Daniel 3
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image. "He set it up in the plain of Dura" (ver. 1). Questions respecting the image will be discussed in the Expository section. For homiletical purposes we distinguish here between three separate entities, all real enough in their own realm.

1. The image, built up and appearing in due time amid the phenomena of this material world.

2. The idea for which it stands, existing really enough in the mind of the king and those who thought with him. The image most likely stood for "Bel," the "world-power" that had (as the king imagined) given him all his greatness. The idea may have been, was, false, but it had nevertheless a real and influential subjective existence.

3. The author of first the idea, and then of the image, viz. the prince referred to in John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11; Ephesians 2:2, and elsewhere. All this we shall find very suggestive; for to this hour men have never ceased to set up images for the homage of their fellow-men.

I. THE IDOL EVER NEW. Following the suggestion of the lines already laid down, note:

1. The creator. The prince of darkness. It is now the theological fashion to deny, at least to doubt, his existence. But such scepticism seems to us narrow. Surely all good and evil are not confined to earth; and as certainly these may have their influence in the world of men. The Bible implies right through that they have had and continue to have.

2. The intellectual creation. Erroneous thought. A false idea. An evil public opinion. Think of the enormous power exerted over life and speech and deed of man; e.g. What woman in China dares not to bandage and cripple her daughter's feet? At what terrible cost is caste broken in India? It required a William Loyd Garrison in the early anti-slavery days to protest against the wicked public opinion of the South, with which there was complicity in the North, and then literally at the peril of his life. The sway of anti-theistic, anti-Christian, anti-philanthropic opinion is nothing short of despotic; e.g. recent treatment of Virchow by the evolutionists of Germany.

3. The sensible form. Forms of speech, of action, habit of life, modes of work, forced by false public opinion on men, against which only a faithful few are sometimes found to rebel. These idols are set up to rule everywhere; e.g. in the realm of domestic administration, of social life, in the various Churches, in the life of the nation, and even to domineer over the international relations of men.

II. THE NIMBUS OF THE IDOL. In the old mythologies a cloud of light was often seen, or supposed to be seen, around the persons of the deities. So was it with this image which Nebuchadnezzar set up. One cannot read these opening verses without being struck with the halo of splendour thrown around the idol. Majesty of size, brilliance of material, commanding conspicuousness, marked the image itself. With endless iteration - like the refrain of a song - we are told it was "the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up." Royalty sanctioned it. The aristocracy was on its rode. Education and literature bowed before it (ver. 8). The people endorsed the worship. All that the world could do, by calling together mighty concourses of people, by pomp of ceremonial, by elaborate musical performance, was done, to give eclat to the idolatry. So is it with all the forms of nineteenth-century idolatry. Kings, princes, peoples, the literary and educated classes, as by one consent, in many ways, after many fashions, join to glorify the image that public opinion, alienated from God, uninspired by his Spirit, too often sets up. Peoples can make images as readily as kings.

III. THE IMMINENT PENALTY. Enumerate the burning fiery furnaces which modern devotees of the image kindle for them who will not bow down; e.g. losses in business, social exclusion, denial of political rights, persecutions petty and malignant in many forum.




1. Be no party to the setting up.

2. Be you one not to bend the knee. - R.

It is a valid argument for the existence of God, that every race of men demands some object of worship. Everywhere there is a felt dependence - a conscious need of protection and support. As soon as men are released from the pressing and exhausting care for daily food, their minds "feel after God, if haply they may find him." A sense of orphanage afflicts humanity till it finds God.

I. THE NATURAL MAN HAS AN INSTINCT FOR WORSHIP. It is true that while man remains in barbarous ignorance, he is prone to worship fancied evil agents, whose wrath he deprecates. But even this act is a confession that there is somewhere, outside him, a power superior to himself, who is able to work him real mischief. This confession is sufficient to establish the doctrine of Divine supremacy. And as men exercise their minds upon the variety of events that transpire about them, they discover that their fortunes and destinies are controlled by some Being mightier than themselves. Notwithstanding his power and his imperial rule, Nebuchadnezzar felt convinced that there was one Deity, or more, who had permitted to him this success in war - this magnificence of royal state. The natural instinct of his soul yearned for something to worship. Does any man living feel satisfied with his stature of moral excellence? Is it not a common confession that we are not as good as we might be? Do we not stretch forth our aspiration towards some ideal yet beyond this? And if there be ideal perfection somewhere, which our souls strain their energies to reach, can that perfection be impersonal, self-existent? Does it not rather reside in an unseen perfect Being, in whose image degenerate man once was made? This unknown Being men instinctively long to know and to worship.

II. THE NATURAL MAN CRAVES AFTER A VISIBLE MANIFESTATION OF GOD, Although Moses had heard God's voice, and had received from him the tables of stone engraven with his own hand, yet he ardently craves a vision of the Most High: "I beseech thee, show me thy glory." Moved by a similar desire to have nearer intercourse with God - a desire to be rid of all doubt and perplexity, Philip asked, "Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." If left to himself, man invents aids to his devotion, which become positive hindrances. Hence among all nations there has appeared the demand for some visible object, which might serve as a representation of God; and, because of its injurious effect upon men, the prohibition was given to the Jews, "Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, nor the likeness of anything on earth." If the mind of man be so greatly superior to matter; if it possesses attributes which find no analogy in material forms; if nothing in visible nature can represent thought, feeling, aspiration, will; so nothing in the physical universe can represent the Creator of all things. We are driven to the other pole of existence when we read," God is a Spirit.

