Daniel – Chapter 3

"Nebuchadnezzar, That's Your Answer for Everything!"

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Nebuchadnezzar had a giant golden image erected, probably an idol, though possibly of himself. (The image is described as sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, leading to the obvious question of how it was able to support its own weight. Apparently, the statue had a large base, made of gold taken from the Temple, fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel 7:19, that the Jews’ gold would be used for idols.) This image was established in the plain of Dura, the same place the tower of Babel had been. (It is unclear whether or not that played a part in the selection of the site.) Nebuchadnezzar ordered all of his officers to attend the dedication ceremony of the image.

The officers arrived at the appointed time and faced the image. The master of ceremonies announced that when the band played, they were all to bow down to the image. Anyone who neglected to do so would be tossed into a flaming furnace. (You may have noticed by now that failing to do as Nebuchadnezzar wished was generally on the pain of death.) The band played and everybody bowed down.

After the event, some of the Chaldean officers, who resented the king’s Jewish advisors, informed on Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego (that is, Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah) that they did not bow down to the idol. (According to the Talmud in Sanhedrin 93a, Daniel was “out of town” when this affair occurred, which is why he was not included in the accusation.) Nebuchadnezzar became furious (as he was wont to do) and he ordered Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego brought to him.

When the three Jewish advisors arrived, the king offered them a “do over,” but they still declined, preferring to take their chances with the furnace. “There’s no doubt in our mind as to what we should do,” they said. “Our G-d can save us, if He so desires. Even if He chooses not to, you should know that we refuse to worship your statue.”

Nebuchadnezzar was so furious that his face was twisted with rage. He decided that even if G-d could save them from a regular furnace, He would be thwarted by a super-furnace, so Nebuchadnezzar ordered the fire stoked to seven times its normal heat. So hot was the fire that it killed the executioners who approached it to push in the three advisors. When their executioners died, Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah fell into the furnace. (They fell because, while the furnace is often depicted as some kind of building, like a giant bread oven or pizza oven, it was actually a large pit in the ground, probably lined with some form of ceramic or brick.)

Nebuchadnezzar turned to his advisors. “Didn’t we throw three men in there?” he asked.

“We did indeed,” they replied.

“Well, it looks like there are four people walking around in there, as happy as you please!” the king continued. “And the fourth looks something like an angel!”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego came out of the fire unsinged. They didn’t even smell of smoke. Nebuchadnezzar praised G-d for sending an angel to protect His faithful servants. He ordered that no one would be permitted to speak against the G-d of the Jews. If anyone did, they would be cut into itty-bitty pieces and their houses razed, because no other “god” has His power to save. Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah received promotions.

At this point, the Book begins a letter from Nebuchadnezzar, but it really belongs with the material in chapter 4. (The chapter and verse breaks are of non-Jewish origin and we utilize them for convenience’s sake, but occasionally they do not jibe with our traditions.)

The letter from Nebuchadnezzar was directed to all the people of the world, regarding the miracles of G-d that he experienced. Nebuchadnezzar felt obligated to share G-d’s greatness and the wonder of His deeds… as we will see in the next chapter.

Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah do not appear in the rest of the Book, though there is an opinion that they are the colleagues of Joshua the High Priest in the third chapter of Zechariah, whom we are told were worthy of having miracles performed on their behalf.

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