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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Daniel 3




Daniel's Three Friends in the Fiery Furnace - Daniel 3:1-30

Nebuchadnezzar commanded a colossal golden image to be set up in the plain of Dura at Babylon, and summoned all his high officers of state to be present at its consecration. He caused it to be proclaimed by a herald, that at a given signal all should fall down before the image and do it homage, and that whosoever refused to do so would be cast into a burning fiery furnace (Daniel 3:1-7). This ceremony having been ended, it was reported to the king by certain Chaldeans that Daniel's friends, who had been placed over the province of Babylon, had not done homage to the image; whereupon, being called to account by the king, they refused to worship the image because they could not serve his gods (Daniel 3:8-18). For this opposition to the king's will they were cast, bound in their clothes, into the burning fiery furnace. They were uninjured by the fire; and the king perceived with terror that not three, but four men, were walking unbound and uninjured in the furnace (Daniel 3:19-27). Then he commanded them to come out; and when he found them wholly unhurt, he not only praised their God who had so wonderfully protected them, but also commanded, on the pain of death, all the people of his kingdom not to despise this God (Daniel 3:28-30).

The lxx and Theodotion have placed the date of this event in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, apparently only because they associated the erection of this statue with the taking of Jerusalem under Zedekiah, although that city was not taken and destroyed till the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:8.). But though it is probable that Nebuchadnezzar, after he had firmly established his world-kingdom by the overthrow of all his enemies, first felt himself moved to erect this image as a monument of his great exploits and of his world-power; yet the destruction of the capital of Judea, which had been already twice destroyed, can hardly be regarded as having furnished a sufficient occasion for this. This much, however, is certain, that the event narrated in this chapter occurred later than that of the 2nd chapter, since Daniel 3:12 and Daniel 3:30 refer to Daniel 2:49; and on the other hand, that they occurred earlier than the incident of the 4th chapter, in which there are many things which point to the last half of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, while the history recorded in the chapter before us appertains more to the middle of his reign, when Nebuchadnezzar stood on the pinnacle of his greatness. The circumstance that there is no longer found in the king any trace of the impression which the omnipotence and infinite wisdom of the God of the Jews, as brought to view in the interpretation of his dream by Daniel, made upon his mind (Daniel 2), affords no means of accurately determining the time of the occurrence here narrated. There is no need for our assuming, with Jerome, a velox oblivio veritatis , or with Calvin, the lapse of a considerable interval between the two events. The deportment of Nebuchadnezzar on this occasion does not stand in opposition to the statements made at the close of Daniel 2. The command that all who were assembled at the consecration of the image should all down before it and worship it, is to be viewed from the standpoint of the heathen king. It had no reference at all to the oppression of those who worshipped the God of the Jews, nor to a persecution of the Jews on account of their God. It only demanded the recognition of the national god, to whom the king supposed he owed the greatness of his kingdom, as the god of the kingdom, and was a command which the heathen subjects of Nebuchadnezzar could execute without any violence to their consciences. The Jews could not obey it, however, without violating the first precept of their law. But Nebuchadnezzar did not think on that. Disobedience to his command appeared to him as culpable rebellion against his majesty. As such also the conduct of Daniel's friends is represented to him by the Chaldean informers in Daniel 3:12. The words of the informers, “The Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon have not regarded thee, O king; they serve not thy gods,” etc., clearly show that they were rightly named (Daniel 3:8) “accusers of the Jews,” and that by their denunciation of them they wished only to expel the foreigners from their places of influence; and for this purpose they made use of the politico-national festival appointed by Nebuchadnezzar as a fitting opportunity. Hence we can understand Nebuchadnezzar's anger against those who disregarded his command; and his words, with which he pronounced sentence against the accused - ”who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hand?” - are, judged of from the religious point of view of the Israelites, a blaspheming of God, but considered from Nebuchadnezzar's heathen standpoint, are only an expression of proud confidence in his own might and in that of his gods, and show nothing further than that the revelation of the living God in Daniel 2 had not permanently impressed itself on his heart, but had in course of time lost much of its influence over him.

The conduct of Nebuchadnezzar toward the Jews, described in this chapter, is accordingly fundamentally different from the relation sustained by Antiochus Epiphanes towards Judaism; for he wished entirely to put an end to the Jewish form of worship. In the conduct of Daniel's friends who were accused before the king there is also not a single trace of the religious fanaticism prevalent among the Jews in the age of the Maccabees, who were persecuted on account of their fidelity to the law. Far from trusting in the miraculous help of God, they regarded it as possible that God, whom they served, would not save them, and they only declare that in no case will they reverence the heathen deities of the king, and do homage to the image erected by him (Daniel 3:16.).

The right apprehension of the historical situation described in this chapter is at complete variance with the supposition of the modern critics, that the narrative is unhistorical, and was invented for the purpose of affording a type for the relation of Antiochus Epiphanes to Judaism. The remarkable circumstance, that Daniel is not named as having been present at this festival (and he also would certainly not have done homage to the image), can of itself alone furnish no argument against the historical accuracy of the matter, although it cannot be explained on the supposition made by Hgstb., that Daniel, as president over the wise men, did not belong to the class of state-officers, nor by the assertion of Hitz., that Daniel did not belong to the class of chief officers, since according to Daniel 2:49 he had transferred his office to his friends. Both suppositions are erroneous; cf. under Daniel 2:49. But many other different possibilities may be thought of to account for the absence of all mention of Daniel's name. Either he may have been prevented for some reason from being present on the occasion, or he may have been present and may have refused to bow down before the image, but yet may only not have been informed against. In the latter case, the remark of Calvin, ut abstinuerint a Daniele ad tempus, quem sciebant magnifieri a Rege , would scarcely suffice, but we must suppose that the accusers had designed first only the overthrow of the three rulers of the province of Babylon.

