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They Didn’t Bow, They Didn’t Bend, They Didn’t Burn
From the Writings of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion’s Fire Magazine in January/February, 1994

The Royal Decree – Daniel 3:4-6
“Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”

Years ago, I heard a black preacher, with great conviction and fire in his bones, sum up a sermon with these words: “Those three Hebrew boys didn’t BOW, they didn’t BEND, and so they didn’t BURN.” Time has all but erased the full content of his message from my memory, but not his closing assessment: “Those three Hebrew boys didn’t BOW, they didn’t BEND, and so they didn’t BURN.” His text was taken from the Book of Daniel and dealt with the three young Hebrew men, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah or, as they are more popularly know by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

An Image of Gold
The third chapter of the Book of Daniel begins abruptly: “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold...” (Dan. 3:1). There is no contextual hint of what is coming, no transition. The text simply confronts the reader with this image of gold. The image is said to have been sixty cubits high and six cubits in breadth. The cubit was the standard linear measure in the Old Testament. It was approximately eighteen inches in length. That would mean that the golden image was ninety feet high (equivalent to an eight- or nine-story building) and nine feet in breadth. It is probable that some kind of base or pedestal was part of the overall height. No small statue this colossus. In that it was overlaid in pure gold, it at once becomes conspicuous that King Nebuchadnezzar spared no expense in the erecting of his image. It was large. It was impressive. It was costly. It was in keeping with what we know concerning the character of Nebuchadnezzar, both from the Bible and from secular history. He was generous in the promoting of his gods and grandiose in all that he did.

Less than one mile from my home here in Orlando, Florida, a Mormon temple, built of glistening, imported white, Italian marble, is nearing completion. By design it is built on the highest and most conspicuous location in the area. It is large, impressive, and costly – perhaps the most costly building per square foot in the city. On the top of the impressive temple is a statue of their angel-prophet, Moroni, blowing a trumpet, calling people to embrace Mormonism and become gods.

A short distance away, along Interstate 4, in the midst of the busy tourist corridor and only minutes from Disney World, is another spectacular shrine called “Mary, Queen of the Universe.” It is also large, impressive, and costly. It perpetuates the mother-child religion instituted by Nimrod, his consort Semiramis, who is said to have been impregnated by a sunbeam, and her child, Tammuz. This mother-child religious system can be traced through the religions of antiquity up to the present hour.

Is it not instructive that, on the one hand, false religion is often lavish in its portrayal of its gods – gods which cannot see, cannot hear, and cannot deliver – gods which are created by men’s minds and fashioned by their hands? On the other hand, while there are many within the family of God who give sacrificially and generously, there are others who purport to worship the true and living God who are often stingy, begrudging, and miserly in their devotion to the Lord of Glory – not so much in the building of temples (for the true Church is His temple), but in the support of important ministries, which are involved in exalting the Savior, making Him known to the sons of men.

Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image was quite possibly in the likeness of man – perhaps the very likeness of the king himself. Or, as some suggest, it may have been in the likeness of Nebuchadnezzar’s favorite god Merodach (or Marduk). This heathen deity was known as the lord of battles.

If the image was in the likeness of the king, it was probably suggested by his dream of the great colossus in Daniel 2 and the interpretation by Daniel which indicated that Nebuchadnezzar represented the “head of gold” of the image (Dan. 2:38).

If the image was of Merodach, “the lord of battles,” it may have been to honor Nebuchadnezzar’s favorite god. Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful leader in history. He dominated the world of his day. He ruled for forty years and, as a military commander, he never lost a battle. His authority was absolute. It is quite possible that the king saw himself as the son of Merodach, “the lord of battles.”

What is very clear is this: The erecting of the golden image and the command that-all the princes, governors, captains, judges, treasurers, counselors, sheriffs, and rulers of the provinces of Babylon come to the dedication of the image was largely politically motivated. That is fundamental to an understanding of what the third chapter of Daniel is all about.

