Daniel 3 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Daniel 3
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

An important addition appears in both Greek Versions of Daniel, in accordance with which the event recorded in this chapter took place in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. Whence the tradition arose cannot be ascertained. It was certainly unknown to Josephus. It has been supposed that the date was added by the translators, on account of their supposing the erection of the image to be connected with the taking of Jerusalem. However, this is improbable, as the siege itself was not finished till the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:8). It has also been conjectured that the statue was one of the king himself, erected in commemoration of some great victories recently won by him. This is not impossible; but, partly from the mention of the sacred numbers, 6, 60, partly from the language of Daniel 3:12; Daniel 3:14; Daniel 3:18; Daniel 3:20, it appears more probable that the image was erected in honour of some god. There is no doubt (see Records of the Past, vol. v., p. 113) that this king did erect an image of Bel Merodach. Possibly we have in this chapter a parallel account of the dedication of the image.


THE Babylonians as a nation appear to have been remarkably fond of music. Isaiah (Isaiah 14:11) speaks of the noise of the viols of Babylon as forming part of her pomp, and it may be presumed that the desire of the Babylonians to hear some of the strains of Zion (Psalm 137:2-3) was not uttered in mockery, but from a genuine wish, such as all persons have who really care for music at all, to hear the melodies of foreign countries. Further evidence is afforded by sculptures, which represent various musical instruments and considerable bands of performers.

Whence the Babylonian music was originally derived is not known, though probably we must look to Egypt as the source; but it may be asserted that whatever was not indigenous to Babylonia itself must have come from the same sources whence articles of commerce were acquired. At the time of Daniel, Babylon held commerce in the west with Egypt and Tyre. By means of both these lines of commerce Babylon was brought into contact with Greece, the great mistress of art in the sixth century B.C. And as we find traces among the Greek instruments of the Semitic Nabla and Kinura, it seems, à priori, highly probable that some of the Greek instruments should have found their way to Tyre, and to Egypt, and then penetrated to Babylon.

For many years previous to Nebuchadnezzar there had been considerable communication between Greece and the East. We know that 300 years earlier Sargon made Javan or Greece tributary. The statue of this king found at Idalium proves that he conquered the Greek colony of Cyprus. His son Sennacherib, we know, was engaged in war with Greeks in Cilicia. His grandson, Esarhaddon, had Greeks fighting on his side during his Asian campaign. It would be very remarkable if, during the many years throughout which Greece and Assyria were brought into connection, the musical instruments of the one nation should not have become known to the other. And if Assyria acquired Greek musical instruments, what is more probable than that many years before Nebuchadnezzar’s time they were known in Babylon?

The connection between Greece and the East did not cease with the fall of the Assyrian empire. In the army of Nebuchadnezzar we find serving as soldier the brother of the poet Alcæus, and a few lines are extant in which this great lyric writer welcomes home his brother from the Babylonian campaign. The historical notices of these times are very scanty, so that it is not easy to demonstrate the extent of Greek commerce in the sixth century B.C., but the facts mentioned above give us strong grounds for supposing that at an early period there was an interchange of musical instruments between the East and the West, and with the instruments would pass their names, which in the course of time would become more or less corrupted as the people who adopted them found it hard or easy to pronounce and transliterate the words.

We should expect therefore, à priori, in any list of Babylonian instruments, to find some of the names of Semitic, some of Greek extraction, and some of very doubtful etymology. This is precisely what we find in the book of Daniel. Of the names of the six instruments mentioned, two are undoubtedly of Semitic origin, one if not two are Greek, one is uncertain, while the sixth is perhaps not an instrument at all, though the word is undoubtedly Greek.

The instruments that have Semitic names are the “cornet” and the “flute.” They are both of great antiquity. The former is frequently found in the reliefs which represent military scenes, and the mention of it in this chapter is probably to be accounted for by the fact that the army was present.

