Whatever King Nebuchadnezzar had learned about the God of Daniel in the previous chapter, he had set aside. He did not worship the God behind the dream of the statue (see 2:31-45). In his dream a golden head represented his rule over Babylon, but he built a statue entirely of gold, 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. Nebuchadnezzar was making a statement that he wanted his kingdom to last forever. My opinion is that the statue represented himself, and his desire was to be worshiped as God.
Every official from every branch of Babylonian government was summoned to the capital for an unprecedented worship service at the dedication ceremony for the statue. The instructions were simple: when the king’s orchestra begins to play, bow down and worship it — or be executed immediately. The king could not know if people were truly worshiping or simply bowing down, but to make sure they at least went through the motions he provided a frightening visual aid. A furnace (an enormous industrial one, probably used to smelt the metal for the statue) was fired up on site to burn those who would not bow.
This presented a problem for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the friends of Daniel who had been appointed as the top officials in the province of Babylon. As men who worshiped the one true God, they did not bow down before the statue when the music began. Loyalty to God often requires that we take action, but sometimes it means doing nothing. This was the case with the three friends, and their non-action made a powerful statement. It caught the attention of some of the astrologers and sorcerers, who reported it to the king. Nebuchadnezzar was angry (and probably embarrassed) at the insubordination and decided to make an example of the three. He told them they would get one more chance to comply with his command or be burned alive.
What would you have done in that situation? It was decision time for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They could have rationalized bowing down to the statue: “This is no big deal; it’s just a ceremonial thing. God knows our hearts, and He certainly doesn’t want us to die, so let’s just quickly bow down on the outside to appease the king — but we’ll be standing up on the inside.” But instead, they made a very calm statement of faith (v.16-18): “Nebuchadnezzar, we only worship the one true God. Our God is bigger than you and stronger than fire, so do what you have to do. He can save us if He wants to, but if we die, we die.”
With that, the king flew into a rage. He had the furnace fired to “seven times more than it was usually heated” (v.19), and he had the three men bound and thrown into it. The heat from the furnace was so intense that it killed the men who threw them in. When the furnace had died down enough to allow the king to look into it, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He expected to see only the ashes of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — but they were alive and walking around inside the fire! The fire had burned away the ropes that had bound them, but they were unhurt! God had made them inflammable! And the three men were not alone in the fire, but accompanied by a supernatural “fourth”, a heavenly companion to walk with them through the fire. (Note: this could either have been an angel or a rare Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ. We can’t be sure, but I’m going with Jesus!)
When Nebuchadnezzar brought the men out of the furnace, an apology would have been nice, but he at least gave credit to the one true God and promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He had witnessed a miracle, an amazing act of God, but he was not thoroughly convinced (as we will see in the next chapter).
I don’t know exactly what you may face today, but I am sure you will be pressured to conform to the world, tempted to sin, and challenged to take a stand for the one true God. Whatever happens, remember that the God who protected Daniel’s friends will protect you. He is bigger than any person who threatens you, and He is stronger than any problem that you will ever go through.