Worship and Pride in Daniel 3 & 4

Daniel chapters 3 and 4 are interesting when viewed as a unit. The two chapters have completely different character traits displayed. This isn’t as strange as perhaps we might think. After all, the Bible describes mankind perfectly. We are fickle. We can have one chapter of determined faithfulness followed immediately by a great fall caused by foolish pride. When we compare the three Jewish heroes of faith with Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, we see ourselves and the direction we should go.

Determined Faithfulness to Worship in Daniel 3

The three Jews held firm to their faith in God. They refused to bow down and worship the idol. “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this manner. IF this be so our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O King. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you set up’” (Daniel 3:16-18). “Although a horrible death was before their eyes, they did not swerve from the right path but set the glory of God above their own life—even above a hundred lives if they had had so many and such a sacrifice were required.”[1]

The faithfulness of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was challenged by Nebuchadnezzar. His view of them changed. He grew angry. He ordered the furnace to be heated extra hot (possibly to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit). Without noted resistance, the Jews were thrown into the furnace. Their faith was joined with faithfulness.  “Even if they must die, life is not so precious that they would deny God to prolong it.”[2]

Their faithfulness was rewarded. “King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True O king.’ He answered and said, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:24-25). God had protected them and his presence was with them in a special way because of their faith.

It is difficult to say who the fourth man in the fire was. The Bible does not tell us who it was. Most want to say that there was a theophany in the fiery furnace. This is the most popular opinion, but we simply do not know.” Montgomery (ICC, p. 214) produces evidence to show that this term and its parallel ‘angel’ in verse 28 are entirely genuine to Aramaic paganism. ‘The Son of God’ (AV), implying a pre-incarnation appearance of Christ, is probably not correct here.”[3]

Reflecting on this event, Jerome commented, “But as for its typical significance, this angel of the Son of God foreshadows our Lord Jesus Christ, who descended into the furnace of hell, in which the souls of both sinners and of the righteous are imprisoned, in order that he might without suffering any scorching by fire or injury to his person deliver those who were held imprisoned by chains of death.”[4]

No matter who the fourth man was, we should strive to have the same strength of faith in God.

“Fear not when thou art in trouble, as if the Lord were not with thee. Let faith be with thee, and God is with thee in thy trouble. There are waves on the sea, and thou art tossed in thy bark, because Christ sleepeth. Christ slept in the ship, while the men were perishing. If thy faith sleep in thy heart, Christ is as it were sleeping in thy ship: because Christ dwelleth in thee through faith, when thou beginnest to be tossed, awake Christ sleeping: rouse up thy faith, and thou shalt be assured that He deserts thee not. But thou thinkest thou art forsaken, because He rescueth thee not when thou thyself dost wish. He delivered the Three Children from the fire?”[5]

The first chapters of Daniel report of faith in difficult times. The people had been punished by God for sin by being led away into captivity. Still some chose faith. We can choose faith. We too can be faithful.  “How I wish that all men would become so conscious of the supreme excellence of the glory of God that they would disregard all else whenever there is any attempt to lessen or hide God’s glory!”[6]

Because of this incredible experience, even Nebuchadnezzar recognized that he must worship God. He said, “It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; and his dominion endures from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:2-3). We should continue in this type of praise.

 

Foolish Pride in Daniel 4[7]

 

Evidently some time had passed since the great display of faith and faithfulness in the fiery furnace. Chapter 4 properly begins with another dream. Nebuchadnezzar began retelling his dream by recounting just how blessed he was He said he was “at ease in my house and prospering in my palace” in 4:4. That comfort was lost because God gave him another vision of what was yet to be. He trusted that Daniel would be able to interpret the dream because God was with him (Daniel 4:9).

The dream Daniel revealed and interpreted was one of a proud tree being chopped down to a stump. Then the fateful words, “Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him. The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision is by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:16-18).[8] There are many intriguing things in this revelation. Of whom does the dream speak? Who are the watchers? What will happen to this man who is given the mind of a beast?

