Great Image of the King

SYNOPSIS – Next, King Nebuchadnezzar implements his dream by “setting up” a Great Golden Image to glorify his kingdom - Daniel 3:1-30

Empire State Bldg - Photo by Melanie Dretvic on Unsplash
In Chapter 3, the King works to make his dream a reality by “setting up” a great golden image that conforms to his vision of an everlasting Babylonian kingdom. However, just as He did with the “tower of Babel” in the “Land of Shinar,” the God of Daniel uses a most unexpected “tool” to thwart the imperial designs of Nebuchadnezzar – His attempt to execute three of the lowly exiles from Judah.

This chapter is the sequel to the story recorded in the preceding one. This is borne out by the verbal and conceptual links between them, and by the omission of any chronological reference at the start of Chapter 3:
  • (Daniel 3:1-2) – “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height thereof, sixty cubits, the breadth thereof, six cubits,—he set it up in the valley of Dura, in the province of Babylon. And Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the satraps, the nobles and the pashas, the chief judges, the treasurers, the judges, the lawyers, and all the rulers of the province,—to come to the dedication of the image, which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The image with the “head of gold” from the king’s dream has set the stage for what follows - Nebuchadnezzar now attempts to implement it in his way by setting up an enormous image covered entirely with gold to symbolize his glorious realm. Either he has failed to understand the interpretation provided by Daniel, or he has rejected it.

Nebuchadnezzar erected an image covered in gold to demonstrate his power, glory, and achievements. This was “set up” in the “plain of Dura,” the location of which is uncertain. “Dura” means “wall” or “rampart.” This suggests a site within one of the series of great outer walls that surrounded the city.

Plain” points to a broad and level area able to accommodate large numbers of people. That is how the translators of the Greek Septuagint understood the clause when they translated it as “The plain of the wall” - (en pediō tou peribolou). The “plain” echoes the story of the Tower of Babel when humanity settled in Mesopotamia and all men spoke “one tongue.” Men and woman journeyed east to find a “plain in the land of Shinar and dwelt there” - (Genesis 11:1-9, Daniel 1:2).

There is a deliberate contrast with the preceding story.  In Chapter 3, the king “set up” his image. However, in Chapter 2, Daniel declared that it is Yahweh who “SETS UP kings and removes kings.”

The image “SET UP” by Nebuchadnezzar was sixty cubits high by six cubits wide, or hexékonta hex in the Greek text from the Septuagint version - Approximately ninety feet by nine feet.

The dimensions of the image reflect the Babylonian sexagesimal or the 60-base numeric system, further evidence that the author of Daniel was familiar with the ancient Babylonian culture. Nothing is said about the shape of the image - The dimensions could suggest an obelisk. What god or human it represented is not provided.

Nebuchadnezzar's Image of Gold
Nebuchadnezzar became famous for restoring the temples of Babylon dedicated to her many gods. The addition of an image inside a temple would not have been unusual, however, the placement of an idol in an open area for all men and women to see and venerate was unique to the Mesopotamian culture.

In the interpretation of the dream, the “stone” that destroyed the four kingdoms represented by the “great image with the head of gold” was “cut without hands.” In contrast, Nebuchadnezzar “SET UP” his image, a rendering of the Aramaic verb qum. The verb repeats nine times in Chapter 3 to stress the same point – The Babylonian king “SET UP” his image - (Daniel 3:1, 3:2, 3:3 [twice], 3:5, 3:7, 3:12, 3:14, 3:18).

In contrast, the God of Heaven “sets up” (qum) kings, “set up” the image with the golden head in the king’s dream, and He will “set up” an everlasting kingdom that will destroy all opposing realms - (Daniel 2:21-31, 2:44).

The king commanded all the “satraps, nobles, pashas, chief judges, treasurers, judges, lawyers and governors to assemble to the dedication of his image.” All peoples, nations, and tongues were commanded to render homage to it. Anyone who refused was summarily executed. The officials summoned by Nebuchadnezzar represented all the “peoples, races, and tongues” of his realm. By proxy, therefore, all nations rendered homage to the king and to his image - (Daniel 3:2-6).

