Chapter 3 The Fiery Trial Of Faith

One might put over this chapter the caption, “History repeats itself.” God does not see fit to reveal to us or to others our immediate future nor yet the imminent future of the nations during this age of grace, but He has revealed in this book and through many of the Old Testament prophets the ultimate future of Israel, as well as that of the world and, yes, in one instance at least, the prospect of His church. As for us, His redeemed people today, He has been pleased to divulge the thrilling fact that our Lord Jesus is going to come again and take us Home to be forever with Himself. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:16, 17). So far as I know this is the only event foretold relating to the church, and that is its departure from this world—the hope of the church we speak of as the “rapture.” But the Bible has a great deal to say about the future of the gentile nations and the future of Israel, and Daniel is one of the instruments God has seen fit to employ for that purpose.

The chapter now before us, concerned with the great image Nebuchadnezzar had set up, gives us a most interesting forecast of the events of the last days when God will again deal with His people Israel. It sets forth the worship of the image and the consequent persecution of all who refuse to bow down thereto; this can be compared to the worship of the beast spoken of in Revelation (Rev. 13:14-17). Nebuchadnezzar conceived the idea of cementing his widely scattered empire by creating a unified worship—the worship of himself, for there seems little doubt that in his big golden statue he had himself in view. Political power was to become more absolute by religious ecumenicity. What a graphic picture of things we already see in our own day! Right now we have both political and religious ecumenical (worldwide) movements, foreshadows of the day when a great dictator shall arise, called the “beast” in Revelation 13:1, who seeks to unify and strengthen his power by demanding worship (Rev. 13:12-17). Revelation 13 describes the worship of the future superman, the ruler of the empire to come; and this worship also is in connection with an image, as in Daniel. That worship will trigger the fearful persecutions of the “great tribulation.” Just as in Daniel 3, many will then refuse to bow and shall be made to feel the fiery flames of the “burning fiery furnace”—the fires of persecution. Let us compare Daniel 3 with Revelation 13:

1. A great image is erected, and all are ordered to worship it (Dan. 3:5). There is an image set up and men are told to worship it (Rev. 13:14, 15).

2. Those who refuse to bow were to be instantly killed (Dan. 3:6; Rev. 13:15).

3. The measurements of Nebuchadnezzar’s image were 60 by 6 cubits (Dan. 3:1). The world dictator also has the number 6 attached to him; his number is 6 6 6 (Rev. 13:18). The number 6 in the Bible speaks of man’s labor and failure to reach the number 7, which suggests perfection. All man’s powers, pride, and prestige must come to naught. God has man’s number and some day his days will be numbered.

4. The dictator of Daniel was guilty of two glaring sins—idolatry, for he demanded worship which belongs only to God (Dan. 3:5); and impiety, when he defied the true and living God (Dan. 3:15). The same two crimes are laid against the dictator of Revelation. He accepts divine worship (13:4, 15) and he is guilty of blasphemy against God (13:5).

5. Nebuchadnezzar conceived the idea of uniting the many lands under his control into a stronger power by establishing a united religion, for nothing binds men so securely as religious bonds. The dictator of Revelation 13 operates on exactly the same psychology.

6. Nebuchadnezzar is the first mighty despot of the gentile nations seen in the Scriptures; the tyrant of Revelation 13, called the “beast,” will be the last. Nebuchadnezzar was reduced to a beast, as seen in Daniel 4:32, 33, type of the future “beast” of Revelation 13:12 and 17:7.

Now let us take a closer look at the stirring events of our chapter. The king of Babylon set up a gigantic image of a man, made of gold (v. 1). In his dream, narrated and interpreted in the previous chapter, Daniel told him that he, Nebuchadnezzar, was that head of gold. Probably as the result of this the king got big ideas and decided to erect this great image of himself. He was not content to be just the head only, as in that dream image of his; no, now he wanted to be the whole thing, and all of it of gold. He confessed to Daniel (2:47) that Daniel’s God was a God of gods and Lord of kings. He did not own Him as “the” God but only as “a” God. His confession did not go very deep, for in the setting up of this golden statue he took the place of the supreme God to Whom all worship must be addressed. At least seven times in this chapter the nations are told that Nebuchadnezzar had “set up” the image. Ah, how proud man loves the place of exaltation! We see here the deification of man who sets himself up as God. We see exactly the same thing in the coming tribulation (Rev. 13). The beast is worshipped as God, and the name of the true God is blasphemed by him (vv. 4-6). And we see this same trend right now, for everywhere man exalts himself and rules God, as it were, out of His own realm. Four times (vv. 5, 7, 10, and 15) we have a repetition of the list of musical instruments composing this Satanic orchestra which is to put the worshippers into the proper emotional mood to fall down before that which the devil has set up. We don’t need to remind you that in the religious Babylon of our day elaborate rituals, impressive ceremonies, seductive music—all are employed to make false worship attractive to the spiritually blinded souls of men.

