Counting to ten is not in Nebuchadnezzar’s skill set. When the king figures out that the three Jews didn’t, after all, misunderstand his command about bowing down to the golden image, his “image” changes. The narrator plays on the word “image” here, though the cleverness is lost in most English translations. They say something like “his attitude toward them changed” (NIV) or “the expression of his face was changed” (ESV) or, my favorite, “the form of his visage was changed” (KJV). The king was furious with rage before they made their declaration (3:13), but now he comes unglued.
Look how irrational he is: he has the furnace turned up seven notches and he sends some of his toughest guys to tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Seriously, was the “furnace of blazing fire” not hot enough to snuff out life? Furthermore, would these three men, who basically said, “Throw us in,” have put up a fight? The crazy king’s blind fury cost the lives of his best soldiers, who were consumed by the flames that licked right past the “robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes” of the “firmly tied” would-be-martyrs. That is, the flames licked past them until they landed in the furnace, where the fire selectively burned off the ropes that bound them, without singeing a hair or a thread (Yes, I know “singeing” looks totally incorrect, but it’s not. English is so weird.)
The crazy king “leaped to his feet in amazement” (3:24, NIV). When he asks his advisers “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire,” they don’t have to think twice: “Certainly, Your Majesty.” After the behavior they’d just witnessed, they probably would have given the same answer no matter what number Nebuchadnezzar said.
The king rubs his eyes, checks his fingers, and makes a statement with all kinds of wrong about it: (1) there are four men, (2) walking around in the fire, (3) unbound and (4) unharmed, and if that isn’t enough, (5) the fourth man looks like a “son of the gods” – a divine or angelic being.
Nebuchadnezzar did not say he saw the Son (or son) of God. He says he saw an angelic messenger of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (see v. 28) – a messenger sent to deliver that God’s faithful servants. A good polytheist, Nebuchadnezzar was always willing to admit another god (or God) into his pantheon – this particular God was one with amazing power to deliver.
Remember the king’s challenge to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before they made their famous declaration? “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” as if he, Nebuchadnezzar, was greater than any god (v. 15). Now by chapter’s end, he’s finally met a God who is most definitely greater than he. Imagine that.