It is thought that roughly 18 years elapsed between the time that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was recovered and interpreted, and the time when his image of gold was set up on the plain of Dura. This image most likely had a political objective behind it. It was plainly some sort of test of allegiance that was required of all peoples, nations, and languages in the king’s whole empire. Perhaps it was modeled in reminiscence of the king’s dream, in which the glory and overthrow of the successive world-powers had been revealed. It may, indeed, have been an image of Nebuchadnezzar himself.
The great day arrived upon which the dedication-ceremony for this colossal golden image was to take place. Beyond the inner circle of official persons of rank and high station swept an immense multitude of people. They stood with their faces toward the image – ready for the act of homage which was the particular business of the day. The solemnity of the occasion was heightened by music. When the great multitude had gathered, a public herald proclaimed the order that as soon as the sound of the music was heard, every man, woman, and child was to fall down on their faces and worship the image. Anyone who failed to obey would be cast, “in the twinkling of an eye” (for such is the literal translation of the herald’s expression), into a burning fiery furnace! And the vast majority of the persons there would be able to prostrate themselves before the image without violating any principle that was dear to their souls. Whether or not they believed in one deity who was superior to all the rest, it made little difference to them to add one more god to the whole pantheon of idols that they already adored. But for the devoted Jew, such a proclamation violated every principle of heart and life! Every power in his soul must have immediately felt a spark of rebellion as the words fell upon his ears.
The mighty multitude obeyed the king’s orders. At the sound of the music, the numerous and imposing assembly confessed, by one act of bowing down on their faces, that their bodies and souls belonged to the king. But look! Three men among the crowd remained standing on their feet when the multitude fell at the signal from the band! These men were none other than the three friends of Daniel. And certain persons, seeing their opportunity, quickly informed the king about the three dissenters.
These tidings threw Nebuchadnezzar into a furious passion! Accordingly, the three friends were summoned to appear before him and answer to the charge. “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,” demanded the king, “that ye do not serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?” Their answer was ready; their minds were already made up. It would do no good to state their reasons or argue with the angry king. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace.” With this statement, their feet are on firm and eternal foundations. Of His power, doubt was impossible! But suppose that God did not deliver them? What then? Well, “if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up!”
The death-sentence was immediately pronounced. The furnace was ordered to be raised to the highest possible temperature; men of might were commanded to bind them, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. And all this was done. They were seized just as they were and thrown into the midst of the fire. And while executing the king’s will, a calamity occurred which made the miraculous deliverance of the three friends even more striking! The executioners themselves were caught by the flames and burned to death.
The furnace was constructed in such a way the king could see into it. He looked, saw, and was astonished! He could hardly believe his eyes. His memory, for a moment, was confused. “Were not three men cast into the furnace, and were they not bound?” he enquired of his privy-councilors. For behold, there were not three persons – but four – walking in the midst of the fire! And none of them were hurt! Three could be recognized, but the fourth was unknown. However, His aspect was so benevolent and majestic that the very words which fell from the king’s lips were, “The appearance of the fourth is like unto the Son of God!” Worldly power, which was seemingly irresistible, had stepped out of its realm; and thereby it had come into collision with the Kingdom of Jehovah, in the consciences of these three faithful men who were without any power in themselves to resist the heathen king. But there was no power like that of steadfast faith in the Shepherd of Israel Who led His people like a flock! The Son of God appeared at this very moment in history and walked with His children in the midst of the burning fiery furnace, just as He is always present with His suffering people in the midst of all their afflictions and persecutions!
As Nebuchadnezzar called to the three friends in the flames, he acknowledged the supremacy of their God. And so he commanded them to come forth; and as they did so, not one trace of the power of the fire could be detected by sight or smell. The king was overwhelmed with wonder and delight, for their God had shown before his eyes that He could and would deliver His servants who worshiped Him, and he acknowledged Him to be “the Most High God.”
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for being our Divine Companion and our Good Shepherd in the midst of the fires of affliction, even in our present day! Amen.
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illustration by Charles Foster, 1915