We read in verse 7 that at that time, when all the people heard the music, all the people, the nations, and the languages fell down and worshipped the golden image that the king had set up. Even so shall it be in the future day of apostasy, for “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (II Thess. 2:11, 12). We see this to be so in Revelation 13 where in the tribulation period all that dwell upon the earth shall worship the image of the beast.

All? Yes, speaking in general terms, but this does not include all the Jews, for we read that some will not worship and may have to pay with their lives for their faithfulness to God (Rev. 13:8, 15), while others will escape with their lives as we read in chapter twelve about the woman (Israel) that flees into the wilderness. The three Hebrews of our chapter—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (untrue to the heathen names given to them, but true to the God of Israel whom they knew and loved)—picture for us the faithful remnant of Israel in their coming great tribulation who will refuse to bow and worship Satan in that day. Listen to their noble answer to the unholy demand of the king.

We are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 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. But 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 (vv. 16-18).

They told the king plainly that God would deliver them, and so He would. Had they perished in the flames they still would have been delivered from the hand of this monarch, and would have been at Home forever, beyond all pain and grief; they would have won the martyr’s crown For believers to die is truly gain. These three Jews came alive through the furnace of affliction, illustrating how many of the Jews in the future great tribulation will pass unharmed through that fearful furnace of affliction. We see those saved Jews, saved alive through that hour of their sorrow, in the 144,000 sealed for their protection in Revelation 7; we see them again in Revelation 14, seen as having passed through the tribulation; there they stand triumphant on Mount Zion with their Lord. Like these three of our chapter, they have come unscathed through what the prophet Isaiah calls their “furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10). Abraham, away back in Genesis saw that smoking furnace when a great darkness (typical of those dark years of the time of Jacob’s trouble) fell upon him (Gen. 15:12-17). Yes, these three Hebrews came through alive, so will a remnant of Israel in the future, but this is not true of all Israel. Zechariah tells us that in that day two parts of Israel shall be cut off and die, and only one part shall be brought through the fire (Zech. 13:8, 9). That last part refers to those picturing the saved remnant of Israel in the future. But the other two parts of Israel shall be killed. How? One part refers to the apostates in Israel who will worship the beast and the Antichrist; these will be slain by the judgments of God before and at the coming of Christ; the other part are those faithful ones who will be martyrs in that day, laying down their lives for Christ’s sake; they are mentioned in Revelation 11:7; later in that chapter we see them raised from the dead and caught up to glory (vv. 11, 12).

Our chapter calls attention, in the experience of these three, to those who in the future also will emerge unharmed from the furnace of affliction.

These young men would not worship the image Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Why this image here and the one the beast will set up in the future in Revelation 13? Why an image? Is it not Satan’s counterfeit of the real Image? Satan, as has been said, is no originator; he is an imitator and counterfeiter. If Christ has a bride, then the devil has a false bride—the whore of Revelation 17. If our Lord is the Christ, then Satan has his false Christ—the Antichrist. If God has an Image, then the devil will have his imitation. Our blessed Lord is the Image of God, a number of times so-called in the Word: “Who being. . .the express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3); “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (Col. 1:14, 15); “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29); “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (II Cor. 4:4).

All of these teach us that the devil’s image of Daniel 3 and Revelation 13 is a miserable imitation of Him Who is the real image of God. Satan would have men worship his christ; yea, worship him, instead of the Christ of God, His image in our chapter is a gigantic Man close to one hundred feet tall (how the show, and dazzle, and the false glitter of this world appeal to sinful man). But God’s image, the Lord Jesus Christ, came in lowly self-effacement, and He humbled Himself to death, even the death of the Cross. Man, blinded by Satan, exalts himself; God in Christ humbled Himself. His glory as He came to be our Savior was not the glory of visible majesty, but, as John says, “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Nebuchadnezzar demanded worship; our Lord draws it forth spontaneously from hearts won by His mighty love.

