Daniel 3, Faith under Fire, and Nebuchadnezzar’s Challenge

Lecture 3 Daniel 3

No Hope: This week we continue our study of the book of Daniel in Daniel 3. Our three themes have been Faith, hope and Political Satire, but this passage is different. Chapter 3 only has the elements of the faithful presence of Shadrach, Meschach, and Adeb-Nego in Babylon, and the Satire of King Nebuchadnezzar. I am sorry, but there is no “Hope” in this passage.

Round Two: This week we look at round two of three with Nebuchadnezzar. I don’t know about you, but when I read this story I cannot help but see a somewhat familiar tone in the characterization of Nebuchadnezzar. I don’t know if he reminds me more of a devilish despot or Homer Simpson. Here we see a wonderfully crafted passage that simultaneously instructs the believer how to stand up for the just and right cause, and critiqued the pagan nations in their pride and impiety.

Faith in the Face of Imminent Vegetarianism: In chapter 1 we saw how God miraculously preserved his sons by miraculously preserving through the trial of eating vegetarian (Dan 1). There we saw that Daniel and his cohort had resolved “That he would not defile himself…” (1:8). We also see that God granted Daniel graciously to be able to obey with ease (v 9). God miraculously delivered them from the ravaging effects of a vegetarian diet.

Tension, Does God Always Deliver? Daniel 1 is a beautiful picture for God preserving his people through trials. However, one must also come to grips with the fact that God does not always deliver in this life! Bad things happen to good people. particularly, here we see that bad people bring God’s people to court.  This is what chapter 2 deals with. Should one mechanistically assume that God will deliver him from the clutches of evil if he is faithful? The answer in this passage is, no!

Illustration: let us say, for example, you get a phone call that your favorite child was just in a horrible car wreck. You bound to the car, drive furiously down the road, arrive at the hospital while parking in the red zone and ask the receptionist if your child has been admitted there. Just then you get a call from you child saying that they are unharmed. What relief that you would feel! You would be praising and thanking God for his protection, providential care, and be saying to yourself, “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and keep his commandments!” (Rom 8:28) Surely God is good all the time! (Psalm 107)

But, what if you did not get that call? What if the receptionist said to you, “I am sorry. We need you to sit down. We have some difficult news.”  Is God still good? Do all things still work together for the Good of those who love the Lord and keep his commandments? How can this be good? That is the subject of Daniel 3.

Shadrach, Meschach, and Adeb-Nego were confronted with dire straits. They were surely going to die. Nebuchadnezzar even asked them “What God is there who can deliver you from my hand?” (v 15). To which they replied, in short, our God may be able, but he may not be willing, nevertheless we will die for this cause! They are repugnant to the king, and it leads to his rage (vv 19-20).

They were willing to risk everything for the sake of obeying the commandments of their Covenant Lord. They even assume that he will not deliver them! Nevertheless they intend to die in fire.

This passage teaches you how to suffer rightly. There are two things that we can learn from this great act of faith. The Objective, and Conditions

  • The Objective of Suffering
  • The Right Conditions for Suffering


Victors or Victims: Most Christian literature on suffering is deformed with regards the objective end result it seeks.  A victim mentality fuels their way of engaging this world. Christians are motivated by a narrative-myth of their plight which is created by their political opponents. This creates resentment toward the political opponent and motivates churches to action.  

Illustration: Think for example of the way that television debates issues. Both sides, right and left, tend to seek retribution from the other and justify it by some narrative. They create a narrative/story which frames the issue about the other side and creates a resentment toward them.  Thanks to this neither side gets anywhere.

One great 20th century thinker said about this form of argumentation in the Church that the moment a group assumes a victim status, they have instantly made themselves illegitimate. Similar to saying, “innocent people don’t run,” here we could say, “legitimate groups don’t assume victim status.” It shows that they are not validly accepted, and with good reason. They tend to create an uproar when they feel victimized.  

For further reading on this I highly recommend James Davidson Hunter, To Change the World. It is painfully clear on the subject. For more on this see my https://benrochester.com/2010/06/22/exegesis-of-i-peter-211-12/.