The Great Golden Image represented the absolute power of the king. He did not demand worship for himself but required homage to his image, a show of total allegiance to his dominion. Wittingly or not, by this act he defied the sovereignty of the “God of Heaven” - (Daniel 2:20-22).

The “Chaldeans,” the wise men, the astrologers, and the soothsayers of the Babylonian court had been demoted following their failure to reveal the king’s previous dream. In Chapter 3, they exploit an opportunity to inflict vengeance on the companions of Daniel for their earlier loss of face and position. Although loyal to the king, the three Jewish men could not render homage to his image - (Daniel 2:4-132:48-49).

The “Chaldeans” informed Nebuchadnezzar that ShadrachMeshach, and Abed-nego had refused to pay homage to his image, so he gave them a stark choice - “Fall down and worship the image…or be cast into the fiery furnace.” His rage directed previously at the “Chaldeans” was redirected against the Jewish exiles - (Daniel 3:13-18).

The king ranted, “Who is the god able to deliver you out of my hand?” This was an unwitting challenge to the God of Israel who earlier “gave the king of Judah and the vessels of the Temple into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.” But the Babylonian monarch was about to discover his inability to do anything to thwart the purposes of God:
  • (Daniel 1:1-2) – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem and laid siege against it; and the Lord gave into his hand Jehoiakim king of Judah, and a part of the vessels of the house of God, and he brought them into the land of Shinar into the house of his gods,—and the vessels brought he into the treasure-house of his gods.”
The Judean exiles were cast into a super-heated furnace in which Nebuchadnezzar saw them walking and accompanied by a fourth figure he described “like a son of the gods,” possibly an angel - (Daniel 3:20-25, 8:15-179:20-2310:13, 10:21).

With trepidation, the king summoned the three men to exit the furnace.  He addressed them respectfully as “servants of the Most-High God.” He had witnessed how the fire did not harm them. They survived unscathed and, therefore, the king “Blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.” Yahweh had “changed the king’s word” by delivering His servants “out of his hand.” In his fury, Nebuchadnezzar had raged, “Who is able to deliver out of my hand?”  Now, he had his answer.

Nebuchadnezzar next issued a decree to “all peoples, nations, and tongues.” Anyone who disparaged the God of the Judean exiles would be “cut in pieces and his house turned into a dunghill.” This is a verbal and ironic link to the preceding chapter. Nebuchadnezzar had warned the Chaldean “wise men” that if they failed to make known his dream, that he would “cut you in pieces and turn your houses into a dunghill.”

Once again, the highest praise for Yahweh is heard on the lips of a mighty pagan ruler. The ruler of the World-Power acknowledged the supremacy of the “God of Heaven.” The machinations, purposes, and even the rage of a most powerful king were no impediment to the plans of God.

In the Book of Revelation

Revelation borrows language and imagery from Daniel 3:1-7 in its portrait of the “beast from the earth” who caused all the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to the image of the “Beast from the sea” - (Revelation 13:1-18).

All who refused to give allegiance to the image of the “Beast” were to be killed - “The small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond” - All segments of society received its “number” or “name.”

The “number of the Beast,” ‘666’ (hexakosioi hexékonta hex), parallels the dimensions of Nebuchadnezzar’s image - sixty cubits by six cubits (hexékonta hex). The book of Revelation adds six hundred to the number sixty-six to produce the fuller “number of the Beast.” The two numbers link the passages - Both concern the pressure placed on men and women to participate in the idolatrous worship of the World-Power.

In Revelation, the burning fiery furnace” into which the three Jewish men were cast becomes the model for the “lake of fire burning with brimstone” into which the “Beast from the earth” will be “cast alive” by the “Rider on a White Horse.” The followers of the “Lamb” are preserved from the “second death, the Lake of Fire”; however, the “Beast and the False Prophet” that attempted to destroy the “saints” are themselves “cast into the Lake of Fire” - (Revelation 13:7-10, 19:17-21, 20:11-15).

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