(Note: Kran.'s supposition also (p. 153), that Daniel, as president over the class of the wise men, claimed the right belonging to him as such, while in his secular office he could be represented by his Jewish associates, and thus was withdrawn from the circle of spectators and from the command laid upon them of falling down before the image, has little probability; for although it is not said that this command was laid upon the caste of the wise men, and even though it should be supposed that the priests were present at this festival as the directors of the religious ceremonial, and thus were brought under the command to fall down before the image, yet this can scarcely be supposed of the whole caste. But Daniel could not in conscience take part in this idolatrous festival, nor associate himself with the priests, nor as president of all the Magi withdraw into the background, so as to avoid the ceremony of doing homage of the image.)

But the circumstance that Daniel, if he were present, did not employ himself in behalf of his friends, may be explained from the quick execution of Babylonish justice, provided some higher reason did not determine him confidently to commit the decision of the matter to the Lord his God.

(Note: We have already in part noticed the arguments against the historical accuracy of the narrative presented by the opponents of the genuineness of the book, such as the giving of Greek names to the musical instruments, and the conduct of Antiochus Epiphanes in placing an idol-image on the altar of burnt-offering (pp. 34, 50). All the others are dealt with in the Exposition. The principal objection adduced is the miracle, on account of which alone Hitz. thinks himself warranted in affirming that the narrative has no historical reality.)

Verses 1-18

The erection and consecration of the golden image, and the accusation brought against Daniel's friends, that they had refused to obey the king's command to do homage to this image.

Daniel 3:1

Nebuchadnezzar commanded a golden image to be erected, of threescore cubits in height and six cubits in breadth. צלם is properly an image in human likeness (cf. Daniel 2:31), and excludes the idea of a mere pillar or an obelisk, for which מצּבה would have been the appropriate word. Yet from the use of the word צלם it is not by any means to be concluded that the image was in all respects perfectly in human form. As to the upper part - the head, countenance, arms, breast - it may have been in the form of a man, and the lower part may have been formed like a pillar. This would be altogether in accordance with the Babylonian art, which delighted in grotesque, gigantic forms; cf. Hgstb. Beitr . i. p. 96f. The measure, in height threescore cubits, in breadth six cubits, is easily explained, since in the human figure the length is to be breadth in the proportion of about six to one. In the height of threescore cubits the pedestal of the image may be regarded as included, so that the whole image according to its principal component part ( a potiori ) was designated as צלם ; although the passage Judges 18:30-31, adduced by Kran., where mention is made of the image alone which was erected by Micah, without any notice being taken of the pedestal belonging to it (cf. Judges 18:17 and Judges 18:18), furnishes no properly authentic proof that פּסל in Judges 18:30 and Judges 18:31 denotes the image with the pedestal. The proportion between the height and the breadth justifies, then, in no respect the rejection of the historical character of the narrative. Still less does the mass of gold necessary for the construction of so colossal an image, since, as has been already mentioned, according to the Hebrew modes of speech, we are not required to conceive of the figure as having been made of solid gold, and since, in the great riches of the ancient world, Nebuchadnezzar in his successful campaigns might certainly accumulate an astonishing amount of this precious metal. The statements of Herodotus and Diodorus regarding the Babylonian idol-images,

(Note: According to Herod. i. 183, for the great golden image of Belus, which was twelve cubits high, and the great golden table standing before it, the golden steps and the golden chair, only 800 talents of gold were used; and according to Diod. Sic. ii. 9, the golden statue, forty feet high, placed in the temple of Belus consisted of 1000 talents of gold, which would have been not far from sufficient if these objects had been formed of solid gold. Diod. also expressly says regarding the statue, that it was made with the hammer, and therefore was not solid. Cf. Hgstb. Beitr . i. p. 98, and Kran. in loco .)

as well as the description in Isaiah 40:19 of the construction of idol-images, lead us to think of the image as merely overlaid with plates of gold.

The king commanded this image to be set up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. The ancients make mention of two places of the name of Dura , the one at the mouth of the Chaboras where it empties itself into the Euphrates, not far from Carchemish (Polyb. v. 48; Ammian. Marc. xxiii. 5, 8, xxiv. 1, 5), the other beyond the Tigris, not far from Apollonia (Polyb. v. 52; Amm. Marc. xxv. 6, 9). Of these the latter has most probability in its favour, since the former certainly did not belong to the province of Babylon, which according to Xenophon extended 36 miles south of Tiphsach (cf. Nieb. Gesch. Assurs , S. 421). The latter, situated in the district of Sittakene, could certainly be reckoned as belonging to the province of Babylon, since according to Strabo, Sittakene, at least in the Old Parthian time, belonged to Babylon (Nieb. p. 420). But even this place lay quite too far from the capital of the kingdom to be the place intended. We must, without doubt, much rather seek for this plain in the neighbourhood of Babylon, where, according to the statement of Jul. Oppert ( Expéd. Scientif. en Mésopotamie , i. p. 238ff.), there are at present to be found in the S.S.E. of the ruins representing the former capital a row of mounds which bear the name of Dura, at the end of which, along with two larger mounds, there is a smaller one which is named el Mokattat (= la colline alignée ), which forms a square six metres high, with a basis of fourteen metres, wholly built en briques crues (Arab. lbn ), which shows so surprising a resemblance to a colossal statue with its pedestal, that Oppert believes that this little mound is the remains of the golden statue erected by Nebuchadnezzar.

