Nebuchadnezzar was one of the most powerful and longest-reigning monarchs of ancient Babylon. Through his many military campaigns, he became ruler over an extensive empire. Embarking on a monumental building programme, the Chaldean king erected magnificent buildings and raised up huge parks, pristine gardens, new canals and waterways.
Though he was a heathen king, God extended grace to him on a few occasions, one of which is recorded in Daniel Chapter 3.
In Daniel Chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar manifested his pride and tyranny when he commanded a golden image to be built – one that would reflect the greatness of Babylon as well as his reverence for the god he worshipped (v 1). “The image was that of Bel, the Babylonian tutelary god; or rather, Nebuchadnezzar himself, the personification and representative of the Babylonian empire” (J F Brown Commentary).
The narrative continues with the gathering of “the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up” (v 2).
The dedication of the image of gold was to be done with solemn music – “the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick” (v 5). Added to the command was a threat of death for those who defied the king’s decree: “And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (v 6).
We are told in verse 7 that all who were present at the dedication of the golden image “fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up”. However, three young Jewish captives – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – refused to bow before the image. Responding in “rage and fury” (v 13), Nebuchadnezzar warned them of the dire consequences of resisting his command. At the same time, he gave them another opportunity to comply with his decree: “Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (v 15).
But the three Jews remained unfazed. They gave the king a firm and calm answer which reflected their godly devotion and their unwillingness to compromise their faith: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king” (vv 16-17).
It is clear from their answer that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had resolved to honour God, and saw no need to furnish reasons for their non-compliance: “… we are not careful to answer thee in this matter” (v 16). From their response, we note that they did not speak reproachfully of the king nor the image he had set up. Neither did they murmur against his injustice or tyranny. Determined to be true to God, they calmly committed the cause to Him Who “is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace” (v 17). Should God choose not to deliver them, “we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” whatever the consequences might be (v 18).
When faced with a difficult situation, let us, like these faithful men, speak wisely and sensitively. Resolve to be true to the Lord and leave the matter with Him Who knows best how to guide and help us, even in the face of death.
Angered by the bold defiance of his young prisoners, Nebuchadnezzar commanded that the furnace be heated up seven more times (v 19). The heat was so intense that the men who cast Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fire died (v 22). However, the three Hebrews survived the fiery ordeal unscathed. Not even a hair of their heads had been singed nor was there the smell of smoke upon their clothes (v 27).
Interestingly, while witnessing the execution, the king saw a fourth man in the fire. Amazed and “astonied” he testified that “the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (v 25). The appearance of the Son of God – Jesus Christ Himself – caused Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge that the deliverance was a miracle, wrought by the awesome power of God.
What was the impact of this miraculous deliverance upon Nebuchadnezzar? Calling out to the three Hebrews, he addressed them as “servants of the most high God” (v 26). He then blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego “who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God” (v 28). So impressed was the king by this demonstration of God’s almighty power that he immediately passed a decree forbidding any one from speaking against the Hebrew God. He also promoted the three faithful servants (vv 29-30).
God had dealt very graciously with this proud heathen ruler. Nebuchadnezzar saw with his own eyes, not only the power of the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, but the Son of God Himself. Though he promptly issued a royal edict to preserve the name of the God of the Jews, and to promote the young men, his heart was not touched by the grace of God till some years later. Sadly, despite the Lord’s forbearance with him, Nebuchadnezzar was still a stranger to divine grace at this point in time.
Brethren, let us check our own lives. Do we fully appreciate God’s kind and merciful dealings with us? Or are we like Nebuchadnezzar, a stranger to divine grace? Indeed, an outward act or profession of faith is vain without a corresponding conviction of our souls. May we respond appropriately to God’s grace by loving and serving Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. (to be continued …)