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This Sunday School Study Guide is provided free of cost for personal study and as an aid for Sunday School teachers.  It contains copyright material and may not be reproduced in any form for sale, without permission from the copyright holders.  

Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme: Game Changer: How to Impact Your World

What This Study Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus for this week’s study is on Daniel’s three friends who chose to face death instead of disobeying God.


Oct. 18

Develop Conviction


Oct. 25

Pray Fervently


Nov. 01

Stand Courageously


Nov. 08

Live Humbly


Nov. 15

Confront Sin


Nov. 22

Act Faithfully


Nov. 29

When Opposition Strikes



Be ready and willing to stand for God.


Daniel 3:13-18,26-28





A Clash of Commitments (Daniel 3:13-15)

An Immoveable Faith (Daniel 3:16-18)

With All Your Life (Daniel 3:26-28)


Nebuchadnezzar’s fascination with Daniel’s God was short-lived (Dan. 2:47).  Though God had revealed the king’s dream and its interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar built a gold statue and at the dedication of it told the people to bow down and worship it when they heard the music play.  The result of not bowing down to the statue was death by being thrown into a furnace of fire (3:1-7).

Daniel is not mentioned in this passage—only his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Speculations abound concerning his absence.  Some believe he was ill.  Others believe he may have been excluded from the king’s demand.  Still others suggest that he was traveling out of town on state business.  While the text does not state why Daniel is not mentioned, all would agree that it would have been out of character for Daniel to bow down to the statue, so he must not have been present on the day that his three friends refused to compromise.

The location of “the plain of Dura” is unknown (v. 1), but it possibly could have been a site 16 miles south of Babylon.  This could explain Daniel’s absence that day, as he may have remained in the city.  The odd size of the statue is also a interesting feature of this passage—“90 feet high and nine feet wide” (v. 1).  That was one tall, skinny image!  Some have suggested the statue resembled a totem pole, while others have suggested that the base of the statue made up most of the 90 feet and then the image was proportionate that sat on the base.  While the visual of the image is unknown, its purpose was not.  The image was an idol that the people were commanded to “worship” (vv. 5-6).  This demand created conflict with Daniel’s three Hebrew friends’ convictions.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.


  As a society we tend to gravitate toward whatever is currently popular or trending.  However, not everything that is popular and trending is good or right.  So what do we do?  Will we submit to the pressure of the culture, allow what is popular to hold sway over us, and cower in fear because of the threats made to us?  Or, will we choose to resist the crowd, refuse to fall victim to trends, and stand courageously for God?  As Christians we are to assimilate culture without compromising conviction.  As good witnesses for Jesus Christ we are to know how to do this.  However, at times, we must stand courageously and refuse to compromise our convictions.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


A Clash of Commitments (Daniel 3:13-15)

13 Then in a furious rage Nebuchadnezzar gave orders to bring in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar asked them, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, is it true that you don’t serve my gods or worship the gold statue I have set up? 15 Now if you’re ready, when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, drum, and every kind of music, fall down and worship the statue I made. But if you don’t worship it, you will immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire—and who is the god who can rescue you from my power?”








1.   What comes to mind when you hear the word courage?

2.   What do you think this statement implies for the believer:  “Be ready and willing to stand for God”?

3.   What event led to this display of rage and anger on Nebuchadnezzar’s part (v. 13)?

4.   Why do you think the king went into a rage over the three lesser members of his council?

5.   What question did the king ask the three young Hebrews (v. 14)?

6.   How do you think these three young Hebrews may have felt when the king asked this question?

7.   Even though filled with rage, what does it appear the king was willing to do in regard to the three Hebrews (v. 15)

8.   According to verse 15, do you think Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego really had a choice?  Why, or why not?

9.   What forces do you think would have pressured the three Hebrews to change their convictions in their hearing with the king?

10.   How did the king’s own words remind the three that bowing to the statue would involve more than political compromise?

11.   What comment did the king make that gives evidence of his ignorance and arrogance (v. 15b)?

12.   Have you ever felt the pressure to conform?  Is so, how did it affect you?  What was the outcome?

13.   How does our culture pressure people into conformity?

14.   What are some of the issues in our society today that will cause Christians to take a stand for the Lord?


Lasting Lessons in Daniel 3:13-15:

1.  Our stand for the Lord can lead to a confrontation by those who oppose our views.

2.  Those who think they are fully in control are deceiving themselves.

3.  Only the Lord God is worthy of our worship.



An Immoveable Faith (Daniel 3:16-18)

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. 17 If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”

1.   Why do you think Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused the legitimacy of the command to bow to the statue?

2.   Based on verse 16, what do you think was the tone of the statement Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego gave the king?

3.   Why do you think the three did not feel a need to defend themselves before the king?

4.   What might this tell you about the relationship these three had with the king?

5.   At this point, how would you describe their attitude toward the king and his command?

6.   Do you think actions are sometimes more important in winning a debate that words?  Why, or why not?

7.   Based on verse 17, what else did they go to say?

8.   What light does verse 18 shed on the conversation between Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the king?

9.   What does verse 18 tell us about what they thought about the king’s command at this point in their conversation?

10.   Even in the face of certain death, what do you think these three thought about God?

11.   What risks might we face in standing firm for our convictions, especially concerning the current issues in our society today?

12.   What is the connection between courage and faith?

13.   What does it tell you about a believer’s faith that no matter what God chose to do, he/she would not compromise their faith.

14.   Do you believe that kind of trust springs from a heart that loves God more than one’s own life?  Why, or why not?


Lasting Lessons in Daniel 3:16-18:

1.  Biblical faith is believing that God is fully able to deliver us from any threats before us.

2.  Biblical faith is believing in God even when He does not rescue us.



With All Your Life (Daniel 3:26-28)

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and called: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God—come out!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire. 27 When the satraps, prefects, governors, and the king’s advisers gathered around, they saw that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men: not a hair of their heads was singed, their robes were unaffected, and there was no smell of fire on them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent His angel and rescued His servants who trusted in Him. They violated the king’s command and risked their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”

1.   What do you think Nebuchadnezzar saying about God by referring to Him as the most high God (v.26)?

2.   What signs did the king witness that God had been protecting them from the effects of the furnace (v. 27)?

3.   What evidence is offered that what the king and all his officials had witnessed was nothing less than a miracle?

4.   How did this event impact the king?

5.   What did the king acknowledge that God had done for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (v. 28)?

6.   What had they been willing to do rather than deny God (v. 28)?

7.   What purpose did God fulfill in allowing the three men to go into the furnace but sparing them in the middle of it?

8.   Had you been a witness of this event, what would you have thought about the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?

9.   How can we encourage each other to stand courageously in the face of opposition?

10.   What are some things we can do to actively support Christians who are facing persecution?

11.   Does Matt. 16:33 encourage you when you stand firm in the face of ungodly issues in our society today? If so, how?

12.   How can standing faithful in the face of fiery opposition shed the light of Christ for everyone to see?


Lasting Lessons in Daniel 3:26-28:

1.  God is unlike any other.

2.  What God sets out to do, He does like no other.

3.  God is present with us in the most difficult of times.

4.  Nothing is to come between us and God.

5.  The call to faithfulness is a call to give our all.




  The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is a story of courage in the face of unjustified persecution.  The three men refused to compromise their loyalty to God but placed their faith completely in Him.  They refused to bow before the golden image because their hearts already were humbled before God.

