Daniel 3:19-27 – Who is the Fourth Man in the Fiery Furnace?

Isaiah 43:2 When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Nebuchadnezzar is even angrier at three Judean exiles for defying him to his face and orders the furnace be made still hotter, seven times hotter (an idiom meaning “as hot as possible”). Nebuchadnezzar has the three Jews tied up and sends his soldiers to toss them into the top of the furnace so he can watch them die at a safe distance. The flames are so hot the men who threw them into the furnace die from the heat!

Fiery Furnace

In the LXX and in Jewish tradition, the flames are stoked even hotter while they are in the furnace, trying to make it even hotter. Smoke rose 49 cubits, or 74 feet into the air. Another feature of the LXX at this point in the story is a lengthy prayer (66 verses) by Azariah. This prayer does not appear in any Aramaic texts and is not consider canonical by Protestants.

As Nebuchadnezzar watches, he is amazed to see not three, but four people in the flames. All four are walking around unharmed. This fourth person is described as like “a son of the gods” (ESV), translating the phrase לְבַר־אֱלָהִֽין. What is different about this fourth person is not stated, but Nebuchadnezzar believes he is seeing some kind of divine being in the flames.

Who is the mysterious fourth person in the fiery furnace?

In the Talmud (Pes. 118a, b) he is the angel Gabriel, as is the angel who visits Daniel in the lion’s den (6:21-22).

Expounded R. Simeon the Shilonite, “When wicked Nebuchadnezzar threw Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah into the fiery furnace, Yurqami, prince of hail, stood before the Holy One, blessed be He. He said to him, ‘Lord of the world, let me go down and cool it off and save those righteous men from the fiery furnace.’ Said to him Gabriel, ‘That is not how the power of the Holy One, blessed be He, is, for you are the prince of hail, and everybody knows that water puts out fire. Rather, I am the prince of fire. Let me go down and cool it off inside, [118B] but heat it from the outside, and so I will do a double miracle.’ Said to him the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Go on down.’ At that moment Gabriel commenced with the sentence, ‘And the truth of the Lord endures forever.’ ” (Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud. 4:547–548)

In Christian tradition, this fourth person is the Angel of the Lord, מַלְאַ֨ךְ יְהֹוָ֥ה of Exodus 3:2. Many Christian commentators identify the fourth person as the Son of God, a “pre-incarnate Jesus Christ” (Miller, Daniel, 123-124).

However, Montgomery points out the Aramaic phrase “son of the gods” was a “perfectly pagan phrase” (106). Nebuchadnezzar claims to be seeing a divine figure of some kind, associating with one or more of the various gods in his own pantheon. From the perspective of the three men in the fire, this is an agent of God sent to protect them from harm.

When Nebuchadnezzar realizes what has happens, he calls them out, and calls them servants of the Most High God, again indicating that he realizes that the God of the Jews is indeed powerful. This whole sequence of events is even comical: Nebuchadnezzar boldly stated no god can save them, he made every effort to kill the three men, yet he is unable to harm them in any way because they are protected by the Most High God.

Similar to Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction in chapter 2, the king confesses the god of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is powerful and issued an edict to protect their right to worship their own God and not to worship his gods. Did Nebuchadnezzar “convert”? Not at all, his confession still falls short of faith in the God of the Judean exiles alone. He certainly falls short of confessing his own gods do not exist.

While toleration of the Jews would have been particularly applicable during the persecution of the Jews under Antichious, there is hardly a period in Jewish history since the dispersion began when they have been entirely free from persecution. As Daniel 3:17 says, God can save us but even if he does not, the Jewish people enduring oppression from Antiochus would not compromise their traditions even if this refusal led to their death.

10 thoughts on “Daniel 3:19-27 – Who is the Fourth Man in the Fiery Furnace?

  1. I think it is fairly arguable that the mysterious fourth figure in the furnace was Gabriel, one of the prominent angels and holy ministers of God. Of course, this particular angel visits Daniel when he was trapped inside of the Lion’s den. But this angel is also mentioned in Daniel 8, when he was sent to interpret the dream Daniel was stricken with. I wonder if this means that every major Bible character had a particular angel looking out for them, as if the angels were responsible for them and their ministry. Regardless, I think it is very plausible that the fourth figure was an angel of God–as opposed to, for example, a pre-incarnate form of Christ.

