Daniel 3:13-18 – Confession of the Three Exiles

When the three men refuse to bow, Nebuchadnezzar is “furious with rage” and he orders the men into his presence. “Furious with rage” is a combination of two words (בִּרְגַ֣ז וַחֲמָ֔ה) to form a hendiadys (a figure of speech in which two words are cited as including everything in-between). Nebuchadnezzar asks if it was true they defied his orders and gave them a second chance to bow to the idol to demonstrate their loyalty in front of the King himself.  If this is a “test” of loyalty, then to refuse to bow is declare oneself to be traitor.

The king makes an arrogant statement in verse 15: “Once I toss you in the flames, there is no God which is able to take you out of my hands!” This is a challenge made to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Nebuchadnezzar does not think the God of Israel is powerful enough to control events in Babylon. Interpreting a dream is one thing, but no god exists who will keep people alive when thrown into the furnace.

The three Jews make a remarkable confession of faith before Nebuchadnezzar. They contradict the king boldly by stating the God they serve is able to save them from his hands. There is a problem in 3:17. The text may be translated, “if God exists, he will save us…” or “If God is able, he will save is…”  It seems unlikely the young men would say God may not exist or even that he is not powerful enough to save them. Notice the difference in several English translations:

If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. (ESV)

If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us (NRSV)

The point of their statement is that they will not bow down to the idol, whether God saves them or not!  They are not doubting either God’s existence or his power, but rather making a statement that they will never bow down to the idol even if they have to die. Daniel 3:18 is clear: “O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They do not fear Nebuchadnezzar who can only kill them, they have some sort of hope that allows them to give their lives up in the service of God.

Shadrach Mishach and AbednegoIs there a hope of afterlife or resurrection in this passage? Some commentators think there is a hint of resurrection in Daniel 3:17, something like, “even if you kill us our God will raise us from the dead.” This seems unlikely because there is no developed understanding of the resurrection in the Old Testament. But Daniel 12:1-2 is often considered a reference to a future resurrection of the dead, so it is possible there is the barest if hints of resurrection in the statement the three young men make in Daniel 3:17.

However, resurrection is not the point of the passage. They openly and boldly confess their faith in God who he is able to save them from certain death. But even if God does not save them and they die in the furnace, they will never bow and worship the statue or the Empire which it represents. This bold faith becomes a pattern for many Jews and Christians who are unwilling to compromise and gladly give their lives in service to God.

There may other principles in the text as well. Since I frequently teach classes on Paul’s letters, I often discuss Paul’s attitude toward the government found in Romans 13. This is a passage which is badly used by alleged Christians in the government to demand loyalty to an objectively evil administration. Paul does clearly say the Christian ought to obey their government. When most people read this, they immediately try to find a way to avoid the absoluteness of the statement by adding “only if the government does not contradict the Bible.” That is not what Paul said, and he was talking about one of the emperor when he wrote this was Nero, not exactly a model of godly government. But this does not mean Paul was “pro-Empire” no matter what that government does.

If the Christian is looking for a model of resistance against an evil government (anywhere in the world at any given time in history), then the resistance of the three Jewish exiles in Daniel 3  and Daniel’s own resistance in chapter 6 are the key passages. Looking ahead to Revelation, the same pattern of resistance and submission to punishment and death is the foundation for much of the final book of the Christian Canon.


Bibliography: P. Coxon, “Daniel 3:17: A Linguistic and Theological Problem” VT 26 (1976), 400-409.

10 thoughts on “Daniel 3:13-18 – Confession of the Three Exiles

  1. it seems that my two comments this week will be on very similar topics. The topic is how do we as Christians respond to the government. ironically, I mention the same verse that P long also referenced in this blog post. But I am proud of the way I handled this passage. I think we need to consider the culture and what was going on during the time in which Paul said this. There is also the factor that paul may have very well been anti-imperial. I wrote some papers on this last semester in Pauline literature. That’s beside the point. When it comes to the passage in Romans 13 about being subject to governing authorities because they are under the authority of God. but today it’s hard to see how God has his hand on our government. I think the way to approach this issue is about whether you should obey or not, but it comes down to how much faith you have in your God. I’m okay with not breaking laws, but when it comes to my relationship with God and my hope in my eternity with him. I agree with P Long, the three exiles are perfect examples of how much faith we should have in God, even if he doesn’t save us, he is still God. believing that God won’t save you from death is an earthy mindset, but what if you change your mindset to the idea that you would be dying for your faith in God and you will then be with him forever. They believed that if this is the way, then this is the way.

  2. I strongly disagree that verses 19 – 23 are talking about resurrection because the three guys never die, God doesn’t allow it: even when the furnace is turned up seven times hotter than its original temperature. People that are not believers will be so angry at the other person that is a believer that they will “turn up the temperature” seven times hotter than what it needs to be. Anyway. When the soldiers tried to throw the men into the furnace, they ended up getting burned and died just by the heat while the men fully shackled with still their garments on, they did not die. Instead, they were walking around, and in fact, there was another person, God.

    We see the same thing in Daniel 6 when he is thrown into the Den with the hungry lions that haven’t eat anything. Daniel never dies either. The lions never ate them.