III. THE NATURAL MAN ASCRIBES TO HIS DEITY GREATNESS AND EXCELLENCE, Nebuchadnezzar had learnt (perhaps from the Jewish Scriptures) that the human form was the nearest approach to the Divine; yet he felt that God possessed a superhuman greatness and a superhuman goodness. The former idea he endeavoured to express by giving to his statue colossal magnitude; the latter idea he sought to embody in the gold which was lavished on the structure. Whether it was literally made of gold, or only overlaid with gold, the same feeling was intended to be projected, viz. that the most precious of the metals was required to express the superlative excellence of Deity. Who is like unto the Lord. our God, who dwelleth in the heavens?"

IV. THE NATURAL MAN WILL ALLOW TO DEITY THE MOST AMPLE SCOPE FOR ACTIVITY. Nebuchadnezzar erected no temple for this gigantic figure. He had erected temples in Babylon for other idol-deities; but now he gives larger play to his thoughts, and sets up this colossal image on the open plain. No building reared by human hands can contain the true God. The sapphire vault of heaven is the ceiling of his temple. The emerald greensward, enamelled with fragrant flowers, is the most fitting floor in his abode. The everlasting hills, with their snow-clad peaks, form the pillars in his house. "Heaven is his throne: the earth is a footstool for his feet." The myriad stars are the lamps of his majestic sanctuary. All things that live and breathe unite to celebrate his praise. "His kingdom ruleth over all." - D.

If, with his slender knowledge of God, Nebuchadnezzar supposed that the erection of this colossal statue would be pleasing to God, as a visible expression of the monarch's allegiance, or would serve to remind men of their religious obligation, so far the deed. would be in itself praiseworthy. But when he proceeded further to compel a rigid conformity to his mode of offering worship, he trenched upon the rights of Deity - he invaded the sacred territory of conscience.

I. COERCION IN RELIGION PROCEEDS FROM LUST OF POWER, It may, in a few cases, arise from a mistaken idea of personal duty; but if the motive be searched to its source, it will be found to spring from this corrupt fount - the lust of power. Nebuchadnezzar, like an Oriental despot, had complete control over the persons, the property, and the lives of his subjects; but this lust for power grew by what it fed on. Like the horseleech, it was ever crying, "Give, give!" He craved to have control over the thoughts, beliefs, and religious acts of his people. He would carry his sceptre, if he might, into the inner realm of conscience, and sway the nations as he pleased. Hence he commanded the attendance and the religious homage of all who held any authority under him, to the end that these might, in their turn, exact a similar obedience from the people. The sovereignty of love is always a boon; the sovereignty of personal will is more or less a bane.

"... man, proud man!
Drest in a little brief authority... .
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep."

II. COERCION IN RELIGION IS A USURPATION OF DIVINE RIGHTS. "The powers that exist are ordained of God," yet only for limited and well-defined ends. Monarchs and judges stand in God's stead to preserve society from anarchy and injury; but over the interior life - over thought and affection and worship - they can have no dominion whatever. To bind and to loose men's beliefs by authority is an impossibility. There is another sceptre before which heart and conscience are constrained to bow. There is another tribunal before which kings and subjects must alike appear. No verdict of acquittal which a human monarch can give will serve as a passport to the favour of the Most High! Every one of the human race must give account "of himself unto God." "To our own Master we stand or fall."

III. COERCION IN RELIGION DEGRADES THE TRUE DIGNITY OF RELIGION. True religion is nothing less than the purest love of the human heart pouring itself out, in service or in speech, unto the living God; and if love must ever be spontaneous and free, in order to be love at all, so must be the piety of the human soul. Spontaneity is a necessity in religion. If compulsion be employed, its essence evaporates, its spirit disappears. It degenerates into formality. In the hands of an ambitious monarch, religion becomes a piece of state machinery; it is draggled in the mire of kingcraft. The pomp of state ceremonial - scenic splendour, displays of music - only degrade Religion, under pretence of doing her homage. The atmosphere in which she most flourishes is not the heated atmosphere of royal palaces, but the atmosphere of tranquil liberty. You may cast (lead metals into moulds, and fashion them into what shape you please; but life refuses to be moulded after the caprice or art of man: it follows laws which are enshrined within itself. You may clip and cut a dead tree into any form you like, but a living tree will soon laugh at all your attempts to give it shape. True religion is the outgrowth of the truest life of the soul. To make it conformable to human law is simply to destroy it.