A review of the experience of the three Hebrews challenges us to evaluate the depth of our personal commitment to God.  Are we willing to refuse to bow down to the gods of culture and this world in order to stand for the Lord?  Do we have the kind of faith-filled courage that would lead us to put our lives on the line?  We may answer boldly in the shelter of our homes, churches, and Bible study groups, but will we answer in the crucibles of life?  On a scale of 1 (will bow down) to 10 (will stand strong), rate where you stand and what it reveals about your commitment to God in the face of cultural challenges that are contrary to Christ’s teaching and bear witness to the world about my relationship to you!   How do you measure up?  God will help you if you truly want to improve your relationship with Him and strengthen your stand for Him!

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

New King James Version:  Daniel 3:13-18,26-28:

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?" 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."

26 Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here." Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire. 27 And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king's counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.28 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!   (NKJV)


New International Version:  Daniel 3:13-18,26-28:

13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?" 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. 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. 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.  (NIV)

New Living Translation:  Daniel 3:13-18,26-28:

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? 15 I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27 Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke! 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.  (NLT)


Lesson Outline — “Stand Courageously” — Daniel 3:13-18,26-28




A Clash of Commitments (Daniel 3:13-15)

An Immoveable Faith (Daniel 3:16-18)

With All Your Life (Daniel 3:26-28)


(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament,The New American Commentary,” andThe Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament:

The Fiery Furnace

With a show of zeal for the king, the Chaldeans quoted his edict word for word (vv. 10-11) and then related how these three recalcitrant Jews had dared (v. 12) to “pay no attention to” (lasamu alayk teem, lit., “They have not paid regard to you”) the express command of “King Nebuchadnezzar” (v. 9); they had refused to bow down and worship the golden image!

3:13-15. Nebuchadnezzar’s response was all the Chaldeans could have hoped for. He became furious and ordered the offenders to be brought before him (v. 13). He could not understand that they had defied him, after his many favors and in the face of such a dreadful penalty. Half incredulously he stared at them and asked whether they really had disobeyed his decree (v. 14). Then, controlling his anger momentarily, he stopped questioning them and magnanimously gave them an opportunity to save themselves. He would order the musicians to play again so the three men might prove their loyalty and obedience by worshiping the image then and there (v. 15).

But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego loved Yahweh more than life itself. Not only had they learned to recite the Shema—“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:4-5)—but they made it the center of their lives. For them the will and glory of Yahweh meant more than fame, position, or security. Loving him with all their heart, they were ready to lay down their lives for him. Such was the logic of genuine faith, somewhat as Paul the apostle was later to say: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). So these three refused to plead with Nebuchadnezzar to make an exception of them.

3:16-18.  “O Nebuchadnezzar,” the three said, “we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter [pitgam, which could also mean ‘decree,’ ‘message,’ or ‘affair’].” The Aramaic word order of v. 16 places an emphasis on the pronoun “we,” implying that it is the Lord himself who will deal with this king who thinks he is sovereign on earth.

The next statement of the three men has been variously interpreted. Its opening clause is usually rendered thus: “If it be so, our God ... is able” (v. 17). (NIV has “If we are thrown, ... the God we serve is able.”) But a more appropriate rendering in this context would be “If our God exists [hen itay elahana, in which itay, like its Heb. cognate yes, means ‘there is’ or ‘there exists’], whom we worship, he is able to deliver us from the furnace of burning fire; and from your hand, O king, he shall deliver.” Nebuchadnezzar had made the mistake of defing Yahweh, saying, “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (v. 15). Like Sennacherib, who had derided Hezekiah’s trust in God by boasting that none of the gods of the other nations had ever been able to save their people from the might of Assyria (2 Kings 18:33), Nebuchadnezzar had converted his confrontation with men into a contest with the Lord God Almighty. Nebuchadnezzar’s doom and fall were sure, even though he had earlier served God’s purpose as a scourge to chasten God’s apostate people (Jer 27:6-8). Ungratefully he had scoffed at the very God who had granted him success in battle; therefore he was to undergo one humiliation after another, till he groveled in the dust before Israel’s God.

But the heroism of the three men went even further as they declared, “But even if he does not [deliver us], we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods, or worship the image of gold you have set up” (v. 18). They were ready to be burned up in the fiery furnace rather than betray the God they had totally surrendered their lives to. Scripture contains few more heroic words than “But even if he does not.”

Concerning this confrontation between Nebuchadnezzar and the three Hebrews, Ford says:

The courteous but determined refusal of the Hebrews should be carefully observed. They had obeyed “the powers that be” as far as conscience permitted. They journeyed to the Plain of Dura. And right at the point where conscience shouted, “No further!” they rejected the temptation to be arrogant in their nonconformity. As Daniel before them had been courteous in his request to follow his convictions, so these three verbally acknowledge Nebuchadnezzar as king, while committing their ultimate allegiance to the King of kings alone. (cf. Acts 5:29; Matt 22:21).

Before passing on to v. 19, we need to face the puzzling question of why Daniel did not join his three companions in disobeying the king’s decree. Several answers may be given.

1. Since Daniel is not mentioned in this chapter, he may have been absent from Babylon at the time, perhaps on government business in some other part of the kingdom.

2. He may have been closeted with other members of the king’s cabinet, working on legislative or military plans.

3. He may have been (as Wood, p. 78, suggests) too ill to attend the public ceremony; we know from 8:27 that sickness occasionally interfered with his carrying on with government business (cf. also 7:28; 10:8).

4. It may simply have been assumed that as the king’s vizier (prime minister, for his responsibilities amounted to that high status; cf. 2:48), he was not required to make public demonstration of his loyalty by worshiping the image of his god. After all, there is no indication that Nebuchadnezzar himself bowed down to the image. It may have been that he simply sat on his royal dais surveying the scene, with his closest friends and advisers at his side.

5. It is true that Daniel’s office as ruler over the capital province of Babylon (2:48) was not specifically listed in the seven categories of public officials (cf. 3:3, though of course, the rulers of subordinate provinces were required to be on hand); and none of the “wise men” (hakkimayya), over whom Daniel had been made chief were included in the call for this public ceremony. As a type of accredited clergy serving under the state, they may have been exempted from this act of allegiance; their religious commitment would be presumed to be beyond question. In other words, Daniel did not belong to any of the special groups of jurists, advisors, financial experts, or political leaders included in the terms of the call.

6. Perhaps Daniel’s reputation as a diviner was so formidable that even the jealous Chaldeans did not dare attack him before the king.

Ford makes the following observation: “Had the story been the invention that many have suggested; had it originated in the days of the Maccabees to nerve the faithful against Gentile oppression, it is unlikely that the chief hero would have been omitted. Reality transcends fiction, and the very ‘incompleteness’ of this account testifies to its fidelity.” It is hard to see how the force of this deduction can be successfully evaded. There is no psychological reason for an idealizing romancer to leave Daniel out of this exciting episode. The only way to account for this omission is that in point of fact he was not personally in attendance at this important function.

The Sentence Imposed and Executed (3:19-23)

3:19-23.  Having been publicly defied in the name of the God of the Hebrews, Nebuchadnezzar had no recourse but to order the immediate execution of the three young Hebrews. In his rage (v. 19), he went to absurd lengths, as if he were dealing with asbestos figures rather than flesh-and-blood men. No mere mortal could have survived an instant in the huge furnace, but the king insisted that additional bellows be inserted under the blazing coals and that it be heated to maximum intensity. So fierce was the fire that even to come near it was fatal (v. 22). Equally absurd was Nebuchadnezzar’s command for the three to be fully dressed with their hats on (v. 21) so as to make sure the flames would envelop them. Finally, they were “firmly tied” (v. 23) and thrown like logs into the furnace. In his fury Nebuchadnezzar had thought of everything.