Victors: The Point of suffering is to be consistent with what we believe to be legitimate, true, and worth suffering for. Therefore the Christian should seek to suffer for legitimacy. Suffering for legitimacy does not use ressentiment for motivation. Instead legitimacy is the point of suffering. We are so sure that this is the case. We so profoundly believe that this is true and right, that we will suffer any cost that we may do the just and right thing.  

For Shadrach, Meschach, and Adeb-Nego it was not a matter of promoting an agenda, but for the sake of simply doing the right thing.  

Notice in 3:18 they say, “Let it be known to you, oh King, that we are not going to serve you God’s or worship the image which you have set up.” There is no elucidation here, but implied in this a response to King Nebuchadnezzar’s Challenge, “What god can deliver you from my hands?” (v 15). They shirk that question and simply say, our God may or may not, but we will do the just and right thing anyway. They are profoundly uninspiring! They don’t say, “our God will surely deliver us” but simply, “Well, God may or may not deliver us, but that is not the issue. We are going to obey him anyway.”

They Don’t Take the Bait of the Challenge: The Words in verse 17 are especially interesting, though it usually says, “If is be so…” it should instead be translated “If our God whom we worship is able to save us from the fiery furnace and from your hand, oh King, then he will save us. 18 But if not [able], let it be known…” The “הֵן” “If not”  in verse 18 refers to the word “יָכִיל” which means he is able. The idea is that they are not even asking whether God is able to save. That is not the point to their suffering. They are perfectly willing to die without any question for the sake of the just and right cause.[1]

The interpretation then is that they are shirking the challenge and saying to Nebuchadnezzar, “We don’t care if we get rescued. This is simply a hazard of the job.” The point is suffering is not used to promote an agenda or justify a hostile revolution, but simply the cost of living under Covenant to the highest authority. This side of eternity, you will suffer for the sake of doing the right thing.  


Not Gratuitous: One point that is more subtle is the conditions under which one should suffer.

Legally: The biblical view, and what is especially at task here is the duty to suffer legally (e.g. on matters of principle). Peter made this point in

1Pe 4:15-16  “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler;  (16)  but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”

He pointed out that Christians, if they do suffer, it should not be for crimes committed, but for the just and right cause. He calls this “suffering as a Christian.” The principle is not, “make sure that you get your testimony in there somehow…” but rather it is a call to live the Christian life without compromise, even if it results in unwanted consequences from those who are not so keen on righteousness. 

 It is not a matter of manners when being persecuted, but the conditions of persecution. Gratuitous suffering is not Christian suffering. Suffering for having done what is right and refusing to do otherwise is the condition for Christian suffering. We see thin in Daniel 3 in the principle for which Shadrach, Meschach, and Adeb-Nego suffered.

2nd Commandment: the second Commandment says, “You Shall not make for yourself any idol… You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:4-6). In Daniel 3 we see two analogous terms in this passage, “נפל” “bow down” and “פּלח” “Serve.” Notice verses 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, and 15. Also, notice 12, 14, 17, and 18. The Hebrew words are different here, but the analogous similarity is obvious. Daniel was harkening back to the principle in Exodus 20, “Make no Idols” which includes the worship “סגד” and in the forms of bowing and serving. Bowing has to do with serving an idol, but serving has to do with partaking in the rights and lifestyle required by foreign God’s and false religions. There are many subtle ways that this commandment applies to life in this pagan world. Nevertheless, the most heinous manifestation of this Law is the bowing to a false God imaged in a graven idol. This is the most superstitious, dubious, and rebellious act I the purview of this commandment.


Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-Nego were tested based on principle. What does one do when confronted on matters of principle? The choice is always to obey the just and right cause.

Pragmatism versus Principle: Therefore, Shadrach, Meschach, and Adeb-Nego were clear  that this was wrong. Further, the author clearly shows that they understood this in verse 18.  The application here then is that God is a jealous God and wants us to worship him, but also that His commands come before personal comfort. Again, though this has been mentioned before, the Christian life is not pragmatistic, but is principled. This does not mean that there is no wisdom to pragmatic acts, but the Christian, in a system of philosophy does not simply seek that which will keep him safe bodily, but seeks to do the just and right thing. 

