Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spoke, and said to his counsellors…
Consider the causes of his astonishment.
I. HE WAS ASTONISHED AT THE NUMBER HE BEHELD IN THE FURNACE "Lo! I see four men; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God!" Some have imagined that by the expression "Son of God" Nebuchadnezzar meant a son of Jupiter, or of Baal, or of some other heathen deity; but surely it is far more reasonable to suppose that by the power of God, who "causeth the wrath of man to praise Him," and of whom we read, "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh," the king was constrained to utter a great truth in spite of the fury of his spirit and the darkness of his soul. Does it not seem clear that Jehovah was then dealing with Nebuchadnezzar in essentially the same way as He had, ages before, dealt with Balaam, when He caused his opposition to praise Him, and when, in spite of "the madness of the prophet," he was constrained, instead of cursing Israel, to give utterance, under a power he could not resist, to truths he did not understand, when he spake of the coming of "a Star out of Jacob," and proclaimed: "I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh"? Can we fail in the light of Scripture to recognise the fourth in the furnace as "the Messenger of the covenant" of whom we read: "In all their afflictions He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them"; "the Word" that was to be "made flesh and dwell among men, the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth"? That cause of the king's astonishment, seeing four in the furnace, becomes to us illustrative of a precious truth — that God, our Saviour, is with His people in the furnace of affliction. "The Lord loveth the righteous." Loving man, He prepares them for home; and affliction, "if need be," is one of the preparatory means employed by Him "whose fire is in Zion and His furnace in Jerusalem." But neither are others free from trial. The world has its furnaces. Was not Cain in a furnace when he said, "My punishment is greater than I can bear"? Was not Belshazzar, when, with trembling knees and a terrified soul, he quailed before the writing on the wall: "Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting"? Was not Judas, when, casting on the ground the thirty pieces of silver, as if burning not his fingers but his soul, he went out and hanged himself? And multitudes now wandering in the ways of sin are in furnaces of affliction. But when servants of the Lord are in the furnace of affliction they are in the furnace that is "in Jerusalem," and in it they are not alone. He who controls and regulates its heat, and can, at His pleasure, take them out of it, is with them in it, as "the consolation of Israel, the Saviour thereof, in time of trouble." "will not leave you comfortless." "Lo! I am with you always"; "My grace is sufflcient for thee."
II. Another cause of the king's astonishment was this: "THEY HAVE NO HURT." How illustrative of the precious truth that God's people receive no hurt in the furnace of affliction! So the Psalmist seems to have felt when he said, "The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve thy soul." To have discoveries made to us of errors in the judgment, deceitfulness in the heart, self-righteousness in the spirit, and manifold deficiencies previously unnoticed by us in our character and life, may be most humiliating and painful for a season, but far from hurtful to the soul; for such are some of the expressly intended results of sanctified affliction which, injuring none of the Christian graces, gives new vigour to faith, new brightness to hope, new ardour to holy affections, and a tone of new devotedness to the whole spirit and life. Surely, then, it becomes the people of God, amid the various trials of life, to "trust and be not afraid," and so "glorify in the fires" their covenant God and Father.
III. That the king saw in the furnace "four men LOOSE, whilst unhurt," was another cause of astonishment. Not power only, but thought, discrimination, and directing influence were acting amid the flames. He who "directeth His lightning to the ends of the earth," Lord of all the elements, the God of nature and nature's laws, caused the fire to act only in such direction and for such ends as He willed. It acted, but only to burn bonds. That cause of astonishment illustrates another precious truth — that sanctified affliction burns bonds — the bonds of sin, Satan, and the world. Children of God, becoming entangled anew in bonds of various kinds, are often placed by the unerring hand of a faithful and loving Father in the furnace of affliction; and in due season, the bonds being burned, they are led out of the furnace to feel anew and often far more than previously, "the glorious liberty of the children of God."
IV. Another cause of the king's astonishment seems to have been this: THEIR DEMEANOUR IN THE FURNACE — "walking in the midst of the fire," so calm, self-possessed, joyful. How illustrative of another precious truth, that God's people are not only supported but enabled to be "joyful in tribulation." Before the multitude of amazed spectators went away they must surely have fixed their eyes very intently for a few moments upon the king, the furnace, and the three faithful servants of "a great God." Let us do likewise.
1. The king. What is now the state of his mind? One thing he said was this: "There is no other God that can deliver after this sort." "True, O king." But is there any other god that can deliver at all? Where were thy gods, O Babylon, when some of their self-denying votaries, those "mighty men," were being burned to death even outside the furnace? Sadly did Nebuchadnezzar fail to turn to rational and right account that signally favourable opportunity of looking fully at the question, "What is truth "? And not very long afterward he was to be seen eating grass with the beasts of the field! What a lesson as to the importance of improving every season of specially favourable opportunity, every day of specially merciful visitation.
2. The furnace. Read as in letters of light among the subsiding glories, such lessons as these: "The path of duty is the path of safety"; "As my days, so shall my strength be"; "Them that honour" God, He "will honour"; "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him."
3. The three tried ones that have come forth as gold'.
(1) They are young men, not Levites, not priests, but young men who have been engaged in secular affairs and in positions of great exposure to many allurements and temptations — representative young men.
(2) The extent of the usefulness of those three young men will never be fully known till time shall be no longer.
(3) Having glorified God in the fires, no one could tell, from their appearance, that they had been near the furnace.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellers, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.
WEB: Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste: he spoke and said to his counselors, Didn't we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered the king, True, O king.