The king flies into a towering rage (v. 19) and commands that these three men must be cast into the burning fiery furnace. So they are bound fast, as they are, and thrown into the fire. So hot are the flames that they kill the men who had the unhappy task of casting the Hebrews into the furnace. This is as far as man can go. Now it is time for God to show Himself. Nebuchadnezzar jumps to his feet and says, “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? ... Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (vv. 24-25).

These three young men would not budge, bend, or bow; and now they won’t even burn. How the faith and courage of those men puts us to shame; today it costs us so very little to be Christians, and we are not even willing to pay that little.

The king sees a fourth one walking with them in the fire, looking like “a son of the gods” (A.S.V.). He probably meant an angel, for, of course, he knew nothing of Him Whom we know as the Son of God. But to us there is not a shadow of a doubt that the One who walked with them in the fire was indeed the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Hadn’t this been promised long ago when Isaiah wrote, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour” (Isa. 43:2, 3). And this promise holds true whether the fire be literal fire, as it was here, or the fiery trial of faith through which the saint is often called to go. He ever brings us through.

Do you think for one moment that these three Hebrews regretted their experience, or that they would have wanted to have missed it for all the gold and treasure in the world? Was it worth the scorn and contempt of the crowds, the rage of the king, the anxiety and dread which death, and such a death, would naturally bring? Oh yes, all that and much more. They walked with the Son of God by their side—in the gaze of amazed multitudes. All that the fire did was to burn the bonds that bound them; the fire set them free. How amazing that the fire did nothing else than to burn the ropes around their bodies; it did not touch their clothes, nor them, nor even leave a scent of the fire upon them. And isn’t it so, dear fellow believer, with the trial of our faith, when that is tried in the fire? In every hour of pain, sorrow, and suffering we, too, may know in a very precious way the presence of our Lord; and we, too, find that the fiery trial of our faith burns the bonds that bind us to some sin, or selfishness, or burden. We are free henceforth to walk more with Him; it is just such experiences we would not have missed for all the world.

Praise God, as with these three young men, fire in the case of the believer is always an unmixed blessing. To the sinner it is a dreadful prospect as he faces an eternity in the lake of fire; but to the saint fire spells nothing else than blessing. Isaiah found this to be so, for the fire burned away his sins (Isa. 6:6, 7). An angel took a coal of fire from off the altar, but he could not touch the red-hot coal with his bare hands, so he used the tongs. But when he laid this red-hot ember upon Isaiah’s lips it didn’t burn them; all it did was to burn his sin away. The reason was that the coal of fire came from the altar, typical of the Cross of Christ. The reason the fire does not burn the Christian is that our Savior suffered the judgment on our behalf. In First Peter we read of the trial of our faith by fire, and this, instead of harming us, shall be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (I Pet. 1:7); not only to His praise and glory but to ours too, I take it. And what about the judgment the believer faces at the end of his life, at the judgment seat of Christ? There is fire there too (I Cor. 3:12-15). But all that the fire does is to burn the trash and offal—the wood, hay, and stubble—and we’ll be glad to see this go up in a big bonfire. The fire does not burn the gold, silver, and precious stones, and the believer will be rewarded for any little thing done for His sake. Praise God, the fire never does the believer any harm; it saves him, searches him, sanctifies him, and rewards him in that day.

The king recognizes the wonder of this miracle which he has just witnessed, and he blesses the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He is slowly learning. After Daniel had interpreted his dream to him, he admitted that the God of Daniel is God (2:47); in this chapter he goes a step further and blesses the God of these three Hebrews. But he has to know God’s power in his own painful experience before he can praise and honor and extol the King of heaven (4:37). Then apparently he has come to know God as his God, and not merely as the God of Daniel, or as the God of these three courageous young Hebrews. God spoke to him once in chapter two; again in chapter three as we have just considered; it took the third message, in the next chapter, to bring this mighty and proud monarch to himself and to God.