The instruments which appear to have been derived from Greece are the “harp” and the “psaltery.” The former is frequently represented in the reliefs, possessing strings in number from three upwards. The psaltery is of uncertain etymology, but looks like a Greek word. The context requires a word to denote “cymbals,” which occur very frequently in the sculptures, and do not readily find an equivalent among the instruments mentioned by David.

What the “sackbut” may have been must be left undecided. It is true that a word sambuca occurs in Greek, but it is of foreign extraction.

The “dulcimer,” sûmphonia in the Chaldee, is probably not the name of a musical instrument, but means a “concerted piece of music.” The passages upon which it has been inferred that the sûmphonia was an instrument are Polyb. xxvi. 10, § 5, Athen. x. 53 (near the end); neither passage, however, is conclusive.

Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.
(1) An image.—If this image was made after the manner described (Isaiah 44:9-20), the body was formed of wood, and the whole, when properly shaped, was covered with thin plates of gold. As the height of the whole is disproportionate to the width, it is probable that the height of the pedestal on which the image stood is included under the sixty cubits.

Plain of Dura.—The older commentators identified this place with various sites, some north, some east of Babylon. Recent discoveries place it nearer to Babylon, in a place still called by a similar name.

Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellers, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
(2) Senti.e., sent heralds, as appears from Daniel 3:4. (On the Babylonian officers, see Exc. A.)

Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellers, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages,
(4) People, nations.—In Biblical language the latter word is used (Genesis 25:16) of the tribes of Ishmael, each of which had its own head, or of the Midianites (Numbers 25:15). The former is applied to Israel in Psalm 111:6, where occurs the phrase, “people of Jehovah.” The word “languages” is applied (Genesis 10:5; Genesis 10:20, &c.) to tribes as represented by their languages. Hence these three expressions denote all nations subject to the empire, of whatever description of language, government, or federation. (Comp. Daniel 3:29, and Daniel 4:1; Daniel 7:14.)

That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up:
(5) The cornet.—On the musical instruments, see Exc. B.

And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
(6) Shall be cast . . .—This punishment was not uncommon among the Babylonians. One instance of it is mentioned by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:22; see also Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archœology, vol. ii., p. 361). The occasion being a national festival, any refusal to worship the national gods would be regarded as high treason. Any foreign subjects would be expected to take part in the ceremony, their gods being supposed to have been conquered, and being regarded as demons. (Comp. 2 Kings 19:12; 2 Chronicles 28:23.)

Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews.
(8) Wherefore.i.e., because certain Jews were noticed to be absent at the time. It is natural to suppose that the promotion of three men of Jewish extraction would have been viewed with the greatest jealousy by the Babylonian officers, who, no doubt, had been carefully watching their opportunity of revenge. (Comp. Daniel 5:11.)

Chaldeans.—Not to be confused with the astrologers mentioned in Daniel 2:5, but Chaldean native subjects, contrasted with the Jewish colonists spoken of at the end of the verse.

They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever.
Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image:
And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
(12) Whom thou hast set.—The high position of these men is mentioned partly to explain the king’s anger on account of their supposed ingratitude, and partly to account for the malice and jealousy of their calumniators. But why was Daniel absent from the ceremony? His behaviour some years later (Daniel 6:10) leaves it beyond question that he would not have taken part in any idolatrous rites. Possibly his position as “chief of the wise men” (Daniel 2:48) made his presence unnecessary. Possibly he was absent on other duties. Two things are certain: (1) the object of the book is not to glorify Daniel; (2) a writer of a fictitious story would have recorded a miracle to deliver Daniel, as well as the three children.

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?
(14) Is it true?—Literally, Is it of design or of set purpose that you have done this?

Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, 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?
(15) Well.—The word is not in the Chaldee, where an aposiopesis is to be observed, as in Exodus 32:32. Comp. Luke 13:9.

