The commentary below assumes that you will supplement these observations with what you hear in the sermons on Daniel 3 and Daniel 4 elsewhere on this site (2013 sermons) and that you have in front of you the pdf handout available as a link on the first Daniel commentary post. However, even if you do not refer to these you will still benefit from the discussion below.
Daniel 2 and 3 are linked using the catchword ”image.” Daniel describes the dream starting this way: ”You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening” (Dan 2:31). Daniel 3:1 begins, ”King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits.” By means of the catchword ”image” the author wants us to see the image Nebuchadnezzar built in Daniel 3 as in response to the image that Nebuchadnezzar saw in Daniel 2. One reason for me stressing this connection is that I do not want you spending so much time reflecting on the similarities of Daniel 3 and 6 that you miss how Daniel 3 is Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction to his frightening dream concerning the four kingdoms. This image that Nebuchadnezzar had built was his attempt to thwart God’s plan as revealed in that dream. Since the first kingdom in the dream was of gold (the head of the image in the dream was gold), this image that he had built was all gold. The catchword image appears again in Daniel 3:19, but the ESV translates it ”expression” – ”Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” In other words, Nebuchadnezzar was turning into the image that he had made. As I said in the sermon on this chapter, Nebuchadnezzar built an idol to change the future but instead that idol changed only him. The image of Nebuchadnezzar changing into the image he built is even meant to be funny.
Daniel 3 displays obvious examples of what we would consider comedy. The passage sounds funny in the first place and but it is also describing a very funny scene. Schwab suggests that you can see this simply by reading aloud Daniel 3:2-18. He says, ”The seemingly endless, redundant, verbose, tedious, superfluous, unnecessarily long, repetitive lists of officials and musical instruments…are intended to associate the events in the story with mindlessly automatic behavior.” Schwab even compares these people to Pavlov’s dog. They too become what they worship. The soldiers also became like the image, hence they melt away when they get too close to the flames of the fiery furnace. As Schwab explains it so well, ”This is how the book of Daniel handles idolatry, rather than with an outright critique. It is simply shown to be ridiculous.”
In both Daniel 3 and Daniel 6 there are people that ”maliciously accused the Jews” in power. I mentioned before that the phrase is literally ”ate the pieces of the Jews.” When it is said in Daniel 3, it is foreshadowing Daniel 6 – especially considering the kind of pit you find in Daniel 6. The three friends were accused by ”certain Chaldeans.” These were jealous of the promotions of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (as they were known in Babylon). This is typical material for a court narrative (recall the book of Esther and look forward at Daniel 6).
Although there are those who would disagree and simply want to say that the fourth person in the fiery furnace only foreshadows Christ, I think it is safe to conclude that He was indeed the pre-incarnate Christ. It is no accident that the king describes the fourth man as ”like a son of the gods.”
The other major issue of Daniel 3 is: Where is Daniel? Some point back to the end of Daniel 2 where the three and Daniel appear to be in different situations. I wonder though if it would just be safe to say that the ”certain Chaldeans” were not bold enough to go after Daniel himself since he had the ear of the king – they thought that they would go for the three who were less prominent. Yet it is important to note that this is advanced by the parallel chapter in that the satraps and high officials did not try to go after lesser fish (as they say) but for Daniel himself. Here the parallel chapters show an advance from chapter 3 to chapter 6.
The A portion of Daniel 3 on the outline I said may be further subdivided. Indeed, if you divide that out the chapter would look like the prophetic high-jump pattern that we saw often in Isaiah. You will note that I put ”in the province of Babylon” in italics in both A and A’.
The B portions show royal officials giving false testimony and then true testimony. While you might think that the testimony of B is not technically false, it would be considered bearing false witness by Scripture. I might note further that the same was true for Daniel in Daniel 6 – both here in Daniel 3 and in Daniel 6 the faithful Jews were being accused for something that they had refused to do (Daniel 3) or they had done (Daniel 6) (notice here another advance from chapter 3 to chapter 6). Yet the deeper accusation was that these Jews were traitors to the king, which was patently false. This has interesting implications for application – since we too should be considered the best of citizens as Christians. Thus this book is helpful for us if we are falsely accused – even if the accusations appear technically true.
The story of the fiery furnace could make a natural chiasm since they are put into a pit and then brought back out of it again. The surprising thing to me about the way the outline appears is that the climax of the chiasm is the three friends bound and cast into the fiery furnace. Yet C and C’ naturally balance each other – Nebuchadnezzar moving from furious rage against the three to commanding them to come out of the fire. D and D’ naturally mirror each other as the three say that God can save them and then we see four walking in the fire and the fourth like a son of the gods.
The references to the overheated furnace perhaps indicate that the center should be a little differently outlined. Perhaps I should have put:
1. Furnace overheated seven times
2. The three bound and cast into the fiery furnace
1′ Furnace overheated consumes soldiers
2′ The three fell bound into the fiery furnace.
It is fairly easy to follow the chiasm of Daniel 4 – opening and closing with declarations by King Nebuchadnezzar, his dream answered by the fulfillment of said dream, and the whole chiasm centering around the interpretation of the dream by Daniel. The structure is not as easy to follow in the normal versification in Hebrew since they start the chapter with what is verse 4 in English. The English verse numbers make more sense since there had just been a decree in Daniel 3:29.
The decree in Daniel 4:1-3 would then refer most likely to the same decree mentioned in Daniel 4:34-37. Notice the near recapitulation. The chapter has the feel of an autobiography (recall Qoheleth): ”I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace” (Dan 4:4). This time, unlike Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar tells ”the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers” (Dan 4:7) the content of his dream. However, they were not able to interpret it. Daniel came before him last.
Daniel, ”he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods” (Dan 4:8). The word translated here ”gods” is the same form we translate God, when speaking of the Creator (Hebrew Elohim). Notice how the text even explains his renaming as after the name of Nebuchadnezzar’s god.
This chapter concerns the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar. One thing to notice about the book of Daniel is how each of the situations can also work well as a metaphor. For example, the Jewish people were in a fiery furnace or lions’ den and the three friends were thrown into a fiery furnace and Daniel into a lions’ den. Now here in Daniel 4 Nebuchadnezzar was morally insane before he went mentally insane. Thus insanity is the metaphor for a king who defies God.
The main point of Daniel 4 is this: God is able to humble those who walk in pride. This is why it is crazy to be proud. Notice the wisdom theme of this chapter – pride and humility. Also notice the wisdom vocabulary of the chapter, i.e., ”there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity” (Dan 4:27, cf. Dan 4:4).