IV. COERCION IN RELIGION MAKES MEN BIGOTS, HYPOCRITES, OR MARTYRS. You will find in every empire, men and women who are ready to yield compliance to royal mandates in the sphere of religion: but these are always persons of slender faith, or persons having no faith at all. Unworthy motives in crowds act upon the mind to induce servile obedience. All the motives which appeal to present advantage, and to self-interest in its lower forms, will be ranged upon that side. To retain official rank, to secure royal favour, to gain emolument, multitudes have always been ready to hide their real opinions or have forbidden convictions to mature in the conscience. They have stultified their manhood, starved their soul, and sold their immortal birthright for a mess of pottage. This has been the effect of coercion upon one class of the community. On another class the effect has been to produce unbelief in all religious truth - cold, blank atheism. If religion (say they) can only be propagated by the lash and the sword, it is not worth propagating at all. If the treat God cannot maintain his own authority and rule without the aid of human violence, surely it is best to believe that there is no God! Such is the argument of many whom coercion has hardened and embittered. And on a third class of society the effect of coercion is martyrdom. Men and women who prize truth more than present convenience, who honour God more than they honour men, - these firmly decline the mandates of human authority in the sphere of religion. Come what may, they must be obedient to conviction and to conscience. They are bound by a prior obligation to follow the Spirit of truth whithersoever it leads. A voice speaks to them direct from heaven; and, let kings rave and storm as they please, they yield their first deference to the heavenly command. After all, a human king is but a fellow-worm, and it is an ignoble thing to steer our life-course according to the changing whims of pompous princes. And the result of honest resistance to religious tyranny has always been suffering - the rack, the flame, the prison, the gibbet. - D.

The men of Chaldea, who plumed themselves with great titles, but possessed little souls, were not content with rendering servile homage to the king's golden image; they must needs turn informers against those who had the courage of religious conviction. While true religion ennobles a man every way, superstition dwarfs intellect and soul - emasculates a man. A gnat may sting to madness a mettled war-horse, and some men who are impotent to do good are busy with venting malicious spite on nobler natures than their own.

I. ENVY IS THE NATURAL CHILD OF SELFISHNESS - the base progeny of a base parentage. Under pretence of solicitude for the king, they were chiefly anxious to berid themselves of formidable rivals. These accused persons were foreigners, captives, and had been raised to eminent offices by virtue of their personal merits. But the little-minded native aristocrats could not endure this competition for royal honours, and were willing enough to degrade and injure good men, if only they could promote their own worldly interest. That is a despicable vice which has selfishness for its root. The envious man is ashamed to own his real object.

II. ENVY STOOPS TO USE THE MEANEST ARTS. These Chaldeans invented a new name, a name of opprobrium, by which to designate these hated rivals. As the foes of Christ invented the name of "Christian" as a byword and a reproach, so these Chaldean informers used the word "Jew" as a stigma of disgrace. Further, they sought to flatter the king with all the arts of sycophancy. They flattered his greatness, his love of power, his bigotry, his religious zeal, his autocratic will. The best friends of a monarch are those who speak in his ear at proper times most unpalatable truths, and seek wisely to abate the growth of imperious tyranny. But these men, with ingenious skill, sought only to inflame the baser passions of the king. They reminded him that his royal authority was outraged; that his gods were dishonoured; that his honour, as a truthful monarch, was a; stake. No stone was left unturned by which to gain their nefarious end. Theirs was a busy zeal, worthy of a nobler object.

III. ENVY MAGNIFIES THE SUPPOSED FAULTS OF OTHERS. From what appears in the narrative, there was no occasion for these Chaldean magnates to make any accusation against the Hebrews. It was no part of their office to become public prosecutors. The idolatry of that age was extremely tolerant. Every nation and people were allowed to worship their own gods. If these Chaldean satraps had cherished a spark of generosity in their breasts, they would have argued thus: "These Hebrews have a religious faith of their own. Let them worship what and how they please." But it is very probable that these officious governors had themselves instigated the king to make this cruel decree, and had narrowly watched its effect upon the conduct of the Hebrew youths. Now they think they have caught them in a deadly snare. Now they will exaggerate their offence before the king. Now they will accuse them, not only of withholding homage from the new idol, but with dishonour to all Chaldea's gods - with utter contempt of the king himself.

IV. ENVY IS BLIND IN FORECASTING RESULTS. These envious men proceeded upon the principle that they foresaw and foreordered the course of events. Clearly it seemed to them, the series of events was as certain as the links in a chain. The king would be incensed. These Hebrew youths would be destroyed. Themselves would be promoted to honour. But though the first step was successful, and their whole plan seemed about to bear its expected fruit, lo! miscarriage and disappointment I If they could succeed in circumventing and slaughtering these innocent men, they would have proceeded To accuse Daniel also. But the executors of the royal mandate were the only persons slain. The Hebrew youths enjoyed in the furnace the presence of a heavenly Companion and Guest. The God of the Hebrews received royal homage and public regard. The envious satraps were put to silence and to shame.

V. ENVY IS UNSCRUPULOUS AS TO OTHERS' SUFFERING. If only it can gain its paltry end, it cares not how much suffering of body and of mind it inflicts on others. They knew that the penalty decreed for non-compliance with the idolatrous practice was arbitrary and cruel; but what cared they? They might have foreseen that if these three Hebrew notables should suffer death, it would be the beginning of fiery persecution against the whole nation of Israel; but what cared they? Their pride and ambition were wounded by the elevation to office of these young Hebrews, and if they could only bring about their rivals' downfall, they were unscrupulous what amount of suffering would befall the Hebrews. Envy has ever been a deadly foe to brotherly love. - D.

