The Fiery Furnace
Par Rev. Dr. Andrew M. T. Dibb
The third chapter of Daniel follows the same pattern as the first two: Nebuchadnezzar begins by making threats against those who do not bow to his every whim, and ends with his humbly admitting the Lord's power.
The similarities between the dramatic vision of the statue in chapter two and actually building an image in chapter three are not, however, mere repetition. Close attention to the detail in this chapter will show how in its pursuit of domination the selfish side of human nature continues to try to dominate, even though we might consciously submit to the Lord.
This third chapter opens with a huge image created by Nebuchadnezzar. The actual dimensions are important, not because of their physical impact, but because of the spiritual concepts they contain. Similarly, the impossibility of it being made from gold should not interfere with the spiritual exposition of the verse. The literal sense of the story is important only as a means of bringing out the spiritual sense.
This entire image was made of gold. But like the head of the statue in the previous chapter, this is not the gold representing love to the Lord, but self love. Every good correspondence also has an opposite sense.
The statue is described as sixty cubits tall, and six cubits wide. The recurring number "six" takes meaning from its contrast to the number immediately following. "Seven" is a state of fullness and completeness—the Lord rested on the seventh day of creation, clean animals entered the ark in sevens, we should forgive others "up to seventy times seven." As seven contains this sense of completeness, six represents a state of incompleteness.
"Six" is often used to describe the process of regeneration, especially in the creation series, and in the Ten Commandments. In the six days of creation, people are tempted and in a state of conflict, which must be overcome for the person to regenerate (AC 8494, 8539:2, 8888). The conflict illustrated in this chapter is between our sense of selfishness and our emerging conscience.
The number sixty is the fullness of this conflict, as sixty is a six multiplied by ten. If six represents the conflicts of temptation, ten represents completeness (AC 3107, 4638, 8468, 9416), or fullness of that conflict.
Ideally, the states of goodness, truth and their mutual expression should be equal. The shape representing a regenerate person would be a perfect cube, as described by "the Holy City coming down from God out of heaven" (Revelation 21:2).
But Nebuchadnezzar's image vastly different from this ideal: it was tall and narrow — ten times taller than it was wide, and no depth is described. It comes across as one dimensional, disproportionate, its most compelling feature the gold from which it is made.
As in the second chapter, Nebuchadnezzar calls together his advisers: before, it was astrologers and wise men. In this chapter he calls together the governors of his kingdom: the satraps, administrators and so on. When the Word speaks of governors, it speaks of our loves, because we are ruled and governed by loves. The list here gives a hierarchy of loves from the top, or ruling loves, down to the lesser affections we have.
We are shown our state when that ruling love is Nebuchadnezzar: he dominates the scene, his word is law. He controls a vast empire and has absolute control over life and death. Thus Nebuchadnezzar can summon his governors and order them around with the same ease with which he called together the wise men and demanded the impossible from them.
At the sound of music, his whole empire was to fall down and worship the gold image erected by the king. Music is used as a means of summoning the rulers of the land because if those men represent our various loves and affections, so music speaks to our loves.
If Nebuchadnezzar represents our selfishness and love of control, the Chaldeans come into the picture as a confirmation of this selfishness. The essence of profanation—evil pretending to be good—is the misuse of goodness and truth for one's own ends. Any state of genuine good or truth resisting this misuse would come into conflict with it.
Thus the Chaldeans with great enthusiasm name Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego who do not serve the king nor worship his golden image. By using their Babylonian names, they are refusing to recognize truth as coming from the Word. This is the very heart of profanation: to know something is from the Word, even to acknowledge it as such, and yet to deny it—just as those Chaldeans must have known that the three men were Jews, and that their Babylonian names were not truly their own. It is the ultimate denial of their identity, just as profanation is the ultimate denial of the Lord.
Nebuchadnezzar's life is first of military conquest and the expansion of his empire. This conquest comes with the dominion of religious things. Thus it was not out of character for him to command worship. As the love of self progresses, it demands greater and greater things, until it demands to be treated as the Lord Himself (AR 717).