Apparently there was no door or screen to hide the inside of the furnace from view. Judging from bas-reliefs, it would seem that Mesopotamian smelting furnaces tended to be like an old-fashioned glass milk-bottle in shape, with a large opening for the insertion of the ore to be smelted and a smaller aperture at ground level for the admission of wood and charcoal to furnish the heat. There must have been two or more smaller holes at this same level to permit the insertion of pipes connected with large bellows, when it was desired to raise the temperature beyond what the flue or chimney would produce. Undoubtedly the furnace itself was fashioned of very thick adobe, resistant to intense heat. The large upper door was probably raised above the level of the fire bed so that the metal smelted from the ore would spill on the ground in case the crucibles were upset. So the text says (v. 23) that the three “fell down” (nepalu) into the fire. Apart from the swirling flames and smoke, then, they were quite visible to an outside observer, though, like the king, he would have to stand at a distance.

The Deliverance and the Fourth Man (3:24-27)

3:24-27. The dumbfounded Nebuchadnezzar saw the Hebrews walking upright in the flames without their bonds (v. 24). Even more astounding, he saw a fourth person walking with them (v. 25). Where had he come from? After his officials confirmed the king’s impression that only three men had been thrown into the furnace, he described the fourth one resembling deity—i.e., “like a son of gods” (wereweh di rebiaya da-meh lebarelahin, lit., “and the appearance of the fourth resembles a son of gods”). Pagan that he was, Nebuchadnezzar probably meant the plural absolute ending In as an indefinite plural rather than equivalent to the Hebrew elohim (which is often taken as a singular, when referring to the one true God). All four persons in the furnace were walking around freely (v. 25). The blazing fire had no effect on them. Nebuchadnezzar stood face to face with a sheer miracle. Their divine companion in the flames had delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from all harm.

Coming as near to the furnace as possible, Nebuchadnezzar shouted above the roar of the furnace (v. 26). So the three climbed out—but not the fourth, who had apparently disappeared—and allowed themselves to be inspected by the king and his officials.. To their amazement, neither the clothing nor the bodies of the three Hebrews showed any marks of the fire (v. 27). Their clothes did not even smell of fire. Only their bonds were gone. Their God had indeed been able to deliver them from the fiery furnace, just as they had affirmed (v. 17). Yahweh had triumphed over the tryant who had defied him.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Second Submission to God (3:28-30)

3:28-30 Before such an awesome display of God’s power, Nebuchadnezzar could only acknowledge his defeat. He had come up against the God he had challenged (v. 15): “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” He hastened to praise Yahweh (v. 28) and thereby confess his admiration for the courage and fidelity of the three Hebrews, who had been willing to die rather than worship any god but Yahweh.

To make amends Nebuchadnezzar decreed death and destruction for saying anything against the God of Israel (v. 29). Then Nebuchadnezzar promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to a higher office in Babylon (v. 30). It would be interesting to know what happened to the great idol on the Plain of Dura; presumably it was stripped of its golden covering and left to decay.

A significant fact in the subsequent history of the Jews is that the sublime courage of the three Hebrews and their faith in Yahweh greatly encouraged the Jewish patriots at the time of the Maccabean revolt, whose leaders emulated it in their own struggle against Antiochus Epiphanes. 1 Macc 2:59 tells how the dying Mattathias of Modin recalled the heroism of David and Elijah and said, “Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael believed and were saved out of the flame.” His words show his conviction of the historicity of Daniel 3. In the NT Hebrews 11:34 refers to Daniel 3: “[They] quenched the fury of the flames”—an allusion that appears in a long list of the heroes of the faith. Obviously the author of Hebrews believed that the events in Daniel 3 took place in the sixth century B.C. exactly as they are related.

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers


The New American Commentary; Daniel 3:13-18,26-28:

The Inquisition (3:13–18)

The Summons (3:13)

13Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 3:13.  “Furious with rage” is literally “in fury (rĕgaz) and rage (ămâ).” These two words form a hendiadys and give the sense of “extreme anger.” Beside himself with rage, the Babylonian despot immediately had the three Jews brought before him.

The Question (3:14)

14and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?  (NIV)

3:14.  Almost in disbelief, Nebuchadnezzar asked Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego if the report was really “true.” Had these three foreigners actually refused to worship the gods of Babylon (the gods who Nebuchadnezzar himself worshiped) and disobeyed the king’s command to bow before the great image?

The Offer (3:15)

15Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”  (NIV)

3:15.  For some reason Nebuchadnezzar was willing to grant these young men an opportunity to change their minds. Possibly he had grown fond of them, or perhaps he felt that it would be a pity to lose three capable men especially since he had made a large investment of time and money in them. The king offered to have the orchestra play just for them. If Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would bow down before the image, all would be well; but if not, they would be thrown immediately (lit., “in the moment”) into the blazing furnace.

Nebuchadnezzar added, “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Montgomery points out that the language is emphatic, “What (at all) god is there?” The question seems to reflect the king’s previous experience with Israel’s God (cf. chap. 2). Yahweh had proven himself powerful by revealing the dream, but even such a great god would not be able to protect his followers from death in the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar may even have been deliberately challenging Yahweh. Only a short distance away the fire blazed. If the young men did not change their minds and bow to the image, no power (no god) could deliver them.

The Reply (3:16–18)

16Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  (NIV)

3:16.  The young men responded that they did not need to present a defense (lit., “return [an answer]”) to the king concerning this decision (v. 16). No apology was to be given for their stand. This was not a “proud reply” as Lacocque thinks; it was a “firm” reply.  Their minds were made up.

3:17.  Regarding the king’s threat of death in the furnace, they replied that their God was able to deliver them. In the NIV the latter part of the verse reads “and he [God] will rescue us from your hand, O king.” The Aramaic verbal form (imperfect) rendered “he will rescue” (yĕšêzib) also could be translated “he may rescue,” which in this context would be better. Although no doubt existed in the minds of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego about the ability of their God to deliver them, they humbly accepted the fact that God does not always choose to intervene miraculously in human circumstances, even on behalf of his servants. The following verse also shows that the Hebrews understood death to be a possibility.

3:18.  “But even if he does not” could be rendered more literally “but if not.” The interpretation depends on how the previous verse is translated (see note on v. 17). According to the NIV and others, God was able to deliver them, but it might not be his will to do so. Jerome comments: “Thereby they indicate that it will not be a matter of God’s inability but rather of His sovereign will if they do perish.”  This latter interpretation is best. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego previously had witnessed Yahweh’s power over the false gods of Babylon in the matter of the king’s dream (cf. chap. 2), and they are set forth in the book as pious saints devoted to the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures. These Scriptures included the accounts of the great wonders God performed for Israel, miracles that these young men would have heard and believed. No question could have existed in their minds that the God who divided the sea and performed other miracles in delivering Israel from Egypt could do the same for them—if it was within his will. Furthermore, miracles fill the Book of Daniel, and the author would surely not have allowed his heroes to express doubts concerning the power of their God here. Thus the Hebrews believed that their God could, but not necessarily that he would, spare their lives.