    As to whether or not Nebuchadnezzar actually converted or not, it is very clear according to the text that he did not. In Daniel 3:29, he merely makes a decree that protects the right of Daniel and his friends to practice their religion–but he does not express faith in it himself. In fact, when he claims to have seen and “angel” in the furnace with them, the term he used is rather neutral and most likely refers to one of his pagan gods. He merely witnessed something supernatural, but he does not know how to describe or make sense of it. In other words, Nebuchadnezzar, because his heart is still blinded by pride, is merely confused. Even though he witnesses the power of the God of Israel, he only respects and resolves to protect it–but he does not reject his own pagan beliefs, which means that he remains in unbelief. This reminds me of King Agrippa in Acts 26:28! Only a full confession and repentance will do.

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  2. In this passage we see that every time there was a sound of music, everyone had to bow down and praise the Babylonian gods and worship the image that the king had set up. However, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego remained standing, the king was furious, but then the king had them men brought to him to tell them exactly what they had to do when they heard the sound of music, however, when the men failed to do as he commanded, he threw them into a fiery furnace. Daniel 3:19 states, “He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated.” When the servants of the king brought the 3 men into the fiery furnace, the people who went to throw them into the furnace died due to the extreme heat. After a while Nebuchadnezzar noticed than the men were basically standing in the furnace, but they were not alone. A fourth person was also joining the men. Daniel 3:25 states that the fourth person was “like a son of the gods.” I strongly believe that God had sent an angel to take care of the men and protect them. When the king saw that the men were not harmed, he calls them servants of the “Most High God”. I completely believe that if we completely trust in God, he will protect us at all times and from anyone. In the passage we see that the 3 men believed that God was going to protect them. God is unique!

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  3. I really do not truly know if it is an angel of the Lord, or the pre-incarnate Jesus. As you stated, it is quoted in the Talmud to be the angel Gabriel. Though the Talmud is not a canonical work, the idea is valid. There is scriptural evidence for the idea of God sending his angels and angel armies to take care of his people in real and tangible ways. Some examples are: the angels urging Lot to flee Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:15-17), the angels ministering to Jesus in the time after his temptation (Matthew 4:11), and the promises in Psalms about God sending angels to guard you (Psalm 91:11). Although there is much evidence for the idea of literal angels guarding people, there is the idea of “the angel of the LORD,” used many times in the Old Testament as a kind of “mighty, chosen” angel.
    Many think that this is a pre-incarnate Christ. Some may speculate that this is the case in this Daniel passage. If this is the case, what does this do to our theology? Would Jesus being present in the flesh change how we view our salvation pre-cross? Was Jesus (as “the angel of the LORD”) already active in righteous men’s lives pre-virgin birth? Then again, this angel could merely be Gabriel (as stated in the Talmud), or could be another regular angel. This, said, “angel of the LORD” could also be a different angel than that which appears in the various other passages.
    As for Nebuchadnezzar, I do not believe he fully converted, because he never denounced faith in his other gods. You must believe only in the one true God in order to be saved. In the passage, he did not fully confess that Yahweh is the one true God.

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  4. P. Long’s post brings to attention to the aspect of different translations and what specific denominations have or leave out of their canon of Scripture. It is interesting, even if I do not consider it canon, to read the prayer of Azariah and the Talmud to see the different historical opinions on the story of the fiery furnace. I also find it interesting that as a child in Sunday school, I specifically remember learning this fourth person in the furnace was merely an angel. I did not learn until I was in college that many the Christian tradition consider this to be a pre-incarnation version of Jesus. This is, if it is Jesus, perhaps an even more empowering story than of God being with us through the fire and hardships of life.

    I especially appreciate P. Long’s concluding paragraph in this blog post as he writes that the application of Daniel 3:17 would be not allowing persecution to change your convictions. As America and the world around us becomes less accepting of Christians and the Christian faith, I think the OT theme of God’s sovereignty throughout the exile will become even more applicable to Christians today. We can be reassured by verses such as Romans 8:28 that communicate to us that God is control and for those that love Him, all things will work together for good.

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  5. The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is a very impressive one as the faith of the three young men was not shaken even at the point of death. However, one of the more interesting characters in this story is the fourth figure that walks around in the flames with the three friends. The description of the fourth man given by King Nebuchadnezzar is that he is like “a son of the gods”. Growing up, whenever I heard this story, I’ve always imagined that this fourth figure was one that glowed. If this is the case, it could be that this being is either an angel or Jesus himself, but as it is stated in the article, it is a pagan phrase that Nebuchadnezzar has declared. While this is most likely true, I would not immediately say that it is not Jesus who was in the fire with them. If keeping with the idea that the figure in the flames was glowing, there is something that stood out to me. In many of the descriptions of angels, they do not say that they are glowing, but in passages like Luke 9 when the angels appear to the shepherds, it says that the glory of the Lord shown around them. Jesus, being God, would have that glory and power that would shine through the flames of the fire, making him look extraordinary. The other possibility is that there was an angel in the flames, and he was glowing because he had been in the glory of God as Moses’s face shown after he had been on Mount Sinai. The only other thought I would have that would make an angel stand out from a human is that he was bigger in stature than the other three men, but that doesn’t seem like a plausible argument. I do not lean in either direction of the figure being an angel or it being Jesus himself, but the point of the figure is to show that God provides a way out for his faithful servants.

