Daniel’s Friends were Thrown into the Fire

A Study of Daniel Chapter 3

Most times that I’ve brought up the story in the Book of Daniel about the three Hebrew boys being thrown into the fiery furnace, people respond to the event as being mostly just a child’s Bible story. It is a good story with life applications for youngsters trying to plow through their youth, as it gives a great example from moral and ethical perspectives. But this story is not just for children.

As Christian adults, we all need inspiration to do the right thing; we all need role models to help us attain a proper path through life’s trials and tribulations. Having chosen this Christian-based life that we have, it is important to know that God is with us and guiding us as we suffer through the tests that this life imposes upon us.

The Book of Daniel has several stories with useful life lessons, but this study is only about one of them: the story of Daniel and his three young Hebrew friends named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who lived in Jerusalem during the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah. Our story is told in the third chapter of Daniel, which should be read. And since we need to know what events led up to that point, we need an overview of the happenings beforehand, so below is a brief outline. If you have the time, read chapters 1 and 2, also.

How it all started – Chapter 1

Nebuchadnezzar ascended to the throne of Babylon and was the longest reigning king and most powerful monarch of the Babylonian Empire (c. 605 – 562 BC). His conquest of Judah is described in the Books of Kings and the Book of Jeremiah and he is the most important character in the Book of Daniel.1 Although some scholars believe the Book of Daniel is only a collection of legendary tales and visions, there are others who insist there is truth to the narrations, and that the visions are prophetic. Many non biblical sources and literature indicate this man existed as revealed in the Bible.

In the year 597 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar’s army invaded Judah and besieged Jerusalem,2 capturing some of the Israelites of royalty and of the privileged class—those that were known to have the attributes of enlightenment, intelligence, discernment, and competency, to be brought to live in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in Babylon. They were to be fed and treated well and schooled in the language, literature, and ways of the Chaldeans.

Upon arriving at the palace, Daniel and his friends were given new names. Their Hebrew names were witnesses not only to their nationality, but to their religion.3 Since their names indicated their religious alliance (in each case, the Hebrew name contained a name of the true God: either el or iah, abbreviations for Yahweh), their new Babylonian names would contain the names of a pagan god. To be allied with the Chaldean culture, Daniel became Belteshazzar, Hananish became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach, and Azariah became Abednego.4

It was also a long-standing custom throughout the middle east to change one’s name at some outstanding event in their lives. Some other examples of this custom were Abram changed to Abraham (Genesis 17:5), Sarai to Sarah (Genesis 17:15), Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:28) and others (see Genesis 41:45; 2 Kings 23:34; Esther 2:7; 2 Chronicles 36:4).5

Considering they were forced to live under pagan rule, Daniel and his associates lived as best they could by God’s laws. They even refused to eat any food which was unclean under the Mosaic Law. Their request for only vegetables (or “sown things,” which included grains) and water was granted.6

The King had a Dream – Chapter 2

Nebuchadnezzar was plagued with a troubling and recurring dream so “he called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers, and he demanded that they tell him what he had dreamed” (Daniel 2:2, NLT).7 These wise men said they needed to know the dream in order to tell him what it was about, but the king said if they were really so wise, they should be able to know what he dreamed. Since they failed in providing an answer, Nebuchadnezzar sentenced them to death.

Now Daniel and his three friends—all still learning the Babylonian ways—were also classified as wise men, so they as well fell under the judgement. Daniel petitioned the king stating he could reveal the dream and its meaning. When confronting the king, he indicated the dream was prophetic and concerned the political dominance that Gentiles would exercise in the future. He said the dream was of a very large statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with baked clay. Eventually, this statue was struck on the feet by a rock, which made it crumble and blow away. The rock then grew into a mountain that filled the earth.8

Giving details of what it meant, Daniel explained that the head of gold was Nebuchadnezzar himself, who ruled the Babylon worldwide empire, but that would end in the future giving rise to two inferior nations which, together, would rule for a time. Then again there would be more power changes, with each ruling nation or nations less competent than the ones before. Eventually, a new leader, represented by the striking stone (i.e., Jesus Christ), would bring them all to an end and he would then rule forever.9

“Through Daniel’s revelation and interpretation of the dream, Nebuchadnezzar was led to confess that Daniel’s God is superior to all the gods of Babylon and that he is Lord over the earth’s kings.” Daniel’s God was exalted because through Daniel he revealed the course of forthcoming events. Nebuchadnezzar apparently recognized Daniel’s God was the authority which appointed Nebuchadnezzar to power.10 Even more important, Daniel interpreted his dream as Yahweh implying the king was the greatest leader over all those who would follow. So, the king rewarded and promoted Daniel, and at Daniel’s request, his friends were promoted, too.