The alternative which these young men were called to face was idolatry or death. The claimants for their loyalty were Nebuchadnezzar on the one hand, God on the other. The former appealed to all the selfish principles of their nature; the latter, to the moral sense alone. Herein lies the crucial trial of human life. Shall God's voice be supreme? his authority be dominant over every part of my nature, over every act of my life? Or, on the other hand, shall some other master prevail? On our answer to this question hangs our heaven and hell.

I. AN ALTERNATIVE OF CONDUCT. Much might have been said by a wily advocate to induce compliance with the demand of the king. He had not demanded that his subjects should abjure their loyalty to another god; they might, therefore, make a compromise by rendering this outward act of idolatry, while they reserved the true love and homage of their hearts for God. Were they not the subjects - yea, the captives - of this earthly prince? and did he not rule by Divine right? Had he not been their benefactor in raising them to honour? and would it not seem base ingratitude to resist? Was it not desirable to maintain a general uniformity, and not seem to countenance rebellion and irreligion? Would it not preserve the public peace, advance their own interests, and protect the fortunes of their co-exiles, if they would comply? It was but a solitary act; God would readily condone it; it need not be repeated! Was it worth while to disturb the empire on so trivial a matter? Thus a thousand voices would whisper. But -

II. IT WAS AN ALTERNATIVE OF PRINCIPLE. Unless these Hebrews should act a falsehood, this deed of idolatry would be the visible expression of their belief. Outward acts are the proper fruits of inward conviction. A God-fearing man cannot bring forth the fruits of idolatry; neither can an idolatrous man bear the fruits of godliness. Seeming compliance here would be sheer hypocrisy; and are these young Hebrews going to stamp themselves hypocrites? This was a judgment-day: these young men were on trial before God. Say what men will about mutual concessions, forbearance, peace, - this was a conspicuous occasion for the test of principle. If these young men played the coward now, they would be cowards for ever - the sport of every capricious wind of circumstance. If the ship's cable will not hold in a storm, of what use is it? True principle of character is of the nature of steel: you cannot permanently bend it. Leave it to its own action, and it flies back to its proper line.

III. IT WAS AS ALTERNATIVE OF DESTINY. Compliance brought present life; resistance was to issue in violent death. Hence it is evident that this act of idolatry was no trivial or even ordinary act. The king himself raised it into a public test. Yet this pompous king quite overshot the mark. Did he talk about the result and issue of this supposed contumacy? He was as a man who reckons without his host. The issues of events lie in another hand than his. Royal threats are often like the chaff which the wind driveth away. While this Babylonian king spake, a mightier King than he revoked the human mandate and inverted the predicted destiny. Nebuchadnezzar said in substance to these godly youths, "Die!" God uttered with the same breath his fiat, "Live!" "The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought." Instead of disgrace, there came honour. Instead of death, immortality! - D.

O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful, etc. (vers. 16-18). Sketch the leading features of this intensely interesting martyr-history; and then -

I. RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLE. And here, that we may not move in mist, let us open out, step by step, what needs to be said.

1. Principle. What is it .9 A principle is literally a first thing; a beginning; a cause. The spring on the mountain-side, whence the mighty river. The root of the tree. Newton's 'Principia.' The principle of the universe, the First, is God.

2. Religious principle. The essential idea in the word. "religion" is that of binding. (See the etymology.) Religion distinguishes that which binds man to God: it names the link that binds earth to heaven. Principle in religion is that at the root of man's being; that beginning of things in the soul which determines the outer life - word, deed, demeanour, habit, conduct.

3. The two kinds. Strictly speaking, the beginnings of religion may be in two entirely different spheres. They may be objective or subjective. There are beginnings with God, and beginnings in man.

(1) The objective principles of religion constitute the external revelation of God. That revelation is the expression of his love. Strictly regarded, this is the spring and root of all beside. From this point of view, the first principle of religion is indeed none other than God himself.

(2) The subjective principles of religion. These are the effect of the objective. They are beginnings in man; from whence all that is distinctly moral and spiritual proceeds.

(a) Truth in the mind. Fashion to decry the importance of truth; but it cannot be legitimately denied, it is vital.

(b) Feeling answering to the truth.

(c) Direction from the conscience according to truth and responding to emotion.

(d) Volition obedient to the royal authority of conscience.

4. The present form. Religious principle with us will take on evangelical forms. Our position is different from that of the three. They in twilight; we in blaze of midday. Truth came from God - for them through Moses and the prophets; for us, by Jesus Christ. They started from Sinai, we from Calvary. We begin with trust in a personal Christ - that is our first subjective principle - then follow truth, emotion, the moral imperative, obedience.

5. Moment of principle. Impossible to exaggerate its importance. What a man is in principle, that the man is all through.

II. ADHESION TO IT. A sublime example. Illustration and illumination of religious principle.

1. The temptation to abandon principle. Note what they were required to do. To bend the knee to an image of the world-power, perhaps of Bel, possibly of the king himself. All Sinai protested against it. But see temptations. Read their force in the light of our own nature.

(1) To bend the knee was a tittle thing. The moral meaning of little things; e.g. to sign another's name is forgery. To allow the Persians to pass Thermopylae!

(2) All the world would do it.

(3) Gratitude moved to compliance. (Daniel 2:48, 49.)

(4) Hope. More favour in the future.

(5) Fear. The furnace hot; the doom certain.

(6) Sight likely to be more dominant than faith. Faith sees as through mist.