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  6. This story is a story that I have remembered since hearing it as a child. I did not grow up in a primarily Christian home but I did have extended family that would every so often take me to church. Hearing this story the children’s ministry leader would always say that it was Jesus in the fire. This confused me because I thought that this was before Jesus was born. How could this be Jesus? Clearly, there is no evidence in Scripture for this to be Jesus. All we get is, “He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25). This person is “like a son of the gods.” In no way does this describe Jesus. It definitely shows that it was a divine intervention but it has nothing to do with Jesus specifically. While the arguments that it is an angel seem to be reasonable this might have been suggested (depending on when you think this book was written) because of the Neoplatonic dualism that influenced a culture. This therefore glorified angles and heavenly beings and would make sense as to the reasoning of this being an angel. I personally believe that it was a pre-incarnation Jesus. No one will ever actually know who this fourth person in the fiery furnace was but it does not matter. If I had to give an answer I would say a pre-incarnate Jesus. It puts a bit of Christology into the book of Daniel and I think that is fun.
    The importance of this story lies not in the fourth person in the furnace but in the bravery of the three men willing to die for God even if He did not save them (3:16-18) and the glorification of God by Nebuchadnezzar (3:28-30). It is these elements of this narrative that the importance rests on. Not the fourth person in the furnace. Ultimately, God was glorified and that was the purpose.

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  7. I think the question around the identity of the fourth person in the fire is very interesting. It could be an angel of the Lord or a pre-incarnate Christ, but based on the description from Nebuchadnezzar, it was clearly something that was easily identified from a distance as not human. Nebuchadnezzar could not have been standing very close to the furnace without being burned (as we saw with the soldiers that tossed the men in), so he had to be at least some distance back when he saw the fourth being. He identified it as a son of the gods, which must mean that he didn’t think it was just another person. I think this is another instance in the book of Daniel where we see the God of Israel displaying his power over the forces working against His people and His commitment to caring for them. By the description we see in this story, it’s obvious that it’s no mere accident that the men were saved. It is only by the work of the “Most High God” himself. Even after this incredible miracle and Nebuchadnezzar’s acknowledgment of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we still see Nebuchadnezzar choosing to worship his own gods and not commit his faith to God. I have to wonder what any of the other people there that day thought. Did they see this miracle and truly believe in the power of God? Were these people converted so early in history? The king declared that the Judean exiles had the right to worship their God, and I would be interested to know if anyone else working for the king felt inclined to do the same. As far as who the fourth person in the fire is, I would like to think that it is a pre-incarnate Christ.

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  8. Who are we to decide who was the fourth person in the fire? none of us were present when these events took place. But by faith we believe that the word of God is truth. So we read the book of Daniel with faith believing every word. In both Daniel 6, were Daniel was in the lion’s den and Daniel 3 where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown in the in the blazing, fiery furnace, we see evident that the Lord their God was truly at work, protecting them from harm. King Nebuchadnezzar and other members witnessed a miracle that has never been done before. His description of “son of gods” could have meant many things. If I look at this with a christian point of view, it’s easy say that it was an angel of the Lord. my question here is, how can Nebuchadnezzar describe the fourth person as “a son of a god?” how can he know that? ha she seen one before for him to come to that conclusion? was this the son of a god or could he have been the God himself? The answer here is we don’t know but guess and believe by faith it was an angel of the Lord saving them only to prove the power and majesty of the Most high King Nebuchadnezzar praise afterwards.

    Throughout the book of Daniel King Nebuchadnezzar saw many signs and wonders, miracles that were impossible by men. Even though he praises the God of the Jews, He still believed in his own customs of pagan gods. Even today in our society, the president or king or queen can approve the worship of certain religions, he can praise the great deeds, that doesn’t mean they too much worship that religion or abide by it rules or principals. King Neb. never converted, He was too caught up in his own pride, and selfish ambitions.

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  9. I do not know if we will ever know who the fourth person in the fire was until they have been relieved to us in heave, and when I am in heaven I do not even think that I will care about these things I will just be so in awe of my creator. I do not think that we can have a very accurate description of that fourth man in the fire because if the person who is telling us and that is king Neb. King Neb was not a Christian man so he could have seen an angel and to him, it was a son of God. so I do not know who was in the fire but I do know that it is important to know that it was by God’s will that they are saved.

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