Bow or Burn
The day arrived. Those appointed assembled in the plain of Dura, outside the magnificent city of Babylon. The golden image could be seen from great distances in the plain. There was nothing to distract from that dominant figure – not Nebuchadnezzar’s hanging gardens, which were ingeniously irrigated without the aid of a pump and considered one of the seven wonders of the world, not the grandiose temples built for other Babylonian gods like Nebo, Ishtar, and Belter to be found within the city, not even Nebuchadnezzar’s own colossal palaces. All eyes were focused on the spectacular golden image in the plain of Dura.

The state-appointed preacher for the occasion was brief, clear, and to the point. The Bible records his message this way: “To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” (Dan. 3:4-6). The intimidation of Nebuchadnezzar was considerable. There was nothing complex about it. The choice was clear: Bow or burn!

Expanding kingdoms require a unifying glue – something that can bring oneness out of diversification, unity out of complexity. Alexander the Great, during his rapid conquests, achieved unification by spreading the Greek language, Greek culture, and Greek gods. The Romans achieved unification through the personification of Rome as a god, and ultimately emperor worship itself. The kings of England achieved unification through one official State church. In the history of men and nations, political leaders often used religion to accomplish their political purposes. Get defeated nations to worship the conqueror’s gods, and they will quickly cease resistance and rebellion.

Nebuchadnezzar wanted to assimilate and control captured lands and peoples through religion – to have worship of one deity bring deviating, diverging provinces together. This is what Nebuchadnezzar was doing here. This is what the golden image was mostly about – political allegiance and control.

But it must not be forgotten that it pleases man to make of himself a god. W. A. Criswell, in his very helpful commentary on Daniel, wrote:

“It pleases man to deify himself. On the plain of Dura outside the great city of Babylon he raised this giant likeness of a man. That pleases the heathen psychologists, it pleases the pagan sociologists, it pleases the pseudo-scientists, it pleases the mass of politicians, it pleases man to deify himself. They confidently exclaim, ‘We have no need of God...We are not dependent upon any outside power. We seek no intervention or interference from heaven. We are able ourselves to settle all of our problems and to face all of our necessities.’ So they [legislate] God out of life.”

These three Hebrew men were far from home, living in a strange culture, facing strange problems. Their nation had been defeated, their people helpless and hopeless, their temple in ruins, their God discredited. Under such circumstances, it would be so easy, so natural, so reasonable to bow to the image of gold – to obey Nebuchadnezzar’s decree. In such circumstances, who could blame them? In such an arena, who could find fault? And, besides, everybody else was doing it.

A Godly Defiance
Music has always been intimately associated with worship. The one hundred fifty songs which today comprise the Psalms in the Bible were Israel’s hymnal. Singing is the vocal expression of worship to God which bubbles up from the deepest recesses of the heart to become song. A requisite for singing is redemption. Singing is the sound of the soul set free. Without redemption one cannot sing – not really. The world can make a noise; only the child of God can sing a song.

False religion has its counterfeit music, and Nebuchadnezzar would not be denied. He had a full orchestra present – plenty of everything. One comes away with the feeling that it must have been a black-tie affair – very impressive. At the king’s command, the different strata of rulers throughout the kingdom came to be seen by the king and demonstrate their allegiance to him. After all, when Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful ruler in history bids you come, you come.

So there they were by the thousands, rulers of the vast Babylonian empire of that day. They had assembled in the plain of Dura outside the city of Babylon, before the golden image. And now it was time for the call to worship. Everything was ready – the golden image, the musicians, the priests, and the people. The sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music could be heard. Surely, this would get the people in the mood for religious experience. Their emotions would be stirred. The magnificent spectacle would draw the masses in like a powerful magnet. Here was mob conformity at its most effective level. They would bow to this heathen deity and, in the doing, swear their unending loyal allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian kingdom. The king was no political novice. He had planned well. The moment arrived, and with great precision the multitudes bowed low, prostrate, pledging their allegiance to King Nebuchadnezzar and his golden image. Some were there out of conviction, some out of expediency, some out of fear, all by command. But there they were, groveling in the dirt, worshiping a man and a golden lifeless image.