2. The decision.

(1) Slowly built up. Perhaps the decision was instantly taken; but it was gradually built up in solidity and strength. The image not reared in a day. Gold to be collected. Plans. Estimates. Labourers got. The actual work. This would all take time. See mighty ruins of basements still at Dora. Some notice of the festival. Time to consult with friends, above all, with the heavenly Friend. (See John Foster's admirable sermon in 'Lectures,' vol. 2. p. 42, Bohn's edit.)

(2) The moral victory was earlier than the event. Long before first note of the music the decision had been reached, and the victory won. The pomp of the day had by meditation become familiar. All moral victory is secret and anticipative. (Illustration in common life: the Germans were virtually victorious before they crossed the Rhine in 1870-71.) So will it be with the Christian and death. (See Robertson's 'Sermons,' vol. 3:190, 195, "Victory over Death.")

(3) The decision was irreversible, once taken.

3. The act. The moral majesty of the three among millions. Alone. Yet not alone. Daniel. Sympathizers. Angels. God. All there with them I

4. Their dependence. These saints militant entrenched themselves behind two lines.

(1) God. He was:

(a) Existent.

(b) Their own God: "Our God."

(c) The object of their service. Eternal

(d) Able righteousness to deliver.

(e) Certainly, would. But if all this were not so, then:

(2) Ineffable grandeur of this moral position. Let God not deliver, not be able, be only an imagined object of service, not be their God, because indeed he does not exist. Then there is something behind and deeper than his throne. Right is right for ever and ever. Our vision of God may be obscured; our sense of right scarcely ever. This is clear:

(a) If there be a God, it cannot be right to bend down to a thing.

(b) If there be not, man is man, and still may not bow to a thing like this. Amid all life's temptations, bear in mind there is a God; and even if (for the sake of argument) there be not, there is still a soul; and in the soul a concept of absolute, unconditioned, eternal righteousness.

5. The result of the decision.

(1) As to themselves.

(a) Freedom from anxiety. "We are not careful."

(b) Silence. No noise. No apology. No elaborate defence.

(c) Salvation. In the fire, yet out of the fire; for the Saviour there.

(2) As to others. Who can estimate?

(a) On the Jews. Obedient to Sinai, but in more obscure positions than that of the three.

(b) On the heathen.

(c) On the universal Church, whenever and wherever the history of this heroism is told. - R.

Nothing was further from these youths' thoughts than public notoriety, much less world-wide renown. They did but perform what seemed plain duty; and they asked no more than to be allowed to serve their God in quiet obscurity. When temptation spake through royal lips, they calmly said "No;" because loyalty to the King of kings had a previous and paramount claim.

I. LOYALTY TO GOD RESISTS THE ENCROACHMENTS OF HUMAN AUTHORITY. "In this matter," they affirmed, it did not concern them to answer the king. They had no answer that would be palatable to imperious arrogance. In all other matters they were prepared to render honest obedience and dutiful service. But "in this matter," touching the love and worship due to God, no other course was open than to obey God rather than man. Plainly had Jehovah said, "Thou shalt not make any graven image, nor bow down to it;" and they had responded, "All that the Lord hath commanded us will we do." It was an abuse of human authority, an encroachment on the prerogatives of Deity, to set up forms of belief or objects of worship. This is tyranny, offensive both to God and to men. Only a spirit of mean subserviency will silently submit to such arrogance. Manly courage will follow the simple rule of Jesus Christ, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."

II. LOYALTY TO GOD IS CONFIDENT OF DIVINE SUCCESS. In true service of God we learn to know him, and increased knowledge leads to stronger faith. Obedience is the main portal to the temple of Divine truth. The closer we come to God, the clearer vision of his power and greatness we obtain, and the stronger grows our assurance that we have an interest in his friendship. We do not know who God is if we are not confident that he is well able to protect us in every emergency. But the faith of these men was stronger yet. They believed that God was sustaining them in this decisive resolve, and would, in some way, appear so as to vindicate their honest fidelity. How they should be delivered, they did not know; but they were well assured that ten thousand modes of relief were open to God, and they could leave the plan of campaign with their Commander-in-chief.

III. LOYALTY TO GOD IS ENTIRELY AN UNSELFISH PRINCIPLE. Assured, though these Hebrews were, that deliverance would come; yet, even if it had been otherwise, they would not have altered their line of conduct. Whether heaven be the outcome of pious loyalty to truth, or whether it be not, renewed men can act no other than they do. Let philosophers argue as plausibly as they please, they cannot persuade the conscience that moral obligation is a phase of self-interest. A good man does not pursue virtue for the sake of what he can get, however remote the expectation be. Nevertheless, the kindness of God has decreed that virtue, faith, holiness, shall bear sooner or later the fruits of abundant joy. And so these champions of Divine truth boldly avowed to the king that, come what might - fire or freedom, grief or gladness - they would have no complicity with idols. They would buy the truth at any price; they would sell it at none. They could die, but they dare not sin. - D.

The form of the fourth (ver. 3). A sketch of the further developments of the history will well introduce the following topics.

I. THE SAVIOUR OF THE KING'S IMAGINATION. "Like unto a son of the gods." The king was certainly not acquainted with the Hebrew doctrine of the Messiah, and even if he were, the appellation, "Son of God," would not be familiar to him. The deliverer to him was perhaps an angel, but surely a visitant from the unseen.