Our Study of Chapter 3:
The Golden Image and the Fiery Furnace

Nebuchadnezzar, patting himself on the back for being recognized as playing a superior leadership role in the history of Babylon, decided to erect a magnificent gold statue of colossal size. While some academics believe the statue was of a pagan god, most likely this statue was of Nebuchadnezzar himself. It is reasonable that he would erect a statue of immense size, one visible for miles around, in his own image and expect everyone to respect and worship it. In Babylon, a reigning monarch was seen as the son of the god,11 so by building such a monument, Nebuchadnezzar was deifying himself as a representative of this god of the Hebrews. The proportions of this structure shows that it was in the shape of a man 90 or 110 feet high by 9 or 11 feet wide, according to whether we take the cubit of 18 inches or that of 22 inches.12 Its size may have included some sort of foundation or pedestal on which it stood.

Music by a full orchestra was included in the statue’s dedication ceremony on the plains of Dura outside of Babylon. Everyone was instructed that they must not only bow down before the statue, but to worship it, too. When all were assembled, a herald proclaimed, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace” (Daniel 3:4-6).

This literal image of Nebuchadnezzar is a typical prophecy of ‘the image of the beast,’ connected with mystical Babylon in chapter thirteen of Revelation.13 “He ordered the people to make a great statue of the first beast . . . then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die” (Revelation 13:14-15).

Daniel’s three Hebrew friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, decided to defy this command. This defiance of Nebuchadnezzar’s laws was not an account of persecution in this story, neither was it supposed to imply such a thing. There is properly no account of persecution in this narrative, nor any reason to suppose that Nebuchadnezzar designed any such thing. He demanded recognition and worship, “but this does not imply any disposition to persecute on account of religion, or to prevent in others the free exercise of their own religious opinions, or the worship of their own gods. It is well known that it was a doctrine of all ancient idolaters, that respect might be shown to foreign gods—to the gods of other people—without in the least degree implying a want of respect for their own gods, or violating any of their obligations to them.”14

Anyway, some officials brought accusation upon Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but not Daniel. Daniel may have been out of town in some service capacity or duty, or since he had such a high position in the government, he may have been exempt from attending this event. And we don’t exactly know why each of his three friends was singled out, but it may have been resentment concerning their previous promotions or some other form of jealousy. Then again, it may have been honest zeal for obeying the law.

Whatever the reason, the king became furious with them. But Nebuchadnezzar had a passion for justice and built the Babylonian court system to follow certain rules. To be legal and acceptable to all, the process had to take this form: (1) issuance of the decree, (2) offense observed, (3) accusation, (4) opportunity to reform, (5) testimony by the defendants, (6) verdict, (7) application of the sentence. And this is the exact process that was taken. (See further information in ‘References & Notes’ at the end of this article.)15

“Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up?’” (Daniel 3:14). And the three young men replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (Daniel 3:16–18).

They were Conscientious Objectors

Now these guys are taking their stand and are not afraid. They are brave just as Peter and the apostles were when the Jewish Council tried to silence them in the Book of Acts.16 “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). For the Jews, this event turns into a contest between Yahweh and this false golden god representing Nebuchadnezzar. “Their faith is so strong that they are determined not to submit to this act of state worship, even if the Lord does not miraculously deliver them.”17

These three men, and Daniel, too, were basically conscientious objectors, for the same principles cite the same authority as any official status of a conscientious objector in any given situation. “The Bible entreats Christians to be good citizens, and in principle this involves subjection to the governing authorities. (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17).” It depends on the morals and ethics of each individual believer as to what should be applicable.18

Being found guilty by law, the three were bound and thrown in the blazing fire. Although death by furnace was usually done after clothing was removed, in this case, because of haste, that detail was not performed. So angry was the king that he even instructed that the fire be increased seven times more than customary. Even the guards that brought them to the furnace were burned, so hot was the fire. There is even mention in apocryphal literature (extra to the Book of Daniel) that the flames ascended just short of fifty cubits. “Now the king’s servants who threw them in, kept stoking the furnace with naphtha, pitch, tow, and brushwood. And the flames poured out above the furnace forty-nine cubits, and spread out and burned those Chaldeans who were caught near the furnace” (Daniel 3:23-25, NRSV [Anglicized Edition] addition to Daniel [Azariah and the Three Jews] – see ‘References & Notes’).19

Nebuchadnezzar observed this event from a safe distance and as he looked into the flames he saw the unbound men walking around inside, but now there were four men instead of three. I suppose that one was noticeably different, maybe even supernatural, for he said “‘Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?’ ‘Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,’ they replied. ‘Look!’ Nebuchadnezzar shouted. ‘I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god’” (Daniel 3:24, 25).

The king immediately recognized that the god of these three men is truly God and he commanded the three men to come out of the furnace. Neither their bodies, nor their hair, nor their clothes were burned. He now knew that Yahweh was superior to his Babylonian gods and he blessed them and honored them by decreeing that the God of these men was to be honored. And he promoted them to higher positions with greater power in his kingdom.