Here is a pertinent lesson for believers today. Does God have all power? Yes. Is God able to deliver believers from all problems and trials? Yes. But does God deliver believers from all trials? No. God may allow trials to come into the lives of his people to build character or for a number of other reasons (Rom 5). The purpose for trials may not always be understood, but God simply asks that his children trust him—even when it is not easy. As Job, who endured incredible suffering, exclaimed, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). Although God does not guarantee that his followers will never suffer or experience death, he does promise always to be with them. In times of trial the believer’s attitude should be that of these young men (3:17–18).

Some of the most courageous words ever spoken are recorded in v. 18. Christ told his followers: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). This explains the confidence exhibited by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they declared, “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Even if they had to suffer a horrible, painful death in a burning oven, these three young men refused to forsake their God and worship idols. Similar words have been uttered countless times throughout the centuries as believers have suffered martyrdom for the Lord. Lacocque thinks that the author of Daniel implied the resurrection in this story. Certainly these Hebrews were convinced that even if they perished in the flames, there was a better life beyond.

26Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. 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.  (NIV)

What impressed Nebuchadnezzar most of all was that now the three Jews had been joined by a fourth man, and this one looked like “a son of the gods.” Porteous and the majority of Jewish scholars have identified this person as an angel. For example, Slotki remarks, “The Talmud asserts that it was the archangel Gabriel (Pes. 118a, b).” According to Lacocque, “The expression is used in the inscriptions at Karatepe and Ugarit where it designates the members of the divine court.” However, the expression “a son of the gods” ascribes deity to the being, since an offspring of the gods partakes of the divine nature. Young remarks: “The meaning is son of deity, i.e., a Divine Person, one of the race of the gods, a supernatural being.” The NRSV’s “the appearance of a god” seems to capture the idea well, for the king believed that he had seen no less than a god in the flames with the three Hebrews.

The KJV renders this phrase “the Son of God,” an apparent allusion to the second person of the Trinity. Either the NIV or KJV translation is possible grammatically. In biblical Aramaic the plural noun ˒ĕlāhîn may be assumed to have the same force as ˒ĕlōhîm in biblical Hebrew, which can be rendered as a plural, “gods,” or as a singular, “God,” when denoting the true God, the plural form being an attempt to express the divine fullness and majesty. In this context, however, the translation of the NIV and most modern versions is to be preferred, since Nebuchadnezzar was polytheistic and had no conception of the Christian Trinity. Thus the pagan king only meant that the fourth figure in the fire was divine.

From the Christian perspective, we know that the preincarnate Christ did appear to individuals in the Old Testament. Most likely the fourth man in the fire was the angel of the Lord, God himself in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, a view held by many expositors (cf. comments on 6:21–22). It is certainly true that when believers go through fiery trials Christ is with them. The three Hebrews experienced literally the promise, “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isa 43:2).

3:26.  Probably in order to get a better look and so that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could hear him, Nebuchadnezzar came near the opening of the furnace and shouted for the Hebrews to come out of the fire and appear before him. The king was now convinced that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was truly great, “the Most High God.” Yet this faith in Yahweh was well within the scope of pagan, polytheistic religious concepts, for the king merely considered Yahweh the great God (at least for the present) among many.

3:27.  When the three came out of the fire, the other officials crowded around to examine them. There was no evidence that they had been in the furnace, for their bodies had not been burned (lit., “the fire had not had power over their bodies”), their hair was not singed, their robes were not scorched (lit., “changed,” “viz. for the worse, a sense which the word often has in Aramaic”), and there was not even any “smell of fire on them.” All were convinced that they had witnessed a miracle.

The Result (3:28)

28Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. (NIV)

3:28.  Nebuchadnezzar praised (bĕrak) the God of the Hebrews for such a great demonstration of his power. The king also was quite impressed with the fact that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had placed their trust (rĕḥa) in their God, and he had “sent his angel” to deliver them. Yahweh was faithful. “Angel” (or heavenly “messenger”) could denote an angel or God himself (cf. Gen 18:1–2, 10ff.), and Montgomery points out that “the term ‘angel’ was appropriate to common WSem. [West Semitic] diction as expressing an appearance-form of Deity.” In this context it refers to a divine being as the discussion at v. 25 shows. Nebuchadnezzar’s statement in this verse displays a knowledge of angels.

Then the pagan monarch expressed his admiration for these young men because of their willingness to defy a king’s command and suffer a horrible death in order to remain true to their god. Although angered by their actions, he respected their commitment. Even in today’s world unbelievers may not understand or appreciate Christian convictions, but usually they respect those who are willing to take a stand for their God. Verse 28 confirms that bowing before the statue was considered an act of worship.

SOURCE:  The New American Commentary; Volume 18; Daniel; Stephen R. Miller; © Copyright 1994 Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Daniel 3:13-18,26-28:

3:13.  The report that the governors of the central province of Babylon had not bowed down put the king in a state of shock. He must have felt that their disobedience would break down the loyalty of all the others. To him, they were striking at him, at his gods and at the unity of the empire. Burning with rage and fury, he sent for the three friends. His rage was a sample of the attitude we can still expect of others if we stand true to God. According to Matt. 5:10, 12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.... Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

3:14.  Even in the head of his rage, the king wanted to be fair and asked Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego if their action had been deliberate. The Hebrew indicates that he thought their failure to bow down was a matter of misunderstanding and might have been unintentional. He hoped it was not perverseness. As a polytheist who freely worshiped many gods, Nebuchadnezzar surely had difficulty understanding why the three friends would not bow down. We can be sure also that since he considered himself at least semi-divine, he thought of worship as primarily a matter of external acts and ritual and did not see why he did not have a right to command it.

3:15.  Because the king knew that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were doing excellent work as governors of Babylon, the chief province of the empire, he did not want to destroy them and lose their services. Instead, he gave them a second chance to bow down to the image, hoping the other governors would be impacted by this magnificent demonstration of the loyalty of Babylon’s three governors. But true worship cannot be commanded or forced. As Jesus said, God seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). We worship Him because He is worthy, and our worship is the willing response of our hearts.

The king’s pride showed itself when he added that if they did not bow down they would be thrown into a blazing furnace, and no god would be able to rescue them from his hand. Like most Assyrian and Babylonian kings, he thought he was equal in power to all the gods (cp. Sennacherib’s threats in Isa. 36:18ff; 37:10-13). But in thinking this, he was no different than all the rest of humankind who refuse to accept the One True God and put “self” on the throne. As Rom. 1:21-25 says, “For although they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful.... Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image.... They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator.” Indeed, Nebuchadnezzar was not the only person who needed to learn that God is still on the throne.

3:16. The three friends refused to compromise. Without any sign of fear and without hesitation, they declared they would neither excuse their action nor attempt to defend themselves. They had no need to do so. Their courage came from a fixed hope in God. Jesus expects us to take the same stand. He told his disciples that when they were arrested and brought before governors and kings, they were to be witnesses to them and to the nations. Instead of worrying about what to say or how to say it, they were to expect the Spirit of God their Father to give them the words to say and to speak through them (Matt. 10:19f).

Actually, Nebuchadnezzar was tempting the three friends to rationalize and seek their own safety. He wanted them to feel it was useless to resist him. Indeed, they could have reasoned that their refusal to bow would not destroy the image or convert the king, so their witness would be meaningless, or they could have thought that since the image had no real power, falling down to worship it would be a mere form and would not hurt them. But we do not waste our lives when we take a stand for God and for the truth. It is more important for us to glorify God and spread the truth of the gospel than to seek our own safety. If we remain filled with the Holy Spirit, we shall have power and boldness to face the fires of enemy oppositions (Acts 1:8; 4:31). Christians in some parts of the world today are being compelled to follow in the footsteps of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and some of us may have to face something of the same before the Lord Jesus returns for his saints.