(Note: “On seeing this mound,” Oppert remarks ( l. c. p. 239), “one is immediately struck with the resemblance which it presents to the pedestal of a colossal statue, as, for example, that of Bavaria near Münich, and everything leads to the belief that the statue mentioned in the book of Daniel (Daniel 3:1) was set up in this place. The fact of the erection by Nebuchadnezzar of a colossal statue has nothing which can cause astonishment, however recent may have been the Aramean form of the account of Scripture.” Oppert, moreover, finds no difficulty in the size of the statue, but says regarding it: “There is nothing incredible in the existence of a statue sixty cubits high and six cubits broad; moreover the name of the plain of Dura, in the province ( מדינה ) of Babylon, agrees also with the actual conformation of the ruin.”)

There is a difference of opinion as to the signification of this image. According to the common view (cf. e.g., Hgstb. Beitr . i. p. 97), Nebuchadnezzar wished to erect a statue as an expression of his thanks to his god Bel for his great victories, and on that account also to consecrate it with religious ceremonies. On the other hand, Hofm. ( Weiss. u. Erf. i. p. 277) remarks, that the statue was not the image of a god, because a distinction is made between falling down to it and the service to his god which Nebuchadnezzar required (Daniel 3:12, Daniel 3:14, Daniel 3:18) from his officers of state. This distinction, however, is not well supported; for in these verses praying to the gods of Nebuchadnezzar is placed on an equality with falling down before the image. But on the other hand, the statue is not designated as the image of a god, or the image of Belus; therefore we agree with Klief. in his opinion, that the statue was a symbol of the world-power established by Nebuchadnezzar, so that falling down before it was a manifestation of reverence not only to the world-power, but also to its gods; and that therefore the Israelites could not fall down before the image, because in doing so they would have rendered homage at the same time also to the god or gods of Nebuchadnezzar, in the image of the world-power. But the idea of representing the world-power founded by him as a צלם was probably suggested to Nebuchadnezzar by the tselem seen (Daniel 2) by him in a dream, whose head of gold his world-kingdom was described to him as being. We may not, however, with Klief., seek any sanction for the idea that the significance off the image is in its size, 6, 10, and six multiplied by ten cubits, because the symbolical significance of the number 6 as the signature of human activity, to which the divine completion (7) is wanting, is not a Babylonian idea. Still less can we, with Zündel (p. 13), explain the absence of Daniel on this occasion as arising from the political import of the statue, because the supposition of Daniel's not having been called to be present is a mere conjecture, and a very improbable conjecture; and the supposition that Daniel, as being chief of the Magi, would not be numbered among the secular officers of state, is decidedly erroneous.

Daniel 3:2-7

Nebuchadnezzar commanded all the chief officers of the kingdom to be present at the solemn dedication of the image. שׁלח , he sent , viz., מלאכים or רצים messengers , 1 Samuel 11:7; 2 Chronicles 30:6, 2 Chronicles 30:10; Esther 3:15. Of the great officers of state, seven classes are named: - 1. אחשׁדּרפּניּא , i.e., administrators of the Khshatra , in Old Pers. dominion , province , and pâvan in Zend., guardians , watchers , in Greek Σατράπης , the chief representatives of the king in the provinces. 2. סגניּא , Hebr. סגנים , from the Old Pers. (although not proved) çakana , to command (see under Daniel 2:48), commanders , probably the military chiefs of the provinces . 3. פּחותא , Hebr. פּחה , פחות , also an Old Pers. word, whose etymon and meaning have not yet been established (see under Haggai 1:1), denotes the presidents of the civil government, the guardians of the country ; cf. Haggai 1:1, Haggai 1:14; Nehemiah 5:14, Nehemiah 5:18. 4. אדרגּזריּא , chief judges , from the Sem. גזר , to distinguish, and אדר , dignity (cf. אדרמּלך ), properly, chief arbitrators, counsellors of the government . 5. גּדבריּא , a word of Aryan origin, from גּדבר , identical with גּזבּר , masters of the treasury, superintendents of the public treasury . 6. דּתבריּא , the Old Pers. dâta - bara , guardians of the law, lawyers (cf. דּת , law). 7. תּפתּיּא , Semitic, from Arab. fty IV to give a just sentence , thus judges in the narrower sense of the word. Finally, all שׁלטני , rulers , i.e., governors of provinces , prefects, who were subordinate to the chief governor, cf. Daniel 2:48-49.

All these officers were summoned “to come ( מתא from אתא , with the rejection of the initial ) א to the dedication of the image.” The objection of v. Leng. and Hitz., that this call would “put a stop to the government of the country,” only shows their ignorance of the departments of the state-government, and by no means makes the narrative doubtful. The affairs of the state did not lie so exclusively in the hands of the presidents of the different branches of the government, as that their temporary absence should cause a suspension of all the affairs of government. חנכּה is used of the dedication of a house (Deuteronomy 20:5) as well as of the temple (1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chronicles 7:5; Ezra 6:16), and here undoubtedly denotes an act connected with religious usages, by means of which the image, when the great officers of the kingdom fell down before it, was solemnly consecrated as the symbol of the world-power and (in the heathen sense) of its divine glory. This act is described (Daniel 3:3-7) in so far as the object contemplated rendered it necessary.

