Daniel 3:1-7 – Worshiping the Statue

“I ordered the [following] court officials in exercises of [their] duties to take up position in my [official] suite.” (Cited by Shea)

In Daniel 3 Nebuchadnezzar creates an idol to be worshiped by the members of his government.  This command follows his statement that Daniel’s God is a great god (2:47). Clearly, he did not “convert to monotheism” even if he did acknowledge Daniel’s God.

Egyptian Obelisk at Karnak

97 foot tall Egyptian Obelisk at Karnak

The statue is very large, the gigantic size is a common argument against the historicity of Daniel.  A cubit is about 18 inches, and it is said to be threescore cubits, which is 1080 inches, or 90 feet (as the NIV reads), by only 9 feet wide. The proportions are more like an obelisk than a statue.  It is very like the many obelisks found in Babylon. There is nothing in this passage implying the statue is a human let alone Nebuchadnezzar himself. The wording allows for a “man-like” figure, possibly a man’s head with an animal’s body.

Why does Nebuchadnezzar build the statue? D. J. Wiseman thought this was an expression of thanks to Nebuchadnezzar’s favored god, Bel, for his successes militarily and politically, hence this may be an image of Bel (Nebuchadnezzar, 109. But since is not referred to as a god and he required his officers to bow to it, the image may be a symbol of Babylon. Worshiping the statue was declaring loyalty to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar and the gods of Babylon.

William H. Shea suggests that the gathering followed a revolt against Nebuchadnezzar that occurred between December 595 and January 594 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar summoned these officials to Babylon to take a “loyalty oath” to the king. If this suggestion is accurate, then the command to bow is analogous to pledging allegiance to the flag. This is a public, visible oath of loyalty to the Empire.

This command to bow is given, and the penalty for not complying with the command is death in a “fiery furnace.”  Death by burning appears in the Law of Hammurabi and is known in early Babylonian dynasties. In Jeremiah 29:21-22 Nebuchadnezzar is predicted to burn a false prophet.

For the three Jewish exiles, a command to worship an idol breaks the clear command of God. Therefore they must again make a stand against the Nebuchadnezzar and the Empire they serve. To defy this command they must be willing and ready to accept the punishment, a grisly death.

The text does not say how the men defied the king’s command, only that they did. It is likely all the officials bowed to the ground toward the statue when the music played, leaving the three Judean exiles boldly standing among the crowd.

Where is Daniel? Based on the first two chapters of the book it is clear he would not bow to the idol. Some have said that because of his religious position in the kingdom he would have been except from this command.  If one reads the rest of the book, however, Daniel appears to be a civil official, so this is not a likely suggestion. There is a literary explanation as well: chapters 3 and 6 are in parallel a parallel relationship if the chiastic outline of Daniel is accepted. Chapter 3 is a story resistance featuring the three Jewish men without Daniel, chapter 6 is a story of resistance featuring Daniel alone.

The Jews are accused by the Chaldeans and astrologers of Babylon. They report to the king these are the Jews who were put in charge over the affairs of Babylon are not loyal to Babylon. They are foreigners and not to be trusted since they did not bow to the symbol of the empire’s power. Is there a hint of anti-Semitism in the accusation? Possibly, since the accusation is against the Jews, not the “three young men.”

It is remarkable these three Jewish exiles would choose to die rather than submit to the demands of the Empire. They have determined not to give worship to an idol, a god, a human emperor, or an Empire. They are refusing to submit and are willing to accept death as a result of that decision. This is one of the most applicable elements of the book of Daniel for contemporary Christians. First, what are the beliefs and practices which are non-negotiable? What lines are necessary to define one’s Christian faith? Second, are you willing to die for those beliefs and practices rather than compromise them?

To take this a bit further, does the Empire (the government under which we currently live) demand absolute obedience? If so, should the Christian submit to the government in every way? Are there circumstances where the Christian must disobey the government and accept a harsh penalty, perhaps even death?


Bibliography: William H. Shea, “Daniel 3: Extra-Biblical Texts and the Convocation on the Plain of Dura” AUSS 20 (1982): 37.

