BECAUSE the so-called "wise" men of Babylon failed to guess the content of the dream he had forgotten, King Nebuchadnezzar rashly ordered all of Babylon's magicians, sorcerers and philosophers to be slain. The king even included the top scholars who had been rigorously educated over a period of three years. That meant that Daniel and his three close friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, were on the list to be executed, even though they hadn't been among those summoned to tell and interpret the king's dream. (Daniel 2:1-13.)
Daniel's Bold Chance
Daniel was naturally quite startled and dismayed when he was approached by Arioch, the captain of the king's guard, and was told that he and his three friends were to be taken to prison for execution because no one was wise enough to tell and explain Nebuchadnezzar's dream. "This is incredible!" Daniel exclaimed. "We had no part in failing the king. If he had called on us to help, we would have given him the answers. If he still wants to know them and has the patience to postpone the executions he has ordered, I will make the matter known to him." Arioch stared at Daniel, thankful that there might be a reason for Nebuchadnezzar to cancel or at least postpone the executions, which the captain of the guard deplored. "If you can explain the king's dream, I'll take you to him," Arioch declared. "Meanwhile, I'll postpone your friends' arrest as long as I can." Arioch then hastened to see the king, but soon returned to Daniel and told him: "Nebuchadnezzar wants you to carry out your claim to tell and interpret his dream," Arioch told Daniel. "He promised that he would hold off the executions until he hears what you have to say. Frankly, he doubts your ability. His anger will mount even higher if you fail!" A little later Daniel stood before Nebuchadnezzar, who eyed him critically. "This is the young man of the captives of Judah who can tell you about your dream," Arioch nervously introduced Daniel. "Then tell me now!" the Babylonian king commanded, staring at Daniel. "If you fail, many heads will roll before this day is over!" "But God hasn't yet told me about your dream," Daniel told the king. "I'll need time to contact Him." "I'll give you one day," the king promised. (Daniel 2:14-16.) Daniel went immediately to his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, to tell them what had happened. He requested that they ask God to reveal Nebuchadnezzar's dream and its meaning so that they and all the others would be spared from execution. The four men prayed fervently about the matter. God answered by causing Daniel to dream a very clear dream revealing the one that Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten and its meaning. Daniel was so thankful that he gave a special prayer of praise for their deliverance, though the four young Jews and the Babylonian "wise" men were still subject to death. Then Daniel hurried to Arioch, who was anxious to see him. Arioch took him directly to Nebuchadnezzar. "The men you summoned to tell and interpret your dream were given an impossible task," Daniel began, noting that the king was visibly irritated by those first few words. "The task was impossible because they didn't have the help of the God of Israel, who wishes to make known to the king of Babylon what will happen in the future. Your dream and its meaning haven't come to me through any special ability of my own, but only because my God has made these things known to me to pass on to you for your special benefit." (Daniel 2:17-28.)
Nebuchadnezzar Needs Daniel
"Then if you have this special knowledge from your God, disclose it!" Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed impatiently, leaning forward in expectation. "You dreamed that there was a colossal human image before you," Daniel began. "It was bright and terrible. His head appeared to be made of polished gold. His chest and arms were like silver, his belly and thighs of brass, his legs of iron and his feet part of iron and part of clay." Nebuchadnezzar's glum expression abruptly turned to one of intense interest. "That was what I dreamed about!" he interrupted, getting to his feet. "Now I remember! Then something happened to the image, but I don't recall what it was." "You dreamed that a large stone, symmetrical, yet uncut by human hands, fell from the sky and crashed with great impact on the feet of the image," Daniel continued. "It shattered the feet and pulverized the legs of iron. Then the thighs and belly of brass crumbled under the impact; the chest and arms of silver fell apart and the head of gold toppled over to smash into tiny fragments. A strong wind came up to blow away the pulverized pieces of the fallen image as though they were chaff from a threshing floor. Meanwhile, the stone that struck the image became larger and larger until it became a gigantic mountain that filled the whole earth." (Daniel 2:29-35.) "That's exactly what I dreamed!" Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed. "I forgot it, even though it was clear at the time. It bothered me afterward because I believed it had some special meaning." "Indeed it does," Daniel agreed. "The God of Israel wants you to know that He has given you your great power so that you are above all other rulers in the world. You have been given power over most men and your power extends even to the animals in the world because man is ruler over them. The head of gold on the image you dreamed about refers to you and your powerful kingdom. As the most powerful king in the world at this time, it is fitting, according to the Eternal God's wish, that you should know what the future holds. That was the reason for the dream you were given. "The chest and arms of silver mean that another kingdom, inferior to yours, will rise to power after your nation declines in strength. The belly and thighs of brass indicate that a third kingdom will replace the second kingdom in strength, and it will have rulership over other nations. The legs of iron mean that a fourth strong kingdom will eventually follow, but because iron and clay can't be fused together for lasting strength, that kingdom won't be well united. "During the lifetime of that kingdom, the one and only true God will set up a Kingdom that will replace all others and last forever. In your dream His Kingdom was the stone that struck the image on the feet, smashing the whole body, and growing swiftly into a mountain that encompassed the entire world. Now you know what will come to pass. This knowledge has come to me from my God, who is incapable of any untruth." (Daniel 2:36-45; Titus 1:2.) Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed that he humbly prostrated himself before Daniel in a sincere, but awkward, attempt in the worship of God by bowing to a servant of God. "The best way to worship God is to obey Him," Daniel pointed out. "Then you will receive the blessings and protection that can't possibly come from any other source."
Daniel's strong advice didn't dampen the king's enthusiasm. He loudly declared to all present that Daniel's God was the God of gods and the Head of all kings, and he made it known that he wanted the fact published abroad. Furthermore, he heaped gifts on Daniel and made him chief of the governors of the "wise" men of Babylon, an office of doubtful importance in Daniel's estimation. On the more practical side, Daniel was made ruler of the province of Babylon, the city-state capital of Babylonia, where he would be one of the king's chief officials. Because Daniel's three close Jewish friends had great ability and knowledge and had helped him with their prayers, Daniel suggested that they also be given high positions. Nebuchadnezzar was pleased to place Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego (Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) in offices of high rank under Daniel in the province of Babylon. (Daniel 2:46-49.) Nebuchadnezzar's recognition of God's greatness was a step in the right direction, but he still had a long way to go. The more Nebuchadnezzar thought about his power, the more he thought all the world's leaders should pay special honor to his kingdom. So he made plans for building a high statue. It was built on the Babylonian plain of Dura so that it could be surrounded by great throngs of people. Including the pedestal, the image towered nearly a hundred feet above the plain. On a sunny day its bright and shimmering golden surface could be seen from many miles away. The king went to great lengths to inform people about the image. Dedication ceremonies were announced. Important men of Babylonia were commanded to be present. Those included princes, governors, high army officers and all high government officials. (Daniel 3:1-3.) On the chosen day of the dedication, a vast crowd assembled around the towering figure. The commanded dignitaries included only a small fraction of the throng, made up mostly of thousands of average Babylonians and many people of surrounding satellite nations. Some came merely from curiosity. Others felt it necessary to be present at an unusual event during which a king's idol would be dedicated. There was the usual activity and excitement in a large crowd of those times. Following the throngs of people were yelling peddlers with carts or shoulder bags of food. Other hawkers worked slyly to extract money from parents by promoting cheap merchandise made to appeal especially to small children. It was as good a day for thieves and pickpockets as it was a miserable day for mothers, who had no place to take their whimpering, bawling, needful offspring. About noon heralds appeared on the base of the gold-plated image. There was much raucous hornblowing to get the attention of the people. After ceremonies of a shallow nature, there was an announcement by a person with an exceptionally powerful voice. "Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon and king over kings everywhere, wants you to know what is required of you who hear these words," the herald bellowed. "When you hear music from the orchestra that will soon play from the base of this pedestal, every one of you is to bow before this great image! Any who fail or refuse to do so will be seized by the king's guards and thrown into a large, roaring furnace prepared especially for criminals and those who fail to conform to the king's will!" People hadn't expected to hear anything like this. Most of them had their favorite idols, toward which they had varying degrees of loyalty. But because it was the custom to worship more than one idol — inasmuch as each was believed to give his special benefits — the edict from the herald posed no great problem for most of the hearers. And the special benefit of worshipping Nebuchadnezzar's idol was very