When all the great officers of state were assembled, a herald proclaimed that as soon as the sound of the music was heard, all who were present should, on pain of death by being cast into the fire, fall down before the image and offer homage to it; which they all did as soon as the signal was given. The form קאמין , Daniel 3:3, corresponds to the sing. קאם (Daniel 2:31) as it is written in Syr., but is read קימין . The Masoretes substitute for it in the Talm. The common form קימין ; cf. Fürst, Lehrgb. der aram. Idiom. p. 161, and Luzzatto, Elem. Gram. p. 33. The expression לקבל , Daniel 3:3, and Ezra 4:16, is founded on קבל , the semi-vowel of the preceding sound being absorbed, as in the Syr. lû-kebel . On כּרוזא , herald , and on the form לכון , see under Daniel 2:5. אמרין , they say , for “it is said to you.” The expression of the passive by means of a plural form of the active used impersonally, either participially or by 3rd pers. perf. plur., is found in Hebr., but is quite common in Chald.; cf. Ewald, Lehr. d. hebr. Spr. §128, b , and Winer, Chald. Gram. §49, 3. The proclamation of the herald refers not only to the officers who were summoned to the festival, but to all who were present, since besides the officers there was certainly present a great crowd of people from all parts of the kingdom, as M. Geier has rightly remarked, so that the assembly consisted of persons of various races and languages. אמּיּא denotes tribes of people , as the Hebr. אמּה , אמּות Genesis 25:16, denotes the several tribes of Ishmael, and Numbers 25:15 the separate tribes of the Midianites, and is thus not so extensive in its import as עמּין , peoples . לשּׁניּא , corresponding to הלּשׁות , Isaiah 66:18, designates ( vide Genesis 10:5, Genesis 10:20, Genesis 10:31) communities of men of the same language , and is not a tautology, since the distinctions of nation and of language are in the course of history frequently found. The placing together of the three words denotes all nations, however they may have widely branched off into tribes with different languages, and expresses the sense that no one in the whole kingdom should be exempted from the command. It is a mode of expression (cf. Daniel 3:7, Daniel 3:29, 31[4:1], and Daniel 6:26[25]) specially characterizing the pathetic style of the herald and the official language of the world-kingdom, which Daniel also (Daniel 5:19; Daniel 7:14) makes use of, and which from the latter passage is transferred to the Apocalypse, and by the union of these passages in Daniel with Isaiah 66:18 is increased to ἔθνη ( גּוים in Isa.), φυλλαι,́ λαοὶ καὶ γλῶσσαι (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 13:7; Revelation 14:6; Revelation 17:15).

In the same passage זמנא בּהּ , Daniel 3:7 (cf. also Daniel 3:8), is interchanged with בּעדּנא , at the time (Daniel 3:5 and Daniel 3:15); but it is to be distinguished from בּהּ־שׁעתּא , at the same moment , Daniel 3:6 and Daniel 3:15; for שׁעא or שׁעה has in the Bib. Chald. only the meaning instant , moment , cf. Daniel 4:16, Daniel 4:30; Daniel 5:5, and acquires the signification short time, hour , first in the Targ. and Rabbin. In the enumeration also of the six names of the musical instruments with the addition: and all kinds of music , the pompous language of the world-ruler and of the herald of his power is well expressed. Regarding the Greek names of three of these instruments see p. 507. The great delight of the Babylonians in music and stringed instruments appears from Isaiah 14:11 and Psalms 137:3, and is confirmed by the testimony of Herod. i. 191, and Curtius, Daniel 3:3. קרנא , horn , is the far-sounding tuba of the ancients, the קרן or שׁופר of the Hebr.; see under Joshua 6:5. משׁרוקיתא , from שׁרק , to hiss, to whistle , is the reed-flute , translated by the lxx and Theodot. σύριγξ , the shepherd's or Pan's pipes , which consisted of several reeds of different thicknesses and of different lengths bound together, and, according to a Greek tradition (Pollux, iv. 9, 15), was invented by two Medes. קיתתס (according to the Kethiv ; but the Keri and the Targ. and Rabbin. give the form קתרס ) is the Greek κιθάρα or κίθαρις , harp , for the Greek ending ις becomes ος in the Aramaic, as in many similar cases; cf. Ges. Thes . p. 1215. סבּכא , corresponding to the Greek σαμβύκη , but a Syrian invention, is, according to Athen. iv. p. 175, a four-stringed instrument , having a sharp, clear tone; cf. Ges. Thes. p. 935. פּסנמּרין (in Daniel 3:7 written with a ט instead of ת and in Daniel 3:10 and Daniel 3:15 pointed with a Tsere under the ) ת is the Greek ψαλτήριον , of which the Greek ending ιον becomes abbreviated in the Aram. into ין (cf. Ges. Thes . p. 1116). The word has no etymology in the Semitic. It was an instrument like a harp, which according to Augustin (on Psalms 33:2 [32:2] and Psalms 43:4 [42:4) was distinguished from the cithara in this particular, that while the strings of the cithara passed over the sounding-board, those of the psalterium (or organon ) were placed under it. Such harps are found on Egyptian (see Rosellini) and also on Assyrian monuments (cf. Layard, Ninev . and Bab ., Table xiii. 4). סוּמפּניה , in Daniel 3:10 סיפניה , is not derived from ספן , contignare , but is the Aramaic form of συμφωνία , bag-pipes , which is called in Italy at the present day sampogna , and derives its Greek name from the accord of two pipes placed in the bag; cf. Ges. Thes. p. 941. זמרא signifies, not “song,” but musical playing , from reemaz , to play the strings , ψάλλειν ; and because the music of the instrument was accompanied with song, it means also the song accompanying the music . The explanation of זמרא by singing stands here in opposition to the זני כּל , since all sorts of songs could only be sung after one another, but the herald speaks of the simultaneous rise of the sound. The limiting of the word also to the playing on a stringed instrument does not fit the context, inasmuch as wind instruments are also named. Plainly in the words זמרא זני כּל all the other instruments not particularly named are comprehended, so that זמרא is to be understood generally of playing on musical instruments . בּהּ־שׁעתּא , in the same instant . The frequent pleonastic use in the later Aramaic of the union of the preposition with a suffix anticipating the following noun, whereby the preposition is frequently repeated before the noun, as e.g., בּדּניּאל בּהּ , Daniel 5:12, cf. Daniel 5:30, has in the Bibl. Chald. generally a certain emphasis, for the pronominal suffix is manifestly used demonstratively, in the sense even this, even that.