12 thoughts on “Daniel 3:1-7 – Worshiping the Statue

  1. The book of Daniel shows how to be willing to be submissive even when we might not want to be, but yet when to resist and how to resist when the time comes. Daniel and his friends were willing to serve in the king’s court and be completely immersed in their culture and even begin to create a life in their exile. But, there came a point when they had to resist and say no. I believe those lines are very clear and when you get to them, you know when you see them and if you cross them, you are going to know that you crossed them. Some of the non-negotiables are things like worshiping another God, denying the deity of Jesus, partaking in other religious practices that could open doors to evil and so on. There must be lines and we as Christians must know what we stand for. As for us Christians living in America, our government gives us many freedoms to enjoy and lots of things that we are able to do freely. This is good, but with that freedom also comes responsibility to obey and follow the rules they have put in place as well. Our government expects us to abide by those rules and laws and if we break them there will be penalties. At this point in time, I don’t know of any Laws that would completely contradict our faith and put us in a spot of apostasy. There may be things we don’t agree with, but nothing that threatens our faith yet. There are also things that are deemed okay or legal that may be in conflict with our faith, but we are not forced to do those things. Although, I do believe because of the freedoms we have in America, Christians should still know what we stand for to make sure rules and laws don’t get passed that turn us against our faith. Little seemingly insignificant laws one at a time can lead down that road, we have to be proactive now.

  2. In chapter 3, Daniel doesn’t end up in the fiery furnace. After all, he’s not amongst the crowd that has to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue because he was promoted to the King’s palace because he could interpret dreams and visions. Even if Daniel were in the crowd with his friends, Meshack, Shadrake and Abednego he would not have bowed down to the statue because he’s faithful to his God. However, in chapter 6, Daniel didn’t have his friends with him and in that time as well he was willing to be thrown in the lion’s den because he refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s statue.

    The generation of believers today need to be less “what if” and more “even if.” Hypothetically, if the government made us worship a statue like Lady Liberty: Our response shouldn’t be “what if I die,” our response should be “even if I die, I will not defile myself by worshiping an idol.” The reality is that people are going to hate you because you are a believer, the question is are you going to be ok with them hating you and still follow God or are you going not to feel comfortable with it so you try to fit in and that may include worshipping a statue.

    • I really like what you said about this generation being more “what if” rather than “even if.” So many times, we are faced with tough situations that cause us to fear and feel panicked, especially when it comes to our faith in God, because we doubt and hide. Not everyone is going to except you for who you are, and that is ok! Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV). People have other beliefs, religions, morals, etc. and we just need to stay strong and faithful to our God because he is the one true God. We shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to stand up for ourselves and what we believe in just like Daniel when he refused to bow down to the statue as well as eat the kings food earlier in the book. If we allow our beliefs to be compromised then what we say stand for is a lie. Even if we will die, be persecuted and judged, we should be willing to do so because we know the glories and rewards we will receive in heaven one day.

  3. In this passage of scripture we see Daniel and his friends set clear and strict boundaries when it came to their faith. As we saw earlier in the book of Daniel they also refused to eat the food that was given to them by the king, and now they refuse to worship and bow down to anything that is not God. This is a great example of faith and courage because they knew the consequences of not bowing down and yet they still chose to stay faithful to their one true God.

    This should be an amazing encouragement to us as Christians to stand up for our faith even when it may be scary or we feel oppressed. We don’t experience many death threats here in America when it comes to worship and the way we practice our religion like Daniel did, however, we can face disrespect, disapproval, and judgment for what we believe and how we act it out. In our society we are taught to respect authority and follow the rules given to us, but if it goes against our religious morals I believe we need to resist and stand up for what we truly believe in. So many times Christians just give in and submit in order to avoid conflict but that is when our faith and courage needs to be the strongest. The government is a major topic in this area because they come out with laws that we need to follow and we need to respect them as the overall authority of the country, but God is the supreme authority and He is who we need to stay faithful to. Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1, ESV). God put people on this earth to be leaders and the authority over us, but we cant submit the them and push God off to the side.