3:17-18.  With their hope and faith fixed in God, the three friends declared their stand. They knew God’s way is best and that He was their refuge and strength (Pss. 46:1; 56:4). It is better to endure suffering for the Lord’s sake now than to fall under the wrath and judgment of almighty God (see Matt. 10:28; Rev. 19:15).

Although they declared that God was able to rescue them from the fiery furnace, they did not demand deliverance of Him nor did they have any definite word or positive assurance that He would rescue them. Regardless of whether He would rescue them, they still would not bow down to anyone or anything other than the One True God. They were not questioning God’s ability to rescue them; they knew how holy and just God is and that He had a plan, though they did not know whether rescuing them would be part of his plan. Thus they committed themselves into his hands, knowing that death is better than idolatry and disobedience to God. God’s way is always the best way. It is better to have this body destroyed than to spend eternity in the lake of fire. The wrath of wicked men is as nothing compared to the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

Their faith and loyalty to God was unconditional. It did not depend on whether He let them live or not. Someone has said that faith is not the defiance of facts but is trust in God regardless of the consequences. It means going through, enduring whatever is necessary to obey Him and take our stand for Him.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego illustrate what Rom. 12:12 means. In the worst of circumstances, they were “joyful in hope, patient in tribulations” (NIV). By “patience” the Bible never means accepting trouble passively or withdrawing into a shell. It is a positive, rugged determination to endure for the Lord’s sake whatever affliction, pressures or tribulations come because of our witness, our stand for Him. This kind of joyful abandonment to God’s will has done much to spread the gospel around the world. It is the quality of joyful persevering faith that made the Greek word for a witness (martus [GED #3116], “martyr”) come to mean “one who died for his faith and testimony,” because so many Christian witnesses stood true to the end in the midst of the early persecutions of the Church.

3:26-27.  When Nebuchadnezzar called the three friends out of the furnace, the various governors and officials gathered round and saw that the fire had burned the ropes that bound them but that they came out without even the smell of fire or smoke on them. God had indeed rescued them, but He did more than perform a miracle; He sent a divine Person to protect them and to walk with them, giving them a foretaste of the great joy and fellowship believers will enjoy throughout eternity, a fellowship that is “with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). We share that fellowship now through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

3:28-30.  Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed with the miraculous, divine rescue of the three friends that he praised their God and made a decree that anyone who said anything offensive about their God would be cut in pieces and their houses destroyed (and made a public privy). Then Nebuchadnezzar caused the three friends to prosper (“promoted” is a less acceptable translation, since they were already governors).

Notice too that he called the fourth man an angel. In this, he spoke more truly than he realized. From what we see in many places in the OT, the Angel of the Lord is a preincarnate manifestation of the Son of God. Remember too we have an even greater example in that fourth Man, Who suffered in Gethsemane and on Calvary for us. Furthermore, we have the assurance of the Resurrection, an assurance that caused the Apostle Paul to risk his life every day for the gospel’s sake (Rom. 8:36; 1 Cor. 15:3). Whether we live or die, we, like Paul, can become “more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Let us remember too that even dead fish can float downstream. It takes a live one to fight the current and go upstream. Daniel’s three friends remind us that following God means we do not follow the crowd.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Acts.  Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.



Satraps (v. 27)—Satraps were the chief representatives of the king over large divisions of the Babylonian Empire.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SATRAP(Y) (ssa’ trap ee): A political office in the Persian Empire comparable to governor. A satrap’s territory was called a satrapy. KJV translated the office, “lieutenants” (Ezra 8:36). These officials aided the people of Israel in rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple. At the height of the Persian rule, there were at least twenty satrapies.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Prefects (v. 27)—Political or possibly military officials who were responsible to the satraps.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Governors (v. 27)—Administrators of smaller regions within the empire.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Courage:  Hebrew ḥāzaḳ, "to show oneself strong" (Numbers 13:20; 2 Samuel 10:12; 1 Chron. 19:13; 2 Chron. 15:8; Ezra 10:4; Psalm 27:14; Psalm 31:24; Isaiah 41:6); rūaḥ, "spirit," "animus" (Joshua 2:11 the King James Version); ʾāmaç, "to be alert" (physically and mentally), "to be agile," "quick," "energetic" (Deut. 31:6-7, 23; Joshua 1:6, 9-18; Joshua 10:25; 1 Chron. 22:13; 1 Chron. 28:20); lēbhābh, "the heart," and figuratively, "person," "spirit" (Daniel 11:25); Greek thársos, "cheer" (Acts 28:15). A virtue highly esteemed among all nations, one of the four chief "natural" (cardinal) virtues (Wisd. 8:7 [Wisdon of Solomon]), while cowardice ranks as one of the mortal sins (Sirach 2:12-13; Rev. 21:8).  (NOTE: The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach are both found in the Apocrypha.  The Apocrypha was not included in the Protestant Canonizing of the Bible.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

The Christian Term "Canon": The word "canon" is of Christian origin, from the Greek word κανών, kanṓn, which in turn is probably borrowed from the Hebrew word, ‏קָנֶה‎, ḳāneh, meaning a reed or measuring rod, hence, norm or rule. Later it came to mean a rule of faith, and eventually a catalogue or list. In present usage it signifies a collection of religious writings Divinely inspired and hence, authoritative, normative, sacred and binding. The term occurs in Galatians 6:16; 2 Cor. 10:13-16; but it is first employed of the books of Scripture in the technical sense of a standard collection or body of sacred writings, by the church Fathers of the 4th century; e.g. in the 59th canon of the Council of Laodicea (363 AD); in the Festal Epistle of Athanasius (365 AD); and by Amphilochius, archbishop of Iconium (395 AD).

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.




The King as god in the Ancient Near East and Israel

By Joel F. Drinkard, Jr.

Joel F. Drinkard, Jr. is professor of Old Testament, Hebrew, and archaeology, and the curator of the Joseph A. Callaway Archaeological Museum, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

THE FOCAL PASSAGE for this article, Daniel 3, may be interpreted in at least two ways.  The text is clear: Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, set up a gold statue and ordered all the people to bow down and worship the image.  The interpretative crux is that the biblical text never identifies the image.  It could be an image of Nebuchadnezzar himself with the expectation that the people would pay homage to or worship the image.  As such Nebuchadnezzar could be requiring the worship of the image (and of himself) as a god.  Alternatively, Nebuchadnezzar’s image could be that of his god with the expectation that the people would pay homage to or worship his god.  The text does not specify which but does make clear that the Hebrew youths refuse to bow down to the image.  This article assumes the image was of Nebuchadnezzar himself and that he was requiring the worship of the image of himself as a god, thus the topic of divine kingship (the idea that the king was a god).

In Egypt

Divine kingship was a definite issue in the ancient Near East.  In Egypt we find evidence of divine kingship from the earliest historical periods.1  The kings of the First Dynasty united Upper and Lower Egypt.  These kings worshiped the god Horus and were themselves considered to be Horus incarnate.  By the Fourth Dynasty, the worship of the god Re became prominent.  The people eventually came to consider their kings (pharaohs) to be the sons of Re.  Pharaohs would even be called “my Sun” or “my god” when the people addressed them (as seen in the Amarna letters).2  The names of several of the best-known kings reflect this understanding of king as deity incarnate.  Rameses as a name literally means “begotten of Re” or “son of Re.”  Thutmose in the same manner means “begotten of Thoth” or “son of Thoth.”  Again, these kings were not merely revered as being godlike—they were considered gods.

