There’s a running “image” theme in Daniel. It runs explicitly through chapters 2 and 3 where Nebuchadnezzar initially has a dream that he requests be told to him and interpreted. God reveals the dream to Daniel, and it is the vision of the “image” of the statue. The image-statue has layers of gold, bronze, iron, and feet mixed with iron and clay. Daniel tells Neb that he is the head of gold on this image.
Immediately, in chapter 3, we are told that Nebuchadnezzar set up an “image of gold.” Hmmmmmm… we ought to say to ourselves. Where have we heard this before? It’s almost like Neb stopped listening after Daniel told him that he was the head of gold. But Neb may also take the vision as some sort of directions from God/the gods. Who knows. But he nevertheless sets up this image, and we are ushered into the famous story involving the three friends of Daniel who refuse to bow before the image.
The last explicit reference to “image” in Daniel comes in 3:19, and it linguistically connects one last dot: after the three friends insist that they will not worship the gold “image” that Nebuchadnezzar has set up, the text says that “Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego…” Literally, it says that he was full of fury and the “image” of his face changed… We’ve gone from the golden head on the image-statue, to the golden image set up to be worshiped, to the “image” of Nebuchadnezzar’s face.
In other words, it appears that the text hints at what the the golden image looked like. It was an image of Nebuchadnezzar. It was his “image” that the three friends refused to bow down to and worship. And just to push this a little tighter, this is the aramaic equivalent to the same word (TSELEM) used in Genesis 1:27 to describe the relationship between God and man made in His “image.”
It would have been right and proper for Daniel and his three friends to bow before Nebuchadnezzar as the king. He is an image bearer and their lawful authority. In fact, in the very last chapter, Nebuchadnezzar has bowed before Daniel and presented an offering and incense before him (2:46)! Furthermore, if Nebuchadnezzar is the new convert to the true religion, wouldn’t this be a perfect opportunity to introduce the proper use of images into Babylonian worship? But bowing to images of images is forbidden (Ex. 20:4-6). We may not bow before images that are not alive because they are false in so far as they are lifeless.
One last item to note is the fact that after Neb throws the three friends into the furnace, a fourth “form” appears in the furnace with the three friends. The fourth form is like “the son of God.” Whatever this means on the lips of a Babylonian king, the son of God or the gods is something “angelic” (3:28), and given the context, the “son” is one who represents the father-god, an image-bearer, frequently having a close resemblance to the father, like Adam, the first son of God, the first image bearer. Thus, Nebuchadnezzar is answered image for image, a golden lifeless icon cannot compete with the living icon of God, the son of God who comes to deliver His servants.