Here was “glue” that would hold against all strains of rebellion – all attempts at revolt. But the three Hebrew men didn’t bow. Not only had they remained erect, they didn’t even flinch. They had earlier settled the matter in their hearts. Here was no last-minute decision – no spontaneous heroism. This was the fruit of their godly lives. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (I suspect they would prefer their Hebrew names rather than the heathen Babylonian names forced upon them with the intent of weaning them away from their God) were not rebellious or unsubmissive to authority. This was not their style. Precisely the opposite was the case. Their nation had been defeated, their capital sacked, their temple was in ruins, their familiar articles of religious worship had been placed in heathen temples, and their God mocked. Nonetheless, in the face of such overwhelming adversity, they would not bow to a lifeless image, no matter how large, impressive, or expensive. They would not worship a man – not even mighty Nebuchadnezzar.

These fiercely loyal, unbending Jewish men would not abandon the God of their forefathers, although from a purely pragmatic perspective they could have reasoned that they had been abandoned by Him. They may have been in captivity, but they had not forgotten the first two commandments of the Lord: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” and “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath...Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Ex. 20:3-5). Such loyalty to the Lord gains attention. It also begets enemies.

And so it was that “certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews’“ (Dan. 3:8). These Chaldeans were the priests of the god Bel-Merodach. They were incensed that these three Hebrews did not bow to the golden image. These priests would not let their good fortune on this occasion slip away. They would not allow these foreigners to escape this time. With hypocrisy, which dripped like honey, these mealy-mouthed Chaldeans came before the king and, in their most artful and sickening tone, they said: “O king, live forever. Thou, O king, hast made a decree...There are certain Jews...” – one can almost hear the contempt in their voices – “certain Jews whom thou has set over the affairs of the province of Babylon.” It is as if they were saying to the king: We warned you about these foreigners whom you appointed to rule over us. They have not regarded thee, nor have they obeyed thy command to worship the golden image which thou hast set up. This is sheer insubordination and disloyalty of the most heinous kind. You must take action!

Evidently, because of their high positions in government, these three men were given a chance to demonstrate their loyalty. Parenthetically, it may be asked, Where was Daniel at this time? Why did he not have to bow to the image? Some have suggested that he was away on state business; others, that he may have been ill. This is, of course, pure conjecture. More likely, we should understand that Daniel was not required to bow. The three friends had government posts out in the provinces. Daniel, by contrast, sat at the king’s gate: “Then Daniel requested of the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, over the affairs of the province of Babylon [one of the many provinces]: but Daniel sat in the gate of the king” (Dan. 2:49). That means he was in the inner circle; one could call it a “Cabinet post,” holding a position akin to the Secretary of State. His loyalty to the king was beyond question. He was exempted from the test of loyalty required of those serving outside the palace proper.

The Bible narrative describes the second chance of Daniel’s three friends this way: “Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?” (Dan. 3:13-14). The king was beside himself in anger. He had brought them years before as captives from Israel. He gave them Babylonian names, he educated them, he appointed them to high positions in his government. They had it all – power, prestige, and wealth. Had they, after all this time (probably, at least 20 years had passed), refused to abandon their God for his gods? Would they not worship the king and the golden image?

And so Nebuchadnezzar said, Let’s try this again. Let’s give it another go. Perhaps the priests were in error – perhaps it was just a power play – I know their self-serving attitude. Let’s give these three, who have served me well and are friends of my highly regarded advisor, Daniel, the benefit of the doubt. And so the king said, “Now if ye be ready that at what time that ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace, and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:15).

The response to the command and unveiled threat of the king was immediate. It stands forth as one of the truly courageous statements of Bible history. It should serve as an encouragement and challenge to every blood-bought child of God. “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter” (Dan. 3:16). There was no disrespect for the king here. The idea is this: O king, we do not require time to study our answer; our minds are fully made up. It is rooted in our souls.

They belonged to a despised and defeated race, yet they were unconquerable even before the master conqueror of the world of their day. These three had seen the face of God; they did not fear the face of man.

There are times when men must pray over an issue, seek godly counsel, and meditate before making a decision. There are other times when biblical principles are clear. Delay serves no benefit. Action is called for.

