World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
The Golden Image
King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 3So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, 4the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” 7Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
8 Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. 9They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, 11and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. 12There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. 14Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? 15Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
The Fiery Furnace
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, 20and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics, their trousers, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. 22Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” 25He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.” 26Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. 28Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 30Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
2. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
2. Tunc Nebuchadnezer rex misit ad congregandum satrapas, duces, et quaestores, primates, vel proceres, judices, magistratus, optinates, et omnes praefectos provinciarum, ut venirent ad dedicationem imaginis, quam erexerat Nebuchadnezer rex.
I do not know the derivation of the word “Satrap;” but manifestly all these are names of magistracies, and I allow myself to translate the words freely, since they are not Hebrew, and the Jews are equally ignorant of their origin. Some of them, indeed, appear too subtle; but they assert nothing but what is frivolous and foolish. We must be content with the simple expression — he sent to collect the satraps
We see how Nebuchadnezzar wished to establish among all the nations under his sway a religion in which there, should be no mixture of foreign novelty. He feared dissension as a cause of disunion in his empire. Hence we may suppose the king to have consulted his own private ease and advantage, as princes are accustomed to consult their own wishes rather than God’s requirements in promulgating edicts concerning the worship of God. And from the beginning, this boldness and rashness have increased in the world, since those who have had supreme power have always dared to fabricate deities, and have proceeded beyond this even to ordering the gods which they have invented to be worshipped. The different kinds of gods are well known as divided into three — the Philosophical, the Political, and the Poetical. They called those gods “Philosophical” which natural reason prompts men to worship. Truly, indeed, philosophers are often foolish when they dispute about the essence or worship of God; but since they follow their own fancies they are necessarily erroneous. For God cannot be apprehended by human senses, but must be made manifest to us by his own word; and as he descends to us, so we also in turn are raised to heaven. (1 Corinthians 2:14.) But yet philosophers in their disputes have some pretexts, so as not to seem utterly insane and irrational. But the poets have fabled whatever pleases them, and thus have filled the world with the grossest and at the same time the foulest errors. As all theaters resounded with their vain imaginations, the minds of the vulgar have been imbued with the same delusions; for we know human dispositions are ever prone to vanity. But when the devil adds fire to the fuel, we then see how furiously both learned and unlearned are carried away. So it; happened when they persuaded themselves of the truth of what they saw represented in their theaters. Thus, that; religion which was founded on the authority of the Magi was considered certain by the heathen, as they called those gods “Political” which were received by the common consent of all. Those also who were considered prudent said it was by no means useful to object to what the philosophers taught concerning the nature of the gods, since this would tear asunder all public rites, and whatever was fixed without; doubt in men’s minds. For both the Greeks and Latins, as well as other barbarous nations, worshipped certain gods as he mere offspring of opinion, and these they confessed to have once been mortal. But philosophers at least retained this principle — the gods are eternal; and if the philosophers had been listened to, the authority of the Magi would have fallen away. Hence the most worldly-wise were not ashamed, as I have mentioned, to urge the expulsion of philosophy from sacred things.
With regard to the Poets, the most politic were compelled to succumb to the petulance of the common people, and yet they taught at the same time what the poets reigned and fabled concerning the nature of the gods was pernicious. This, then, was the almost universal rule throughout the world as to the worship of God, and the very foundation of piety — namely, no deities are to be worshipped except those which have been handed down from our forefathers. And this is the tendency of the oracle of Apollo which Xenophon 173173 Xenophon in Comment., et Cicero de Legibus, lib. 2: Section 8. in the character of Socrates so greatly praises, namely, every city ought, to worship the gods of its own country! For when Apollo was consulted concerning the best religion, with the view of cherishing the errors by which all nations were intoxicated, he commanded them not to change anything in their public devotions, and pronounced that religion the best for every city and people which had been received from the furthest antiquity. This was a wonderful imposture of the devil, as he was unwilling to stir up men’s minds to reflect upon what was really right, but he retained them in that old lethargy — “Ha! the authority of your ancestors is sufficient for you!” The greatest wisdom among the profane was, as I have said, to cause consent to be taken for reason. Meanwhile, those who were supreme either in empire, or influence, or dignity, assumed to themselves the right of fashioning new deities; for we see how many dedicated temples to fictitious deities, because they were commanded by authority. Hence it is by no means surprising for Nebuchadnezzar to take this license of setting up a new deity. Perhaps he dedicated this statue to Bel, who is considered as the Jupiter of the Chaldeans; but yet he wished to introduce a new religion by means of which his memory might be celebrated by posterity. Virgule 174174 AEneid, lib. 7 211, “.et numerum Divorum altaribus addit.” Heyne reads “addit;” Calvin, “auget.” derides this folly when he says:
And he increases the number of deities by altars. For he means, however men may erect numerous altars on earth, they cannot increase the number of the gods in heaven. Thus, therefore, Nebuchadnezzar increased the number of the deities by a single altar, that is, introduced a new rite to make the statue a monument to himself, and his own name famous as long as that religion flourished. Here we perceive how grossly he abused his power; for he did not consult his own Magi as he might have done, nor even reflect within himself whether that religion was lawful or not; but through being blinded by pride, he wished to fetter the minds of all, and to compel them to adopt what he desired. Hence we gather how vain profane men are when they pretend to worship, God, while at the same time they wish to be superior to God himself. For they do not admit any pure thought, or even apply themselves to the knowledge of God, but they make their will law, just as it pleases them. They do not adore God, but rather their own fiction. Such was the pride of King Nebuchadnezzar, as appears from his own edict.
King Nebuchadnezzar sent to collect all the satraps, generals, and prefects, to come to the dedication of the image, which King Nebuchadnezzar had erected. The name of the king is always added, except in one place, as though the royal power raised mortals to such a height that they could fabricate deities by their own right! We observe how the king of Babylon claimed the right of causing the statue to be worshipped as a god, while it was not set up by any private or ordinary person but by the king himself. While, the royal power is rendered conspicuous in the world, kings do not acknowledge it to be their duty to restrain themselves within the bounds of law, so long as they remain obedient to God. And at this day we see with what arrogance all earthly monarchs conduct themselves. For they never inquire what is agreeable to the word of God, and in accordance with sincere piety; but they defend the errors received from their forefathers, by the interposition of the royal name, and think their own previous decision to be sufficient, and object to the worship of any god, except by their permission and decree. With respect to the dedication, we know it to have been customary among the heathens to consecrate their pictures and statues before they adored them. And to this day the same error is maintained in the Papacy. For as long as images remain with the statuary or the painter, they ax not venerated; but as soon as an image is dedicated by any private ceremony, (which the Papists call a “devotion,”) or by any public and solemn rite, the tree, the wood, the stone, and the colors become a god! The Papists also have fixed ceremonies among their exorcisms in consecrating statues and pictures. Nebuchadnezzar, therefore, when he wished his image to be esteemed in the place of God, consecrated it by a solemn rite, and as we have said, this usage was customary among the heathen. He does not here mention the common people, for all could not assemble in one place; but the prefects and elders were ordered to come, and they would bring numerous attendants with them then they bring forward the king’s edict, and each takes care to erect some monument in his own province, whence it may spread the appearance of all their subjects worshipping as a god the statue which the king had erected.
