Babylonian king who conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the people intensifies his tyrannical demands. From a statue in a horrifying dream, we move to a statue of the king’s own making (3:1), which he commands everyone to worship (3:3-6). This directly challenges the faithfulness of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and they are threatened with death (3:13-15). Their faithfulness to God is exemplary, but the deepest source of amazement is God’s faithfulness to them. Nebuchadnezzar confesses, “No other god is able to deliver in this way” (3:29).
Nebuchadnezzar tests the Jewish exiles’ worship of God. Why Nebuchadnezzar set up the golden image is not explicitly stated, and no reference is made to the name of the god his statue is to represent. What is stressed, rather, is that Nebuchadnezzar himself inspired it and set it up (3:1, 2, 3 [twice], 5, 7, 12, 14, 18). Nebuchadnezzar has placed himself beyond God. In the form of a question he boasts that there is no god capable of freeing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He fell to the ground and confessed at the end of An interpreter of dreams who was delivered from the lions' den. 2 (v. 46), but that show of humility did not seem to last long. Now others must bow (3:5, 6, 11, 15). In addition, Nebuchadnezzar never acknowledges what the narrator asserted in the opening verses of the book: God gave him the victory over Judah was the name of Jacob's fourth son and one of the 12 tribes. and Jerusalem (1:1-2). Nebuchadnezzar places himself at the center. God disrupts Nebuchadnezzar’s centering.
The narrative style of the chapter may itself undercut Nebuchadnezzar’s presumption. The repeated long lists of officials (3:2, repeated in 3:3) and musical instruments (3:5, 7, 10, 15) mock the pomposity and hubris of the king. His royal ambition is out of control, underscored with the twofold mention of his rage (3:13, 19) and the sevenfold increase in the temperature of the furnace. The situation remains potentially lethal for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but the king also begins to look foolish in his exaggerated conduct. God will mock his power.
Readers may find the statement in 3:18 (“but if not”) to be an expression of doubt about God’s deliverance. But if the three had known in advance that they would be spared, their faithfulness would not have been put to the test and there would be no example for readers to follow should they find themselves threatened by persecution. As with their prayer in 2:17-18, the three trust God, but do not presume upon God.
The officials had gathered before Nebuchadnezzar’s statue (3:3), but by the end of the chapter they stood as witnesses to the work of the true God (3:27). Their worship of the statue had gained them nothing; they end under a new threat from Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar drops all the fury he had attached to the challenge to his power (3:13, 19), but his new decree shows he is still a violent man. He commends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s defiance of his decree, but follows this with a new decree commanding the worship of their God. He commands others, but he does not worship. His death threat is hardly a fitting way to bring people to worship the true God. Promoting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would have been enough.