Daniel 3: The Fiery Furnace
Primary and Junior
This lesson from Daniel contains one of those pictures from the Word that make such a vivid impression upon us in childhood that we never forget it. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, set up an image of gold in the plain of Dura. The image was sixty cubits high and six broad. That is about 75 feet high and 7.5 feet broad. Doubtless it was not solid gold, but a gilded image. The plain of Dura in the province of Babylon has not been identified. The image was evidently erected close to the city and must have presented an imposing appearance when the sunlight flashed upon its bright surface. At the dedication, the king summoned the leaders of the people to be present. All were commanded to fall down and worship the image whenever they heard the sound of the music. Daniel's three companions refused to comply. They were cast into the furnace of fire. Those who bound them and cast them in were burned, but the three remained in the fire uninjured. The king saw them walking in the midst of the fire, "and the form of a fourth like unto a son of the gods." (R. V.) Thereupon Nebuchadnezzar called them to come forth, acknowledged the power of their God, issued a decree threatening death to any who blasphemed Him, and promoted the three to positions of honor in his kingdom.
This story strongly appealed to the imagination of the Jews and appears in various forms in their ancient literature. One of the most remarkable of these is that contained in "The Song of the Three Children." This book is to be found in the collection generally known as "The Apocrypha," which comes to us through the Septuagint and Latin versions of the Old Testament. This "Song" is accepted as canonical by the Roman Catholic Church. It represents Azarias as praying to God from the midst of the fire for deliverance. In answer, the Lord sends His angel who "smote the flame of fire out of the oven and made the midst of the furnace as it had been a moist whistling wind so that the fire touched them not at all, neither hurt nor troubled them." Thereupon "the three, as out of one mouth" sing a song of thanksgiving that is composed largely of passages from the Psalms.
Two other short stories in the Apocrypha that relate incidents in the life of Daniel may not be unworthy of mention as they appear as appendices to the prophecy in some Bibles. These are "The History of Susanna, Or the Judgment of Daniel" and "The History of Bel and the Dragon." As literature, they are incomparably inferior to the Book of Daniel. They form no part of the Divine Word, but are simply interesting from a historical point of view.
Canon Farrar regards this third chapter of Daniel as a wonderful illustration "of the deliverance of undaunted faithfulness; as setting forth the truth that they who love God and trust in Him must love Him and trust in Him even till the end, in spite not only of the most overwhelming peril, but even when they are brought face to face with apparently hopeless defeat." The situation is one in which the love of rule is in the ascendancy and threatens destruction. Can human beings prove equal to the strain? With the help of the Lord, they can come out of the trial unscathed.
History furnishes illustrations of the meaning of this chapter. The Church of Rome is generally recognized as a type of Babylon. (See R. 729.) Many times in the past, this Church has sought to dominate over people and dictate to them what they shall believe. And if people would not bow down to the papal authority, they had to suffer excommunication, which consigned them to hell. Many adherents of that Church have felt the dread of opposing this authority and its terrible consequences, of which they had been brought up to stand in awe. Take as an example the case of Waldo and his followers in A.D. 1177. Following their history and the story of their persecution affords a slight idea of the trial through which they must have passed, in refusing to bow down to the image and daring the flames of the fiery furnace.
Through experience with the Waldensians and many other seceders, the Church of Rome has, however, learned to become more politic in her dealings and seldom anathematizes her members. Nevertheless, the anathema, in a deeper sense, is used everywhere, and by all people when possessed by the love of ruling from the love of self. This love of having one's own way demands that all shall bow down before this lifeless image—lifeless because there is naught of God in it, naught but self. "Whosoever will not agree with me, act as I determine is best for them, or favor me, is condemned. I shall have nothing more to do with them (except in so far as it is impossible to avoid dealing with them)."
All the governors and rulers are summoned to the dedication of the image. Every argument is marshaled together to support self. And when the music plays, every knee must bow. When the delights of self-love are active, then everyone must assent. "Musical instruments correspond to the delights and pleasantness of spiritual and celestial affections" (A. 8337), and also their opposite affections. (As to the nature of the delights of the love of ruling from the love of self, see W. 271; P. 215.) Self will not be gainsaid or balked in any way. The slightest opposition rouses resentment.
This spirit is often present in humanity. To recognize and oppose it as sinful in the sight of God is the mature action that fully brings out the spirit of self-love and makes it more plainly visible. In resentment, that spirit determines to consume the God-given truth that condemns it. The fire of hatred is kindled. The Lord's truth is not affected by it. They who worship self are destroyed by the fires of self-love. But they who worship the Lord are protected. The Lord is present with them to save them from the scathing influences of anger. "When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." (Isa. 43:2)
Nebuchadnezzar saw the angel walking with the men in the fire, called the three forth, and commanded his people to respect the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. "‘Babylon’ was compelled by this to acknowledge and worship the Lord." This apparently implies that the disorderly love of rule is brought into subordination and made to serve the Lord alone. The power of ruling is turned away from that of serving self to that of serving others. "The love of ruling from the love of uses is in the highest degree heavenly, and consequently is with those who are in the highest heaven." (See M. 262.)