It now follows — All the satraps, prefects, generals, elders, treasurers, and magistrates came and stood before the image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. It is not surprising that the prefects obeyed the king’s edict, since they had no religion but what they had received from their fathers. But obedience to the king weighed with them more then reverence for antiquity; as in these times, if any king either invents a new superstition, or departs from the papacy, or wishes to restore God’s pure worship, a sudden change is directly perceived in all prefects, and in all countries, and senators. Why so? Because they had neither fear God nor sincerely reverence him, but depend on the king’s will and flatter him like slaves, and thus they all approve, and if need be applaud, whatever pleases the king. It is not surprising then if the Chaldean elders, who knew nothing experimentally of the true God or of true piety, are so prone to worship this statue. Hence also, we collect the great instability of the profane, who have never been taught true religion in the school of God. For they will bend every moment to any breezes, just as leaves are moved by the wind blowing among trees; and because they have never taken root in God’s truth, they are necessarily changeable, and are borne hither and thither with every blast. But a king’s edict is not simply a wind, but a violent tempest, and no one can oppose their decrees with impunity; consequently those who are not solidly based upon God’s word, do not act from true piety, but are borne away by the strength of the storm.
It is afterwards added — A herald cried out lustily, or among the multitude. This latter explanation does not suit so well — the herald crying amidst the multitude — -since there were a great concourse of nations, and the kingdom of Babylon comprehended many provinces. The herald, therefore, cried with a loud voice, An edict is gone forth for you, O nations, peoples, and tongues. This would strike them with terror, since the king made no exception to his command for every province to worship his idol; for each person would observe the rest, and when every one sees the whole multitude obedient, no one would dare to refuse; hence all liberty is at an end. It now follows, — When ye hear the sound of the trumpet or horn, harp, pipe, psaltery, sackbut, etc., ye must fall down and adore the image. But whoever did not fall down before it, should be cast the same hour into a burning fiery furnace. This would excite the greater terror, since King Nebuchadnezzar sanctioned this impious worship with a punishment so severe; for he was not content with a usual kind of death, but commanded every one who did not worship the statue to be cast into the fire. Now, this denunciation of punishment sufficiently demonstrates now the king suspected some of rebellion. There would have been no dispute if Jews had not been mixed with Chaldeans and Assyrians, for they always worshipped the same gods, and it was a prevailing custom with them to worship those deities whom their kings approved. Hence it appears that the statue was purposely erected to give the king an opportunity of accurately ascertaining whether the Jews, as yet unaccustomed to Gentile superstitions, were obedient to his command. He wished to cause the sons of Abraham to lay aside sincere piety, and to submit to his corruption’s, by following the example of others, and framing their conduct according to the king’s will and the practice of the people among whom they dwelt. But we shall treat this hereafter.
Respecting the required adoration, nothing but outward observance was needed. King Nebuchadnezzar did not exact a verbal profession of belief in this deity, that is, in the divinity of the statue which he commanded to be worshipped; it was quite sufficient to offer to it merely outward worship. We here see how idolatry is deservedly condemned in those who pretend to worship idols, even if they mentally refrain and only act through fear and the compulsion of regal authority; that excuse is altogether frivolous. We see, then, how this king or tyrant, though he fabricated this image by the cunning of the devil, exacted nothing else than the bending the knees of all the people and nations before the statue. And truly he had in this way alienated the Jews from the worship of the one true God, if this had been extorted from them. For God wishes first of all for inward worship, and afterwards for outward profession. The principal altar for the worship of God ought to be situated in our minds, for God is worshipped spiritually by faith, prayer, and other acts of piety. (John 4:24.) It is also necessary to add outward profession, not only that we may exercise ourselves in God’s worship, but offer ourselves wholly to him, and bend before him both bodily and mentally, and devote ourselves entirely to him, as Paul teaches. (1 Corinthians 7:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:23.) Thus far, then, concerning both the adoration and the penalty.
It follows again, — As soon as the burst of the trumpets was heard and the sound of so many instruments, all nations, peoples, and tongues fell down and adored the image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up Here I may repeat what I said before — all men were very obedient to the injunctions of their monarchs; whatever they ordered was obeyed, so long as it did not cause complete ruin; and they often bore the heaviest burdens with the view of perfect conformity. But we must remark how our propensities have always a vicious tendency. If King Nebuchadnezzar had commanded the God of Israel to be worshipped, and all temples to be overthrown, and all altars throughout his empire to be thrown down, very great tumults would doubtless have arisen; for the devil so fascinates men’s minds that they remain pertinaciously fixed in the errors which they have imbibed. Hence the Chaldeans, Assyrians, and others would never have been induced to obey without the greatest difficulty. But now, on the appearance of the signal, they directly fall down and adore the golden statue. Hence we may learn to reflect upon our own character, as in a mirror, with the view of submitting ourselves to God’s Word, and of being immovable in the right faith, and of standing unconquered in our consistency, whatever kings may command. Although a hundred deaths may threaten us, they must not weaken our faith, for unless God restrain us by his Curb, we should instantly start aside to every species of vanity; and especially if a king introduces corruption’s among us, we are immediately carried away by them, and, as we said, are far too prone to vicious and perverse modes of worship. The Prophet repeats again the king’s name to shew us how little the multitude thought of pleasing God; never considering whether the worship was sacred and sound, but simply content; with the king’s nod. The Prophet deservedly condemns this easy indifference.
We should learn also from this passage, not to be induced, by the will of any man to embrace any kind of religion, but diligently to inquire what worship God approves, and so to use our judgment as not rashly to involve ourselves in any superstitions. Respecting the use of musical instruments, I confess it to be customary in the Church even by God’s command; but the intention of the Jews and of the Chaldeans was different. For when the Jews used trumpets and harps and other instruments in celebrating God’s praises, they ought not to have obtruded this custom on God as if it was the proof of piety; but it ought to have another object, since God wished to use all means of stirring men up from their sluggishness, for we know how cold we grow in the pursuits of piety, unless we are aroused. God, therefore, used these stimulants to cause the Jews to worship him with greater fervor. But the Chaldeans thought to satisfy their god by heaping together many musical instruments. For, like other persons, they supposed God like themselves, for whatever delights us, we think must also please the Deity. Hence the immense heap of ceremonies in the Papacy, since our eyes delight in such splendors; hence we think this to be required of us by God, as if he delighted in what pleases us. This is, indeed, a gross error. There is no doubt that the harp, trumpet, and other musical instruments with which Nebuchadnezzar worshipped his idol, formed a part of his errors, and so also did the gold. God, indeed, wished his sanctuary to manifest some splendor; not that gold, silver, and precious stones please him by themselves, but he wished to commend his glory to his people, since under this figure they might understand why everything precious should be offered to God, as it is sacred to him. The Jews, indeed, had many ceremonies, and much of what is called magnificent splendor in the worship of God, and still the principle of spiritual worship yet remained among them. The profane, while they invented gross deities which they reverenced according to their pleasure, thought it a proof of perfect sanctity, if they sang beautifully, if they used plenty of gold and silver, and if they employed showy utensils in these sacrifices. I must leave the rest for tomorrow.