  4. I like to say that I have always believed that there is a God and that he loves me. When it comes to non-negotiable truths that I believe in, I think of is that God sent his Son to this earth to live a perfect life. But because the rest of the world is not, and our punishment for that is death, therefore that’s why Jesus can be a sacrifice for us and die on a cross to forgive us of our sins than to be resurrected and make death irrelevant to us. I believe that there is only one God. the second question P Long asks is if I would die for these beliefs. The right answer would be to say yes. And I’m sure a lot of people would die for those beliefs and that’s real faith. When I look deeper inside, I would love to confidently say “yes, I will die” if asked any of those questions, but the reality is that we will never know until we are put in that position. But for now, I will continue to strengthen my faith until that day may come.
    P long takes it even further to ask if we need to obey the government when it comes to our faith. And this question brings me right to the verse in Romans “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Romans 13:1)” this gives me some encouragement about submitting to authorities, but who is to say that Our Government has sought God in every decision. I will certainly trust that God has his hand on our government. I will do my best to obey the laws, but when it comes to how the government oppresses religion, I will just continue to live my life, because I know that this life is temporary and my hope is in eternity.

  5. Taking into account the fact that there may have been a possible revolt against King Nebuchadnezzar 595-594 BC, it would make since that the king would build and erect a stature where his subjects would in a sense “pledge” their allegiance to him, as well as their loyalty. There are few things that can destroy an empire faster than fighting from within, and if a revolt had occurred, there may have even been a sense of paranoia or suspicion. The paranoia might have been not so unlike if someone in Nazi Germany did not salute the flag or Hitler while passing, or the type of mistrust that led innocent Japanese-American civilians to be imprisoned during world war two. Nebuchadnezzar knew that his most useful and powerful tool to prevent another such uprising would be to install fear into the citizens of Babylon, as well as create a sense of ultimate loyalty to him and the nation. This type of impossible situation brings us to the governments of today’s world, even our own. At what point is it not acceptable for a Christian to align themselves and obey their modern day rulers? For a simple example, If the U.S government began ordering pastors to perform homosexual marriages and weddings, this would obviously be a case where Christian would have to refuse. Or if the U.S. government began ordering its police officers to steal from private citizens to increase “revenue”, one can only hope that at least the policemen and women of Christian faith would rather resign than go along with this type of sin. And yet, as we approach the end times, these types of scenarios are already beginning to play out. Doctors are legally allowed to murder innocent, unborn children for example. God challenges us to not only rise up against such evil (Psalm 94:16), but also warns rulers and leaders that it is an abomination for them to do evil (Proverbs 16:12).

  6. The remarkable story that is given in Daniel 3 is that of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego survives the fiery furnace. However when we make the story up and look at the first seven verses of Daniel 3, we see the structure of what we know as an idol and a call by King Nebuchadnezzar that those who serve in governing roles are to worship that idol. As a Christian, I believe an act that is non-negotiable at least in the United States is the ability to worship God openly and freely without the government completely controlling what the church can or can’t say. 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Paul writes “for the tie is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths”. If the government forced me as a preacher/proclaimer of God’s word to starting preaching what I knew to be false doctrine, I would continue to preach truth; therefore if that got me jailed or physically hurt to a point of death, that would be a price I would be willing to endure for the gospel. I do not believe our current government demands absolute obedience. Just look at all the Jehovah Witnesses living in America, they don’t vote or pledge allegiance to the flag, and the government has no interest in stopping their behavior. I suppose there are occasional circumstance like those of Middle Eastern countries where the official religion of the country is Islam or even Atheism as in the country of China is, in which you must refuse to worship Allah or refuse to worship the “communist Red Flag” and instead worship Jesus of Nazareth.