They did not cringe before the king saying, “Grant us a consultation. Maybe we can come to some agreement. We need to spend some time in dialogue.” They simply refused to compromise in any way to any degree. They were not being stiff-necked, unreasonable, or uncooperative. This was no petty issue. The glory of their God was at stake. But they were not yet done answering the king. They said: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king” (Dan. 3:17). What faith was here – a faith not merely speculative, holding clear and orthodox views regarding God and His providential power; but faith practiced and ready to be put to the test. Danger could not shake it, and the prospect of death could not make it waver. Mortal life might be terminated by violence, but life eternal lies beyond. It is that kind of courageous faith which will be required in the days ahead.

Their last words before being thrown into the fiery furnace were words of glorious confidence: “But if not [if our God does not choose to physically deliver us], be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” Come what may, these three would remain loyal. How much their courage and fidelity must have pleased their heavenly Father. What joy they must have brought to His heart!

Divine Deliverance
And so the matter was settled in the mind of Nebuchadnezzar. These three dared to disobey – they refused to bow – they had the audacity to speak of another god – One who, if He chose, had the power to deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar. The king was enraged. After all, did he not possess absolute power? Was not he himself considered a god? The Word of God describes the king’s action this way: “And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace” (Dan. 3:20-21).

The pitch, bitumen, tar, and sulphur were burning seven times hotter than normal. The flames were so hot that the soldiers who threw them into the fire were themselves consumed (Dan. 3:22).
Had God chosen – had events taken their natural course – the three faithful Hebrew men would have been remembered as faithful martyrs. Had they not themselves said: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace...But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Dan. 3:17-18). For these men, both were legitimate options – deliverance or martyrdom; whichever their God chose according to His infinite wisdom and power. On this occasion, their God chose to bare His right arm of omnipotence and miraculously deliver His faithful servants.

Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied [astonished], and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God (Dan 3:24-25).

The king was “astonished,” he “rose up in haste,” he “spoke,” he “said unto his counselors.” Nebuchadnezzar was, in twentieth-century slang, blown away. He was like a loose cannon, running in all directions at once. His actions could have been anticipated. Some of his very best soldiers had been killed in the process of throwing Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah into the burning fiery furnace; and here were the three, unbound, walking around, and unharmed in the midst of the flames. A fourth, like the Son of God, was added to their number. Nebuchadnezzar is truly an amazing personality. Such was his power that, through it all, he still had the audacity to be giving orders. “Then Nebuchadnezzar came near [but not too near] to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire (Dan 3:26).” Where was Daniel at this time? I suspect, prone on his face before God, interceding on behalf of his comrades.

The fire had not harmed them. Their hair was not singed. Their clothing was not damaged. There was not even the smell of fire upon them (Dan 3:27). Their total deliverance had been accomplished through the fourth personage who had been with them in the furn-
ace – who in appearance looked like “the Son of God.” (Perhaps His form emanated a radiance even within the fire). This can be nothing less than a preincarnate appearance of the Angel of the Lord – the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Nebuchadnezzar had no choice but to acknowledge that their God was “the most high God (El Elyon)” – stronger than the Babylonian gods. “Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon” (Dan 3:30).

Prophetic Significance
Those who limit the account of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to a fascinating story of faith and bravery five hundred years before Christ have, in this writer’s view, missed the chapter’s significance completely. The third chapter of Daniel is intended to teach urgent prophetic truth.

At the end of the age, the Antichrist will arise. He will be the final ruler of the period of time called the “times of the Gentiles” and is depicted in the second chapter of Daniel as a great colossus. Nebuchadnezzar was the first ruler. The Antichrist will set up an image in his own likeness (Mt. 24:15; 2 Th. 2:3-5; Rev 13:11-18). He will demand that the Jews in Israel bow to the image. The purpose will be primarily for political assimilation – to bring the nation into his power base as he seeks to become a world ruler. Many from within Israel will welcome his advances. They will see him as the solution to their national problems – a leader who can bring about world peace. A remnant, however, from within the nation, will refuse his overtures. Among those who refuse, some will be martyred; others will be supernaturally delivered. The Antichrist, in his attempt to dominate the world, will then seek to kill all of those who, in their loyalty to the Son of God, refuse to bow to his image and receive his mark. These events are described as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7) and the “great tribulation.” (Mt 24:21).