Although their intention is not here expressed who accused Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, yet we gather from this event that the thing was most probably done on purpose when the king set up the golden image. We see how they were observed, and, as we said yesterday, Nebuchadnezzar seems to have followed the common practice of kings. For although they proudly despise God, yet they arm themselves with religion to strengthen their power, and pretend to encourage the worship of God for the single purpose of retaining the people in obedience. When, therefore, the Jews were mingled with Chaldeans and Assyrians, the king expected to meet with many differences of opinion, and so he placed the statue in a celebrated place by way of trial and experiment, whether the Jews would adopt the Babylonian rites. Meanwhile this passage teaches us how the king was probably instigated by his counselors, as they were indignant at strangers being made prefects of the province of Babylon while they were slaves; for they had become exiles by the right of warfare. Since then the Chaldeans were indignant, they were impelled by envy to suggest this advice to the king. For how did they so suddenly discover that the Jews paid no reverence to the statue, and especially Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Truly, the thing speaks for itself. These men watched to see what the Jews would do and hence we readily ascertain how they, from the beginning, laid the snare by advising the king to fabricate the statue. And when they tumultuously accuse the Jews, we perceive how they were filled with envy and hatred. It may be said, they were inflamed with jealousy, since superstitious men wish to impose the same law upon all, and then their passion is increased by cruelty. But simple rivalry, as we may perceive, corrupted the Chaldeans, and caused them clamorously to accuse the Jews.
It is uncertain whether they spoke of the whole nation generally, namely, of all the exiles, or pointed out those three persons only. The accusation was probably restricted to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. If these three could be broken down, the victory over the rest was easy. But few could be found in the whole people hardy enough to resist. We may well believe these clamorers wished to attack those whom they knew to be spirited and consistent beyond all others, and also to degrade them from those honors which they could not bear them to enjoy. It may be asked, then, why did they spare Daniel, since he would never consent to dissemble by worshipping the statue which the king commanded to be set up? They must have let Daniel alone for the time, since they knew him to be in favor wig the king; but they brought the charge against these three, because they could be oppressed with far less trouble. I think them to have been induced by this cunning in not naming Daniel with the other three, lest his favor should mitigate the king’s wrath. The form of accusation is added — O king, live for ever! It was the common salutation. Thou, O king! — this is emphatic, as if they had said, “Thou hast uttered this edict from thy royal authority, whoever hears the sound of the trumpet, or horn, harp, pipe, psaltery, and other musical instruments, shall fall down before the golden statue; whoever should refuse to do this should be cast into the burning fiery furnace. But here are some Jews whom thou hast set over the administration of the province of Babylon They add this through hatred, and through reproving the ingratitude of men admitted to such high honor and yet despising the king’s authority, and inducing others to follow the same example of disrespect. We see then how this was said to magnify their crime. The king has set them over the province of Babylon, and yet these men do not adore the golden image nor worship the gods. Here is the crime. We see how the Chaldeans, throughout the whole speech, condemn Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego of this single crime — a refusal to obey the king’s edict. They enter into no dispute about their own religion, for it would not have suited their purpose to allow any question to be raised as to the claim their own deities had to supreme adoration. They omit, therefore, everything which they perceive would not suit them, and seize upon this weapon — the king is treated with contempt, because Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego do not worship the image as the king’s edict ordered them to do.
Here, again, we see how the superstitious do not apply their minds to the real inquiry how they should piously and properly worship God; but they neglect this duty and follow their own audacity and lust. Since therefore the Holy Spirit sets before us such rashness, as in a mirror, let us learn. that God cannot approve of our worship unless it be offered. up with truth. Here human authority is utterly unavailing, because unless we are sure that our religion is pleasing to. God, whatever man can do for us will only add to our weakness. While we observe those holy men charged with the crime of ingratitude and rebellion, we in these times ought not to be grieved by it. Those who calumniate us reproach us with despising the edicts of kings who wish to bind us by their errors; but, as we shall see by and bye, our defense is obvious and easy. Meanwhile we ought to undergo this infamy before the world, as if we were disobedient and unmanageable; and with respect to ingratitude, even if a thousand wicked men should lead us with reproaches, we must bear their calumnies for the time patiently, until the Lord shall shine upon us as the assertor of our innocence. It now follows, —
This narrative clearly assures us, how kings consult only their own grandeur by a show of piety, when they claim the place of their deities. For it seems very wonderful for King Nebuchadnezzar to insult all the gods, as if there was no power in heaven unless what he approved off What god, says he, can pluck out of my hand? Why then did he worship any deity? Simply to retain the people by a curb, and fires to strengthen his own power, without the slightest affection of piety abiding within his mind. At the beginning Daniel relates how the king was inflamed with wrath. For nothing is more troublesome to kings than to see their authority despised; they wish every one to be obedient to themselves, even when their commands are most unjust After the king is cool again, he asks Shadraeh, Meshaeh, and Abed-nego, whether they were prepared to worship his god and his golden image? Since he addresses them doubtfully, and gives them a free choice, his words imply moderation. He seems to free them from all blame, if they will only bow themselves down hereafter. He now adds directly, if ye are not prepared, behold I will throw you into a furnace of burning fire; and at length breaks forth into that sacrilegious and dreadful blasphemy — There is no god who can deliver the saints alive out of his hand!
We see, then, in the person of Nebuchadnezzar, how kings swell with pride, while they pretend some zeal for piety; since in reality no reverence for God influences them, while they expect all men to obey every command. And thus, as I have said, they rather substitute themselves for God, than desire to worship him and promote his glory. This is the meaning of the words, the statue which I have created, and which I have made; as if he had said, You are not allowed to deliberate about worshipping this image or not,; my orders ought to be sufficient for you. I have erected it purposely and designedly; it was your duty simply to obey me. We see then how he claims the supreme power, by fashioning a god. Nebuchadnezzar is not now treating matters of state policy; he wishes the statue to he adored as a deity, because he had decreed it, and had promulgated his edict. And we must always remember what I have touched upon, namely, this example of pride is set before us, to shew us not to attach ourselves to any religion with rashness, but to listen to God and depend on his authority and commands, since if we listen to man, our errors would be endless. Although kings are so proud and ferocious, yet we must be guided by this rule — Nothing pleases God but what he has commanded in his word; and the principle of true piety is the obedience which we ought to render to him alone. With respect to blasphemy, it clearly demonstrates my previous assertion, however kings put forward some desire for piety, yet they despise every deity, and think of nothing but extolling their own magnificence. Hence, they traffic in the name of God to attract greater reverence towards themselves; but at the same time, if they choose to change their deities a hundred times a-day, no sense of religion will hinder them. Religion, then, is to the kings of the earth nothing but a pretext; but they have neither reverence nor fear of God in their minds, as the language of this profane king proves. What God? says he, clearly there is no God. If any one reply — he speaks comparatively, since he here defends the glory of his own god whom he worshipped, still he utters this blasphemy against all gods, and is impelled by intolerable arrogance and diabolical fury. We are now coming to the principal point where Daniel relates the constancy with which Shadraeh, Meshach, and Abed-nego were endued.