Homage was commanded to be shown to the image under the pain of death to those who refused. Since “the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar was founded not by right, but by the might of conquest” (Klief.), and the homage which he commanded to be shown to the image was regarded not only as a proof of subjection under the power of the king, but comprehended in it also the recognition of his gods as the gods of the kingdom, instances of refusal were to be expected. In the demand of the king there was certainly a kind of religious oppression, but by no means, as Bleek, v. Leng., and other critics maintain, a religious persecution, as among heathen rulers Antiochus Epiphanes practised it. For so tolerant was heathenism, that it recognised the gods of the different nations; but all heathen kings required that the nations subdued by them should also recognise the gods of their kingdom, which they held to be more powerful than were the gods of the vanquished nations. A refusal to yield homage to the gods of the kingdom they regarded as an act of hostility against the kingdom and its monarch, while every one might at the same time honour his own national god. This acknowledgement, that the gods of the kingdom were the more powerful, every heathen could grant; and thus Nebuchadnezzar demanded nothing in a religious point of view which every one of his subjects could not yield. To him, therefore, the refusal of the Jews could not but appear as opposition to the greatness of his kingdom. But the Jews, or Israelites, could not do homage to the gods of Nebuchadnezzar without rejecting their faith that Jehovah alone was God, and that besides Him there were no gods. Therefore Nebuchadnezzar practised towards them, without, from his polytheistic standpoint, designing it, an intolerable religious coercion, which, whoever, is fundamentally different from the persecution of Judaism by Antiochus Epiphanes, who forbade the Jews on pain of death to serve their God, and endeavoured utterly to destroy the Jewish religion. - Regarding the structure of the fiery furnace, see under Daniel 3:22.

Daniel 3:8-12

The Chaldeans immediately denounced Daniel's three friends as transgressors of the king's command. דּנה כּל־קבל , therefore , viz., because the friends of Daniel who were placed over the province of Babylon had not, by falling down before the golden image, done it homage. That they did not do so is not expressly said, but is expressed in what follows. כּשׂדּאין גּברין are not Chaldeans as astrologers of magi ( כּשׂדּים ), but members of the Chaldean nation, in contrast to יהוּדיא , the Jews. קרבוּ , they came near to the king . דּי קרצי אכל , literally, to eat the flesh of any one , is in Aramaic the common expression for to calumniate, to denounce . That which was odious in their report was, that they used this instance of disobedience to the king's command on the part of the Jewish officers as an occasion of removing them from their offices, - that their denunciation of them arose from their envying the Jews their position of influence, as in Daniel 6:5 (4)f. Therefore they give prominence to the fact that the king had raised these Jews to places of rule in the province of Babylon.

With this form of address in Daniel 3:9, cf. Daniel 2:4. טעם שׂים signifies in Daniel 3:12 rationem reddere , to attend to, to have regard for. In Daniel 3:10, as frequently, the expression signifies, on the contrary, to give an opinion, a judgment , i.e., to publish a command . The Keth . לאלהיך (Daniel 3:12), for which the Keri prefers the sing. form לאלהך , in sound the same as the contracted plur., is to be maintained as correct; for the Keri here, as in Daniel 3:18, supporting itself on לאלהי , Daniel 3:14, rests on the idea that by the honouring of his god only the doing of homage to the image is meant, while the not doing homage to the image only gives proof of this, that they altogether refused to honour the gods of Nebuchadnezzar. This is placed in the foreground by the accusers, so as to arouse the indignation of the king. “These Chaldeans,” Hitz. remarks quite justly, “knew the three Jews, who were so placed as to be well known, and at the same time envied, before this. They had long known that they did not worship idols; but on this occasion, when their religion made it necessary for the Jews to disobey the king's command, they make use of their knowledge.”

Daniel 3:13

That they succeeded in their object, Nebuchadnezzar shows in the command given in anger and fury to bring the rebels before him. היתיוּ , notwithstanding its likeness to the Hebr. Hiphil form התיוּ , Isaiah 21:14, is not the Hebraizing Aphel, but, as היתית , Daniel 6:18, shows, is a Hebraizing passive from of the Aphel, since the active form is היתיו , Daniel 5:3, and is a passive formation peculiar to the Bib. Chald, for which in the Targg. Ittaphal is used.

Verses 14-18

The trial of the accused .

Daniel 3:14

The question הצדא the old translators incorrectly explain by Is it true? In the justice of the accusation Nebuchadnezzar had no doubt whatever, and צדא has not this meaning. Also the meaning, scorn , which אּצדי in Aram. has, and L. de Dieu, Häv., and Kran. make use of, does not appear to be quite consistent, since Nebuchadnezzar, if he had seen in the refusal to do homage to the image a despising of his gods, then certainly he would not have publicly repeated his command, and afforded to the accused the possibility of escaping the threatened punishment, as he did (Daniel 3:15). We therefore agree with Hitz. and Klief., who interpret it, after the Hebr. צדיּה , Numbers 35:20., of malicious resolution , not merely intention, according to Gesen., Winer, and others. For all the three could not unintentionally or accidentally have made themselves guilty of transgression. The form הצדא we regard as a noun form with ה interrog. prefixed in adverbial cases, and not an Aphel formation: Scorning, Shadrach, etc., do ye not serve? (Kran.) The affirmative explanation of the verse, according to which the king would suppose the motive of the transgression as decided, does not agree with the alternative which (Daniel 3:15) he places before the accused. But if הצדא is regarded as a question, there is no need for our supplying the conjunction דּי before the following verb, but we may unite the חצדא in one sentence with the following verb: “ are ye of design ... not obeying? ” Nebuchadnezzar speaks of his god in contrast to the God of the Jews.

