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Daniel chapter 3

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

1Nebuchadnezzar the king made a statue of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits, and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2Nebuchadnezzar the king also sent word to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the chief treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the administrators of the provinces to come to the dedication of the statue that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. 3Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the chief treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the administrators of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the statue that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4Then the herald loudly proclaimed: 'To you the command is given, you peoples, nations, and populations of all languages, 5that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of musical instruments, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. 6But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into the middle of a furnace of blazing fire.' 7Therefore as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of musical instruments, all the peoples, nations, and populations of all languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

8Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews. 9They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever. 10Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image: 11And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. 12There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. 13Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king. 14Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? 15Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? 16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 17If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. 18But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
19Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. 20And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. 22Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. 24Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellers, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. 25He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. 26Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire. 27And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counsellers, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.

What does Daniel chapter 3 mean?

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among those captured from Judah to serve the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:1–6). They were given Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 1:7). After God intervened to reveal the king's dream, through Daniel (Daniel 2:17–20), the Hebrews were given promotions (Daniel 2:46–49).

Chapter 3 contains the famous story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and their rescue from a blazing furnace. This is part of the Old Testament recorded in Aramaic rather than Hebrew (Daniel 2:4—7:28), emphasizing its relevance to the non-Jewish nations of the world. The passage is filled with obvious repetition. This seems to be a poetic reference to the bureaucratic, overbearing nature of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom. Daniel exactly repeats the roster of government officials (Daniel 3:2–3), gives the same list of instruments four times (Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, 15), describes the execution device as a "burning fiery furnace" eight times (Daniel 3:6, 11, 15, 17, 20, 21, 23, 26) and refers to the three Hebrew men with the exact phrase "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego" thirteen times (Daniel 3:12, 13, 14, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23, 26, 28, 29, 30).

In Nebuchadnezzar's dream, he saw a golden head representing himself as the leader of Babylon (Daniel 2:36–38). This may have inspired him to commission the object at the center of this chapter's events. He commands the building of a large golden idol. This might have been a statue, or an obelisk, or some other shape. The king calls representatives from government offices all over Babylon to participate in the idol's introduction (Daniel 3:1–2).

The king commands all those in attendance to bow and worship this image upon hearing a certain musical cue. The list of instruments seems to imply a wide variety of styles. Likewise, the assembled officials represent their varied territories and people. Babylon's conquering influence extended over many regions and cultures. That control demanded obedience, so the king threatens a gruesome death to anyone who disobeys this order (Daniel 3:3–7).

Loyalty and submission were likely the main purpose of this golden idol. In Babylonian society, there were many gods. The idea of worshipping more than one deity was considered normal. By creating this image, Nebuchadnezzar was probably proclaiming Babylon and its gods as supreme over all others. For most people in that era, submitting to his command would have been well within their religious convictions.

Those advisors who survived Nebuchadnezzar's wrath over his dream (Daniel 2:8–16) might have been jealous of the Hebrews who were rewarded. A group from the "Chaldeans," or astrologers, accuse Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego of disobeying the king's command. This is described as "malicious" by a phrase implying spite and ill intent. The complaint is not inspired by loyalty to the king, but by pure hatred for the Jews. It's entirely possible the accusers had no idea whether their accusation was true, but merely hoped to harass the three men or see if the king's short temper would take over (Daniel 3:8–12).

Daniel is notably absent from this incident. Commentators speculate that he was away on business and was not called to the ceremony. It's also possible that Daniel was considered too powerful and too popular with the king to threaten at this time. Given his history (Daniel 1:8–16) and future choices (Daniel 6), there's no question that if Daniel was there, he likewise refused to commit idolatry. Daniel's absence or the accusers' cowardice are the most likely reasons he is not part of this story.

It's possible Nebuchadnezzar was still suspicious of his advisors (Daniel 2:8–11). Despite being furious, he asks the three Hebrew men if the charges are true. At the same time, he provides a way for them to prove their loyalty through obedience. Most likely, the king intended to command the musical signal at once so they could bow before the idol. He also gloats about his own power, suggesting that no being, even a divine one, could save them if they refused (Daniel 3:13–15).

Whether the accusation was invented or not, the three Hebrew men tell the king not to bother with his test. They have not worshipped the idol, and they will not worship it, even if it means their own death. Instead of fear of Nebuchadnezzar, they express trust in their God. Their Lord can save them, but even if they die, they will continue to obey Him instead of a pagan king (Daniel 3:16–18).

Nebuchadnezzar was already angry. Now, his rage boils over into a royal temper tantrum. He issues a series of irrational commands, all in a spiteful attempt to prove his power over those who dared defy him. The "furnace" in question was probably a lime kiln: an earthen structure with a partially open top and a hole on one side. This is to be superheated, though a normal kiln would be more than hot enough to kill. The three men are to be thrown in immediately, not waiting to have their ceremonial clothes removed. They are to be tied up, despite that being unnecessary. The orders are so absurd, and so urgent, that the soldiers pushing the three men into the furnace are themselves killed (Daniel 3:19–23).

A minority of scholars suggest that what happens next is a vision: that Nebuchadnezzar was not "looking" into the flames, but "spiritually perceiving" something that made him call out. In context, it seems much more likely that he took a seat where he could look into the furnace, probably through the side opening. But as soon as he does so, he stands up in shock. His question to his advisors is much like asking, "am I seeing things? Do you see what I see?" Only three bodies went into the flames, but the king sees four men. One of those has an overtly supernatural appearance. Nebuchadnezzar's comment is best translated as seeing something "like a son of the gods." This might have been the archangel Michael (Daniel 10:13; 12:1), or even a preincarnate Jesus (Daniel 3:24–25).

In amazement, the king calls out to the three Hebrew men, asking them to exit the furnace. When they emerge, they have been perfectly and completely protected from the flames. Every facet of Nebuchadnezzar's attempt is a complete failure. He ordered the Jewish captives to die by fire, in their clothes, and tied up. They survived, not even singed, came out untied, and without so much as the smell of smoke on their clothes—and the only deaths were of the Babylonian soldiers who pushed them in. This inspires Nebuchadnezzar to make an astonishing claim: the men were right to disobey his command! Rather than driven to further rage, he is awed into respect at the power of the Hebrew God (Daniel 3:26–28).

Of course, Nebuchadnezzar is not fully embracing the Lord of Israel as the One True God. He still believes in other deities but accepts that the Hebrew God is powerful enough to protect His worshippers. The king's basic personality is also unchanged. As before, he declares his opinion and threatens anyone who disagrees with violent consequences. He then rewards Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in some way. That might have meant even greater power and responsibility, or simply his continued favor (Daniel 3:29–30).

This incident emphasizes the absolute power of God, above and beyond any human ruler. It also celebrates faith in the face of danger—as well as faith which accepts that God will not always rescue His people from earthly harm. The book of Revelation echoes many of these themes as the end-times Antichrist persecutes believers and the restored Jewish nation.

These three Hebrew men are not mentioned in Scripture again. Upcoming chapters will continue, in the Aramaic language, to speak about the Gentile world and Daniel's experiences under pagan kings. Later chapters will turn to end-times prophecy.
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