No Rock in Sight!
Just as the statue dominated the scene in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, until it was demolished by the rock, so the king dominates the scene in chapter 3. And there’s not a rock in sight!
It might be plausible to teach that the incident recorded here occurred before that of the previous chapter, but there is no supporting manuscript evidence. Therefore Nebuchadnezzar’s attempt to extract loyalty from his subjects was, in fact, after 603 B.C. the second year of his reign, the year in which he had dreamed of that great statue, just standing there.
The statue of gold
Nebuchadnezzar erected an image overlaid with gold1, ninety feet (60 cubits) high and nine feet (six cubits) wide, on the Plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.
While most English translations convert the measurements into metric or imperial, the measurements in cubits should not be overlooked. Why? Read on.
The Babylonians used a system of measurement based on the number 60. The base number 10 in our decimal system can be divided by only four numbers, 1, 2, 5 and 10. The base number 60, in Babylon’s sexagesimal system, can be divided by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30 and 60. The divisions on the face of an analog clock and the number of degrees in a circle have their origins in this system used by the Babylonians.
This statue was ten times higher than it was wide. Have you ever seen a human being of those proportions? Critics have pointed to the proportions of the image … as evidence of the legendary character of the story. … It is quite possible that the human portion itself was less than half of the total height and stood on a pedestal 30 or more cubits high, so that the whole structure, pedestal and image, was 60 cubits high. The Statue of Liberty has a total height of 305 feet, but more than half of this is the pedestal; the human figure is only 111 feet from heel to top of head.2
Whom did the statue represent?
The god Nabu? Possibly. The Akkadian name “Nebuchadnezzar” means “Nabu, protect my son.” Yahweh had challenged the Babylonian gods. Nebuchadnezzar’s faith base was being threatened. He would be more dedicated to his gods. Often, when one’s religion is challenged you decide to be more zealous, sincere and dedicated to the forms that you know.
Nebuchadnezzar himself? Maybe. After all, Daniel had said, “You are that head of gold.”
What did the statue represent?
It is more than likely that Nebuchadnezzar intended that the great statue on the Plain of Dura should represent Babylon: the gods, the king, the kingdom, the nation, the culture, the religion, the laws — Babylon the city, Babylonia the empire.
If that were the case, this would be a symbol of Babylonian unity. The “head of gold” was something to be reckoned with. It was going to be recognized as a major force in that world. This was the new Babylonian “flag.” In its presence people would pledge allegiance to Babylonia — cross their hearts and hope to die!
It was for that reason that the king summoned the officials in the civil service to attend the dedication of the statue. At the assembly a herald loudly proclaimed, “This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Noncompliance will result in your being immediately thrown into a blazing furnace.”
So that’s how you get people to worship! Demand. Intimidate. Terrify. They’re sure to give genuine worship and loyalty if you do that!
So, as soon as they heard the sound of music, all the attendees fell down and worshiped the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Well. What would you have expected? What would you have done if you had been there? Sweet music. Swift worship!
At this time some astrologers approached the king with a revelation. “You have issued a decree and a demand with dire consequences for the noncompliant. Well, there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego — who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have erected.”
What do you do with people who do not toe the party line? Jeremiah was thrown into a pit. Jesus was crucified. Stephen was stoned. Paul was sent to Rome. John was exiled.
The second chance
Furious, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and told them in no uncertain terms, “Now when you hear the sound 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?”
How arrogant? In a Freudian slip Nebuchadnezzar revealed that he saw himself greater than all of his own gods. Not even one of them could deliver people from Nebuchadnezzar!
Anyway the young Jews were going to leave the matter to their God, Yahweh.
This time the issue for Nebuchadnezzar was, “No god is greater than I!” More than two hundred years earlier, at Mount Carmel, the issue was, “The god who answers by fire — he is God (1 Kings 18:24).” For the three Jews the bottom line was, “God is still God, whether he answers in the fire or not.”
