Great Image of the King

Nebuchadnezzar implemented his dream by “setting up” the great golden image to glorify his majesty and sovereignty - Daniel 3:1-7

Obelisk - Photo by peter bucks on Unsplash
King Nebuchadnezzar invested great effort to make his dream image a reality. First, he “set up” an enormous image to represent his majesty and the irresistible power of his empire. Then, he commanded all the “peoples and nations and tongues” of his realm to render homage to his image or face certain death in the “burning fiery furnace” - [Photo by peter bucks on Unsplash].

The story is the sequel to the dream and interpretation recorded in chapter 2, which is borne out by the verbal and conceptual links between the two stories, 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, its height sixty cubits, its width thereof six cubits. And he set it up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. And Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather 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 image with the “head of gold” from the king’s dream set the stage for what now follows as the king attempts to implement that image in his own way. This he does by setting up an enormous image covered entirely with gold to symbolize his glorious realm and absolute sovereignty.

The king “set up” the image in the “plain of Dura.” Its location remains uncertain. “Dura” means “wall” or “rampart,” which 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, which is how the translators of the Greek Septuagint understood the clause by translating it as the “plain of the wall” - (en pediō tou peribolou).

More importantly, the “plain” echoes the story of the Tower of Babel when humanity settled in Mesopotamia, all men spoke “one tongue,” and they journeyed east to find a “PLAIN in the land of Shinar and dwelt there.” So, also, Nebuchadnezzar intended for his empire to speak the “tongue” of Babylon, and now planned to gather representatives of all “peoples” to this vast “plain” in Babylon - (Genesis 11:1-9, Daniel 1:2).
  • (Daniel 3:3-7) – “Then the satraps, the deputies, and the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces were gathered to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the herald cried aloud, To you, it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at what time you hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, you fall down and render homage to the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up; and whoever falls not down to render homage will the same hour be cast into the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, all the peoples, the nations, and the tongues fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
There is a deliberate contrast with the preceding story.  In chapter 3, the king “set up” his image, but 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, approximately ninety feet by nine feet. The dimensions reflect the Babylonian sexagesimal or 60-base number system, further evidence that the author of Daniel was familiar with the culture of Ancient Babylon. Nothing is said about the shape of the image, though the dimensions suggest an obelisk. The passage does not identify what god or human was represented by it.

Nebuchadnezzar was famous for restoring the temples of Babylon that were dedicated to her many gods. The addition of another image inside a temple would not have been unusual, but the placement of an idol in an open space for all men and women to see and venerate was unique.

In the interpretation of the king’s dream, the “stone” that destroyed the four kingdoms represented by the “great image” was “cut without hands.” In contrast, Nebuchadnezzar “SET UP” his image, a rendering of the Aramaic verb qum, which is repeated nine times in the story to stress the point. It was Nebuchadnezzar who “SET UP” his image - (Daniel 3:1, 3:2, 3:3 [twice], 3:5, 3:7, 3:12, 3:14, 3:18).

Heavens Opened - Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash
Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

In contrast, the God of Heaven “
sets up” (qum) kings, He “set up” the image with the golden head in the king’s dream, and He “set up” the everlasting kingdom “cut without hands” that would destroy all the empires that preceded it, including Nebuchadnezzar’s domain - (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.” Anyone who refused to do so would be 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 his image - (Daniel 3:2-6).

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

IN REVELATION. Language and imagery from this passage is used in the portrait of the “beast from the earth,” the “false prophet” who causes all the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to the image of the “beast from the sea.” All who refuse are killed, whether “the small and the great, the rich and the poor, or the free and the bond.” All segments of society received its “number” or “name.”

The “number of the beast,” ‘666,’ echoes the dimensions of Nebuchadnezzar’s image - sixty cubits by six cubitsRevelation adds six hundred to the number to produce the fuller “number of the beast.” The passages in Daniel and Revelation both concern the pressure placed on men to participate in the idolatrous worship of the World-Power.



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