II. THE REAL DELIVERER. "The Angel of Jehovah," the Angel-God of the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus, in those temporary and special epiphanies which preceded the great Epiphany of the Incarnation. This "coming down to deliver" does not stand alone. Therefore the other emergences out of eternity into time of the Lord should throw light on this; e.g. two appearances to Hagar (Genesis 16; Genesis 21:19-21). Two in the life of Abraham (Genesis 17, 19, 22). Several instances in the history of Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22; Genesis 31:11-13; Genesis 32:24-32; Genesis 48:15, 16). At the burning bush (Exodus 3.; seq. also Exodus 23:20-25; Exodus 13:20-22; Exodus 14:19, 20; Exodus 40:33-35; 1 Kings 8:10, 11; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3). The same august Personage was at Sinai (comp. Exodus 24. and Exodus 33:11-20 with Galatians 3:19). Several manifestations, too, in the desert-life of Israel (Exodus 16:10; Numbers 12:5; Numbers 14:1-21; Numbers 16:19, 42; Numbers 20:6; Exodus 33:3). So in the life of Joshua (Joshua 5:13; Joshua 6:5). See further epiphanies in Judges 2:1-5; Judges 6:11-24; Judges 13.; 1 Kings 8:9-11, Isaiah 63:8, 9. (On the significance of these passages, see 'Mediatorial Sovereignty,' by George Steward, vol. 1. pp. 111-137; Dr. Pye Smith, 'First Lines of Christian Theology,' pp. 248-251.) "The Angel of Jehovah" is none other than Jehovah himself manifested in the Person of the Lord Jesus. The doctrine of the Trinity the only adequate explanation. What Robert Hall said of the Divine Being is sirikingly true of the doctrine of the Trinity: "Inexplicable itself, it explains all besides; it casts a clearness upon every question, accounts for every phenomenon, solves every problem, illumines every depth, and renders the whole mystery of evidence as perfectly simple as it is otherwise perfectly unintelligible, whilst itself remains an impenetrable obscurity." The following are reasons for believing that the Lord Jesus was present in this fire:

1. It was antecedently probable that he would be. Taking into account antecedent appearances, observe the time of the Captivity was a critical epoch in the history of the kingdom of God; the place - Babylonia grand theatre for the manifestation of the Divine. Evil clashed with conscience. The faithful there were helpless. It was for Christ to deliver.

2. It would fulfil a promise a thousand years old (Leviticus 26:14-44).

3. The moral effect of the epiphany would be great - on Jews, heathens; all to the end of time.


1. The Lord Jesus can be present with us in the fire of our trouble. This depends on whether we give him welcome or not. He waits to come in unto us in our sorrows. Different is the intensity el the fire with different saints, with the same at various times.

2. His presence is relief.

3. Will be ultimate deliverance and perfected salvation. - R.

It is only consistent with the sketches of Nebuchadnezzar's character furnished us, to believe that he was not naturally a cruel man; nor was he so rigid an idolater as to oppose the worship of Jehovah. He was self-willed, excitable, easily inflamed; and was too easily led away by the base designs of others. For the moment he yielded to the excitement of passion. His autocratic pride had been wounded, and he would tolerate no resistance.

I. WE SEE VIOLENCE SUMMONING INTO THE FIELD ALL ITS FORCES, The king is "full of fury." His inward composure is disturbed. His very skin changes its hue. The blood rises and recedes with strange rapidity. Every muscle and nerve are stretched to highest tension. A very madness has seized the man. Reason is overborne as by a sudden tempest. Wisdom, sagacity, judgment, dignity, are drowned in a flood of uncontrollable feeling. Poor man! what an object of pity! He is verily possessed by a demon - "set on fire of hell."

II. WE SEE VIOLENCE OVERREACHING ITS OWN END. The king commanded that the furnace should be heated sevenfold, because of the independent boldness of the slandered Hebrews. This was a suggestion of wanton cruelty. But it would really benefit the innocent victims, inasmuch as it would shorten their sufferings. Yet reason had forsaken the king, and had fled into humbler bosoms. His unrestrained violence was weakness itself. Physical force is destined to fail.

III. WE SEE VIOLENCE INJURING ITS OWN FRIENDS. As the Midianites, when pursued by Gideon in the night, slew unwittingly their own comrades, so the weapons which Nebuchadnezzar's violence was sharpening were injuring those who handled them. The command to execute the Hebrew heroes was assigned to Chaldea's mightiest veterans. Very likely they had egged the king on in this shameless course, and were only too glad to do thoroughly the cruel deed. There is always weakness in haste. Justice is ever calm, for time is on her side. She waits her conquests with sweet composure. But now this cruel eagerness to destroy, lest forsooth the king should relent - this eagerness, is fatal to the proud captains. Endeavouring to slay others, their sword turns into their own breast. The material flame is alive with judicial discernment - has learnt from its Creator whom to slay and whom to save. "Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth!"