The dream is about Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:22). Nebuchadnezzar is going to have to suffer this beastly thinking because he has exalted himself and forgotten the God of Heaven has given all to him. Who are “the watchers” and “the holy ones”? These are the angels. Both terms refer to them. The message is given through the angels. “The decree of ‘a watcher’ and ‘a holy one’ (17) becomes in Daniel’s recapitulation a decree of the Most High (24), thus bypassing the intermediaries.[9] There is much we would like to know about how God spoke to mankind through angels and how God relates to the angelic hosts. These things have not been revealed. It is best not to speculate on the unknowable and to apply the knowable.

Twelve months after the dream, the king fell to his own foolish pride. “He was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, ‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:29-30). Look at how Nebuchadnezzar admired himself. His kingdom was great rather than the kingdom of God (Jeremiah 27:6). The kingdom was built by his mighty power rather than by God’s gracious gift. He had a royal residence, but where was the home for God? All this was for the glory of his majesty, but what had he done for the God of Heaven?

When Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment was over, God restored him to his mind and to his position. “At the end of the days, I Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35).

This praise to God is rendered elsewhere in the Scriptures by his own people. Psalm 145:13; 115:3; Isaiah 40:17; and 14:27 are hymns of praise to God as the everlasting powerful King of all.

 

Conclusion

We must all choose to follow faith or pride. We must all choose to live for self or live for Jesus.

“Lastly, let our spirit be that of profound delight. I believe there is no doctrine to the advanced Christian which contains such a deep sea of delight as this. The Lord reigns! The Lord is King for ever and ever! Why, then all is well. When you get away from God, you get away from peace. When the soul dives into him, and feels that all is in him, then she feels a calm delight, a peace like a river, a joy unspeakable Strive after that delight this morning, my beloved, and then go and express it in your songs of praise. If you are alone this afternoon, any of you, and not engaged in service, be sure to bless and magnify your God. Lift up your hearts in his praise, for “whoso offereth praise glorifieth God.” May the Lord bring us all, through faith in Jesus Christ, into harmony with this ever-blessed and ever-living God, and unto him be praise and glory for ever and for ever. Amen.”[10]

 

[1] Joseph Haroutunian and Louise Pettibone Smith, Calvin: Commentaries (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), 241.

[2] Ibid., 241.

[3] Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 23, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978).

[4] Kenneth Stevenson and Michael Gluerup, eds., Ezekiel, Daniel, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 182.

[5] Augustine of Hippo, “Expositions on the Book of Psalms,” in Saint Augustine: Expositions on the Book of Psalms, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 452.

[6] Joseph Haroutunian and Louise Pettibone Smith, Calvin: Commentaries (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), 241–242.

 

[7] The chapter has been described as an edict, but it makes no law; perhaps it would be better to think of it as a confession made in a kind of open letter. In the original it has a poetic quality which is faithfully conveyed by JB and NEB, though they do not choose the identical passages to put into poetic form. Evidently the work of a skilled writer has gone into the phrasing of the text. Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 23, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978), 119. the main divisions of the chapter reveal a literary structure A B B A. The king begins and ends with an ascription of praise to the Most High (1–3; 34–37), while the main story divides into two parts: i. Nebuchadrezzar’s narration of his dream (4–18) and ii. its interpretation and fulfilment (19–33). Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 23, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978), 119–120.

 

 

[8] Among the many thousands of documents from Cave IV at Qumran, one which J. T. Milik first published became known as ‘The Prayer of Nabonidus’. It is a small document in Aramaic which reads, ‘The words of the prayer made by Nabonidus, king of [Assyria and of Babylon, [the great] king, [when he was smitten] with a malignant disease, by the decree of the [Most High God in the town of] Teima. “I was smitten [with a malignant disease] for a period of seven years, and became unlike [men. But when I had confessed my sins] and faults, God vouchsafed me a magician. He was a Jew from among [those exiled in Babylon]. He gave his explanation, and wrote an order that honour and [great glory] should be given to the Name of the [Most High God. And thus he wrote: While] you were smitten with a [malignant] disease [in the town of] Teima [by decree of the Most High God], you prayed for seven years [to gods] of silver and gold, [of bronze, iron], wood, stone and clay.…” ’ It is assumed that the story would continue to relate how the Jewish ‘magician’ (the same word as gāzĕrayyāʾ in 4:7 (Aram. 4:4) exhorted the king to seek the God of the Jews, and that the king found healing. Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 23, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978), 129–130.

 

[9] Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 23, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978), 126.

[10] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Unconquerable King,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 16 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1870), 504.

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