In this history it; is necessary to observe with what unbroken spirit these three holy men persisted in the fear of God, though they knew they were in danger of instant death. When, therefore, this kind of death was placed straight before their eyes, they did not turn aside from the straightforward course, but treated God’s glory of greater value than their own life, nay, than a hundred lives, if they had so many to pour forth, and opportunity had been given them. Daniel does not relate all their words, but only their import, in which the unconquered virtue of that Holy Spirit, by which they had been instructed, is sufficiently evident; for that denunciation was certainly dreadful, when the king said, If ye are not prepared to fall down at the sound of the trumpet before the image, its all over with you, and ye shall be directly cast into a furnace of fire. When the king had so fulminated, they might have winced, as men usually do, since life is naturally dear to us, and a dread of death seizes upon our senses. But Daniel relates all these circumstances, to assure us of the great fortitude of God’s servants when they are led by his Spirit, and yield to no threats, and succumb to no terrors. They answer the king, We do not need any long deliberation. For when they say they care not, they mean by this word, the matter is settled; just as that sentence of Cyprian is related by Augustine, 186186 Cyprian was martyred under the edict of Valerian, A.D. 257. — See Euseb. Eccl. Hist., lib. 7, chapter 10. when courtiers persuaded him to preserve his life, for it was with great reluctance that the emperor devoted him to death, when flatterers on all sides urged him to redeem his life by the denial of piety, he answered, There can be no deliberation in a matter so sacred! Thus those holy men say, We do not care, we do not enter into the consideration of what is expedient or useful, no such thing! for we ought to settle it with ourselves never to be induced by any reason to withdraw from the sincere worship of God.
If you please to read — we ought not to answer you, the sense will be the same. They imply that the fear of death was set before them in vain, because they had determined and resolved in their inmost souls, not to depart a single inch from the true and lawful worship of God. Besides they here give a double reason for rejecting the king’s proposal. They say God has sufficient power and strength to liberate them; and then, even if they must die, their life is not of so much value as to deny God for the sake of preserving it. Hence they declare themselves prepared to die, if the king persists in urging his wish for the adoration of the image. This passage is therefore worthy of the greatest attention. First of all we must observe the answer — for when men entice us to deny the true God we must close our ears, and refuse all deliberation; for we have already committed an atrocious insult against God, when we even question the propriety of swerving from the purity of his worship through any impulse or any reason whatever. And I heartily wish every one would observe this! How excellent and striking is the glory of God, and how everything ought to yield to it, whenever there is danger of its being either diminished or obscured. But at this day, this fallacy deceives the multitude, since they think it lawful to debate whether it is allowable to swerve front the true worship of God for a time, whenever any utility presents itself on the opposite side. Just as in our days, we see how hypocrites, of whom the world is full, have pretenses by which they cloak their delinquencies, when they either worship idols with the impious, or deny at one time openly, and at another obliquely, true piety. “Oh! what can happen? — such a one will say — of what value is consistency? I see some evident advantage if I can only dissemble a little, and not betray what I am. Ingenuousness is injurious not only to me privately, but to all around me!” If a king has none around him who endeavor to appease his wrath, the wicked would give way to their passions, and by their greater license would drive him to the extremity of cruelty. It is, therefore, better to have, some mediators on the watch to observe whether the wicked are planning anything. Thus, if they cannot openly, they may covertly avert danger from the heads of the pious. By such reasoning as this, they think they can satisfy God. As if Shadraeh, Meshaeh, and Abed-nego, had not the same excuse; as if the following thought would not occur to them — “Behold! we are armed with some power in favor of our brethren; now what barbarity, what cruelty will be exercised against them, if the enemies of the religion which they profess succeed us? For as far as they can, they will overthrow and blot out our race and the very remembrance of piety. Is it not better for us to yield for a time to the tyranny and violent edict of the king than to leave our places empty? which the furious will by and bye occupy, who will utterly destroy our wretched race which is now dreadfully oppressed.” Shadraeh, Meshaeh, and Abed-nego might, I say, collect all these pretenses and excuses to palliate their perfidy if they had bent the knee before the golden image for the sake of avoiding danger; but they did not act thus. Hence, as I have already said, God retains his rights entire when his worship is upheld without the slightest doubt, and we are thoroughly persuaded that nothing is of such importance as to render it lawful and right to swerve from that profession which his word both demands and exacts.
On the whole, that security which ought to confirm the pious in the worship of God is opposed here to all those tortuous and mistaken counsels which some men adopt, and thus, for the sake of living, lose life itself, according to the sentiment of even a profane poet. For of what use is life except to serve God’s glory? but we lose that object in life for the sake of the life itself — that is, by desiring to live entirely to the; world, we lose the very purpose of living! Thus, then, Daniel opposes the simplicity which ought to mark the sons of God to all those excuses which dissemblers invent with the view of hiding their wickedness by a covering. We are not anxious, say they, and why not? Because we have already determined God’s glory to be of more consequence than a thousand lives, and the gratification of a thousand senses. Hence, when this magnanimity flourishes, all hesitation will vanish, and those who are called upon to incur danger through their testimony for the truth need never trouble themselves; for, as I before said, their ears are closed to all the enticements of Satan.
And when they add — God is sufficiently powerful to preserve us; and if not, we are prepared for death, they point out to us what ought to raise our minds above all trials, namely, the preciousness of our life in God’s sight, since he can liberate us if he pleases. Since, therefore, we have sufficient protection in God, let us not think any method of preserving our life better than to throw ourselves entirely on his protection, and to cast all our cares upon him. And as to the second clause, we must remark this, even if the Lord should wish to magnify his own glory by our death, we ought to offer up this as a lawful sacrifice; and sincere piety does not flourish in our hearts unless our minds are always prepared to make this sacrifice. Thus I wished to remark these things shortly now, and with God’s permission, I will explain them fully to-morrow.