"The evil of the love of self is not, as is generally thought, that external elation which is called pride, but it is hatred against the neighbor, and thence a burning desire for revenge, and delight in cruelty. These are the interiors of the love of self. Its exteriors are contempt for others in comparison with self, and an aversion to those who are in spiritual good, and this sometimes with manifest elation or pride, and sometimes without it. For one who holds the neighbor in such hatred, inwardly loves no one but himself and those whom he regards as making one with himself, thus he loves them in himself, and himself in them for the sole end of self" (AC 4750:5).
Each person in this world is capable of giving freedom to these feelings, and if we do, soon we find ourselves doing what Nebuchadnezzar did: demanding that people see the world through our own personal spectacles, and roundly damning them to hell if they do not.
As we saw earlier, Daniel represents the conscience developing in opposition to our selfish states. Conscience is the activity of truth leading and guiding our minds towards a life in harmony with the Lord's. The conscience, however, must be made up of individual truths, truths applicable to different parts of our lives. We have a set of truths to govern marriage, work ethic, social interaction, and so on.
These individual truths are Daniel's Hebrew companions. Each time we have seen them, they have stood on their belief in God, but each time at Daniel's leadership. This time they stand alone, willing to confront the imperial wrath and face death for their belief.
The consequences were, of course, dire. Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage, demanding that the young men be cast into a fiery furnace, heated to seven times its normal heat. The young men were prepared to accept this punishment rather than retract their belief in the Lord.
Nebuchadnezzar tried to scare the three men by heating the furnace to hotter than normal, which well describes the actions of evil spirits in temptation who,
"act against the affections of truth that make the conscience: as soon as they perceive anything of conscience, of whatever kind, then from the falsities and failings in the man they form to themselves an affection; and by means of this they cast a shade over the light of truth, and so pervert it; or they induce anxiety and torture him" (AC 1820:4).
The time the young men spend in the furnace represents a state of temptation, which occurs for the sake of regeneration (AE 439). Most simply defined, temptation is a battle between two sides within us, where the natural, or selfish side is subdued. Up until then, selfishness is seen as simply being a part of us, the way we are (AC 1820). In temptation, this self-image is changed, and we learn to see ourselves in the light of heaven (AE 439).
The power of the evil spirits is greatly illusory. Just as Nebuchadnezzar fell back after resistance, so the spirits also withdraw when we resist them. The greatest temptation we face is believing the Lord is unable to help us in our times of great need. If we cling to the believe that He can and does give help, then facing our inner selfishness becomes less difficult. The image the men were commanded to worship was, after all, an immobile object of gold, disproportionate and one-dimensional. Our selfishness is like that: seemingly monolithic, and yet devoid of any real life. Its attractions fade when seen in the light of heaven. Spiritual resistance is not so difficult, and the results give strength:
"Victories are attended with the result that the malignant genii and spirits afterward dare not do anything; for their life consists in their being able to destroy, and when they perceive that a man is of such a character that he can resist then at the first onset they flee away, as they are wont to do when they draw near to the first entrance to heaven, for they are at once seized with horror and terror, and hurl themselves backward" AC 1820.
Nebuchadnezzar is brought to awareness and appreciation of the power of the Lord, this time, with his own senses. There is a power in his acquiescence after witnessing the four men in the fiery furnace that is far more dramatic than his incredulity after Daniel foretold the dream in chapter two. This time he actually saw the power of the furnace, so strong that those who cast the three men in were killed by its heat, yet he saw the three men walk out unscathed. This proved the power of God to him more than anything before.
We see something of this process in the final verses of Chapter three, where Nebuchadnezzar praises the Lord, showing a new humility impossible for him before. As a result, the affection of truth begins to rule in place of the former selfish loves. Thus we see Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego promoted in the province of Babylon, presumably in place of the Babylonian satraps, administrators, governors, counselors, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the officials of the province who responded to Nebuchadnezzar's call to worship the gold image.