Nevertheless, the king was also recognized as mortal.  Kings died, but they were still considered gods in death.  At death, the king was identified with Osiris, and his successor was the new Horus incarnate.3  In the Egyptian pantheon, for instance, Horus was the son of Osiris, hence the new pharaoh was Horus and the deceased father was Osiris.  The relationship of the earthly king to his predecessor was the same as that between the gods.  We find evidence of the divine status of the king in Egyptian inscriptions and artistic representations.  Reliefs often depict the pharaoh as being far larger than other human figures.  He towers over his enemies, striking them down.  At times Pharaoh is depicted with the falcon head of Horus (or the god Horus is depicted as the pharaoh, wearing the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt).

The biblical account of the plagues on Egypt in the Book of Exodus shows a confrontation between two humans, Pharaoh and Moses, on one level and a confrontation between two deities on another level, Pharaoh and the God of Israel.  The plagues contrast the impotence of Pharaoh and Egypt’s gods by showing the power of Israel’s God over Egypt and Egypt’s Pharaoh and deities.  Several of the plagues attacked the spheres of specific Egyptian deities; for example, the death of the cattle showed the impotence of Hathor, the goddess of cattle; the darkness showed the impotence of Re, the sun-god.  The Bible is demonstrating that Israel’s God is the true God.  He is not just a local deity but could wield His power over Egypt and its gods.

In Mesopotamia

Divine kingship was a different matter in Mesopotamia.  Although divine kingship was also known there, it was never entrenched in the same manner as in Egypt.  In Ur the king was identified as a god primarily during the Third Dynasty.  In cuneiform inscriptions, names had a sign attached (called a determinative) that identified the category to which the name belonged (such as persons, lands, mountains, rivers, and gods).  The king’s name during this period had appended the cuneiform sign for deity (the dingir sign) rather than for human.4  In Mesopotamia, people at times considered the king to be the husband of a goddess, thus he played that role in religious rituals.  In the ritual, the king played the role of a god but was not deified.5  In at least one instance, the art forms depicting a king indicate something of divine kingship.  The image—on his Victory Stele—is of Naram-Sin.6  The stele, which is from Susa, illustrates Naram-Sin’s victory over the Lullubians.  Naram-Sin (ca. 2255-2219 BC), grandson of Sargon of Akkad, is depicted wearing a horned headdress like the gods.  He is larger than the other human figures, standing above his soldiers while his enemies shrink away or plead for mercy.  All his soldiers have exactly the same stance as Naram-Sin, with weapons in hands and left foot raised in stride.  The symbols of the gods are above Naram-Sin.

This stele is unique among Mesopotamian artistic representations of the king as divine.  More importantly, the references to the king as a deity are most commonly associated with areas conquered by the king rather than in the chief city of his deity.  So divine kingship was quite limited in Mesopotamia.  In contrast, the Hittites did deify some of their kings after their deaths, but the evidence does not indicate these kings were considered to be gods during their lifetimes.7 

More commonly in Mesopotamia, worshipers and worship leaders would set up statues of the king in temples or shrines and would present offerings to the statue.  While this certainly represented a kind of homage or worship of the statue (and probably of the king as well), this is not necessarily the same as a deification of the king.  The king was a representative of the deity; he was appointed as king by the deity; but he was not in any way equated with a god.  His reign was upheld and supported by the deity, but the king was a mortal human.  At death, the king was not deified.8 

The actions of Nebuchadnezzar, however, evidently went beyond this common practice.  In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar seemingly was to be the object of worship.

In Israel

Beliefs and practices were different, however, in Israel.  The king was never considered a deity and was never the object of worship.  Several Old Testament passages do refer to the king as God’s son (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7; Ps. 89:26-27), but never in the sense of the king’s divinity.  These passages all refer to David or the Davidic king and all use adoption language well known from the ancient Near East.  When a person adopted a child, the adoption formula was: “You are my son, today I have adopted you.”9  The language does indicate the special relationship that existed between Israel’s king and God but certainly did not indicate that he king was a god.  Israel’s king was never venerated as a deity—not in life, nor in death.  The context of the passage in 2 Samuel 7 clarifies this matter: in verse 12 the mortality of the king is a given: “when your days are over and you rest with your fathers” (NIV).

Throughout the ancient Near East, people associated kingship with the deities.  The high gods were kings, often ruling over a large pantheon of lesser deities.  Furthermore, deities gave kingship to humans.  As mentioned above, the deities appointed the human king, they gave the king the right to rule, and they supported his rule with their power. 

In the understanding of kingship in Israel, however, God alone was the true King.  A number of psalms indicate this with the recurring phrase “The Lord reigns” (Pss. 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1).  This understanding was felt so strongly by some that seeking a human king was seen as rejecting God as King (1 Sam. 8).  As King, the Lord was seen as Israel’s King (“our King,” Ps. 47:6).  But Israel’s understanding was not just that the Lord was their King; He was “King of all the earth” (v. 7), and “King above all gods” (95:3).  He is “the King of glory” (24:7-10).  As King, the Lord has “a throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” (103:19).  The doctrine of the kingship of God is found throughout the Old Testament.

In the New Testament the issue of God’s kingship continues to appear.  Just a couple of examples will suffice to demonstrate the biblical understanding.  In the trial of Jesus before Pilate, John recorded words of the chief priests denying that Jesus was their king, but ironically in effect also denying that God was their King: “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15, HCSB).  However, the most notable passage related to divine kingship in the New Testament is Revelation 19, immortalized by the words of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah: “For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.  Hallelujah!…And He shall reign forever and ever…King of kings and Lord of lords!”

1.    Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1948), 5-7.

2.    Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel Its Life and Institutions, John McHugh, trans. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 112.

3.    Ibid., 111.

4.    Frankfort, 224-225.

5.    Ibid., 295-299.

6.    Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, picture [online, cited 14 November 2006].  Available from Internet: www.bible-history.com/ancient_art/victory_stele_naram_sin.html.

7.    See O. R. Gurney, “Hittite Kingship” in S. H. Hooke, Myth, Ritual, and Kingship (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1958), 117-121 (esp. 121).

8.    Frankfort, 302-304.

9.    deVaux, 112.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 34, No. 1; Fall, 2007.



By Claude F. Mariottini

Claude F. Mariottini is professor of Old Testament, Northern Baptist Seminary, Lombard, Illinois.

NEBUCHADNEZZAR II, the Neo-Babylonian Empire’s second king was the most famous king of the Chaldeans, a people whom Jeremiah called “an ancient nation” (Jer. 5:15, KJV).  As king, Nebuchadnezzar brought fame and prosperity to the Empire.  Of all the foreign kings the Old Testament mentions, this Nebuchadnezzar is the most prominent and the one with which Bible students are most familiar.  Nebuchadnezzar reigned 605-562 B.C.