Application: One of the great evils of the time is that of doubting plain command of Christ. One asks, ‘what will be the result of it?’ But, what do you have to do with results? To which you answer, ‘I may lose my position.’ But, a soldier cannot deliberate when told to go and charge into open fire. He is very likely to lose his “position” and his life. Nevertheless he is bound to do it. To which you respond, ‘I may lose my effectiveness, opportunities of usefulness.’ But, what do you mean by “usefulness.” Do you mean that doing evil will make you useful?[2] 


Quick Review:  Last time we saw that Nebuchadnezzar was reduced from the monolithic giant of the ancient Kings to a joke of himself. Well, Nebuchadnezzar is still o the descent. Here we see the second of two rounds with him.

Las time we saw that the tension in the story led Nebuchadnezzar to recognize that he was not the ultimate authority in the universe, but rather had derived this authority from a holy God, who reveals mystery. We concluded that his erratic behavior in chapter 2 was due to implicit notion that God exists, and therefore Nebuchadnezzar would have to one day stand in that court as a rebel. The prospect terrified Nebuchadnezzar.

He Built a Statue: Nevertheless the effects of the event were short lived.  Here we see one of the great satirical turns in the Bible. After Nebuchadnezzar has the grand and humbling vision of a statue which represented the fleeting empires of the gentiles which will be utterly destroyed by God’s Kingdom, then he builds a statue, of himself, made of gold, and makes people worship it.

Dan 3:1  “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.’

This leaves the reader breathless at the grand stupidity of Nebuchadnezzar. He was just confronted with the reality of the transcendent God who orders the universe, sets up and puts down kings and kingdoms, and deserves worship from all powers and dominions. Yet, now he worships himself, and sets up a kingdom for himself where he is worshiped. This is the act of exchanging the worship of the creator for the creation, which Paul mentions in Romans 1-2. Pure and simple it is idolatry.

Something at which to Marvel: I don’t know about you, but there is something about Nebuchadnezzar to me. I think that I see an analogy in my own heart  where I suppress the truth with unrighteousness. The reason we sin is because we lack true and hearty trust that God does exist and will judge sin. Still, I persist. Still, even the Christian can identify with Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan king. He has such an honesty with himself. He worships himself, and sets himself up on the throne.  

Nebuchadnezzar’ Second Conversion: So here we see the “second  conversion” of Nebuchadnezzar.[3] Some principles will help us see the nature of the critique of the Babylonian culture of that day. Nebuchadnezzar Recognized God, and promoted the God of Israel, and in doing so showed the authority of God over the wrath of this king. What do we make of this?


 in verse 26 Nebuchadnezzar calls out to Shadrach, Meschach, and Adeb-Nego “Come out, you servants of the most High God…” (v 26). Has God suddenly regenerated Nebuchadnezzar’s heart?

 How is it that God calls pagan kings to submit to him How is it that the Christian can be involved in this world and bring about the rule of Christ, even though sin has made the world hostile to God? The answer that the reformed have given is Common Grace. Let me define this further.

I define this phenomenon as Limited General Grace

General in that the dominion mandate is open to all men, all truth is God’s truth because created the world analogous to his character. Thus all men learn that truth though they suppress it in sin.

Grace in the sense that God providentially cares for all men, saint and sinner alike. All things that come to pass. Thus the continuing use of culture reflects the input of knowledge of the divinely analogous order of the universe to man. The providential upholding and the gifting of the human race to utilize that order come from God.

Limited in the telos of the thing. The grace which God shows to all men generally in creation, scripture, and providential care are only to the earthly and temporal benefit, e.g. not salvific. From the situational perspective (a posteriori) these things are good (eg Nebuchadnezzar blessing the God of Heaven), but from the ultimate perspective they are all evil (Isa 64:6-7, ultimately self serving)[4]

Application Bavink said we are only supposed to hate the world insofar as it is sinful since God is the creator and gives  all men the ability to serve him in a temporal capacity for the sake of the continuation of human societies.[5] Nebuchadnezzar and General Grace: I think that this is where Nebuchadnezzar was when he declared God the “Most High” (v 26).  He was recognizing God’s truth. Further, the Christian can rest content with a work that reveals and leads all parts of this world into God’s truth, even if it does not lead to ultimate salvific ends. Rest assured that your work in this world is good and you can and should influence your own sphere of influence. 


 Verse 29 is just flat out funny.