Their minds were made up. They spoke in the spirit of the command in Deuteronomy 6:13: “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only … ”
In no uncertain terms, their answer was, “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 … 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.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. If there had been a trace of hope for them before, there was none now. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up the Jews and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, fully clothed, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed these soldiers. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, fully clothed and firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.
No rock in sight!
Yet, the rock was in fact striking all that the image represented — in a most striking way!
Leaping to his feet, Nebuchadnezzar asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They agreed. He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”3
An invitation they could hardly refuse!
When Nebuchadnezzar shouted to the Hebrews to come out, out they came. The officials crowded around and noticed that the fire had not harmed their bodies, their hair or their clothes. As a matter of fact, there was no evidence of their having been in the fire.
Nebuchadnezzar’s admission and the Hebrews’ promotion
Well, of course, Nebuchadnezzar publicly praised their God who had sent His angel to the rescue. He praised their stand for God and against the king, promoted them and threatened the lives and properties of anyone who might slander their God. Shades of some current religious vilification laws.
The question on everyone’s lips — “Will this happen again?”
On this occasion all of the people in the kingdom were not involved. Only the officials who represented “all the peoples, nations and men of every language” actually attended.
Yes. From that day to this there have been isolated attempts at national unity at the expense of minorities. Even so, some of these have had universal significance. The last and greatest was that of Adolf Hitler, the chancellor of Germany. His attempts to gain total acceptance has made the world recoil from any repetition. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is just one of many attempts to remind the world that this should never happen again.
There the visitor is reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was one of the few Christian leaders of his day who stood in courageous opposition to the Fuhrer and his policies. Bonhoeffer was executed in the Flossenburg concentration camp on April 9, 1945 for his role in the resistance against Adolf Hitler.
Yes. There are some who will not surrender their souls to other human beings. Not all are spared from suffering — yet.
What does the Bible say?
The beast from the earth ordered the world’s inhabitants to erect an image in honor of the beast which had survived its wound. He was able to make the image talk and executed all who refused to worship it. Everyone was forced to receive a mark on right hand or forehead. No mark? No buying or selling. It turns out that the mark is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom because the number of the beast, which is 666, is man’s number (See Revelation 13:14-18).4
Yes, according to Revelation, someone, in the spirit of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, some day in the future, will attempt to have everyone on Earth worship someone or something other than God. This will be done under threat of death or boycott.
This is not a call to fear. In the words of Isaiah, “in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength (30:15 KJV).”
When Satan was testing Jesus’ character, Jesus replied with, “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve (Matthew 4:10).”5 — and he meant it. Far from reciting a memory text on a mountain top, Jesus was saying, “This is me.”
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, although now known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, now Babylonian officials summoned to the dedication of an object that symbolized religious and national unity, could neither idolize the image nor fear the king. They were still children of the Most High God. They were prepared to literally take a stand for Him.
Although they were officially representing Babylon that day, little did they realize that they were symbolic of the covenant people. God cares for all who will say, as did their ancestors at Mount Sinai, “All that the LORD hath spoken we will do (Exodus 19:8).”
Jesus encourages His followers today to have confidence in God. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Matthew 10:28).” Believe Him and enjoy peace in the worst of trials.
- Babylon did not have sufficient gold for a solid gold statue this size (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary).
- Nichol, Francis D., ed., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978), on Daniel 3:1.
- Arguing about the possibility that Nebuchadnezzar, though a pagan, might have actually seen Jesus Christ and identified him as the Son of God, is futile. I prefer to go with the text itself which simply indicates that Nebuchadnezzar sensed that the fourth, though human in form, was also godlike.
- What a reminder of Babylon’s sexagesimal system! The number here is not three sixes as in “six, six, six”, but “six hundred and sixty-six”, i.e. (60 x 10) + 60 + (1/10 x 60).
- Jesus quoted the Septuagint version (LXX) of Deuteronomy 6:13.
© 2010, Angus McPhee
Photo: North of Maitland, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia. (© 2010, Angus McPhee)