The Kingship of Nebuchadnezzar

Nebuchadnezzar had a reputation as a great builder.  He boasted that Babylon was a “great” city that he built to be his royal city and the capital of his empire (Dan. 4:30).  Nebuchadnezzar built the Ishtar Gate, a magnificent palace for himself; he rebuilt the ziggurat (a temple in the form of a pyramidal tower); and he built a temple for Marduk, the chief god of the Babylonian pantheon.  His best-known project was Babylon’s Hanging Gardens, which he built for his wife, Amytis, the daughter of the king of Media.1 

According to Babylonian texts, Nebuchadnezzar received praise as a lawgiver, a judge, and a king who was devoted to justice and who opposed injustice and corruption.  His motivation for fairness was to please his god, Marduk, and to thus enjoy a long life: “O Marduk, my lord, do remember my deeds favorably as good [deeds], may (these) my good deeds be always before your mind (so that) my walking in Esagila and Ezida – which I love – may last to old age.”2

Nebuchadnezzar’s name appears in two different forms in the Old Testament.  In the King James Version, “Nebuchadnezzar” appears 55 times – “Nebuchadrezzar” 33 times. Since the official Babylonian documents use “Nebuchadrezzar” to designate the king of Babylon, this must be the name’s original and official form.  Traditionally, the name Nebuchadnezzar has been translated “Nabu protect the boundary.”  Recent studies of Babylonian documents have produced another possible translation, “Nabu protect the crown prince.”3

Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, led a Chaldean revolt against the Assyrians and in 626 B.C. founded the Neo-Babylonian Empire.  After establishing an alliance with the Medes, Nabopolassar and his allies besieged Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire.  After a three-month siege of the city, they conquered it in 612 B.C.3  The remnant of the Assyrian army retreated to Haran where they were defeated in 610 B.C.  The Assyrians made a last effort to stop the Babylonian army, retreating to Carchemish to confront them one last time.

During the struggle between Assyria and Babylon, Neco ascended to the throne of Egypt and became king in 609.  In an attempt to stop the advance of the Babylonian army, Neco prepared his army and went up to the Euphrates River to aid Assyria in their struggle against Babylon (2 Kings 23:29).  On his way to Carchemish, Neco was confronted at Megiddo by Josiah, king of Judah, who had taken the side of Babylon.  In the struggle that ensued, Neco killed Josiah (v. 29; 2 Chron. 35:20-24).  Neco was detained at Megiddo long enough to allow the Babylonians to defeat ht remnant of the Assyrian army at Carchemish.

In 605 B.C., Neco returned to the area with ambitions of extending his rule in Mesopotamia.  Nabopolassar, unable to fight because of an illness that eventually killed him, sent his oldest son Nebuchadnezzar to confront the Egyptians.  At Carchemish the decisive battle between Nebuchadnezzar and Neco took place.  Nebuchadnezzar soundly defeated Neco and subjugated Sidon, Tyre, Philistia, and other countries in Syro-Palestine (see Jer., 46:2; 47:2-7).

At this time Nebuchadnezzar received notice of his father’s death.  Nebuchadnezzar left the army in the hands of his field commanders and returned to Babylon where he was crowned king of Babylon in 605 B.C.

Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Kings

The Old Testament writers presented more than one view of Nebuchadnezzar.  The Book of Kings presents him as Jerusalem’s conqueror.  After his victory against Egypt at the battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar made Jehoiakim, king of Judah, a vassal of Babylon.  Jehoiakim submitted to Nebuchadnezzar for three years (604-601 B.C.).  In 601 B.C., Egypt and Babylon met again with heavy losses on both sides.  Nebuchadnezzar returned home to reorganize his army.  Jehoiakim, counting on Egyptian help, revolted against the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:1).

Nebuchadnezzar did not campaign against Palestine from 600-598 B.C.  Unable to fight against Judah, Nebuchadnezzar sent mercenary soldiers to fight against Jehoiakim (vv. 2-3).  In 598 B.C., Babylon advanced against Judah.  Egypt promised to help Jehoiakim, but Egypt’s military help did not materialize (v. 7).  Jehoiakim died at this time; Jeremiah 22:18-19 and 36:30 suggest that he was assassinated.  Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, was made the new king of Judah (597 B.C.), but three months later he submitted to Nebuchadnezzar – who then deported to Babylon the king of Judah, his mother, the royal family, the palace officials, the army officers, fighting men, craftsmen, and smiths.  He also took all the men of substance and those who were capable of war.  According to 2 Kings 24:12-16, 10,000 people were taken into exile.  Nebuchadnezzar also took all the temple and palace treasures and broke all the golden vessels used in temple worship.  Jehoiachin remained in a prison in Babylon for 37 years, until Evil-merodach, Nebuchadnezzar’s son, freed him (25:27-30; Jer. 52:31-34).

In 596 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar placed Zedekiah on Judah’s throne as the new king.  Zedekiah served Nebuchadnezzar eight years, but in his ninth, maybe hoping for military help from Egypt *37:5), Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon.  In 588, Nebuchadnezzar came back to Jerusalem and once again besieged the city.  Archaeological evidence has confirmed the scope of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah.5  Archaeology has revealed that many of Judah’s fortified cities were destroyed.  In March 586 B.C., Babylon conquered Jerusalem and burned the temple as well as the great houses of the city.  At this time a second deportation took place.  Judah’s most important people were taken into exile; only the poorest were left behind.

Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Jeremiah

The Book of Jeremiah differs somewhat in its interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar and his assault on Judah.  Presenting more than the mainly-historical account of the Book of 2 Kings, Jeremiah offers an expanded interpretation that affirms the sovereignty of God and His guidance in Judah’s destruction.  In the past, Jeremiah has proclaimed that God would send the “peoples of the north” to bring judgment upon Judah (25:9, NIV).  Now for the first time Jeremiah proclaimed that the foe from the north was Babylon, under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 1-9).

In the Book of Jeremiah, the Lord referred to “my servant Nebuchadnezzar” three times (v. 9; 27:6; 43:10, NIV).  Old Testament writers generally used the title “servant of Yahweh” to designate persons who had a special relationship with God and who were obedient to God’s will in the life of His people.

Jeremiah designated Nebuchadnezzar the “servant” of God as a way to present Babylon’s king as the individual God appointed to have dominion over the nations and the one who would act as the instrument of God’s justice (25:8-11).  Because Nebuchadnezzar was acting as God’s agent, Jeremiah declared to the people that rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar was rebellion against God.  The Lord commanded Jeremiah to write his oracles on a scroll as a warning to Judah (36:1-4).  According to Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest and subjugation of the nations would happen with God’s approval:

Now I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him.  All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him (27:6-7, NIV).

In Jehoiakim’s fifth year (604 B.C.), the people of Judah held a fast to avert a possible Babylonian invasion (36:9).  At the time of the fast Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, read the words of the scroll to the people assembled in the temple (v. 10) and to the king (vv. 20-26).  Jehoiakim refused to repent and burned Jeremiah’s scroll.  In spite of the fast, Babylon invaded Judah and Jehoiakim submitted to Nebuchadnezzar in 604 B.C. (2 Kings 24:1).

In the Book of Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar is God’s instrument to bring divine judgment to Judah.  In the past, God sent His servants the prophets to warn the people to repent or their evil easy, but they refused (25:4).  How, God was sending His “servants” Nebuchadnezzar to punish Judah for their wickedness.  Judah and the nations of Syro-Palestine had to submit themselves to Nebuchadnezzar.  Refusal to submit meant destruction (see 27:8).

