THE IMAGE NEBUCHADNEZZAR SET UP (DAN. 3) was doubtless designed to unify the empire.
That is why he ordained that all "peoples, nations and men of every language ... must fall down and worship the image of gold" (Dan. 3:4-5). Living as he did in a pluralistic culture where people could with impunity add gods to their personal pantheon, Nebuchadnezzar saw no reason but rebellion or intransigent insubordination for anyone to refuse to worship the image. The threat of the furnace, from his perspective, guaranteed conformity, and the potential political gain was incalculable. Furnaces in Babylon were primarily for the firing of bricks (cf. Gen. 11:3), widely used because suitable building stone was so scarce. Some large brick kilns have been dug up outside the ruins of ancient Babylon. Certainly Nebuchadnezzar would have had no scruples about burning people to death (Jer. 29:22).
The striking exchange in this chapter is between Nebuchadnezzar and the three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, after their first refusal to bow before the image (Dan. 3:13-18). The emperor's final taunt almost dares any god to come forward: "Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?" (Dan. 3:15). Of course, as a pagan, he lived in a world of powerful but definitely finite gods, and in some instances he certainly felt that he was their equal or even their superior. From the perspective of biblical theism, this is monstrous arrogance.
But it is the answer of the three men that deserves memorizing and pondering: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Dan. 3:16-18). Observe: (a) Their basic courtesy and respect are undiminished, however bold their words. (b) They are completely unwilling to apologize for their stance. The wise believer never apologizes for God or for any of his attributes. (c) They do not doubt God's ability to save them, and they say so: God is not hostage to other gods, or to human beings, emperors or otherwise. (d) But whether or not God will save them they cannot know—and the point is immaterial to their resolve. Faithfulness is not dependent upon an escape hatch. They choose faithfulness because it is the right thing to do, even if it costs them their lives.
The courage we need in this anti-Christian age is courteous and steadfast. It never apologizes for God. It joyfully believes that God can do anything, but it is prepared to suffer rather than compromise hearty obedience.