Dan 3:29  “Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”

The curious coupling of Israel’s God along with Nebuchadnezzar’s threat is strangely ironic. It calls all of Nebuchadnezzar’s people to a respect of the God of Israel. They are not to “speak against” Him (Which means that they are not to make declarations against the Jewish laws). Nevertheless, he attaches this strange and tortuous sanction onto the edict, “torn limb from limb” and “Homes become rubbish heap.” What a great threat!  Obviously Shadrach, Meschach, and Adeb-Nego had no part in the substance of the decree because it carries many unbiblical tones and methods of law enforcement, but nevertheless, he once again promoted Israel’s God.

This foreshadows the similar kinds of events in the next chapter. Nebuchadnezzar will again forget who the true potentate is. He will suppress the truth in unrighteousness. He will exchange the truth for a lie. Once again we will see that Nebuchadnezzar will have one more round with the God of Israel next time.


 the Hand of Nebuchadnezzar versus the Hand of God is the main point of this chapter. Hands are an anthropomorphism  which means authority, or ability to act. Here we see who the ultimate power is, Yahweh or Nebuchadnezzar.

The Challenge: The drama unfolds here as Nebuchadnezzar took this as a challenge from Shadrach, Meschach, and Adeb-Nego. In verse 15 he says, “What God is able to save you from my hand?” Like Marty McFly, he cannot be called chicken without being goaded into a rash decision. Nebuchadnezzar fulminates with anger at Shadrach, Meschach, and Adeb-Nego when they respond to him. I think that what enraged him was that he was trying to pick a fight.

Think about it this way, Nebuchadnezzar was confronted in the last chapter with the reality of a Holy God. If he can challenge that God by destroying Shadrach, Meschach, and Adeb-Nego then he can curb his fear of the God of Israel. So he becomes enraged at their confidence and courage and casts them into the fire (19-23).

He then finds out, again, that he is not the ultimate potentate in the universe. Instead he is reduced to blithering in from of Shadrach, Meschach, and Adeb-Nego “You servants of the most high God, come out…” (26).

Point of Contention: He then went on to describe exactly the dramatic point of contention, namely that God is the ultimate power in the universe. He says it in two ways. First, he notes that God sent his angel. God acted to protect his people. Second, he harkened back to the challenge in the first place. Is God able to deliver you from my hand? He answers this in verse 29, “inasmuch as there is no other God who is able to deliver in this way.”

This harkens back to two events in Israel’s life where God delivered his people by direct action. First, Dueteronomy 32:27 makes the challenge  from the enemies of God, who by attacking God’s people challenge him,

Deu 32:27  Had I not feared the provocation by the enemy, That their adversaries would misjudge, That they would say, “Our hand is triumphant, And the LORD has not done all this.”‘

God then responded by delivering his people and judging those nations in order to prove to the nations that,

Deu 32:39  ‘See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.

Thus God’s “hand” acted to deliver his people.

Second, this also harkens back to the deliverance of the people of God form Sennacharib’s Army. In II Kings 18 the generals provoke Israel by saying,

2Ki 18:28-30  Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in Judean, saying, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria.  (29)  “Thus says the king, ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand;  (30)  nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, “The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”

Make no mistake, this is a challenge to the God of Heaven. It is a nervous challenge which attempts to challenge God by attacking his people. Similar to Daniel’s account, God intervened.

The point is that this is a challenge from Nebuchadnezzar which has been tried by many people. By this description of the challenge Daniel critiques the way that the pagan challenges God when he attacks the Christian. There is a secret challenge going on in his heart which is suppressing the truth that God exists by destroying those who he redeemed. This is revealing of the heart of the pagan. They attack and hurt others because they are testing God. They are secretly seeking, But they are at the same time trying to suppress the truth.

[1] I am indebted to Dr. Brian Estelle for this insight.

[2] Adapted from CH Spurgeon

[3] That is of course tongue in Cheek. There is a long tradition of people who believe that Nebuchadnezzar was a believer, but it is manifest that though he recognized God to be true, he was not part of the Covenant people, nor did he have any inclination of justification for sins before a holy God.

[4] Van Til, Common Grace

[5] Bavinck, Calvin and Common Grace, 124, he goes on, “So to view life, as a vocatio Dei,—this is the first principle, the foundation of all moral action; this imparts unity to our life and symmetry to all its parts; this assigns to each one his individual place and task, and provides the precious comfort”