Daniel 3:15

עתידין taken with the following clause, תּפּלוּן ... דּי , is not a circumlocution for the future (according to Winer, Chald. Gram. §45, 2). This does not follow from the use of the simple future in contrast, but it retains its peculiar meaning ready . The conclusion to the first clause is omitted, because it is self-evident from the conclusion of the second, opposed passage: then ye will not be cast into the fiery furnace . Similar omissions are found in Exodus 32:32; Luke 13:9. For the purpose of giving strength to his threatening, Nebuchadnezzar adds that no god would deliver them out of his hand. In this Hitz. is not justified in supposing there is included a blaspheming of Jehovah like that of Sennacherib, Isaiah 37:10. The case is different. Sennacherib raised his gods above Jehovah, the God of the Jews; Nebuchadnezzar only declares that deliverance out of the fiery furnace is a work which no god can accomplish, and in this he only indirectly likens the God of the Jews to the gods of the heathen.

Daniel 3:16

In the answer of the accused, נבוּכדנצּר is not, contrary to the accent, to be placed in apposition to למלכּא ; for, as Kran. has rightly remarked, an intentional omission of מלכּא in addressing Nebuchadnezzar is, after Daniel 3:18, where מלכּא occurs in the address, as little likely as that the Athnach is placed under למלכּא only on account of the apposition going before, to separate from it the nomen propr. ; and an error in the placing of the distinctivus , judging from the existing accuracy, is untenable. “The direct address of the king by his name plainly corresponds to the king's address to the three officers in the preceding words, Daniel 3:14.” We are not to conclude from it, as Hitz. supposes, “that they address him as a plebeian,” but much rather, as in the corresponding address, Daniel 3:14, are to see in it an evidence of the deep impression sought to be produced in the person concerned.

פּתגּם is the accus., and is not to be connected with דּנה על : as to this command (Häv.). If the demonstrative were present only before the noun, then the noun must stand in the status absol. as Daniel 4:15 (18). פּתגּם , from the Zend. paiti = πρός , and gâm , to go, properly, “the going to,” therefore message, edict , then generally word (as here) and matter (Ezra 6:11), as frequently in the Targ., corresponding to the Hebr. דּבר .

Daniel 3:17-18

יכיל denotes the ethical ability , i.e., the ability limited by the divine holiness and righteousness, not the omnipotence of God as such. For this the accused did not doubt, nor will they place in question the divine omnipotence before the heathen king. The conclusion begins after the Athnach, and הן means, not see! lo! (according to the old versions and many interpreters), for which Daniel constantly uses אלוּ or ארו , but it means if , as here the contrast לא והן , and if not (Daniel 3:18), demands. There lies in the answer, “If our God will save us, then ... and if not, know, O king, that we will not serve thy gods,” neither audacity, nor a superstitious expectation of some miracle (Daniel 3:17), nor fanaticism (Daniel 3:18), as Berth., v. Leng., and Hitz. maintain, but only the confidence of faith and a humble submission to the will of God. “The three simply see that their standpoint and that of the king are altogether different, also that their standpoint can never be clearly understood by Nebuchadnezzar, and therefore they give up any attempt to justify themselves. But that which was demanded of them they could not do, because it would have been altogether contrary to their faith and their conscience. And then without fanaticism they calmly decline to answer, and only say, 'Let him do according to his own will;' thus without superstitiousness committing their deliverance to God” (Klief.).

Verse 19-20

The judgment pronounced on the accused, their punishment, and their miraculous deliverance .

After the decided refusal of the accused to worship his gods, Nebuchadnezzar changed his countenance toward them. Full of anger at such obstinacy, he commanded that the furnace should be heated seven times greater than was usual (Daniel 3:19), and that the rebels should be bound in their clothes by powerful men of his army, and then cast into the furnace (Daniel 3:20, Daniel 3:21). The form of his countenance changed, and his wrath showed itself in the lineaments of his face. The Kethiv אשׁתּנּו ( plur .) refers to the genitive [ אנפּוהי , plur., “of his countenances”] as the chief idea, and is not, after the Keri , to be changed into the sing . למזא for למאזא . On הד־שׁבעה , sevenfold , cf. Winer, Chald. Gram. §59, 5. חזה דּי על , beyond that which was fit , i.e., which was necessary. Seven is used as expressive of an exceedingly great number, with reference to the religious meaning of the punishment.

Verse 21

Of the different parts of clothing named, סרבּלין are not hose, short stockings, from which Hitz. concludes that the enumeration proceeds from the inner to the outer clothing. This remark, correct in itself, proves nothing as to the covering for the legs. This meaning is given to the word only from the New Persian shalwa ̂r , which in the Arabic is sara ̂wîl ; cf. Haug in Ew.'s bibl. Jahrbb . v. p. 162. But the word corresponds with the genuine Semitic word sirbal , which means tunica or indusium ; cf. Ges. Thes .

