Nebuchadnezzar built a great golden statue. It was made of gold, and it was ninety feet high and nine feet wide. This was a gigantic statue that must have required enormous amounts of gold. Even if the statue was only covered with gold, it still would have taken a great amount. But this is what he did, and the fact that the statue was of gold is the thing of chief importance.
In order to understand the reason for Nebuchadnezzar’s building this statue, we have to go back to his dream of a statue, the head of which was of gold. As Daniel interpreted the dream, the head represented the glorious kingdom of Babylon.
After Daniel had revealed the dream and its meaning to Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar praised Daniel’s God (Daniel 2:47). But when he got to thinking about it later, Nebuchadnezzar was not at all pleased. He must have said to himself, “Wouldn’t it be nice if more of that statue were gold than just the head? It would really be nice if I were not just the head but the whole statue. Why should my kingdom be succeeded by other kingdoms? Why shouldn’t this great Babylon that I have built last forever?” So Nebuchadnezzar built a statue that represented his will for the future. It was all of gold. In this way he defied God & said in effect, “I will not allow the God of Daniel to set my kingdom aside. My rule will endure.”
At this point we begin to understand why this is not a humorous story and why it is actually another chapter in what we have already seen to be the theme of this book: Whose god is God? Who rules history? It is why this matter of bowing down to the statue was more than just a question of bowing down or not bowing down to an idol – though it certainly was that. It was a matter of bowing before the will or rebelling against the will of God.
The trouble begins with the Chaldeans, or astrologers, for whose work the four young Jews had been trained. They told the king that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Babylonian names) were defying the decree that whenever the music played, everyone was to fall down and worship the great golden image (Daniel 3:12).
Why did they say this? Why did they accuse these from among their own number? I think it is not at all hard to discover the reason for their actions as jealousy and resentment toward those who had been part of the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s earlier dream, which they themselves had been unable to discern. It was the same motivation that causes coworkers to slander or gossip about each other when they should be building one another up. It is the thing that causes conflict in schools or sibling rivalry.
The convictions of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego provided their enemy coworkers with an opportunity to accuse them of treason, and this is what they did, phrasing their remarks in such a manner as to work Nebuchadnezzar into the greatest possible agitation. Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar brought the three young men before him and probed for a confession in the case. “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?” (v.14).
Nebuchadnezzar offered to give them another chance. “Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (v.15). That was the situation, the ultimatum imposed upon the three men.
This is the problem that confronts every follower of the true God when the requirements of serving Him come into conflict with the demands of a secular state. I mean by this not merely a demand to do an openly wicked thing or die for refusing to do it (like refusing to turn over or kill Jews in Nazi Germany). I mean any pressure to disobey the teachings of the Bible, whether by peers in your school, by fellow employees, by employers, or by whoever it may be. Whenever you are pressured to do something (or not to do something) that you know by the teachings of the Bible to be wrong (or right), your situation is that of these three men and your responsibility before God is the same also. You must do right. You must not bow to the world’s demands, even if the consequences are costly.
You say, “But we are commanded to obey the state.”
Yes, in all areas of its legitimate authority. Paul wrote, “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:7). Moreover, in obeying the state we must know that God has established such authorities (Romans 13:1-5). Daniel and his friends knew this – at least after the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, if not before. God had established Nebuchadnezzar. He had made him to be the head of gold. But notice: the fact that Nebuchadnezzar had been established by God did not make Nebuchadnezzar God. The fact that God raises up rulers does not make rulers autonomous. It does not give them unlimited power. On the contrary, it limits their power, for they are responsible to the One who has set them up – whether they acknowledge him as God or not. The duty of believers is to remind the state of this divine limitation. They are to do it by words and, if necessary, by the laying down of their lives.