IV. WE SEE VIOLENCE APPARENTLY TRIUMPHANT. God has not yet appeared on behalf of his injured advocates. Lo! they are bound, and no angelic hands present! Lo! they are cast into the fiery oven; they fall down into the very midst of the glowing coals! Has not justice abandoned our earth? Now may Violence wag her head and shake her tongue! How she is loud-voiced and jubilant indeed! How eloquent are her taunts[ "Where is now their boasted God? What profit now in all their prayers? These paragons of piety - where are they now? Did we not predict their discomfiture? Ah I so would we have it!" - D.

As soon as the fierce tempest in Nebuchadnezzar's mind had expended its little force, there succeeded the calm of exhaustion. The tyrant is transformed into a servant, and appears like a docile child. Something has produced a strange impression on him - perhaps the sudden burning of his own officers, perhaps the unbending fortitude of the three Hebrews, perhaps the natural reaction from high-wrought excitement. Abandoning royal pomp, he visits himself the fiery furnace, that he may discern the wreck of human life wrought by foolish violence. An unexpected sight awaits him.

I. PERSECUTION IS HARMLESS TO THE SAINTS. Their experience is not always uniform. God seldom follows precisely the same course twice. The bodily life of the oppressed is not always preserved. Yet, in every case, it is true that no real harm is done to them. Often -

"Persecution has dragged them into fame,
And chased them up to heaven." On this occasion the material flame, though heated sevenfold, was not nearly so vindictive and deadly as the fiery rage of the king. He had summoned into his service one of the most destructive elements of nature, but it would not obey him. The flame did them no harm: it did them good. It consumed their bends; it did not singe their clothes. It gave them liberty. It brought them new experience. It put a new sceptre into their hands, and made them kings of nature. They were mightier men than ever. It admitted them into new society, and brought an angel into their circle. God himself gave them new evidence of his presence, his tender concern for them, and his all-sufficient power, Now it is evident that fire has no consuming property of its own. It is a property given and maintained by God. All the forces of nature are like the manuals of an organ touched by a Divine hand. By faith in God these men "quenched the violence of fire."

II. PERSECUTION OF THE SAINTS GIVES OCCASION FOR THE MIRACULOUS INTERPOSITION OF GOD. All opposition raised against God only brings out the greater resources of his omnipotence. Satan's oppression of our race gave scope for the redemptive miracle. Creation is miracle, for the like was not before. Providence, which is but a continuous act of creation, is a miracle. Granting that there is a God, there is nothing unreasonable in miracle. Whenever God is pleased to work, if ordinary methods fail, extraordinary methods are forthwith introduced. No occasion is more fitting for the introduction of miracle than persecution. God has identified himself with his people, and injury done to them is resented as injury done to him. Nor are we to think only of the miracle wrought on the material flame or on the living bodies of these men. That is a narrow view of miracle. There was miraculous agency also displayed in the mind, the temper, and the conduct of these oppressed Hebrews. It was not natural that they should submit to human injustice without a word. It was not natural, but supernatural, that they showed no vindictive spirit nor indulged in any language of personal triumph. Their modesty and self-forgetfulness were as miraculous as their faith. With the ending of the persecution came the ending of the angel's visit.

III. PERSECUTION PATIENTLY ENDURED PRODUCES CONVICTION IN THE UNGODLY. The king himself was overcome by astonishment. He could not believe the evidence of his eyes. He could scarcely trust his memory. Hence he summoned his princes and counsellors to his assistance. He appeals to their recollections. He requires them to see, to investigate, and to understand these strange facts for themselves. In their presence the king himself (not a deputy) entreats these injured Hebrews to come out of the mystic flame. He prays to them whom just now he cruelly condemned. The king styles them, not fanatics, miscreants, traitors - he styles them "servants of the most high God." Yes, of that God whom he had awhile despised. The proof of Divine succour and of supernatural protection is complete, undeniable, overwhelming. And, with candour of mind, Nebuchadnezzar yields himself to the evidence. - D.

There is no other God that can deliver after this sort (ver. 29). Explain the king's real state of mind. He did not own Jehovah as the only God, nor command him to be worshipped. He only declared him to be able to save his servants as none other could, and commanded that there should be no reviling of his Name. Curious commingling of tolerance and intolerance. So slowly do men learn the principles of religions and ecclesiastical freedom. (Matthew Henry is full and good on this section.) But the text may be used as the starting-point for a good missionary sermon. Illustrations will be abundant in proportion to our acquaintance with the best missionary literature - not merely that which appears in so fragmentary a form in magazines but with full and exhaustive treatises, of which there are now many. The following outline is merely suggestive. and would have to be taken up selectively; for the whole would be far too much for one discourse.


1. Internal.

(1) Darkness of intellect in moral questions.

(2) Dwarfed, misplaced, perverted emotion.

(3) Torpidity of conscience (e.g. the extraordinary Pharisaism of the Chinese apart from the gospel, contrasted with his fear and pain when led by the convincing Spirit to a sense of sin).

(4) Terror of the awakened conscience, which nothing but the gospel can assuage.

(5) Paralysis of the will; i.e. sheer inability (i.e. moral) to do the thing we would. "I approve the good, but the evil I pursue" (Romans 7.).

2. External.

(1) Individual. Perhaps most of the sorrows and discouragements of life wilt fall under this classification.

(a) Limitation. Nearly all forms of pain fall under this head; e.g. the feebleness of youth, weakness, sickness, deprivations, bereavements, discouragements, debility of age, etc.