(Note: The lxx have omitted סרבּלין in their translation. Theodot. has rendered it by σαράβαρα , and the third-named piece of dress כּרבּלן by περικνημῖδες , which the lxx have rendered by τιάρας ἐπὶ τῶν κεφαλῶν . Theodoret explains it: περικνημῖδας δὲ τὰς καλουμένας ἀναξυρίδας λέγει . These are, according to Herod. vii. 161, the αναχυρίδες , i.e., braccae , worn by the Persians περὶ τὰ σκέλεα . Regarding Σαράβαρα Theodoret remarks: ἔστι Περσικῶν περιβολαίων εἴδη . Thus Theodot. and Theodor. expressly distinguish the σαράβαρα ( סרבּלין ) from the περικνημῖδες ; but the false interpretation of סרבּלין by breeches has given rise to the confounding of that word with כּרבּלן , and the identification of the two, the περικνημῖδες being interpreted of covering for the feet ; and the Vulg. translates the passage: “ cum braccis suis et tiaris et calceamentis et vestibus ,” while Luther has “cloaks, shoes, and hats.” This confounding of the two words was authorized by the Greek scholiasts, to which the admission of the Persian shalwâr into the Arabic saravilu may have contributed. In Suidas we find the right interpretation along with the false one when he says: Σαράβαρα ἐσθὴς Περσικὴ ἔνιοι δὲ λέγουσι βρακία . Hesychius, on the other hand, briefly explains σαράβαρα by βρακία, κνημῖδες, σκελέαι . Hence the word in the forms sarabara, siravara, saravara or saraballa, sarabela , is commonly used in the middle ages for hose , and has been transferred into various modern languages; cf. Gesen. Thes . p. 971.)

p. 970, and Heb. Lex. s. v. Accordingly, סרבּלין denotes under-clothing which would be worn next the body as our shirt. פּטישׁיהון , for which the Keri uses the form פּטשׁיהון , corresponding to the Syriac petš ayhūn , is explained in the Hebr. translation of the Chald. portions of Daniel by כּתנת , tunica , and is derived from פשׁט , expandit (by the transposition of the second and third radicals). Thus the Syriac word is explained by Syr. lexicographers. Theodotion's translation, τιάραι , is probably only hit upon from the similarity of the sound of the Greek πέτασος , the covering for the head worn by the ἔφηβοι . כּרבּלן are mantles , from כּרבּל , R. כּבל , to bind, to lay around , with r intercalated, which occurs 1 Chronicles 15:27 of the putting around or putting on of the מעיל (upper garment). לבוּשׁיהון are the other pieces of clothing (Aben Ezra and others), not mantles . For that לבוּשׁ was specially used of over-clothes (Hitz.) cannot be proved from Job 24:7 and 2 Kings 10:22. We have here, then, the threefold clothing which, according to Herodotus, i. 195, the Babylonians wore, namely, the סרבּלין , the κιθῶν ποδηνεκὴς λίνεος , the פּטישׁא worn above it, ἄλλον εἰρίνεον κιθῶνα , and the כּרבּלא thrown above that, χλανίδιον λευκόν ; while under the word לבוּשׁיהון the other articles of clothing, coverings for the feet and the head, are to be understood.

(Note: With the setting aside of the false interpretation we have disposed of the objection against the historical character of the narrative which v. Leng. and Hitz. have founded on the statement of Herodotus l.c. , that the Babylonians wore no hose, but that they were first worn by the Persians, who adopted them from the Medes.)

The separate articles of clothing, consisting of easily inflammable material, are doubtlessly mentioned with reference to the miracle that followed, that even these remained unchanged (Daniel 3:27) in the fiery furnace. In the easily inflammable nature of these materials, namely, of the fine κιθῶν ποδηνεκὴς λίνεος , we have perhaps to seek the reason on account of which the accused were bound in their clothes, and not, as Theodoret and most others think, in the haste with which the sentence against them was carried out.

Verse 22-23

דּי מן ( because that ), a further explanatory expression added to דּנה כּל־קבל ( wholly for this cause ): because the word of the king was sharp, and in consequence of it ( ו ), the furnace was heated beyond measure for that reason. The words אלּך גּבריּא ( these mighty men ) stand here in the status absol. , and are again taken up in the pronoun המּון after the verb קטּל . If the three were brought up to the furnace, it must have had a mouth above, through which the victims could be cast into it. When heated to an ordinary degree, this could be done without danger to the men who performed this service; but in the present case the heat of the fire was so great, that the servants themselves perished by it. This circumstance also is mentioned to show the greatness of the miracle by which the three were preserved unhurt in the midst of the furnace. The same thing is intended by the repetition of the word מכפּתין , bound , Daniel 3:23, which, moreover, is purposely placed at the close of the passage to prepare for the contrast שׁרין , at liberty , free from the bonds, Daniel 3:25.

(Note: Between Daniel 3:23 and Daniel 3:24 the lxx have introduced the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the three men in the fiery furnace; and these two hymns are connected together by a narrative which explains the death of the Chaldeans who threw the three into the furnace, and the miracle of the deliverance of Daniel's friends. Regarding the apocryphal origin of these additions, composed in the Greek language, which Luther in his translation has rightly placed in the Apocrypha, see my Lehr. der Einl. in d. A. Test . §251.)

Verses 24-27

The king, who sat watching the issue of the matter, looked through the door into the furnace, and observed that the three who had been cast into it bound, walked about freed from their bonds and unhurt; and, in truth, he saw not the three only, but also a fourth, “like to a son of the gods,” beside them. At this sight he was astonished and terrified. He hastily stood up; and having assured himself by a consultation with his counsellors that three men had indeed been cast bound into the furnace, while he saw four walking in the midst of it, he approached the mouth of the furnace and cried to the three to come forth. They immediately came out, and were inspected by the assembled officers of state, and found to be wholly uninjured as to their bodies, their clothes being unharmed also, and without even the smell of fire upon them. הדּברין refers, without doubt, to the officers of the kingdom, ministers or counselors of state standing very near the king, since they are named in Daniel 3:27 and Daniel 6:8 (Daniel 6:7) along with the first three ranks of officers, and (Daniel 4:23 [26]) during Nebuchadnezzar's madness they conducted the affairs of government. The literal meaning of the word, however, is not quite obvious. Its derivation from the Chald. דּברין , duces , with the Hebr. article (Gesen.), which can only be supported by מדברא , Proverbs 11:14 (Targ.), is decidedly opposed by the absence of all analogies of the blending into one word of the article with a noun in the Semitic language. The Alkoran offers no corresponding analogues, since this word with the article is found only in the more modern dialects. But the meaning which P. v. Bohlen ( Symbolae ad interp. s. Codicis ex ling. pers. p. 26) has sought from the Persian word which is translated by simul judex, i.e., socius in judicio , is opposed not only by the fact that the compensation of the Mim by the Dagesch, but also the composition and the meaning, has very little probability.

