Nebuchadnezzar’s Golden Image and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego
Daniel Chapter 3 is one of the most interesting chapters in the Bible. Most believers are familiar with the story. Cartoons and Sunday school classes have planted pictures in the minds of many children. Oftentimes, that is the only exposure Christians get to the truths of this great historical event. Yes, it was a historical event, and it was also prophetic, establishing a picture of what God’s people will endure in the last days. And so we embark on a journey through the fiery furnace. When we finish, several prophetic pearls will be available for the taking.
Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army conquered Jerusalem in 605 BC. They killed thousands of Jews and deported many to serve as slaves in Babylon. 4 young boys were among those chosen for deportation: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They descended from the tribe of Judah, lineage of King David, and were related to the current kings of Judah. They were approximately fifteen years old. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered the chief of his eunuchs, Ashpenaz, to groom and educate them. These young lads were castrated and made ready to serve in the king’s court. Chaldean teachers taught them the language, literature and culture of the Babylonians. Babylonian officials gave them pagan names to erase all connections with their Jewish heritage. Daniel was named Belteshazzar, which means ‘Bel, the perfect king’. Daniel means ‘God is my judge’ in Hebrew. Hananiah, which means ‘the Lord is gracious,’ was named Shadrach, meaning ‘illumined by Ra’—sun god. Mishael—‘who is what God is,’ was named Meshach, meaning ‘belongs to Shak—the wine goddess. Azariah, ‘the Lord is my helper,’ was given the name Abed-nego, ‘servant of Nego (or Nebo)—a god of vegetation, and perhaps Lucifer, himself. These Babylonian gods were very popular in that culture. They track back several thousand years to the first Babylonian civilization, where human deification became commonplace. (Much more information about the origin of polytheism can be obtained from my previous articles on Nimrod). The god, Bel, was known as Baal in the Old Testament. King Nebuchadnezzar took a name derived from the god, Nebo, as did other rulers of the Babylonian Empire. The first chapter in the Book of Daniel provides the above information. We now have a foundation for a proper understanding of Chapter 3. Let us proceed with our study.
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. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent word to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the herald loudly proclaimed: “To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.” Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up (Daniel 3: 1-7).
The proud king Nebuchadnezzar ordered his craftsmen to create a very large gold plated statue to commemorate the greatness and glory of his kingdom. The image was made in the king’s likeness. It reflected his dream, interpreted by Daniel and recorded in Daniel 2: 36-38. The God-given dream was actually a prophetic vision describing the order of world empires for the next 2,600 years. These world superpowers would enslave God’s chosen nation, Israel. This long period of time is often termed ‘the age of the Gentiles,’ because God ceased His dealings with Israel. The Babylonian Empire was the first of these world empires, and Nebuchadnezzar represented the gold head of the metallic statue envisioned in chapter 2. The Scripture records the height and width of the gold image in the beginning of chapter 3. Why does the Bible record these dimensions? What significance does this additional information have for the student of Scripture? It would be easier and just as descriptive to say the golden image was as large as a tree. But numbers are very important in God’s Word. The number six is the number referring to man. Adam was created on the sixth day of creation, for example. Other Scriptures citing the number, six, seem to cast it in a negative light. The number ‘66’ was used to describe a very wicked man in the Old Testament, the Philistine Goliath.
Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was clothed with scale-armor, which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze. He also had bronze greaves on his legs and a bronze javelin slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and the head of his spear weighed six hundred shekels of iron; his shield-carrier also walked before him (1 Samuel 17: 4-7).
Now the weight of gold which came in to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold… (1 Kings 10: 14).
6 is the number of man and multiples of that number imply increasing power. The number, 666, describes a man with ultimate man-power and authority on this earth. It is the number used to describe the last wicked and powerful ruler of this world, the antichrist.
And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six. (Rev 13:14-18).
Goliath and Nebuchadnezzar were powerful men. They plotted the destruction of God’s people. God’s Word describes them because they provide a picture of a powerful man, possessed by Satan, who will terrorize the world and attempt to stamp out God’s chosen people. He is the antichrist. Scripture uses the number 6 in multiples to describe sinful wicked men who come against God and His people.
Nebuchadnezzar ordered all men in positions of authority in the Babylonian Empire to bow down and worship the statue. The above quoted Scripture from the Book of Revelation informs us a similar event will occur in the last days of this world. Those who refuse to bow to the image of the antichrist will be subject to starvation and capital punishment. Previous rulers of kingdoms in ancient history commonly commanded the worship of their subjects. This led to human deification, a practice detestable by God.
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures – (Romans 1: 22-23).
It will take less room to summarize the next section of Daniel chapter 3. Chaldeans brought an indictment to King Nebuchadnezzar against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. The King had previously appointed these Jews to administer the government of Babylon. The Chaldeans charged they had refused to bow to the golden image the king had erected. King Nebuchadnezzar, in his rage, gave these three men one more opportunity to bow to the image, or they would be thrown into the fiery furnace.
“But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3: 15b-18).
The book of Daniel is a book of prophecy. The latter part of the book prophesies events in the last years of this world, when the antichrist is in control. These three men have set a prophetic example for all followers of God who live in these last days. God’s children must not bow to the beast nor become a part of his worldly system. Even in these troublesome times, worship of the One true God can be the only option for believers intending to spend eternity with Jesus.
Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. He commanded certain valiant warriors who were in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in order to cast them into the furnace of blazing fire. Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. For this reason, because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up (Daniel 3: 19-23).
