Contending For The Faith

December 16, 2008

Bible Study: Daniel 3

Filed under: Bible Study,Daniel,John MacArthur — Lynda O @ 9:09 am
Tags: , ,

Continuing through the book of Daniel, we are now in chapter 3, for a look at the well-known story about Daniel’s three friends and the fiery furnace.  John MacArthur’s two part sermon for Daniel 3, “Uncompromising Faith in the Fiery Furnace” (part 1 and part 2), begins with a look at idolatry and human nature, that people will always worship something.  In ancient times people literally bowed down to idols of wood and gold and silver, whereas nowadays the idols are of a different type, often in ideas or in other people; yet anything that we put in first place, before God, is an idol.  Idolatry is the thing God is most concerned about, and the first two of the Ten Commandments deal with that issue:  have no other gods before me, and make no graven images.

Regarding Nebuchadnezzar, we see that his amazement with Daniel and Daniel’s God at the end of chapter 2 was incredibly short-lived.  This chapter shows indeed what an egomaniac he was, so self-absorbed that, as MacArthur describes it, “when Daniel started telling him that dream he said – The top is a head of gold and thou art that head of gold – right there Nebuchadnezzar tuned out and thought – I’m the gold…everything else is inferior to me. And so he built a whole image of gold, just extended it all the way down.”  The passage tells us that this image was 90 feet high and 9 feet wide.  The image would have been made, not all of gold, but as was commonly done then, of wood and then covered with gold (as described in Isaiah 40 and 41) — which was still a staggering amount of gold, to cover such a large sized statue.  Another interesting point here is that the measures given are 60 cubits and 6 cubits, based on the Babylonians’ sexagesimal system (based on 6), not our decimal 10-base system.  This is another indicator of the authenticity of Daniel.  As MacArthur points out:  “The higher critics want to shove it up nearly to the time of Christ to get it passed the prophecies that it predicts because they don’t want the Bible to make predictions, otherwise it’s a divine book. But because it uses what is known as this sexagesimal system rather than a decimal system, it’s indicative of the Babylonian times.”

MacArthur presents the sequence of events in this chapter with a series of “C” words:  The ceremony, command, conspiracy, coercion, courage, consequences, companion, and the commendation.  The ceremony is described in the first three verses, where King Nebuchadnezzar makes the image of gold and all “the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces” gathered.  Then the command, in verses 4 and 5, where the herald proclaims to all the people that they must bow down to the image whenever they hear the sounds of the royal orchestra.   The conspiracy unfolds in verse 12 among the jealous Chaldeans, resentful of the Jews in the government; after all, in just the previous chapter Daniel and his three friends had been promoted to high places in the kingdom.  Daniel 3:12 “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon  … they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”

The coercion is described in verses 13 to 15, where Nebuchadnezzar flies into a rage as he challenges and attempts to coerce the three men into obeying him and bowing down to the idol.  Nebuchadnezzar’s folly really comes out when, in verse 15, he pits himself and his power against God:  “and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”  He had forgotten how great Daniel’s God was, from only a short time before.

Another great MacArthur quote on this point:

“When you pit yourself against the eternal God you have met your match and he meets his match in this chapter and in succeeding ones as we shall see. Had he forgotten that Daniel’s God was greater than all the gods of Babylon, including his own gods who couldn’t answer his dreams and help him in any way, shape or form? It seems as though the idolatrous fool in the midst of his egomania had forgotten that.”

Courage is shown in the response of Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego.  They don’t compromise in any way, but boldly and courageously answer the king, that no matter what, they will not bow down to his image.  Verse 19 shows the consequences — with an interesting sidepoint here too, that Nebuchadnezzar in his rage also shows great stupidity.  After all, if you want to punish and torture someone, you actually turn the heat down and prolong it.  Increasing the heat just means less trauma, it’s over that much quicker.

The next C word, companion, shows up soon, in verses 24 and 25, where Nebuchadnezzar looks down and sees four men walking around, and the fourth has the form like a son of the gods.  MacArthur points out that Nebuchadnezzar saw something that, from his pagan viewpoint, was an angel.  We don’t really know from the text if this was an actual Christophany, Christ in pre-incarnate form, as was the case in some scenes from Genesis, or an angel.  More to the point is that this companion, this angel, came to Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego, to explain what was going on, that God would preserve them and they were not going to burn up.

MacArthur: “I believe they knew they weren’t burning and God sent His angel to care for them. When the Bible says that the Lord says in Hebrews 13:5 ‘I will never leave you or forsake you,’ I think God means that. And I think God sends those who are His angels to care for us in the midst of dire circumstances.”

Finally, the commendation:  Nebuchadnezzar had met his match, and now he addresses the three as “servants of the Most High God.”  Nebuchadnezzar, and all the governors and other rulers gathered around, investigated and saw that the fire had no power over these three, that their hair was not singed and their clothes did not even smell of smoke.  Now Nebuchadnezzar blesses the God of Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego, and gives the three even greater rule and power, and decrees that anyone who speaks a word against their God shall be cut in pieces and their houses turned into rubble.

A final point regarding Nebuchadnezzar’s profession here: again it is not a true conversion, but he fits the true God into his polytheistic scheme, that this God is the top one.  MacArthur:  “he is simply acknowledging what theologians call ‘henotheism.’ And that is the belief that certain people and certain nations have their own gods. And in a henotheistic way he has room in his polytheism for the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and he is willing to say at this point that this is the Most High God of all the gods…that’s a far cry from saying He’s the only God, isn’t it?”

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