Daniel 3 records King Nebuchadnezzar’s making a colossal image and then acting to bring about the dedication of the image. Some advocate that sound interpretation of the passage limits what we can say happened to what amounts to a minimalist interpretation.1
One minimalist interpretation holds that the only thing that we can say with certainty took place was that those assembled bowed before the image and that bowing itself was the worship rendered to it. For at least seven reasons, we should reject such a minimalist interpretation.
A Royal Event
The king of the most powerful empire of his day ordained what activities the dedication of the image would include. A royal event necessarily would have involved a certain protocol, decorum, pageantry, pomp, majesty, etc.
A minimalist interpretation requires the understanding that the entire event almost entirely lacked any such features fitting for a royal event. Moreover, what kind of dedication event fitting for a king would consist only of a brief bowing down to the image and nothing more than doing that?
No Known Constraining Factors
A royal event ordained by the most powerful human authority of his day necessarily entails certain realities about the situation. No human authority limited the king about what activities the dedication could include. The king did not lack any needed finances to pay for what would take place.
No evidence exists for any time constraints to the event that limited it in any way. No evidence exists for any circumstantial factors that required the event to be as minimal as possible, such as mass famine in the land or an empire-wide plague or impending weather-related calamities or impending invasions by powerful enemies etc.
Given that there are no known factors constraining what could have been done on this occasion, no basis exists for holding to a minimalist position.
The Biblical Witness about the Central Activity in Idolatrous Worship
Scripture provides numerous passages that show that offering sacrifices to idols was a central activity in idolatrous worship about which God informs and warns His people (cf. Exod. 34:11-17). Positing that an idolatrous emperor would dedicate an image of a god without offering any sacrifices to that god goes against that evidence and also goes against what we already know would have been his own previous experience in his own temple.
Explicit Contextual Evidence That Refutes a Minimalist Interpretation
Comparing what the king did earlier to honor Daniel with what Daniel 3 explicitly says brings out a crucial point. The king honored Daniel by bowing to him, worshiping him, and commanding that certain offerings would be made to him.
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.
Using the same verbs for bowing and worshiping found in Daniel 2:46, Daniel 3 says that the people bowed and worshiped the image. To hold that the king honored Daniel by doing more to honor him than he ordained to be done to honor his image is an indefensible position.
Understanding what Daniel 2:46 compared with Daniel 3 shows requires that we hold that the dedication event in Daniel 3 included the offering of things to the image to honor it more than the king had offered to honor Daniel. A minimalist interpretation of Daniel 3 is therefore an impossible reading given what Daniel 2:46 reveals.
Would the King Have Dishonored All the Rulers of the Provinces?
To hold a minimalist interpretation of Daniel 3 would include holding that the king did not provide any amenities for his royal guests. Given that the king had previously ordained on a separate occasion that some captives be fed from his choice food, would the king surely not have fed his royal guests with such food?
Moreover, eating what has been offered to an idol in worship is such a vital aspect of the biblical witness concerning idolatry that there would have to be a very compelling basis to hold that this event did not include such eating. No such basis exists so we must reject a minimalist interpretation that asserts that there were no sacrifices offered on this occasion and no eating of those sacrifices afterward.
An Extravagant “Signal” for a “Bare-Bones” Event?
Some proponents of the need to hold a minimalist interpretation say that the musical instruments mentioned in the account were used to sound a “signal blast” to initiate the worship.The explicit mention of at least six different instruments to sound that supposed blast (and a phrase that may signify the use as well of many other instruments) would seem to be a perplexing extravagance for a “bare-bones” event when the herald himself could have given a sufficient signal or one trumpeter could have done so.
Why would a king who supposedly chose to forgo all other extravagances in a dedication yet choose to use an extravagant signal? Taking a minimalist position about everything else that happened hardly makes sense given the diverse nature of the musical instruments used in the event.
Consideration of the Aftermath of the Event
A minimalist interpretation of Daniel 3 promotes a lack of consideration about the aftermath of the event. Had the king only directed all those present to bow to the statue and then return to their homes, the people would have returned to their homes having experienced a strange event in which the emperor bestowed less honor on his god in a dedication ceremony of kingdom-wide importance than the people were routinely used to bestowing on their gods.
Had the king done so, he would not have communicated to them the proper appreciation of the greatness of his god that he would have wanted them to come to have. A minimalist understanding of what happened would thus mean that the king did not accomplish his objective of setting forth the surpassing greatness of his god in a manner that would have been in keeping with the greatness of his colossal image.
Because there are no reasons to accept such an interpretation that the king failed to furnish his people with a proper appreciation of the greatness of his god, we must reject a minimalist interpretation of what took place.
A minimalist interpretation of Daniel 3 is unsupportable for many reasons. The king did not only just command that all the people bow as the worship that they offered to the image of his god.
We should reject such a minimalist interpretation of Daniel 3.
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