In considering the prophetic significance of Daniel’s three friends, the golden image, Nebuchadnezzar, and the burning fiery furnace, a number of salient facts should be noted.

The context is important. In Daniel Chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream depicting a colossal image. Daniel, by divine enablement, interprets the dream and the significance of the image. It represented four great empires that would arise during “the times of the Gentiles;” the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman Empires. The feet and toes of the great colossus depict the final Roman empire, comprised of a ten-nation confederation at the end of the age over which the Antichrist will rule.

Originally, the Bible had no chapter divisions. The last verses of what is today called Daniel Chapter 2 depict events at the end of the age. That which is called Daniel Chapter 3 commences with the words: “Nebuchadnezzar, the king, made an image of gold” (Dan 3:1). The image was built by King Nebuchadnezzar more than five hundred years before Christ, but it was intended primarily to depict events at the end of the age – at the final stage of Gentile world power.

Exactly as the three Hebrew men refused to bow to the image of Nebuchadnezzar even though it could cost them their lives, a remnant of Jews will refuse to bow to the Antichrist at the end of the age. The Lord, in His Olivet Discourse, warns this remnant to flee to the mountains to avoid being killed (Mt 24:15-21). There they will be preserved by divine intervention (Rev. 12:13-16). Frustrated in his attempt to get at this remnant of Jews, the Antichrist will direct his fury against all believers worldwide (Rev 12:17).

The three faithful Jews understood that God could deliver them; however, He might allow them to receive the crown of martyrdom. They would remain faithful in either scenario – deliverance or martyrdom. In a discussion of the end times, the Lord taught: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear [have a reverent trust in] him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt. 10:28). Wicked men can kill the physical body when God permits it, but God alone determines the destiny of both the glorified body and the eternal soul. Loyalty to such an One is wise and prudent. Again, the Lord taught in the context of the end of the age: “And ye shall be betrayed [to the Antichrist] both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolk, and friends: and some of you shall they cause to be put to death…but there shall not an hair of your head perish. In your patience [steadfastness in the midst of great difficulty] possess ye your souls” (Lk. 21:16-19).

The soldiers of Nebuchadnezzar who threw the godly trio into the fiery furnace were themselves consumed by the flames. They got what they gave. It was “tit for tat.” Again, in the context of the persecution of God’s faithful ones by Antichrist, it is written: “He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience [steadfastness in the midst of great difficulty] and the faith of the saints” (Rev 13:10). What the ungodly seek to inflict on the sons and daughters of God will, in fact, be inflicted on themselves. The world cannot “mess with God’s own and get away with it.”

When the three men, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were brought before Nebuchadnezzar and commanded to bow before the golden image, they said, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter” (Dan 3:16). They had no preparation time, no occasion to prepare a response. And they knew precisely what they were to say. Hear the Lord’s teaching once again in this regard: “But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak. for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Mt. 10:19-20).

Make no mistake about it, difficult days are fast approaching. Christendom is going to be tried by fire. The wheat is going to be separated from the weed. They may look a lot alike today, but not in that coming day. True believers will not bow to Antichrist and his coming new world order which, in reality, is old Babylonianism. False believers, by way of contrast, will quickly capitulate at the prospect of difficulty and persecution.

If we are not prepared to suffer for Christ – perhaps even unto death, if necessary – in that coming day, we are not ready to live for Christ triumphantly today.

What was it that preacher said about Hananiah (meaning “God is gracious”), Mishael (meaning “who is what God is”), and Azariah (meaning “whom the Lord helps”)? Was it not this? “Those three Hebrew boys didn’t BOW, they didn’t BEND, and so they didn’t BURN.” And so it will be for a faithful remnant at the end of the age.

Have you settled it in your heart? Have you made a determination? Have you consciously purposed that when the winds blow and the rains descend – when wickedness comes in like a flood, as it surely will – that you will remain faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, whatever the cost? Is He your Savior, your Lord, your King – the only One to whom you pledge unending loyalty? A settled conviction now is crucial for triumphant courage then.

"They Didn’t Bow, They Didn’t Bend, They Didn’t Burn"
From the Writings of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion’s Fire Magazine in March/April, 1995