Daniel 3 relates the famous account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (or, to use their Hebrew names, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah). The three brave Hebrews take a stand against the king of Babylon, refuse to bow to an idol, and are thrown into a burning fiery furnace. Interestingly, Daniel is not mentioned in the story at all. Why did Daniel’s three friends face the wrath of the king alone? Where was Daniel during their time of crisis?
Scripture does not say where Daniel was when King Nebuchadnezzar tried to kill Daniel’s friends. There are a few possibilities, all of them speculative:
1) Daniel, who was “ruler over the entire province of Babylon and . . . in charge of all its wise men” (Daniel 2:48), had been sent away on an assignment by Nebuchadnezzar and was therefore not present at the event described in Daniel 3.
2) Because of Daniel’s promotion and his place in the royal court (Daniel 2:49), Nebuchadnezzar had exempted Daniel from the command to bow down to the golden statue.
3) Daniel, in fear of being executed or to appease the king, bowed down to the golden statue.
Option (3) can definitely be dismissed. One thing we say for sure is that Daniel was not bowing down to the idol that Nebuchadnezzar had made. He who had “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8, KJV) was not going to commit a blatant act of wickedness such as worshiping a false god. In Daniel 6, Daniel risks his life by simply praying. If Daniel was willing to die for his commitment to prayer, there is no way he would have directly violated one of the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:4). Daniel’s character and commitment were such that he would not dare dishonor the Lord.
Options (1) and (2) are both plausible, with (1) perhaps being the more likely possibility. Nebuchadnezzar’s command to bow down and worship the image was addressed to “nations and peoples of every language” (Daniel 3:4), and present at the dedication were “the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials” (verse 3). In other words, the king’s command seems universal, with no exceptions; everyone within hearing range of the music was to bow down and worship the king’s image (verse 5). The most likely scenario, then, is that Daniel was away on the king’s business and was not present for the dedication of the idol.
A related question is where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were during the events of Daniel 6, when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. The possible answers are the same as those listed above, with two additional explanations. One is that, by the time of the events of Daniel 6, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were no longer alive. Second is that Daniel’s three friends violated the king’s edict and continued to pray to the Lord, but they were not caught. The focus of the satraps was on catching Daniel (Daniel 6:11).