  7. Daniel proved time and time again that he had a line with his faith. This story shows us that Daniel always felt God’s presence and he always knew that he needed to decide right from wrong. In the face of adversary Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, all decided that they would not defile themselves under the Babylonians laws and customs. As Christians, we can use Daniel and his friends as a prime example for our everyday convictions. These four men stood up to the Government that they were under, even to death. Daniel was to be thrown into a den of lions and his friends were to be cast into a fiery furnace. As Christians, in the United States, we have two separate laws we need to follow and only one of the two is greater. The Bible is our ultimate sets of rules and laws, but we are also supposed to follow the rules and regulations of the United States Government. Unfortunately, the Government is trying to make it harder and harder to be a Christian outside of our homes and churches. One example is that they have taken scripture and prayer out of our public schools. However, if you go out of the country, many of the Christians have to have underground churches because it is illegal. I believe that many of the Christians in America would follow suit.

  8. In today’s world there are so many people that worship different kind of idols and do not even thing twice about it. Some of them are individuals that attend church and read the bible regularly. One of the major things that people have as their idol over everything else is their phone. Today, just about everyone has a cell phone. Even young kids that do not even need a phone. There are people that are unable to do anything unless they have their phone with them or if they do not have it they are looking for it. Most individuals suffer from the disorder of FOMO (fear of missing out). Which is basically exactly what it says. Individuals keep their phone right next to them waiting for that next text, call, or even “like” on any of the social media sites. Most people do not see it as an idol, but individuals become addicted to it or “worship” their phone and are tethered to it more then God. While reading through chapter three of Daniel, it really surprised me how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would have rather died than worshiped another idol. This only showed how loyal they were to God and how much they did not want to sin. The number one non-negotiable practice is to be able to worship God freely without getting in any kind of trouble. This is the number one to me because I have heard that kids in public schools are unable to pray in school which I believe is against our freedom of religion in America.

  9. In Daniel Chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar build his golden image statue with the commands for all peoples under his rulership to worship it or die in the fiery furnace. While this feast of false god worship was happening with the sounds of all types of music, everyone worshiped it except Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They feared their God alone and were willing to go to the extreme, which was death. They proclaimed if their God did not saved them, they would still die before ever bowing down to any manmade image statue. This act alone with the confidence of their faith gave an expression perhaps to the rest of the people who bowed down, of “who are they to rebel against the king’s instructions?” I consider this to be bravery and integrity knowing with their faith they have gone from standard to supernatural walk of faith. In Deuteronomy 6:24 says, “and the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.” This Scripture shows a clear statement of God’s instruction, to fear him and to do what he has commanded us to do, because it is always good for us, preserving us alive, both spiritual and physical. Meaning we should know who we stand by and who is the God we serve, while at the same time being respectful to authority. In Romans 13:1 says, “let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God,” with this verse it states our attitude towards authority that we should be respectful of, but there does come a time that we need to stand firm on truth over position. For example, abortion, some states accept abortion, which is considered murder towards innocence, we should not stand by and let this continue. We have to be representatives of life in Christ and stand for those who cannot defend themselves. Some may say this sounds like contradiction to itself, to respect authority of government, yet government gives acceptance towards abortion. Well, the government is not base on a one person decision making position, we as as a community have an obligation to get involve with politics and be part of the law making process. Using our faith voices to morally represent what is good over evil. Hopefully by then, more Christians get involve in important government positions.

  10. I find it interesting that there are different beliefs of who or what is god, including those who believe in more than one God. It makes me wonder how they give their attention to each god and please them all because I feel that it will be draining to try to remember to worship other gods. In Daniel 2:47, Nebuchadnezzar said that Daniel’s God is a great god, yet he decides to create an idol to worship that is not Daniel’s God. There are many possibilities as to why Nebuchadnezzar wanted the people of Babylon to worship this idol and I think it is because he wanted them to worship the gods of Babylon besides Daniel’s god. It is so amazing how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stand strongly in their faith in front of everyone because they were the only ones standing. They did not want to defile their own god and everyone must have been looking at them weirdly. It is interesting that Nebuchadnezzar was offended by this when he knew that they only worship God and he also believed in their god. But through it all, God knew that the three men were faithful to him and so He saves them from the fire and that made Nebuchadnezzar realize even more how powerful this god is.

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