As commentator Adam Clarke stated, “On this occasion God literally performed his promise by Isaiah [in the second part of verse 43:2, below] . . . for an angel of God, appearing in the furnace, protected these young men, and counteracted the natural violence of the fire; which, only consuming the cords with which they were bound, left them to walk at liberty, and in perfect safety, in the midst of the furnace.”20

“When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2b)

For a little diversion, be sure to view a short music video based upon the theme of this study, when you get a chance. It is listed in the ‘References & Notes’ at the end of this article.21

There is more to Daniel 3 which appears as extra apocryphal content in some Bibles. Included are The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men. The prayer is said by only Azariah (Abednego), while the song is a hymn of thanksgiving given by all three men. This extra content is between verses 23 and 24 in some translations of the Bible, including the ancient Greek Septuagint translation and the Latin Vulgate. In some Greek Bibles, the prayer and the song appear in an appendix to the book of Psalms.22 “The song’s arrangement is similar to the repetitive refrains in Psalm 136.”23


The book of Daniel demonstrates that wise living is characterized by integrity, faith, and dependence on God’s wisdom. “Most scholars agree that some of the apocalyptic visions in the book of Daniel are related to the Revelation of John.”24 So there is prophetic significance from this story.

In the coming tribulation, a gentile ruler will demand that he be worshiped, else we will be killed (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:7-8). “Most of the people in the world, including many in Israel, will submit to and worship him. But a small remnant . . . like the three in Daniel’s day, will refuse. Many who will not worship the Antichrist will be severely punished; some will be martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. But a few will be delivered from those persecutions by the Lord Jesus Christ at his second coming.”25

In this present day, whether at work or during social events or other activities, we must never do anything that conflicts with God’s moral and ethical principles. Stand firm, keep your faith, and never compromise. Just as God saved Daniel and his friends from their harm, so he can save all of us in any present (or future) oppression. We must always do what is right in God’s eyes.

Copyright © 2019, Dr. Ray Hermann

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References & Notes

  1. “Nebuchadnezzar II,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 27 April 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebuchadnezzar_II
  2. “Jehoiakim,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 18 January 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehoiakim
  3. Farrar, Frederick W., “The Book of Daniel,” in The Expositor’s Bible: Jeremiah to Mark, W. Robertson Nicoll (Ed.), (Hartford, CT: S.S. Scranton Co., 1903), vol. 4, p. 385.
  4. Freeman, James M. and Chadwick, Harold J., Manners & Customs of the Bible, (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), pp. 281–282.
  5. Ibid.
    Note: Daniel means “God is judge,” and Belteshazzar means “May Bel protect his life.” Hananiah means “Yahweh is gracious,” and Shadrach possibly means “command of Aku” (the moon god). Mishael means “Who is what God is?” and Meshach may mean “Who is what Aku is?” Azariah means “Whom Yahweh helps,” and Abednego means “servant of Nebo.”
  6. Pentecost, J. Dwight, “Daniel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Walvoord and Zuck, (Eds.), (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, p. 1331.
  7. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation (NLT), ©2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
  8. Pentecost, J. Dwight, “Daniel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Walvoord and Zuck, (Eds.), (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, pp. 1336–1337.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Brand, Chad, et al., (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2003), p. 1076.
  12. Stevens, W.C., The Book of Daniel: A Complete Revelation of the Last Days of Israel’s Subjugation to Gentile Powers, (Los Angeles, CA: Bible House of Los Angeles, 1949), p. 43.
  13. Jamieson, Robert, Fausset, A. R., and Brown, David, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), vol. 1, p. 627.
  14. Barnes, Albert, and Murphy, James, Notes on the Old and New Testaments, 26 volumes, (Glasgow, Scotland: Blackie & Son, 1853), Daniel, Vol. 1.
  15. Merrill, Randall S., “Judicial Courts,” John D. Barry, et al. (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
    Note – You can follow Nebuchadnezzar’s legal process in scripture, as listed below:
    a) issuance of decree (Dan 3:1–6);
    b) offense observed (implied in Dan 3:12);
    c) accusation (Dan 3:12);
    d) opportunity to reform (Dan 3:13–15);
    e) testimony by the defendants (Dan 3:16–18);
    f) verdict (Dan 3:19–20);
    g) application of the sentence (Dan 3:21–23).
  16. Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide, [1st Augsburg books ed.], (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), p. 346.
  17. VanGemeren, Willem A., “Daniel,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, p. 594.
  18. Brand, Chad, et al., (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2003), p. 334.
  19. New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
    Note: ‘Azariah’ and the ‘Three Jews’ additions to Daniel, inserted between 3:23 and 3:24.
  20. Clarke, Adam, Commentary on the Bible, Unabridged, 6 volumes, (Glasgow, Scotland: William Collins, Sons, & Company, 1878), Daniel
  21. Statler Brothers, “The Fourth Man,” (from album: The Gospel Music of the Statler Brothers, Vol. 1, [published by Gaither Music TV, 2012) – VIDEO: https://youtu.be/12aQm9rZkQM
  22. “Additions to Daniel,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 17 September 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Additions_to_Daniel
  23. “The Prayer of Azariah,” (Encyclopædia Britannica, retrieved 27 April 2019), https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Prayer-of-Azariah#ref149633
  24. Sendriks, Romans, “The Theology of the Book of Daniel,” ([research paper, T. Walter Brashier Graduate School] Greer, SC: North Greenville University, 17 November 2014).
  25. Pentecost, J. Dwight, “Daniel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Walvoord and Zuck, (Eds.), (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, pp. 1340–1341.
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