The Fiery Furnace


Por 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.

Das Obras de Swedenborg


Arcana Coelestia # 4750

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4750. 'And Judah said to his brothers' means the corrupt within the Church who are opposed to all good whatever. This is clear from the representation of 'Judah' in the good sense as the good of celestial love, dealt with in 3654, 3881, but in the contrary sense as an opposition to all good whatever, dealt with below; and from the meaning of 'his brothers' as those in the Church who are adherents to faith separated from charity. The reason 'Judah' here represents those who are opposed to all good whatever is that in the good sense 'Judah' in the Word represents those who are governed by the good of celestial love. Celestial love consists in love to the Lord and from this in love towards the neighbour. Those governed by this love are the ones who are the most closely joined to the Lord and therefore they live in the inmost heaven, and in a state of innocence there. This being so, they are seen by all others as small children, and entirely as visual forms of love. No one else can go near them, and therefore when they are sent to others they are surrounded by other angels, through whom the sphere of love emanating from them is moderated. If not moderated this sphere would cause those to whom they have been sent to faint, for the sphere of their love penetrates even to one's marrow.

[2] Since this love, that is, this form of the good of love, which is called celestial, is represented in the good sense by 'Judah', he therefore represents in the contrary sense the kind of thing that is the opposite of celestial good, and so is opposed to any good whatever. Most things in the Word have two meanings - a good one, and another contrary to this. The good meaning they have enables one to see the nature of their contrary one, for things in the contrary sense are the direct opposite of whatever are meant in the good sense.

[3] Each form of the good of love falls in general into one of two categories - the good of celestial love and the good of spiritual love. The opposite of the good of celestial love is in the contrary sense the evil of self-love, and the opposite of the good of spiritual love is in the contrary sense the evil of love of the world. Those governed by the evil of self-love are opposed to all good whatever, but those governed by the evil of love of the world less so. In the Word 'Judah' in the contrary sense represents those who are governed by self-love, while 'Israel' in the contrary sense represents those who are governed by love of the world, the reason being that 'Judah' represented the Lord's celestial kingdom, and 'Israel' His spiritual kingdom.

[4] The hells too are distinguished in accordance with those two loves. Spirits governed by self-love, being opposed to all good whatever, are in the deepest and consequently the most dreadful hells, whereas those governed by love of the world, being less opposed to all good whatever, are in hells not quite so deep and consequently less dreadful ones.

[5] The evil of self-love is not, as people commonly regard it, the display of superiority which is called arrogance; rather, it is hatred against the neighbour and a resulting burning desire for revenge and a delight in cruelty. These are the more internal features of self-love. Its more external features are contempt for others in comparison with oneself and an aversion to those in whom spiritual good is present. These more external features of it are sometimes accompanied by a manifest display of superiority or arrogance, sometimes they are not. For anyone who hates his neighbour in that fashion loves solely himself inwardly, and only any others whom he regards to be at unity with him, so that they are part of him and he is part of them, solely for the sake of his own selfish ends.

[6] This is what those people are like whom 'Judah' represents in the contrary sense. The Jewish nation was governed by that kind of love right from the start, for it regarded all people throughout the world as the basest slaves, of no value at all compared with themselves, and it also hated them. What is more, when self-love and love of the world did not hold them together they persecuted even their companions and brethren with similar hatred. This disposition remains with that nation even now, but because they have to seek asylum in lands not their own they conceal it.

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Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.

Das Obras de Swedenborg


Arcana Coelestia # 4638

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4638. Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins means the final period of the old Church and the first of the new. The Church is the Lord's kingdom on earth; 'the ten virgins' are all who belong to the Church, that is to say, both those who are governed by good and truth, and those who are under the influence of evil and falsity. 'Ten' in the internal sense means remnants, also that which is full and complete, and so means all, while 'virgins' means those who belong to the Church, as in other places in the Word.

[2] Who took their lamps means spiritual things which have what is celestial within them, or truths that have good within them, or what amounts to the same, faith that has charity towards the neighbour within it, and charity that has love to the Lord within it. For 'oil' means the good of love, dealt with below; but 'lamps that have no oil in them' means those same things when there is no good within them.

[3] They went out to meet the Bridegroom means their reception.

