone. The translation of verses 17-18 is difficult - Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego don't question God's power to save them; rather they see rescue as something that is God's choice. Even if God chose not to save them, they state that they would rather die in the fiery furnace than be unfaithful to God (1 Maccabees 1:62-64), and are thus perfect examples to those who hear the story.

To Ponder

  • There are many differences between the way that Christians practise their faith and live their lives. What practices would you say are your 'bottom-line'? What would you refuse to do and see as non-negotiable because of the way you choose to live your life?
  • To what extent do you think God would rather people be faithful and die horribly than try to compromise in order to live longer and hope to change their enemies?
  • What are the idols that people of today worship?

Bible notes author

The Revd Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.