(b) Strain. Battle of life. Work of life.

(c) Impending death.

(d) Imperfection of character; i.e. of the external manifestation of the good within.

(2) Social. There are evils that fall to us in our relations to our fellow-men. These arise from the extreme difficulty of carrying ourselves morally, rightly, in relation to our associates (see "Righteousness a Personal Relation," in Wace's 'Christianity and Morality,' p. 37, most suggestive). Hence many sorrows. Hence, too, many sins; wrongs in the family; unjust subjection of women; slavery; cruelty; neglect of ministration to suffering; breaches of the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments; war, etc. Hence, too, all political tyrannies and religious persecution. No liberty, equality, humanity, unity, or true independence.

II. DELIVERERS PROVED INCOMPETENT. All religions which have declined from the purity of the primaeval revelation, and in proportion to the extent of their departure. It may be necessary here to contrast the easy and flippant assumption that each religion is an evolution from the genius of each race, and con.genial with it, and conducive to its moral elevation. E.g. the contrast between the comparatively pure idea, which the New Guinea people have, of a Great Spirit and the horrors of their cannibal life. Surely these may not be left to such religion as they have evolved. In showing incompetence to deliver from evil, the religious of the world must be classified, and then the incompetence of each demonstrated in relation to evils enumerated above. The following classification is suggested:

1. Indifferentism; i.e. any negative system that ignores the religious nature of man.

2. Polytheism.

3. Pantheism.

4. Mere theism; e.g. the Brahmo-Samaj movement in India. Its failure to meet the sin and sorrows of men is abundantly proved (see its own literary organs in India).

5. Atheism ]PGBR> in all its modern forms; e.g. agnosticism, positivism.

6. Impure forms of Christianity. Note that even in Russia so deep is the void left by the Greek Church, that there are fifteen millions of Dissenters, whom Imperialism tries to crush. It would not be difficult to show that the Roman perversion of Christianity has proved incompetent, and just in proportion to its decline from primitive truth.

III. THE SAVIOUR ALMIGHTY. The whole history of Christ's kingdom, the facts of modern missions, our own experience, demonstrate the competence of Christ to fill the void of man's necessity, and to lift the burden from his surcharged heart; e.g. to enlighten the mind; to direct, purify, and elevate the emotions; to rouse and then soothe the conscience; to justify the will. And so with the other forms of evil marshalled above. Exhibit all this in detail, and demonstrate that "there is no other God that can deliver after this sort." - R.

During this momentous crisis, no change had passed over the convictions, resolves, or characters of these godly men - except such advancement in strength and courage as was always in progress. But upon their outward condition a great change was impending. A quiet revolution was proceeding outside them.

I. A CHANGE IN THE PLACE ACCORDED TO GOD. This was the central aim of the young Hebrews' resistance, that Jehovah might be recognized as supreme. This quiet endurance for God had completely annulled the effect of the gigantic idol, its imposing ritual, and its pompous music. Truth is advanced in more quiet ways. This royal endowment of idolatry had been public contumacy of Jehovah; but three modest youths, sustained by Divine grace, were more than a match for all the stately ceremonial appointed by the king. At the head of the nation, Nebuchadnezzar publicly recants his religious belief. Awhile his language was, "Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" Now his language is, "Blessed be the God of the Hebrews, who hath.., delivered his servants that trusted in him!"

II. A CHANGE IN THE MARTYRS' REPUTATION. Nebuchadnezzar had treated as weak and worthless the men who were accused of contumacy. He had regarded their convictions as contemptible scruples. Now his opinions have suddenly undergone a complete change. He appreciates their nobleness; he applauds their loyal constancy to God. He perceives a glorious beauty in their character, to which he was blind before. He confesses that their quiet firmness was more mighty, and more majestic, than his tyrannic rage. Their patient fortitude has captivated him. He places them upon the pedestal of royal regard, and does homage to their superior virtue. Well saith the proverb, "Them that honour me, I will honour." The martyrs are canonized and worshipped as saints.

III. A CHANGE IS THE ROYAL EDICT. But just now the royal decree had been, "Let the worshippers of Jehovah be degraded - be cast out as dogs!" Now a new edict issues, "That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of the Jews shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill." The tone and language of the king had undergone a complete change. This amounted almost to a miracle. To repeal the king's decree was deemed an impossibility. The kings of the East prided themselves on the observance of their word, let the cost be what it might. But there is a conspicuous abatement of pride in Nebuchadnezzar, and this new law will be a protection for all the Jews against the blasphemies of their foreign masters.

IV. A CHANGE IN THE OUTWARD CONDITION OF THE SUFFERERS. Their attainder is removed. They are not only restored to their former place, but are promoted to higher office yet. Just as a swelling wave, rolling on the sea-beach, recedes for a moment, but only to gather fresh force, and then rises higher on the shore than any point it has yet reached; so this transient degradation was but the mystic step to higher honour From the fiery jaws of death they suddenly rose to the dignity of princely life. The pathway to immortal renown is through the vale of suffering. "It is through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom." The cross was the Saviour's road to his mediatorial throne; and if we suffer with him, "we shall also be glorified together." The fire of suffering does not destroy the Christian; it refines and purifies. He comes forth from the furnace as gold well burnished, Real merit, sooner or later, finds its true level. - D.

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