Daniel and his three friends, filled with grace and mercy, have saved the life of every official wise man of Babylon. Are they grateful?
As we find so often in life, our faith in God doesn't remove us from strife but often seems to thrust us into the midst of it. The account in Daniel's third chapter is an inspiring example of how we can respond when life isn't fair in our faith.
Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.
Daniel does not specify what the giant statue was an image of. Scholars have argued over this for generations. For a number of reasons, it is highly unlikely that this was an image of Nebuchadnezzar.
The extreme dimensions of this gold-covered image do not allow it to be the image of a man unless it was distorted so much that it would be an irreverent likeness. It is exceptionally tall and narrow, measuring almost 9 stories high and just 9 feet in width -- a tenth as wide as it is high. Even the narrow Oscar award, if enlarged to such a height would be 28 feet wide. So what are the possibilities?
Except in Egypt (and later in Rome) it was considered blasphemy for any man -- even the king -- to set himself up to be equal to a god. Kings would associate themselves with the gods, but only as men assigned to carry out their duties. The name Nebuchadnezzar makes him the "protector of Nebo's boundaries." He is not equal to Nebo, but acts as his personal deputy in this role. This brings the king glory and honor similar to that given to the gods. In essence, the people worship their gods through the king.
Stelae have been found from that time period showing people worshiping large statues while the king stands nearby. This way the king is given honors that are generally given to the gods, but by personally distancing himself he avoids making himself equal to the gods.
An Assyrian practice called for an image of a weapon of their kings to be set up as an object to be honored as a symbol of loyalty to the king and the gods. Failure to worship the object was considered insubordination. Participation showed acceptance of the deity and of the king's authority as a representative of that deity. It was a ritual that required people to honor the king as a god without requiring the king to set himself up as a god. A clever loophole in essence that accomplished the same thing.
Historical records from that time period show that Nebuchadnezzar was dealing with a major civil uprising in 576BC, which would be around the time of this event. If these events were indeed related, it is reasonable to assume that the requirement to pledge allegiance to the gods of the king was designed to create the appearance of national unity.
Although Dura simply means "enclosed by a wall" and many cities had the word attached to their name, most historians agree that the location of this statue was about six miles south of Babylon.
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the satraps, prefects, governors, captains, treasurers, judges, counsellors and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
Then the satraps, prefects, governors, captains, treasurers, judges, counsellors and all the rulers of the provinces were gathered together for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image.
We read this passage so quickly we forget that building the statue involved a huge period of time. Weeks of planning were followed by assignments of work detail to laborers. Building a statue nearly 9 stories high takes a bit of time. Design was followed by construction, followed by gold-leaf application. Once the completion date approached, the king would have sent invitations to military officers and top officials of all kinds to attend the dedication party from across the empire. This would have likely involved three or four weeks notice. So in total a few months were probably needed to make this come together. All of this designed to establish allegiance to the gods or chief god of the Babylonians through the king.
That the proclamation and invitation extended to so many officials, and that they are specifically named, indicates that this was an empire-wide ordinance, not just a local issue.
Then a herald cried aloud, "To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages,
That at whatever time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up.
Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace."
Archeologists have found a brick-making furnace that appears to have been used for executions. It served two duties as a huge, sophisticated facility measuring a city block on each side. The bricks of Nebuchadnezzar's empire were so well made that even today they remain in excellent condition. They were used for hundreds of years as construction materials after the decline of the city of Babylon. One of the reasons is the sophisticated design of the firing furnaces.
The Aramaic does indeed say "instantly" or "immediately" which is a clear reference to the immediacy of the punishment. The furnace was ready to go and there may have been some preparation already established in anticipation of any non-compliance.
Note the inclusive reference to peoples (racial groups), nations (the nations making up the empire) and languages (the conquered nations with different first tongues). Not only is this further evidence that this was an empire-wide proclamation, but these high officials represented the rest of the empire. Their allegiance would demonstrate that they would carry the message to every corner of the Babylonian empire, thus ensuring unity for Nebuchadnezzar through a state-imposed religion.
So as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the people, nations and languages fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
Exactly six instruments are mentioned by name. Six is the number of man, often used by Scripture to demonstrate incompleteness and imperfection or rebellion (unfortunately some English translations do not include the final instrument, which was pipe, an ancient form of bagpipe).