The king is an arrogant fool in Daniel 3, but the real bad guys in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are the “Chaldeans,” a group of the king’s experts who specialized in astrology. When the population of Babylon fell down to worship the golden image (which Nebuchadnezzar the king set up), the Chaldeans peeked during the prayer and saw three lone figures standing on the plain of Dura – our three heroes, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
The narrator makes perfectly clear what happens and why: the Chaldeans “came forward and maliciously accused the Jews” (3:8). They don’t like the Jews. Furthermore, when they tattle to the king, the Chaldeans point the finger at him – a daring move if ever there was one: “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (3:12). They don’t like the Jews and they certainly don’t like that Nebuchadnezzar promoted them to such high positions. When they see an opportunity to snuff out their hated competition, they snatch it up like piñata candy at the foot of the statue (which Nebuchadnezzar the king set up).
Nebuchadnezzar comes off as a hotheaded, out-of-control egomaniac in this chapter. But he’s not a man of prejudice or maliciousness. He’s just a fiery fool. If not for the “assistance” of his enterprising astrologers, he perhaps wouldn’t have had a clue that “certain Jews” hadn’t bowed down. The towering statue, the throngs of people, the pomp of the ceremony were probably enough for his big fat ego. The threat of the furnace was just a way to guarantee that no one ruined his big day.
The forces of evil in the chapter are the Chaldeans – men who tried to make themselves appear bigger by bringing down the faithful Jews. Instead they showed how small they really were.