WE said yesterday that the constancy of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, was based upon these two reasons:-Their certain persuasion that God was the guardian of their life, and would free them from present death by his power if it were useful. And also their determination to die boldly and fearlessly, if God wished such a sacrifice to be offered. What Daniel relates of these three men belongs to us all. Hence we may gather this general instruction. When our danger for the truth’s sake is imminent, we should learn to place our life in God’s hand, and then bravely and fearlessly devote ourselves to death. As to the first point, experience teaches us how very many turn aside from God and the profession of faith, since they do not feel confidence in God’s power to liberate them. It may be said with truth of us all — God takes care of us, since our life is placed in his hand and will; but scarcely one in a hundred holds this deeply and surely fixed in his heart, since every one takes his own way of preserving his life, as if there were no virtue in God. Hence he has made some proficiency in God’s word who has learnt to place his life in God’s care, and to consider it safe under his protection. For if he has made progress thus far, he may be in danger a hundred times, yet he will never hesitate to follow whenever he is called. This one feeling frees him from all fear and trembling, since God can extricate his servants from a thousand deaths, as it is said in the Psalm, (Psalm 68:20,) The issues of death are in his power. For death seems to consume all things; but God snatches from that whirlpool whom he pleases. So this persuasion ought to inspire us with firm and unassailable constancy, since it is necessary for those who so repose the whole care of their life and safety upon God, to be thoroughly conscious and undoubtedly sure that God will defend a good cause. And this is also expressed by these words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego Behold our God whom we worship When they bring forward God’s worship, they bear testimony to the surliness of their support, when they undertake nothing rashly, but are worshippers of the true God, and labor for the defense of piety. For this is the difference, between martyrs and malefactors, who are often compelled to suffer the penalty of their madness for attempting to overthrow all things. We see, indeed, the majority tossed about by their own intemperance. If they happen to suffer punishment, they are not to be reckoned among God’s martyrs; for, as Augustine says, the martyr is made by his cause, and not by his punishment. Hence the weight of these words, when these three men attest their worship of God, since in this way they boast in their power of enduring any urgent danger not rashly, but only as supported by the sure worship of God. I now come to the second point.
If God be unwilling to deliver us from death, be it known to thee, O king, we will not worship thy gods I said first of all, we should be constantly prepared to undergo every conflict, to commit our life to his charge, to submit to his will and hand, and to the protection of his custody. But the desire of this earthly and fading life ought not; to retain its hold upon us, and to hinder us from the free and candid confession of the truth. For God’s glory ought to be more precious to us than a hundred lives. Hence we cannot be witnesses for God without we lay aside all desire of this life, and at least prefer God’s glory to it. Meanwhile, we must. remark the impossibility of doing this, without the hope of a better life drawing us towards itself. For where there is no promise of any eternal inheritance implanted in our hearts, we. shall never be torn away from this world. We are naturally desirous of existence, and that feeling cannot be eradicated, unless faith overcome it; as Paul says, Not that we wished to be unclothed, but clothed upon. (2 Corinthians 5:4.) Paul confesses that men cannot be naturally induced to wish for departure from the world, unless, as we have said, through the power of faith. But when we understand our inheritance to be in heaven, while we are strangers upon earth, then we put off that clinging to the life of this world to which we are too much devoted.
These then are the two points which prepare the sons of God for martyrdom, and remove hesitation as to their offering their life in sacrifice to God. First, if they are persuaded that God is the protector of their life and will certainly liberate them should it be expedient; and secondly, when they live above the world and aspire to the hope of eternal life in heaven, while prepared to renounce the world. This magnanimity is to be remarked in their language, when they say, Be it known to thee, O king, that we do not worship thy gods nor adore the statue which, thou hast set up Here they obliquely accuse the king of arrogating too much to himself, and of wishing religion to stand or fall by his own will. Thou hast erected the statue, but thy authority is of no moment to us, since we know it to be a fictitious deity whose image thou wishest us to worship. The God whom we worship has revealed himself to us we know him to be the maker of heaven and earth, to have redeemed our fathers from Egypt, and to intend our chastisement by driving us into exile. Since, therefore, we have a firm foundation for our faith hence we reckon thy gods and thy sway valueless. It follows:
Here, at; first sight, God seems to desert his servants, since he does not openly succor them. The king orders them to be thrown into a furnace of fire: no help from heaven appears for them. This was a living and remarkably efficacious proof of their faithfulness. But they were prepared, as we have seen, to endure everything. These bold answers were not prompted simply by their trust in God’s immediate help, but by a determination to die; since a better life occupied their thoughts, they willingly sacrificed the present life. Hence they were not frightened at this terrible order of the king’s, but followed on their course, fearlessly submitting to death for the worship of God. No third way was opened for them, when a choice was granted either to submit to death, or apostatize from the true God. By this example we are taught to meditate on our immortal life in times of ease, so that if God pleases, we may not hesitate to expose our souls by the confession of the true faith. For we are so timorous when we are attacked by calamity, we are seized with fear and torpor, and then when we are not pressed by any urgency we feign for ourselves a false security. When we are allowed to be at ease, we ought to apply our minds to meditation upon a future life, so that this world may become cheap to us, and we may be prepared when necessary to pour forth our blood in testimony to the truth. And this narrative is not set before us simply to lead us to admire and celebrate the courage of these three holy ones, but their constancy is proposed to us as an example for imitation.
With reference to King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel here shews, as in a glass, the pride and haughtiness of kings when they find their decrees disobeyed. Surely a mind of iron ought to grow soft by the answer which we have just narrated, on hearing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego committing their lives to God; but when it heard how they could not be drawn aside from their faithfulness by the fear of death, its anger was only increased. In considering this fury, we ought to take into account the power of Satan in seizing and occupying the minds of men. For there is no moderation in them, even if they shew some great and remarkable hope of virtues, — for, as we have seen, Nebuchadnezzar was endued with many virtues; but as Satan harassed him, we discern nothing but cruelty and barbarity. Meanwhile, let us remember how pleasing our constancy is to God, though it may not produce any immediate fruit before the world. For many indulge in pleasure through thinking they would be rash in devoting themselves to death, without any apparent utility. And on this pretext, they excuse themselves from not contending more boldly for the glory of God, by supposing they would lose their labor, and their death would be fruitless. But we hear what Christ pronounces, namely, this sacrifice is pleasing to God, when we die for the testimony of the heavenly doctrine, although the generation before which we bear witness to God’s name is adulterous and perverse, nay, even hardened by our constancy. (Matthew 5:11, and Matthew 10:32, and Mark 8:38.)