Who is that God?—Nebuchadnezzar has so little belief in his own gods that he ranks himself as far above them as above Jehovah. He defies all supernatural powers. Very different is the boast of Sennacherib (Isaiah 36:18-20), who pits his own god Assur against Jehovah.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
(16) O Nebuchadnezzar.—They mention the king by name, so as to make their address correspond with his (Daniel 3:14). His attention would in this way be directed to the strong antithesis between his statement (Daniel 3:15) and theirs (Daniel 3:17). Great though the distinction was between king and subject in such a country as Babylon, yet that distinction was lost when any collision occurred between duty to Jehovah and obedience to a royal edict.

We are not careful.—More correctly, as translated by Theodotion, We have no needi.e., it is needless for us to give any reply.

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.
(17) If it be so.—The meaning becomes clearer by omitting the word “so.” The sentence will then stand as follows: “If our God is able to deliver us . . . then He will do so; but if He does not deliver us, be assured that we will not serve thy gods.” The three holy children are quite content to leave the whole matter in the hands of Providence. They know that the law of obedience is the first law of all, and this they are resolved to keep. There is not the slightest ground for supposing that they expected a miraculous deliverance. Their language implies no more than faithful obedience. (See Isaiah 43:2.)

Is able.—They did not question His power; they did not know whether He would will to exercise the use of it. (Comp. Genesis 19:22.)

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.
Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.
(19) One seven times.—It is doubtful whether “seven” is used here as a round number or not. According to the Babylonian mythology, there were seven demons, named “Maskim,” who were the most formidable of the infernal powers. Perhaps the number “seven” has a reference to them, for the religious nature of the punishment favours the view that the overheating of the furnace was regarded as a religious act.

Than it was wont.—More correctly, than it was fitting. The improper heating of the furnace led to the death of the mighty men (Daniel 3:22).

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.
(20) The most mighty men.—He selected these as being the most likely to be able to bear the unusual heat of the fire. Whether he had any expectation that some attempt at a rescue would be made does not appear. We may gather, however, that the army was present at this horrible tragedy.

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.
(21) Their coats.—The dresses spoken of here correspond with what Herodotus tells us (i. 195) of the Babylonian costume. As far as can be determined from the etymology of the words, the “coat” was an under-clothing, which covered the whole body; the “hose” was some species of tunic—something “spread out” over the under-clothing; the “hat” (the only one of the three words of which no Hebrew root exists (see 1 Chronicles 15:27), was a sort of cloak, used probably for State occasions only.

Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
(22) Urgent.—The same word is translated hasty (Daniel 2:15). The king’s command had been uttered while he was in a furious rage, and in consequence of this, the furnace was raised to so high a temperature that the executioners were slain. The death of the executioners forms an evident contrast with the deliverance of those who had been sentenced to die.

And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellers, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.
(24) Was astonied.—He had been watching the proceedings from a distance through the “mouth” (Daniel 3:26), which was in the side of the furnace.

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.
(25) The Son of God.—These words, let us remember, are uttered by a heathen king, who calls this same Person, in Daniel 3:28, “an angel” of the God whom the three children worshipped. Probably Nebuchadnezzar thought that He stood to Jehovah in the same relation that he himself did to Merodach. His conceptions of the power of Jehovah were evidently raised by what he had witnessed, though as yet he does not recognise Him as being more than a chief among gods. He has not risen to that conception of the unity of God which is essential to His absolute supremacy. But still the question has to be answered, What did the king see? The early Patristic interpretation was that. it was none other than Christ Himself. We have no means of ascertaining anything further, and must be content with knowing that the same “Angel of God’s presence” who was with Israel in the wilderness watched over the people in Babylon.

Then Nebuchadnezzar came 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.
And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counsellers, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.
Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.
(28) Have changed.—Literally, have transgressed.

Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.
29) Anything amiss.—The marginal version is to be preferred.

Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.
(30) Promotedi.e., he reinstated them to their former posts, from which they had been temporarily deposed.

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