Daniel: Notes for Bible Study Groups, Part 3

Small Group 4Drawing from her own study of Daniel, the knowledge gained while serving as a teaching assistant for Prof. Iain Provan’s Regent College course on Daniel, and the insights gained through talks Carl Ellis gave at an InterVarsity conference, Kathy Cooper has compiled study notes for InterVarsity groups exploring Daniel. These notes are designed to be “plug and play.” While we’ll make some further study suggestions for those with extra time, these notes are designed to provide the basis for leading a thoughtful discussion about how Daniel applies to graduate student or faculty life even if a group has little extra prep time. These notes were designed for leading an inductive bible study discussion, but can be adapted for various bible study contexts. For the first entry in the series, click here. For the second, click here

ESN is glad to share material by experienced InterVarsity staffers for campus groups this year; for more on what we’re sharing on the blog and why, see our fall blog lineup preview post.


Daniel Chapter 3

  • Quote from Carl Ellis: “There’s a difference between being functional in a culture and assimilating into that culture.”
  • Read Daniel 3 out loud (it’s a long chapter, so feel free to assign different parts to different readers, almost as if you’re reading a play).

Textual Discussion Questions:

Discuss in small groups of 2-3 people (if it helps get discussion going)

1. King Nebuchadnezzar: review his character sketch so far. What do you remember about him from chapters 1-2? It’s amazing and unusual that the Bible includes so much about a pagan king—extensive character development and attention are given to Nebuchadnezzar.

  • Why does Nebuchadnezzar set up this gold image?
  • Why is it so big?
    • Some possible ideas to explore: There may be a connection with the dream Nebuchadnezzar had in Chapter 2. Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar is attempting to build the statue of his dream, yet make it all gold? Either way, he is asserting his dominance and pre-eminence. The gold image is tall so that it’s easy for all to see and worship it. It’s impressive, and expensive. It also may remind the reader of the tower of Babel.

2. Daniel 3:1-7:

  • Why do you think the story is so repetitive? For example, it lists the satraps, governors, etc.
    • Some possible ideas to explore: This repetition in Daniel is not an example of clumsy writing, but rather literary artistry. The repetition underscores the king’s authority and the people’s obedience to the letter of the law. The way this is written is almost mocking in the way their absolute obedience is described. The king is seeking conformity of worship and obedience.
  • What does the repetition of the phrase “set up” suggest?
    • Some possible ideas to explore: This repetition implies that the king is the one behind it. The image cannot stand on its own. It may echo Daniel 2:21, which talks about God removing and setting up kings. Purposely or not, Nebuchadnezzar may be trying to usurp God’s power here by setting up a statue of his own.

3. Modern Parallels:

  • Can you think of parallels in our time? What things do powerful people set up and demand allegiance to?
  • Where do powerful people expect conformity?
  • Some possible ideas to explore:
    • The American dream/financial stability may be one parallel
    • Various ideologies in the university and in society may also be parallels

4. Daniel 3:8: the astrologers denounce the Jews.

  • Do you remember where we’ve seen the astrologers before?
    • Chapter 2:2. The astrologers may have been envious of their Jewish colleagues in the king’s employ. This is their opportunity to get one up on Daniel’s friends. Possibly they are seeing this as an ethnic power struggle. This kind of power struggle is often fiercest between those of middle range power/position. When their level of power is close, there is often more competition.

5. Daniel 3:13 and following: Nebuchadnezzar summons Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

  • What strikes you about their interaction?
    • In verse 3:15, Nebuchadnezzar says, “then what God will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Did Nebuchadnezzar forget chapter 2? Or did he simply not understand it? Nebuchadnezzar has no true or real understanding of God at this point. He does have an inflated sense of his own power. Nebuchadnezzar is easily angered, suggesting he feels threatened.
  • Daniel 3:16: What do you make of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response?
    • It’s possible they’re implying that even if God doesn’t exist (which He does), they will still not worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image/gods—because not only is this forced worship wrong religiously, but also ethnically and politically. (It’s wrong for Nebuchadnezzar to demand obedience just because he says so. This is in stark contrast to God who calls us to obey and worship what is already good: God Himself.)
    • Dr. Iain Provan: “They have tested and come to see that God’s way IS good because it IS good, not just because God says it is good. The Bible urges us to live a virtuous life not simply in conformity to commandment, but as a life lived in conformity to reality. Righteousness is being in harmony with the way things actually are.”

6. Daniel 3:19: Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude changed. The word for “attitude” is “salem” or “image”—the same word used in Genesis 1:26-27 to describe humans created in God’s image. Another way to translate this phrase is: “his face was distorted.”

  • What is the author implying here about Nebuchadnezzar through this word play (or irony)
    • Some possible ideas: Nebuchadnezzar is changing—losing his humanity and becoming beastly, dehumanized. This shows the distorting effects of domination, power-grabbing, and idolatry.
  • How might you describe the connection between worship/idolatry and personhood/ethics?
    • In the Old Testament, worship and ethics are inseparably linked
    • Once we treat God as an object (through idolatry) then we become like objects and treat other people like objects.
    • Idolatry is blurring or obscuring the distinction between the creation and the living God who creates.
    • The 10 commandments speak to this in their structure: they command us to worship God alone, followed by the rest of the commandments that have everything to do with ethics and relationships.
    • Iain Provan: “When we forget who God truly is, it’s but a short step to forgetting who we are and who our neighbor is. It is inevitable, from a biblical perspective, that a disintegration and a dehumanization take place in the aftermath of a departure from the one God who alone gives us both an integration point (as we worship him with all our heart, soul, might) and a proper sense of who we are. . . The idolatry of the self (in Daniel) has transposed into the idolatry of the state.”

7. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fire: What does this tell us about God—and about living as his people in exile?

  • God doesn’t necessarily prevent suffering, but is with his people in the fire and makes sure they come out unscathed.
  • Iain Provan: “This story is about the suffering of all believers under regimes which require a conformity which they cannot, in all conscience, give.”
  • Daniel 3:25: A fourth person appears, “one like a son of the gods.” What do you think is going on? Nebuchadnezzar interprets it as an angel. This may be a manifestation of the presence of God, possibly the pre-incarnate Christ, Immanuel. Daniel doesn’t specify.
  • What do you make of Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction? What do you notice about his understanding of God?
    • Nebuchadnezzar is concerned that no one says anything against this God—but he’s not ready yet to say anything for this God. Nebuchadnezzar’s allegiance to God is still unclear.

Application/reflection:

  • How does this scripture intersect with your life? How is God speaking to you through Daniel?
  • Are you struggling with idols that have been set up around you in the expectation that you worship or show allegiance?
  • How are you seeing the distorting and dehumanizing effects of idolatry in grad school?
  • What might it mean for you to not bow down? (Example: A friend in a PhD program chose to not give her cell phone number to her advisor as a way of creating a boundary. It helps her know her advisor doesn’t own her.)
  • What might it mean for you to be a witness of God’s reality in your context?
  • Are there ways you see that God has put you where you are for a reason?

For Further Study

The source for most of the background history in this series is:

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Kathy Cooper

Kathy Cooper is the Director of Staff Training & Leadership Development for InterVarsity's Graduate & Faculty Ministries, and serves as GFM staff at Brown University Graduate & Medical Schools. She has a B.A. from Yale in American Studies (Literature) and a Masters of Divinity from Regent College (Vancouver). Kathy and her husband Keith live in Providence, RI. All 3 of their daughters are in college this year. She enjoys cooking, reading, walks with the family dog, conversation over a cup of good coffee, and gardening.

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