And such an example is here set before us in these three holy men; because, although Nebuchadnezzar was more inflamed by the freedom of their confession, yet that; liberty pleased God, and they did not repent of it, though they did not discern the fruit of their constancy which they wished. The Prophet also expresses this circumstance to demonstrate the king’s fury, since he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than before; and then, he chose from his own servants the strongest of all to bind these holy men, and cast them into the furnace of fire
But from the result it is very evident, that this did not occur without God’s secret impulse; for the devil will sometimes throw discredit on a miracle, unless all doubt is removed. Since therefore the king ordered the furnace to be heated sevenfold more than before, next when he chose the strongest attendants, and commanded them to follow him, God thus removed all doubts, by liberating his servants, because light emerges more clearly from the darkness, when Satan endeavors to shut it out. Thus God is accustomed to frustrate the impious; and the more impious they are in opposing his glory, the more he makes his honor and doctrine conspicuous. In like manner, Daniel here paints, as in a picture, how King Nebuchadnezzar passed nothing by, when he wished to strike terror into the minds of all the Jews by this cruel punishment. And yet he obtained nothing else by his plans than a clearer illustration of God’s power and grace towards his servants. It now follows: —
Here Daniel relates the miracle by which God liberated his servants. He has two parts: first, these three holy men walked untouched in the midst of the flame; and the fires consumed those attendants who east them into the furnace. The Prophet diligently enumerates whatever tends to prove the power of God. He says, since the king’s command was urgent, that is, since the king ordered in such anger the furnace to be heated, the flames devour the men who executed his orders. For in Job, (Job 18:5,) שביב, shebib, means “spark,” or the extremity of a flame. The sense of the Prophet is by no means obscure, since the extremity of the flame consumed those strong attendants by playing round them, while Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego walked through the fuel in the fire and flame. They were not in the extremity of the flame; for it is as if the Prophet had said — the king’s slaves were consumed by the very smoke, and the fire was without the slightest effect on the servants of God. Hence he says, these three fell down in the furnace of fire By saying they fell, it means they could not take care of themselves or attempt to escape; for he adds, they were bound. This might at first naturally suffocate them, till they were immediately consumed; but they remained untouched, and then walked about the furnace loose. We hereby see how conspicuous was God’s power, and how no falsehood of Satan’s could obscure it. And next, when the very points of the flame, or the fiery sparks, devour the servants, here again the deed is proved to be of God. Meanwhile, the result of the history is the preservation of these three holy men, so surprisingly beyond their expectation.
This example is set before us, to show us how nothing can be safer than to make God the guardian and protector of our life. For we ought not to expect to be preserved from every danger because we see those holy men delivered; for we ought to hope for liberation from death, if it be useful, and yet we ought not to hesitate to meet it without fear, if God so please it. But we should gather from our present narrative the sufficiency of God’s protection, if he wishes to prolong our lives, since we know our life to be precious to him; and it is entirely in his power, either to snatch us from danger, or to withdraw us to a better existence, according to his pleasure. We have an example of this in the case of Peter; for he was on one day led forth from prison, and the next day put to death. Even then God shewed his care of his servant’s life, although Peter at length suffered death. How so? Because he had finished his course. Hence, as often as God pleases, he will exert his power to preserve us; if he leads us onwards to death, we must be assured it is best for us to die, and injurious to us to enjoy life any longer. This is the substance of the instruction which we may receive from this narrative. It now follows: —
Here Daniel relates how God’s power was manifest to the profane — to both the king and his courtiers, who had conspired for the death of these holy men. He says, then, the king trembled at that miracle; since God often compels the impious to acknowledge his power, and when they stupidity themselves, and harden all their senses, they are compelled to feel God’s power whether they will or not. Daniel shews how this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. He trembled, says he, and rose up quickly, and said to his companions, Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? When they say, It is so, Nebuchadnezzar was doubtless impelled by Divine impulse, and a secret instinct, to inquire of his companions to extract this confession from them. For Nebuchadnezzar might easily approach the furnace, but God wished to extract this confession from his enemies, that both they and the king might allow the rescue of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, to have proceeded from no earthly medium, but from the admirable and extraordinary power of God. We may here remark, how the impious are witnesses to God’s power, not willingly, but because God placed this question in the king’s mouth, and also in his not permitting them to escape or turn aside from the confession of the truth. But Nebuchadnezzar says, four men walked in the fire, and the face of the fourth is like the son of a god No doubt God here sent one of his angels, to support by his presence the minds of his saints, lest they should faint. It was indeed a formidable spectacle to see the furnace so hot, and to be cast into it. By this consolation God wished to allay their anxiety, and to soften their grief, by adding an angel as their companion. We know how many angels have been sent to one man, as we read of Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15.) And there is this general rule — He, has given his angels charge over thee, to guard thee in all the ways; and also, The camps of angels are about those who fear God. (Psalm 91:11, and Psalm 34:7.) This, indeed, is especially fulfilled in Christ; but it is extended to the whole body, and to each member of the Church, for God has his own hosts at hand to serve him. But we read again how an angel was often sent to a whole nation. God indeed does not need his angels, while he uses their assistance in condescension to our infirmities. And when we do not regard his power as highly as we ought, he interposes his angels to remove our doubts, as we have formerly said. A single angel was sent to these three men; Nebuchadnezzar calls him a son of God; not because he thought him to be Christ, but according to the common opinion among all people, that angels are sons of God, since a certain divinity is resplendent in them; and hence they call angels generally sons of God. According to this usual custom, Nebuchadnezzar says, the fourth man is like a son of a god. For he could not recognize the, only-begotten Son of God, since, as we have already seen, he was blinded by so many depraved errors. And if any one should say it was enthusiasm, this would be forced and frigid. This simplicity, then, will be sufficient for us, since Nebuchadnezzar spoke in the usual manner, as one of the angels was sent to those three men — since, as I have said, it was then customary to call angels sons of God. Scripture thus speaks, (Psalm 89:6, and elsewhere,) but God never suffered truth to become so buried in the world as not to leave some seed of sound doctrine, at least as a testimony to the profane, and to render them more inexcusable — as we shall treat more at length in the next lecture. 194194 See Dissertation 13 at the end of this volume.
HERE a sudden change is described in the mood of this cruel and proud king. We have already seen how confidently he extracted worship from the servants of God, and when he saw them disobedient to his command, how mightily he raged against them. Now Daniel shews in how short a time this pride was subdued and this cruelty appeased; but we must remark that the king was not so changed as entirely to put his disposition and manners. For when he was touched with this present miracle, he gave God the glory, but only for a moment; and still he did not return to wisdom. We cannot take too diligent notice of examples of this kind, as many estimate the characters of others from a single action. But the worst despisers of God can submit to him for a short time, not merely by feigning to do so before men, but in real seriousness, since God compels them by his power, but meanwhile they retain their pride and ferocity within their breasts. Of this kind, then, was the conversion of King Nebuchadnezzar. For when astonished by the miracle, he could no longer resist the Almighty, he was still inconsistent, as we shall afterwards see. We may also notice how the impious, who are unregenerate by God’s Spirit, are often impelled to worship God; but this is only temporary, and this equable tenor never remains through their whole life. But when God renews his own, he undertakes to govern them even to the end; he animates them to perseverance, and confirms them by his Spirit.
