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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.

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.

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