The fourth whom Nebuchadnezzar saw in the furnace was like in his appearance, i.e., as commanding veneration, to a son of the gods, i.e., to one of the race of the gods. In Daniel 3:28 the same personage is called an angel of God, Nebuchadnezzar there following the religious conceptions of the Jews, in consequence of the conversation which no doubt he had with the three who were saved. Here, on the other hand, he speaks in the spirit and meaning of the Babylonian doctrine of the gods, according to the theogonic representation of the συζυγία of the gods peculiar to all Oriental religions, whose existence among the Babylonians the female divinity Mylitta associated with Bel places beyond a doubt; cf. Hgst. Beitr . i. p. 159, and Häv., Kran., and Klief. in loc.

Acting on this assumption, which did not call in question the deliverance of the accused by the miraculous interposition of the Deity, Nebuchadnezzar approached the door of the furnace and cried to the three men to come out, addressing them as the servants (worshippers) of the most high God. This address does not go beyond the circle of heathen ideas. He does not call the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the only true God, but only the most high God, the chief of the gods, just as the Greeks called their Zeus ὁ ὕψιστος θεός . The Kethiv עלּיא (in Syr. ̀elāyā̀ , to preserve) is here and everywhere in Daniel (v. 32; Daniel 4:14, Daniel 4:21, etc.) pointed by the Masoretes according to the form עילאה (with ) ה prevailing in the Targg. The forms גשׁם , גּשׁמא , are peculiar to Daniel (v. 27f., Daniel 4:30; Daniel 5:21; Daniel 7:11). The Targg. have גּוּשׁמא instead of it.

Verses 28-30

The impression made by this event on Nebuchadnezzar.

The marvellous deliverance of the three from the flames of the furnace produced such an impression on Nebuchadnezzar, that he changed his earlier and humbler judgment (Daniel 3:15) regarding the God of the Jews, and spoke now in praise of the might of this God. For at the same time he not only openly announced that He had saved (Daniel 3:28) His servants, but also by an edict, issued to all the peoples of his kingdom, he forbade on pain of death the doing of any dishonour to the God of the Jews (Daniel 3:29). Nebuchadnezzar, however, did not turn to the true God. He neither acknowledged Jehovah as the only, or the alone true God, nor did he command Him to be worshipped. He only declared Him to be a God who is able to save His servants as no other could, and merely forbade the despising and reviling of this God. Whoever speaks שׁלה , that which is erroneous or unjust, against the God of Shadrach, etc., shall be put to death. שׁלה , from שׁלה , to err, to commit a fault , is changed in the Keri into שׁלוּ , which occurs in Daniel 6:5 and Ezra 4:22, and in the Targg.; but without sufficient ground, since with other words both forms are found together, e.g., ארמלא , vidua , with ארמלוּ , viduitas . According to this, שׁלוּ in abstr. means the error ; שׁלה in concr ., the erroneous . Hitz. finds the command partly too narrow, partly quite unsuitable, because an error, a simple oversight, should find pardon as soon as possible. But the distinction between a fault arising from mistake and one arising from a bad intention does not accord with the edict of an Oriental despot, which must be in decided terms, so that there may be no room in cases of transgression for an appeal to a mere oversight. Still less importance is to be attached to the objection that the carrying out of the command may have had its difficulties. but by such difficulties the historical character of the narrative is not brought under suspicion. As the Chaldeans in this case had watched the Jews and accused them of disobedience, so also could the Jews scattered throughout the kingdom bring before the tribunal the heathen who blasphemed their God.

Daniel 3:29-30

Regarding the collocation of the words עם אמּה ו , see under Daniel 3:4; and regarding the Nymid@fha and the threatened punishment, see under Daniel 2:5. כּדּנה we regard, with the lxx, Theodot., Vulg., and old interpreters, as a fem. adverbial: οὕτως , ita , as it occurs in Daniel 2:10; Ezra 5:7, and Jeremiah 10:11. The interpreting it as masculine, as this God , does not correspond with the heathen consciousness of God, to which a God perceptible by sight was more appropriate than a God invisible (Kran.). The history concludes (Daniel 3:30) with the remark that Nebuchadnezzar now regarded the three men with the greatest favour. In what way he manifested his regard for them is not stated, inasmuch as this is not necessary to the object of the narrative. הצלח with ל , to give to any one happiness , prosperity, to cause him to be fortunate.

If we attentively consider the import of this narrative in its bearing on the history of the kingdom of God, we learn how the true worshippers of the Lord under the dominion of the world-power could and would come into difficulties, imperilling life, between the demands of the lords of this world and the duties they owe to God. But we also learn, that if in these circumstances they remain faithful to their God, they will in a wonderful manner be protected by Him; while He will reveal His omnipotence so gloriously, that even the heathen world-rulers will be constrained to recognise their God and to give Him glory.


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The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Bibliography Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Daniel 3:4". 1854-1889.

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