We must here remark how God’s glory is illustrated by this temporary and vanishing conversion of the reprobate; because, whether they will or not, yet they yield to God for a time, and thus the greatness of his power is acknowledged. God, therefore, turns an event which does not profit the reprobate to his own glory, and at the same time punishes them more severely. For Nebuchadnezzar’s conduct was less excusable after his once acknowledging the God of Israel to be the supreme and only God, and then relapsing into his former superstitions. He says, therefore, — He approached the door of the furnace, and spoke thus, — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, servants of the most high God, come forth and come hither A short time before, he wished his own statue to be worshipped, and his own name to be esteemed the only one in heaven and earth, since this was pleasing to him. We then saw how he claimed the right of subjecting the religion and worship of God to his own will and lust; but now, as if he were a new man, he calls Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, servants of the most high God! What place, then, was left to him and to all the Chaldeans? How could they now worship those fictitious gods and idols which they had fabricated? But God extracted these words from the proud and cruel king, as when criminals and compelled, by tortures, to say what they would otherwise refuse. Thus Nebuchadnezzar confessed God to be the most high God of Israel, as if he had been tortured, but not of his own accord, or in a composed state of mind. He does not pretend this before men, as I have said; but his mind was neither pure nor perfect, since it was in a ferment with this temporary commotion. And this must also be added — the instinct was rather violent; than voluntary.
Daniel afterwards relates — His companions came forth from the midst of the fire By these words he again confirms the miracle; for God could extinguish the fire of the furnace, but he wished it to burn in the sight of all, to render the power of this deliverance the more conspicuous. Meanwhile we must notice the three men walking in the furnace, until the king commanded them to come forth, because God had issued no command. They saw themselves perfectly safe and. sound in the midst of the furnace; they were content with God’s present benefit, but still they had no free departure, until fetched by the king’s voice. As when Noah, in the ark, saw safety prepared for him in that tomb, yet he did not try anything until commanded to come forth. (Genesis 8:16.) So also Daniel asserts that his companions did not, come forth from the furnace till the king commanded them. Then at length they understood how what they had heard from the king was pleasing to God; not because he was a Prophet or teacher, but because they were cast into the furnace by his command. So also when he recalls them, they know the end of their cross to be arrived, and thus they pass from death unto life. It follows —
Daniel relates how the satraps were gathered together with the leaders, prefects, and councilors of the king. The gathering was simply a collection of numbers, and if they deliberated about anything of importance, they all agreed. And this confirms the miracle, since if they had been stupefied, how could the great power of God be proposed to the eyes of the blind? Although they were so astonished, they were not altogether foolish, And Daniel implies this by saying, they were assembled together After they had discussed the matter, he says, they came to behold that specimen of the incredible power of God. Then he enumerates many reasons, which clearly shew these three men not to have been preserved by any other means than God’s singular good will. He says, The fire had no power over their bodies then, a hair of their head was not burnt thirdly, their garments were unchanged lastly, the smell of fire had not penetrated to themselves or their garments He expresses more by the word smell than if he had simply said, — the fire had not penetrated. For fire must naturally consume and burn up whatever is submitted to it; but when not even the smell of fire has passed over any substance, the miracle is more conspicuous. Now, we understand the Prophet’s intention. On the whole, he shews how the benefit of freedom was no, small one, since Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego came out of the furnace. Besides, these satraps, prefects, and. governors, were witnesses of the power of God. Their testimony would be the more valuable, as all the Jews were, spectators of this grace of God, which even they scarcely believed. But since these men were clearly and professedly enemies to true piety, they would willingly have concealed the miracle, had it been in their power. But God draws them against their wills, and compels them to be eye-witnesses, and they are thus obliged to confess what cannot be in the slightest degree doubtful. It follows-
This, indeed, is no common confession, but the event proved how suddenly King Nebuchadnezzar was acted on by impulse, without having, the living root of the fear of God in his heart. And I repeat this again, to shew that repentance does not consist in one or two works, but in perseverance, as Paul says, —
“If ye live in the Spirit, walk also in the Spirit.”
Here he requires constancy in the faithful, by which they may shew themselves to be truly born again of God’s Spirit. Nebuchadnezzar celebrated the God of Israel as if inspired by an enthusiasm, but at the same time he mingled his idols with the true God, so that there was no sincerity in him. So when the impious feel God’s power, they do not dare to proceed with obstinacy against him, but wish to appease him by a false repentance, without putting off their natural disposition. Thus we readily conclude Nebuchadnazzar to be always the same, although God extracted from him this confession, — Blessed, says he, be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego! Why does he not rather speak of him as his own God? This may be excused, had he really devoted himself to the God of Israel, and abjured his former superstitions. As he does not act thus, his confession is worthless; not because he wished to obtain men’s favor or good opinion by what he said, but he deceived himself after the manner of hypocrites. He pronounces the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to be blessed if he really felt this, he must at the same time curse his idols, for the glory of the one true God cannot be extolled without all idols being reduced to nothing. For how can God’s praise exist without his being solely conspicuous? If any other deity is opposed to him, his majesty is already buried in complete obscurity. Hence we may collect that Nebuchadnezzar was not touched with true repentance when he blessed the God of Israel. He adds, Who sent his angel, and delivered his servants. Here Daniel shews more clearly the absence of conversion in Nebuchadnezzar, and his failure to embrace the God of Israel, and worship him with sound and complete surrender of his affections. Why so? Because piety is always founded upon the knowledge of the true God, and this requires instruction. Nebuchadnezzar knew the God of Israel to be majestic from the display of his power, for he had such a spectacle presented to him as he could not despise, if he wished. Here he confesses that Israel’s God was mighty, since he was taught it by a miracle; but this, as I have reminded you, is not sufficient for solid piety, unless instruction is added, and occupies the first place. I allow, indeed, that miracles prepare men to believe, but if miracles only occurred without the knowledge of God being added from his Word, faith will vanish away — as the example sufficiently remarkable here sets before us. We term the faith of Nebuchadnezzar to be but momentary, because while his senses were fixed upon the miracle, he was content with the spectacle, without inquiring into the character of the God of Israel, and the bearing of his law. He was not anxious about a Mediator; hence he neglected the chief point of piety, and rashly seized upon one part of it only. We clearly observe this in many profane men, for God often humbles them, to induce them suppliantly to fly to him for safety; but meanwhile, they remain perplexed by their own senses; they do not deny their own superstitions, nor regard the true worship of God. To prove our obedience to God, we must, uphold this principle — nothing pleases him which does not spring from faith. (Romans 14:23.) But faith cannot be acquired by any miracle, or any perception of the Divine power; it requires instruction also. The miracles avail only to the preparation for piety or for its confirmation; they cannot by themselves bring men to worship the true God. This is surprising indeed, when a profane king says the angel was sent by God
It is sufficiently evident from heathen writings that something was always known about angels. This was, as it were, a kind of anticipation and previous persuasion, since all people are persuaded that angels exist, so that they had some idea of angels, although but a partial one. For, when a short time ago Daniel said the fourth appearance in the furnace was called by the king of Babylon “a son of a god,” then, as I have explained it, Nebuchadnezzar professed some belief in angels. He now says more expressly, God sent his angel As angels afford supplies to the elect and the faithful, I treat the subject here but shortly, since I am not in the habit of dwelling upon ordinary passages. It is enough for the present passage to shew how the impious, who have learnt nothing from either God himself or from piety at large, were yet imbued with these principles, since God is accustomed to use the assistance of angels to preserve his people. For this reason Nebuchadnezzar now says; the angel was sent by God to deliver his servants He next adds, who trusted in him; and this is worthy of notice, since it is added as a reason why these three men were so wonderfully preserved, through reposing all their hopes on God. Although Nebuchadnezzar was very like a log or a stone with relation to the doctrine of faith, yet God wished by means of this stone and log to instruct us, to inspire us with shame, and to reprove us of incredulity, since we are unable to conform our lives to his will, and to approach all dangers boldly, whenever it becomes necessary. For if we are thoroughly persuaded that God is the guardian of our life, surely no threats, nor terrors, nor death itself, should hinder us from persevering in our duty. But distrust is the cause of slothfulness, and wherever we deflect from a straightforward course, we deprive God of his honor, by becoming backsliders, while some want of faith betrays itself and is palpably apparent. Hence let us learn, if we wish our life to be protected by God’s hand, to commit ourselves entirely to him, since he will never disappoint us when we confide in him. We saw how doubtful about the event Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were; but their doubt did not diminish their hope and confidence. They were placed in this alternative — either God will take us from rite furnace, or, if we must die, he will preserve us for some better state, and gather us into his kingdom. Although they dared not persuade themselves that he would notice them yet they reposed their lives in the hand and care of God. Hence they are deservedly complimented by Nebuchadnezzar, when he said, — They trusted in their God, and afterwards, they changed the king’s edict, that is, reduced it to nothing, and abrogated it, because they were endued with greater power. For whoever rests in God, easily despises all mankind, and whatever is lofty and magnificent in the world. And this context is worthy of observation, since faith ought to be put as a foundation, and then fortitude and constancy must be added, with which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were endowed; because any one who reposes upon God can never be moved aside from the discharge of his duty; and however numerous the impediments which may occur, he will be borne aloft on the wings of his confidence. He who knows God to be on his side, will be superior to the whole world, and will neither wonder at the scepter and diadems of kings, nor dread their power, but rather surpass all the majesty of the earth which may oppose him, and never to turn aside from this course.
