Comparing Scripture with Scripture is essential for interpreting Scripture properly. A comparison of Daniel 2:46 and Daniel 3:5 illumines Daniel 3:5 in a way that many may have missed.
When Daniel was able to tell the king his dream and its interpretation, the king responded as follows:
Daniel 2:46 Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him.
This revelation is remarkable because the king did not just fall down before Daniel and worship him; he also commanded others to make offerings to him. This action by the king to bestow exceptional honor on Daniel underscores the extent to which the king went to honor him.
After having greatly honored Daniel in the manner treated above, the king later made and set up a colossal image. He then summoned a vast number of civil officials to come to the dedication of his image.
At the dedication, he commanded a herald to proclaim the following:
Daniel 3:5 That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up:
All the people present except for Daniel’s three Hebrew friends obeyed the king’s command and fell down and worshiped the image.
Some say that we can only say with certainty that what the people did to honor the image is whatever the text says and nothing more. On that reading, all that we can say is that the people fell down before the image and worshiped it, but we cannot say anything else with certainty about the nature of what they did.
To understand why this approach to interpreting Daniel 3:5 is wrong, we must compare it closely with Daniel 2:46.
A Vitally Illuminating Comparison
Comparing Daniel 2:46 with Daniel 3:5, we find that both verses use the same Aramaic verbs to speak of honoring someone or something by falling down and worshiping him or it. Daniel 2:46 goes beyond speaking of falling down and worshiping because it speaks also of making offerings to a man to honor him.
If we can only say with certainty whatever the texts say, we would have to hold that Nebuchadnezzar bestowed greater honor on Daniel than on his golden image because Daniel 2:46 teaches that Neb. commanded people to offer an oblation and sweet odors to Daniel but there is no mention of such offerings being offered to his golden image in Daniel 3.
Plainly, holding that the king commanded that offerings be offered to honor Daniel but did not command the doing of any such thing in honoring his image is not a legitimate understanding of what the king did to honor his image. Undoubtedly, the king bestowed greater honors upon the image that he ordered people to worship as a god than upon Daniel whom the king seemingly did not regard to be a god.
By comparing Daniel 2:46 with Daniel 3:5, we can be certain that the king commanded that his image be honored either by having things offered to it or by the doing of other actions that would have bestowed even greater honor than making an offering to it. We are not to understand that Daniel 3:5 teaches that the people honored the golden image in any way that honored it less than the honor that the king bestowed on Daniel in Daniel 2:46.