Five of them however were wise, but five were foolish means that one group of them possessed truths which had good within them, and another group possessed truths which did not have good within them. The former are 'the wise', but the latter 'the foolish'. In the internal sense 'five' means some, in this case therefore a group from within the whole.

Taking their lamps the foolish did not take oil with them means that they did not have within their truths the good of charity, 'oil' in the internal sense being the good of charity and love.

Whereas the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps means that they did have within their truths the good of charity and love - 'vessels' being matters of doctrine concerning faith.

[4] While the Bridegroom was tarrying they were all drowsy and went to sleep means delay, and therefore doubt. In the internal sense, 'being drowsy' means becoming, because of the delay, inattentive to things of the Church, while 'going to sleep' means nurturing doubt, in the case of 'the wise' doubt that goes with an affirmative attitude of mind, but in the case of 'the foolish' doubt that goes with a negative one.

At midnight there was a shout means the period of time which is the final one of the old Church and the first of the new. In the Word when the subject is the state of the Church this period is called 'night'. 'A shout' means a change taking place.

Behold, the Bridegroom is coming; go out to meet Him means judgement, that is to say, a time of being accepted or rejected.

[5] Then all those virgins were roused and they trimmed their lamps means the preparation of all, for those whose truths do not have good within them believe themselves to be no less accepted than those whose truths do have good within them. Indeed they imagine that faith alone saves and are unaware of the fact that no faith can exist where no charity does so.

But the foolish said to the wise, Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out means their desire for that good to be communicated from others to their own empty truths, that is, to their own hollow faith. For those who are in the next life communicate to one another every spiritual or celestial thing they possess, though only through good.

[6] But the wise replied, saying, Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you means that no communication of it is possible because the small amount of good they have would be taken away from them. For in the next life, when good is communicated to those whose truths are devoid of good, they take away good so to speak from those who do have it and then keep it to themselves. They do not communicate it to others but defile it, which is why no good is communicated to them. My own experience of these people will be seen at the end of Chapter 37 below.

[7] Go rather to those who sell and buy for yourselves means meritorious good. Those who boast of having this kind of good are meant by 'those who sell'. Also, more than all others in the next life, people whose truth has no good within it think that they have earned merit through every deed they have performed which to all outward appearance looked like good, though inwardly it was evil, as the Lord says of them in Matthew, Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by Your name, and by Your name cast out demons, and do many mighty works in Your name? But then I will confess to them, I do not know you; depart from Me, you workers of iniquity! Matthew 7:22-23.

And in Luke,

Once the Householder has risen up and shut the door, then you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But He replying will say to you, I do not know where you come from. Then you will begin to say, We ate in your presence and we drank; and You taught in our Streets. But He will say, I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity! Luke 13:25-27.

This describes what those meant here by the foolish virgins are like, and that is why the following words referring to them occur in this parable - they 'came also, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he replying said, Truly, I say to you, I do not know you'.

[8] While they were going to buy however, the Bridegroom came means their perverse approach.

And those who were ready went in with Him to the wedding feast means that those who were governed by good, and from this by truth, were accepted into heaven. Heaven is likened to a wedding feast by virtue of the heavenly marriage, which is a marriage of good and truth, and the Lord to the Bridegroom because these people are joined to Him, while the Church is therefore called the Bride.

And the door was shut means that no others can enter.

[9] Afterwards the remaining virgins came also, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us means that they wish to enter on the basis of faith alone without charity, and of works in which the life of the Lord is not present, only selfish life.

But He replying said, Truly, I say to you, I do not know you means rejection. In the internal sense 'not knowing them' means that they lack any charity towards the neighbour, and are not joined through such charity to the Lord. Those who are not so joined to Him are said 'not to be known' by Him.

[10] Watch therefore, for you do not know the day, nor the hour, in which the Son of Man will be coming means an eagerness to live according to the commandments constituting a person's faith, meant by 'watching'. The actual time of acceptance, which is unknown to a person, and his state then, are meant by 'you do not know the day, nor the hour, in which the Son of Man will be coming'. One who is governed by good, that is, whose deeds conform to the commandments, is called 'wise', but one who has a knowledge of the truth, yet does not act in accordance with this, is called 'foolish', as they are elsewhere by the Lord in Matthew,

Everyone who hears My words and does them I will liken to a wise man. But everyone hearing My words and not doing them will be likened to a foolish man. Matthew 7:24, 26.

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Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.