plain. It was the difference between living or being burned to death! When the large orchestra by the pedestal broke out into strains of music in the minor key, the crowd went to its knees. Many tried to demonstrate special deep humility by dropping their foreheads to the soil, hoping that these extreme actions would somehow win them special favor. (Daniel 3:4-7.) Acres of bowed human backs shone in the noonday sun. Some who didn't understand, such as small children, remained standing or simply sat down. (It must have been difficult for Nebuchadnezzar's guards to decide who the disobedient were, especially since they, too, had their foreheads pressed to the ground.) As for Daniel and his three close friends, they simply waited for the music finally to end and signal the close of the period of worship. Nebuchadnezzar was pleased with the way matters turned out. He was even exuberant — until some high-ranking Babylonians appeared before him to flatter him on his efforts to launch a new deity and then to inform him that there were those in his own government who had deliberately refused to bow down before his image. "There must be some mistake," the king smiled indulgently, looking away to show indifference. "No sane, responsible person in my organization would dare defy my orders." "The three foreigners, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego certainly did!" the envious Babylonians quickly informed him. Besides refusing to bow when they were told to yesterday, we happen to know that they've never paid respect to any of our gods! You have shown respect for their God. Should they not show deference for at least one of yours?" (Daniel 3:8-12.) "I'll take care of the matter," the king muttered, irritably waving his informers away. They triumphantly departed, convinced that action would be taken against the three Jews. They had carefully omitted Daniel from the charges because they knew that the king regarded him so highly that speaking against him might bring down royal wrath on their heads.
Nebuchadnezzar wasn't used to being disobeyed. The mere thought of anyone ignoring his wishes gave him great displeasure. So he called for Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. By the time they had been brought before him, the king had developed his anger into full bloom. "I have been told that you, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, failed to bow before my golden image," the king declared testily. "I have also been told that in all the years you have enjoyed the good things of my kingdom you have never shown your appreciation by thanking any of my gods. Are these things true?" "They are," one of them answered. "We are thankful for many things, but we thank and worship only the one true God, the God of Israel." Previously, Nebuchadnezzar had threatened to have anyone hacked into pieces who refused to regard the God of Israel as God above all gods. But the men's answer so infuriated him that he lost all regard he might have had for God. "You were told that any who refused to bow down to my golden image would be thrown into a hot furnace!" the king shouted. "That's where you're going from here! Who is the God who is going to step in and save you from THAT?" "Our God is able to!" they answered. "But whether or not He chooses to save us, we have no intention of worshipping other gods or bowing down before that lifeless image you have set up!" (Daniel 3:13-18.) "Get men in here at once to bind these three!" Nebuchadnezzar bellowed, his face livid with rage. "And go tell the furnace foreman to get the furnace as hot as he can possibly get it!" Servants scrambled to obey. Moments later powerful soldiers strode into the room to roughly seize and tie up the three Jews, who were soon prone and helpless on the floor. "Now drag these infidels to the furnace and shove them into it when it's at its hottest!" the king roared. Strong arms pulled Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah across the floor, down stone steps and through the courtyard. A little later at the smokebelching furnace, they were propped up so that they could watch men feverishly tossing large pieces of pitchy wood into the massive metal and stone firebox, which began to glow dully when the roaring flames from the crackling wood were at their hottest. Great surges of searing heat billowed forth, reddening the skin of the stokers. Nebuchadnezzar was on hand to gloat over the event, as were the informers who had started it. While the heat was increasing, so was the crowd of curious, morbid onlookers. Some ventured so close to the furnace door that they were scorched by bursts of heat, and they ran howling for safety. At a signal from the king, the three victims were grabbed by the men who had tied them and dragged them as close to the furnace door as their handlers could stand to go. They were then tossed through the door into the raging flames. (Daniel 3:19-23.) This was the last act of the soldiers. Tongues of flame leaped at them. They collapsed the next instant and fell to the ground. Their clothing and skin broke into flames. They burned to death in the torrid gusts of air outside the range of the huge flames. None dared risk his life in an attempt to rescue them. King Nebuchadnezzar quickly turned his glance back to the bottom of the flaming pit. What he saw shocked him. Never in his life had he seen such a thing.