    The mortal of these two chapters is that it is not going to be faithless when you have been faithful. The three men were steadfast in not bowing down to any other gods, and God was faithful in not letting them be burned and die. God was faithful by not allowing him to be eaten by the lions. when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den because he didn’t follow the rules

  3. Reading your article has me very excited and inspired as I reflect upon the fiery furnace event found in Daniel 3. As you stated, the declaration of the three friends is absolutely commendable. My favorite part of their declaration is, “But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:18 NIV). They are very clear that God showing up on their behalf does not matter to them, they will serve YHWH until the end no matter what. I also love the bit of mockery towards Nebuchadnezzar that is felt while reading their declaration. “We want you to know, Your Majesty.” However, it was Nebuchadnezzar who mocked YHWH first when he declared, “what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (Daniel 3:15).

    This story reminds me of Elijah on Mt. Carmel, who mocks the worshipers of Baal by stating, “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27 NIV). Elijah states this to the worshipers of Baal as they receive no response from their false god. Then, similar to the fiery furnace story, YHWH shows up on behalf of Elijah and proves his existence to the Baal worshipers, in the same way he reveals himself to Nebuchadnezzar by protecting the three friends who are thrown into the furnace.

    Encouragement can be drawn from both of these stories, that God has the best interest in mind for his believers and will show up in their lives when they are in need. This has been proven to be true within my own life as I reflect upon the things God has done for me.

    “if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)

  4. It seems to be a common theme in the book of Daniel (and Revelation) that resisting the evil forces of Government forcing those to not worship the one true God of Israel. We talked in class that how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego couldn’t have been one-hundred percent sure that God would save them from the fiery furnace; however they wanted to seek and please God more than the idol that King Nebuchadnezzar created. Similar to what Jentzen said, it is funny to think that although the three show mockery toward Nebuchadnezzar, it is ultimately Nebuchadnezzar who is making a fool of himself as he is the one who mocked the God of Israel (Daniel 3:15). I strongly agree that Daniel 3 and 6 should be passages that Christians go too when they are faced with resisting. I remember writing in one of my papers for “Romans” with P-Long last year about how liberal Christians told conservative Christians during the Obama administration to “go read Romans 13” and conservative Christians tell liberal Christians to “go read Romans 13” during the Trump administration. There is definitely a double standard for this as the verse is not properly put into context of what Paul is talking about during his time period

  5. When reading this chapter in the book of Daniel I found it very interesting how all three of them would now bow down and worship an idol and would rather die. I really liked how it was said in the initial post, It was just “bold faith” that they would not die in the fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not know if their God would save them from the furnace and it was based off from pure faith and when they were tossed into the furnace from Nebuchadnezzar’s commands and they did not die from the furnace like Nebuchadnezzar had planned with kicking up the heat as well to turn them into nothing. As a Christian, I hope that the individuals that run and are apart of our government her in America have a Christian background to help prevent the government from becoming ungodly or corrupt. At which, our government is not like this unfortunately and making the United States have an “evil government” as some individuals would say. I do believe that some individuals in our government are evil and mostly make their decisions off from their “feelings” and do not have a very logical or godly backbone within those decisions.

  6. I have just caught up with your writings on Daniel, and I thank you for what you have written. You have caught I few very important points that I will be using in my writing. It is hard to read everything and catch everything that is important, but at least you have pointed out a few things to me that fiit with my research in other passages.

  7. Daniel 3:17-18 has honestly become one of my favorite passages in the Bible, the point to which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego hold to God’s commandment and trust in God is quite empowering and inspiring. They stand before one of the most powerful kings and in the threat of death, yet they do not allow those things to change their convictions or behavior. This is similar to what Paul writes to the corinthians in 1 Corinthians 16:13, to stand firm in the faith and be courageous!
    P. Long brings up some interesting points on this passage, noting that translations vary on Daniel 3:17 which I had not previously known. I also had no previous knowledge, as P. Long mentions, that some have used this passage to refer to the afterlife. This is, however, not the main point or focus of the passage. P. Long also brings to light contradicting application for us today of Daniel 3 (resisting the government) and Romans 12 (obey the government). This concept is a difficult one that a dispensational theology may help to resolve as a dispensationalist would state Paul’s writings are for us as the Church today whereas the story in Daniel 3 was in a different dispensation and for the Israelites.

  8. This passage of scripture is one of my favorite in the whole Bible because it shows tremendous faith on the part of three men who would rather die than dishonor and deny God and their faith in him. They, even in the face of imminent death, speak boldly to the king himself and tell of their faith in their God and how even though they were in the situation they were that God could save them if that was his plan. In today’s society we would much rather give in and avoid disapproval and scrutiny as much as possible, but that is not what the Bible commands us to do. It says in Psalm 96:2-4 “Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does. Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise! He is to be feared above all gods” (Psalm 96:2-4, ESV). God commands us to tell of his glory and what he does for us every single day of our lives and that we should never be ashamed or afraid because he gives us the power to do if we only rely on him. Just like the three exiles did in this passage, we also need to proclaim God in everything, even in the midst of danger and persecution.

  9. After reading this post is, all I can think about if I was ever put into a situation of where I would have to die for believing in Jesus
    Christ. I have always had conversations about if I was put into the situation if ISIS had a gun to my head and I had to state whether I was a believer or not. And the crazy thing is that I would do that if I was honoring what I believed in and who I believed in. In this same instance, 3 of these people died for not bowing in front of the king. This king was a force of evil and the three men did not want to bow before someone who was giving false teachings. The only king, the true King of all is our Lord and Savior and we as Christians should not have to bow to any other ruler or king, because our God is the King of Kings. Revelation 19:17 says, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” With that being said why should we have to bow before any other king.

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