He afterwards adds, they delivered up their bodies instead of worshipping or adoring any god except their own God. That very thing which the king is compelled to praise in these three men, at this day many who boast themselves to be Christians wish to escape. For they fancy their faith to be buried in their hearths, and bring forth no fruit of their profession. There is no doubt God wished these things to be related by his Prophet, to shew the detestable cunning of those who wish to defraud God of his lawful honor, and at the same time shelter themselves from his gaze, lest he should notice their insult. Such as these are unworthy of being convinced by the word of God, but Nebuchadnezzar is here appointed their master, censor, and judge. And we must diligently remark this, — Nebuchadnezzar praises these three, because they refused to worship any other god except their own. Why then did he mingle together a great multitude of deities? For he did not depart from his own errors and give himself up entirely to the God of Israel, and embrace his worship in its purity. Why then does he praise in others what he does not imitate? But this is far too common; for we see virtue praised and yet frozen to death, as in this instance, for many are willing to offer him lip-service. (Juvenal, Sat. 1.) Although Nebuchadnezzar seemed here to speak seriously, yet he did not consider himself; but he took away all pretext for excuse, since he could not afterwards pretend ignorance and error, after asserting with his own mouth that no other god ought to be worshipped. Hence he may cause those who now wish to be called Christians to be ashamed, unless they depart far away from all superstitions, and consecrate themselves entirely to God, and retain his worship in its sincerity. We must remember then how King Nebuchadnezzar does not simply praise the constancy of these three men, because he does not acknowledge any god, for he does reckon the God of Israel to be a true deity. Hence it follows, that all others were fictitious and utterly vain. But he spoke to no purpose, because God did not thereby touch his heart, as he usually works in his elect when he regenerates them. It follows, —
Here Nebuchadnezzar is urged further forward — for we must use this phrase — since he does not take up the worship of one God from his heart, and bid his errors finally farewell. Hence it is as if God was thrusting him violently forward, while he promulgates this edict. The edict is by itself pious and praiseworthy; but, as we have already said, Nebuchadnezzar is borne along by a blind and turbulent impulse, because piety had no root in his heart. Though he is always intent on this miracle, his faith is only momentary, and his fear of God but partial. Why then is Nebuchadnezzar now seen as the patron of God’s glory? Because he was frightened by the miracle, and thus being acted on by impulse alone, he could not; be soundly restrained by the fear of God alone. And finally, this desire which he expresses is nothing but an evanescent movement. It is useful to remark this, since we see many born along by impetuous zeal and rage to vindicate God’s glory; but they lack tact and judgment, so that they deserve no praise. And many wander still further — as we see in the Papacy — when many edicts of kings and princes fly about; and if any one should ask them why they are so eager as not to spare even human blood, they put forth indeed a zeal for God, but it is mere madness without a spark of true knowledge. We must hold, therefore, that no law can be passed nor any edict promulgated concerning religion and the worship of God, unless a real knowledge of God shines forth. Nebuchadnezzar indeed had a reason for this edict, but, as I have already said, there was a special motive for his conduct. Some, indeed, now wish to be thought Christian princes, and yet are only inflamed by a hypocritical zeal, and so they pour forth innocent blood like cruel beasts. And why so? Because they make no distinction between the true God and idols. But I shall discuss this point at greater length to-morrow, and so pass over casually what I shall treat at length, when the fit opportunity arrives.
Every people, therefore, and nation, and language, which shall have offered a perverse speech against their God Nebuchadnezzar again extolled the God of Israel, but how was he taught the majesty of God? By this one proof of his power, for he neglected the chief point — the ascertaining from the law and the prophets the nature of God and the power of his will. Thus we see, on one side, how God’s glory is asserted here, and yet the principal point in his worship, and in true piety, is neglected and omitted. No light punishment is added — -he must be cut in pieces, next, his house must be turned into a dunghill, since he has spoken reproachfully of the God of Israel Hence we gather how this severity is not to be utterly condemned, when God’s worship is defended by severe punishments; yet a correct sentence ought to be passed in each case. But I put this off also till to-morrow. It is now added, because there is no other God who can deliver after this manner; and. this confirms what I have formerly touched upon, namely, King Nebuchadnezzar does not regard the law in his edict, nor yet the other requisites of piety; but he is only impelled and moved by the miracle, so as not to bear or desire anything to be said opprobriously against the God of Israel. Hence the edict is deserving of blame in this point, since he does not inquire what God’s nature is, with the view of obtaining a sufficient reason for issuing it. It is added at length, —
This seems to be of slight consequence; but yet it was not added in vain. We are to understand that the miracle was confirmed throughout the whole province and region, because all the Chaldeans knew those three men were cast into the furnace, and then afterwards shared in the imperial sway and were restored to their former honors. In consequence of this event, God’s power could not be unknown. It was just as it God had sent forth three heralds through the whole region, who everywhere proclaimed how they were wonderfully delivered from death by God’s special interposition. Whence, also, it would be understood how worthless were all the deities then worshipped in Chaldea, and how that great deity whose statue Nebuchadnezzar had set up had been despised, and how the true God proved his consistency in snatching his servants from death.