These men did not escape the wrath of the most powerful man of the world at that time. But the above Scriptures are critically important for the reader to understand. Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace to be heated seven times its usual temperature. Once again, numbers lend special meaning to God’s Word. Seven is always the number representing God—especially in prophetic literature. The most powerful man of the world cannot hold a candle against the little finger of the Almighty One. If Nebuchadnezzar used the number seven here it was simply to command his servants to heat the furnace as hot as it would go. They likely had no thermostats or temperature gauges at that time. But why record the number seven? Could not the Scripture read: ‘Add fuel to the fire and get this furnace as hot as it will go!’ The number seven is clearly used here for a good reason. It indicates God is in control despite the appearance of events. Seven is always greater than six and will win every time. Furthermore, it is curious to note these three Jewish men were bound and unable to move freely. They were carried to the mouth of the blazing furnace and their captors were slain by the intense heat. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego fell helplessly into the fiery furnace clothed and still bound. What does all this mean? The answer will come soon enough, but we already know the God of seven had the events of that day fully under His control.
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them (Daniel 3: 24-27).
WOW! This is exciting! Three Jewish men fell into the fiery furnace, and now there are four walking about freely, unaffected by the fire around them. The fourth has a different appearance—of a god or perhaps an angel. Many theologians have taught this forth individual was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, Himself. That would certainly make sense. God is in full control of these events, as we have discussed. But what makes this even more likely is that the three Jewish men are now walking around in their clothes without any ropes binding them. The ropes are nowhere to be seen. Someone has loosened them and the fire has burned them to ashes! Even King Nebuchadnezzar is astounded! His previous challenge, “What god can deliver you from my hands” seems almost comical.
Remember, the Book of Daniel is a prophetic book. This story seems preposterous. It could only be used as a children’s tale in Sunday school or perhaps a cartoon. But it really happened in history! Archeologists have unearthed the remains of a large furnace in Babylon used for human sacrifice that fits the description in this chapter. God uses the events of ancient history to foretell His future work performed on a much grandeur scale. And this is the rest of the story.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were faithful young Jewish men. Even their Jewish names represented their close relationship to their God. Hananiah means ‘God is gracious.’ Mishael means, ‘who is as God is,” and Azariah means, ‘the Lord is my help.’ Their Jewish names were given to us to reveal the work of a mighty God in their lives—especially at this moment in time. It is unfortunate we know them by their worldly pagan names. That is the work of Satan. But remember, seven is always greater than six! Satan may disguise the work of God, but the Lord has the victory! Although these men were forced to live in a worldly system that opposed God to an extreme, they tenaciously held to their faith. They were not ashamed to portray it before pagans who hated their God. These Jewish men were bound to the worldly system. They were bound to King Nebuchadnezzar. Ultimately, they were physically bound and thrown in a blazing furnace of fire. But the fourth individual—perhaps Jesus Christ—removed their bonds and freed them from ‘the tie that binds.’
Fire is often used in prophetic literature to describe God’s judgment. The world is rapidly approaching a period of time the prophet, Jeremiah, referred to as ‘the time of Jacob’s trouble.’ God named Jacob ‘Israel’ after an all-night wrestling match with Him. Israel has struggled with God continuously from that point forward. The struggle will soon be for life or death of the nation.
For thus says the Lord, ‘I have heard a sound of terror, of dread, and there is no peace. Ask now, and see if a male can give birth. Why do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in childbirth? And why have all faces turned pale? Alas! For that day is great, there is none like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s distress, but he will be saved from it’ (Jer. 30: 5-7).
Many other Old Testament prophets agree in their predictions. The prophet Zechariah records the following:
“It will come about in all the land,” declares the Lord, “that two parts in it will be cut off and perish; but the third will be left in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God’” (Zech.13: 8-9).
The Scripture tells us that two thirds of Israel will perish before the end in the midst of God’s fiery judgment. But one third of the nation will overcome the flames and survive as His holy remnant. Jesus will remove their blindness and break their bonds of sin. They will call upon Him, whom they have pierced and He will hear them.
I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn (Zech.12: 10).
Matthew devotes an entire chapter quoting Jesus’ teaching on the tribulation. Several verses of that chapter stand out like a flashing red light.
Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved (Matt 24: 9-13).
For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short (Matt 24: 21-22).
The fiery furnace in Daniel’s time is but a picture of the fiery furnace of God’s judgment coming to Israel and the entire world. Three Jewish boys trusted God with their entire being and Jesus broke the bonds of their affliction and delivered them into a relationship with their Redeemer and Messiah. The Jewish remnant of Israel will likewise be thrown into the fiery furnace of God’s wrath and purified to a precious nugget of gold. Jesus will also remove their bonds and deliver them from tribulation into the glorious Millennial Kingdom where the Lion of the tribe of Judah rules the world.
Every reader of this article—Jewish and Gentile—must take one critical truth into their living space. Sin is the ‘tie that binds’ for every human being born into this world. This tie is not a blessing. It is an eternal curse. Sin ties us to the world. It connects us to our earthy father, Adam. It binds us to Satan, and its tentacles even tug us into the fiery furnace of hell. “Sin is the sting of death, and the power of sin is the Law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15: 56-57)! No human being can break this bond. Only Jesus Christ can break this bondage and free us for an eternal life with Him. He paid the price for sin on the cross and reaped the victory through His resurrection. Praise