Nebuchadnezzar and Yahweh

The picture that Jeremiah painted of Nebuchadnezzar reflects the prophet’s understanding of God’s work.  Jeremiah understood that Yahweh had given Nebuchadnezzar the power and the authority to subjugate kingdoms and nations.  As the instrument of God’s judgment, Nebuchadnezzar was God’s chosen agent, God’s servant who brought judgment over God’s rebellious people.  In the end, the biblical tradition that the God of Israel was the supreme God (Dan. 2:47; 3:28-29).

Jeremiah portrayed Nebuchadnezzar as the servant of the God of Israel – a chosen individual who had “the responsibility of performing a designated function in Yahweh’s behalf.”6                         Bi

1.  Edwin Yamauchi, “Nebuchadnezzar,” The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology, ed. Edward M. Blaiklock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 333.

2.  James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 307.

3.  A. van Selms, “The Name Nebuchadnezzar” in Travels in the World of the Old Testament, ed. M.S. Heerma van Voss (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1974), 225.

4.  John Bright, A History of Israel, 4th ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 316.

5.  Kathleen M. Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1060), 304-305.

6.  Thomas W. Overholt, “King Nebuchadnezzar in the Jeremiah Tradition,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 30 (1968) 46.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 30, Number 3; Spring 2005



Allan Moseley

Allen Moseley is Pastor of First Baptist Church, Durham, North Carolina.

THE CHURCH FATHER ATHANASIUS reportedly used the Latin phrase contra mundum to describe the proper response of a child of God when refusing to compromise commitment to God.  The phrase means “against the world.”1 At times one must be against the world in order to be for God.  We know the names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because at a crucial times in their lives they were willing to take their stand contra mundum.

These three “Hebrew children” were exiles in Babylon.  They and other Jews were deported from Jerusalem in 605 BC.  The siege of 605 was the first of three invasions of Jerusalem by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.  The second was in 597 and the third was in 587 BC.

Deportation was a strategy used by ancient Near Eastern monarchs to weaken conquered peoples.  If the leaders of the people were taken away, the possibility of rebellion would be significantly reduced.  Also, if the brightest and strongest were transported to the land of the conquering army and incorporated into society, they could prove useful.  This was evidently the reason Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were taken to Babylon.

The description of these youths in Daniel 1:4 is impressive.  “Without any physical defect, handsome” (NIV) refers to their appearance.  This was probably one reason they were chosen to be trained as leaders.  Stature and beauty usually catch attention of those looking for leaders.  “Showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand” (NIV) indicates that they had previously proven their intellectual ability and academic potential.

For these Jewish young men to be of service to Nebuchadnezzar and his court, it was necessary to train them in Babylonian ways.  Nebuchadnezzar assigned the chief of his eunuchs, or court officials, the task of teaching them the literature and language of the Babylonians (1:4,17).  The important documents of this culture were written in cuneiform Akkadian and Sumerian.  Mastering those two languages would have been a challenging curriculum.  It would have involved becoming conversant in both religious and secular texts.  Daniel 1:5 indicates that their training was for three  years.  In some Near Eastern cultures during this period youths began their education in their 14th year and finished in their 16th or 17th years.2 Perhaps this is some indication of the age of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  It was not uncommon for the covenant people to receive a secular, even pagan, education.  Such an education did not corrupt the faith of Joseph, Moses, or these young men.

Another par of the compulsory assimilation of the young men was a change of names.  Their original names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  Each of these names reflects their background as members of the covenant community.  Hananiah means “Yahweh has been gracious.”  Mishael means “who is what God is?”  Azariah means “Yahweh has helped.”  Their new Babylonian names seem to be intentional reversals of these meanings.  Though the forms of the names are difficult to decipher and possibly have been corrupted, their meanings can be ascertained with some degree of certainty.  “Yahweh has been gracious” was changed to Shadrach, or “command of Aku” (the Sumerian moon god).  “Who is what God is?” was replaced with Meshach, or “who is what Aku is?”  “Yahweh has helped” was changed Abednego, or “servant of Nebu” (the Babylonian god of wisdom).3 These young men could not have done anything to affect this name change; they could not control what others called them.

Changing the names of persons who were from a weaker or conquered nation was a common practice and is illustrated in the Old Testament.  For example, when Joseph became a servant in the court of Pharaoh, he was given the name Zaphenath-Paneah (Gen. 41-45).  When Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim king of Judah, he changed Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:34); when Nebuchadnezzar made Mattaniah king of Judah, he changed Mattaniah’s name to Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17).

As another part of the training of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the king ordered that they were to be fed “from the king’s table,” or from his private stores and the palace kitchen (1:5).  The youths refused to eat the Babylonian food and proposed a diet of vegetables and water.  Possibly such a response to the king’s order put the young men in danger of expulsion from the royal academy or even imprisonment, but they remained firm in their faithfulness.

The Babylonians who selected and prepared the food for the palace probably were unaware of the dietary laws of the Torah (see for example, Lev. 11; Deut. 14).  Therefore, much of the food from the king’s table would have been considered unclean, or not kosher, to a religious Jew.  Also, probably many of the meat items on the menu were prepared from animals that had been sacrificed to the patron gods of Babylon.  The wine from the king’s table also may have been used first as libations to those deities.  Therefore, even those foods that were not specifically prohibited by the Law may have been tainted by contact with pagan rituals.4

The request of the young Jews was granted, and the result was that they “looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food” (Dan. 1:15, NIV).  Also, at the conclusion of the time of instruction the king gave all the candidates the equivalent of an oral exam.  Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah proved to be superior to all of the magicians and enchanters in Babylon (1:20).

When Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and none of his wise men could tell him the dream and interpret it, he gave the order for all of them to be put to death.  Since Daniel and his friends were about to be executed also (2:13), they evidently were numbered among Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men.  Terms such as “magicians,” “enchanters,” “sorcerers,” “astrologers,” and “diviners” were used to describe this group.  These servants of the king sought to predict and affect the future by means of reading inscribed charts, magical designs, the stars, or dreams.  Many people in the ancient world believed that dreams were portents of events to come, so oneiromancy (the interpretation of dreams) was an attempt to divine the future.  The text never states that these young men participated in the sorcery or divination techniques of the Babylonians.  Such activities were specifically prohibited in the Law (see Deut. 18:10-12).

The most famous event in the lives of the three Hebrew young men occurred when they were commanded to bow down and worship the gold image of the king of Babylon.  Emperor worship was not uncommon in the ancient Near East.  Pharaohs were regarded as divine, as were some caesars and other kings.  When such worship was required, it was often a means to insure loyalty.  This seems to have been the case with King Nebuchadnezzar (3:8-15).  However, the First and Second of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:2-6) strictly forbade such worship.  Therefore, the faithful Hebrew youths refused to comply with the king’s decree.  As punishment they were to be thrown into a super-heated furnace, but God miraculously kept them safe.  Nebuchadnezzar had asked them, “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”  (3:15).  The answer was the One and only true God, the One in whom the three Hebrew youths had steadfast faith.            Bi

1.  James Montgomery Boice, Joshua We Will Serve the Lord, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1989) 37-38.

2.  Edward J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949), 42.

3.  B. T. Dahlberg, “Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 302.

4.  Gleason L. Archer, Jr., “Daniel,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library, 1985), 35-36.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 1995.




(8.7)  What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (11/01/15)  Who was the first person to fall asleep during a sermon?   Answer Next Week.

The answer to last week’s question:  (10/25/15) Two-part question: (1) Who went naked as a way of wailing over the fate of (2) what city? Answer. (1) The prophet Micah; (2) Jerusalem; Micah 1:8-9.