The Image of Gold
May 24th, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
THE IMAGE OF GOLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-24-70 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Image of Gold. We are preaching these present Sundays through the Book of Daniel and have come to the third chapter. I thought I might try the format of a different presentation in the message this morning. We are going to take the story and instead of my reading it as a background, as a text, and then expatiating upon it, we are going to follow through the story, and then I shall speak as we come to the messages in the chapter that impressed themselves upon my heart.
Daniel chapter 3: “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon” [Daniel 3:1], then follows his call to all the rulers of the provinces to come for the dedication of that golden image and for a special worship of bowing down before it [Daniel 3:2-6]. Now Nebuchadnezzar was one of the great, mighty conquering rulers of all time. He never lost a battle. And he brought under his surveillance and sovereignty the entire known civilized world. He was a king of kings, and Daniel said to him, “Thou O king, art that head of gold” [Daniel 2:38].
Possibly there has never been since a ruler and a military general of the stature and genius and ability of Nebuchadnezzar. Now, I am taking for granted, therefore, that when the king did this he had real reason for doing it. He was astute. He was gifted. He was wise. He was prudent, and he was eminently successful. So as I think through why did Nebuchadnezzar build this tremendous image and call his entire world to worship before it, I cannot help but admire his religious zeal, and as you read of him in secular history, he was zealously religious. I cannot but admire him.
There are very few worshipers of the true God who would spend the vast, immense amount of money that it cost to erect that image plated with pure gold: ninety feet high, sixty cubits high, and six cubits broad, nine feet broad [Daniel 3:1]. Oh, the amount of money involved in erecting so gigantic an image! We begrudge what little we give to the Lord. That’s our pattern of life but not Nebuchadnezzar. He took the fortune of a kingdom and lavished it upon that god.
Now, to me there are two reasons why he did it. First, he thought to unify the religion of his empire, and that is shrewd. It is smart. It is eminently and profoundly astute. All of the provinces––and they were multifaceted––and all of the rulers, and counselors, and governors, and judges, and sheriffs, everybody was to belong to one universal religion. That has pleased the world from the beginning and especially the political world. They like a unified religion, if for no other reason than that they can bargain with it, and they can cajole it. They can make treaties with it. They can sign concordance with it, they can use it and they can abuse it. The world likes one religion. And this isn’t a strange aberration that I read here in 600 BC.
It’s the same that you find today; ecumenicalism, ecumenicalism. The Scriptures say that the whole earth moves toward one great religion. And when you read of the denouement of the age, the consummation at the end time, you will find this same type of thing at the consummation, the end time, of the age. There will be one great coercive religion [Revelation 13:16-17]. It pleases the world to have it so. And this great image that you find on the plain of Dura in the third chapter of the Book of Daniel [Daniel 3:1], two and one half millennia later and more you will find that image in the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 13:1]. The world likes that. And I say it is astute and shrewd that it should be. Now that’s the first reason.
The second reason is there is something in man that is congenitally depraved, that loves to deify himself—an image made out of gold of a great man. Maybe Nebuchadnezzar looked upon himself as the son of Baal Marduk in whose name he conquered the world. Maybe he looked upon it as a likeness of the god he served. Or maybe he looked upon it as an image of himself. Whatever the image may have represented, it ultimately stood for the deification of man. And that pleases the world. The psychologist does it. The behaviorist does it. The evolutionist does it. The pseudoscientist does it. The false philosopher does it. The cheap politician does it.
The whole world moves toward the deification of man. We don’t need God. We don’t need His wisdom. We don’t need His interference or His intervention. We don’t need to ask God. We don’t need a power higher than ourselves. We ourselves are all adequate and self-sufficient, and we can solve our own problems. It pleases man to deify himself. Isn’t it a strange thing how the Scriptures will follow through consistently a depraved strain in human nature?
This great image is sixty cubits high, and it is six cubits broad, six, six, six. Isn’t that a strange thing? Six, according to the thirteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, is the number of a man, six [Revelation 13:18]. Seven is the number of completeness; the seven Spirits of God [Revelation 4:5], that is, the whole overshadowing, filling, consuming, abounding Spirit of God, the seven Spirits of God. But the number on man is six. Last Sunday night I preached on those six water stone jars, in the house there at Cana of the marriage that Jesus filled to the brim [John 2:6-7]. Six, the number of a man, and he’s always short, he’s never seven; he is six. And this depravity of the human heart is so reflected there in this giant image raised by Nebuchadnezzar: six, six, six, the deification of man [Daniel 3:1; Revelation 13:18].
So, he invites the princes, and the governors, and the captains, and the judges, and the treasurers, and the counselors, and the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces to come. And when Nebuchadnezzar invites you to come, you come. And they came [Daniel 3:2-3]. Then the announcement is made; a herald is to cry aloud and say, “To you it is commanded…that when you hear the cornet, the flute, the harp, the sackbut, the psaltery, the dulcimer, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the great golden image that Nebuchadnezzar set up” [Daniel 3:5].
How do you like that? “Then an herald cried aloud,” a paid stipend preacher. Isn’t that something? What he says, he is told to say. He preaches what somebody wants to hear. He’s a hireling. He’s a paid herald of a preacher. And what does he preach? He cries aloud, “To you it is commanded to worship” [Daniel 3:4]. What do you think about that? Can you command somebody to worship, can you? Can you command somebody to love? Can you command somebody to have faith? Isn’t it true that worship is something of the soul, of the instinct and depths of life? Isn’t it true that love is something of the heart? You don’t buy it. You can’t coerce it, something you give away. Isn’t it true that faith is something that is born of the grace of the Spirit and almightiness of God? [Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:5]. As brilliant and as astute as Nebuchadnezzar was, think of the folly of his evil to be persuaded that he could command worship.
And he did it in a way that defiles the finest gift of the gods. He did it with music, with music; with the cornet [Daniel 3:5]. Where is that cornet this morning? What’s the matter with you? I know you’ve been messing around. You’ve been fooling around. There’s no cornet. There’s no flute. You didn’t even have the organ when the choir sang. Why, I don’t know what is the matter. Isn’t it amazing how the world prostitutes music? No matter what, if it’s off-colored, and vile, and evil, and permissive, and suggestive, you will find it in music. And the dirtier the show and the filthier the act, the more you will find that off-beat suggestive rhythmic, permissive music. Isn’t that an amazing thing?
And so, Nebuchadnezzar chooses to implement his evil folly with song and with music. Oh, why did God give us the ability to respond to music? Because God would sanctify our hearts and our souls with it. Music belongs to heaven. Music belongs to God. Music is a part of the divine image in human life. Music belongs to the church. Music belongs to Christ. Music belongs to heaven. All of us ought to sing sympathetically and spiritually if we don’t sing vocally, all of us. Music, that only a few can sing charms us, and has its place, but the great music is the music that an old man can share in, and a young child can say, “Hallelujah” in. That’s great music that lifts us up, and wraps us up, and exalts us in worship before God. But he prostitutes it.
Then he says, “And whosoever does not fall down at the sound of this music and worship this golden image shall be cast into the midst of a fiery furnace” [Daniel 3:6]. Now I want you to know it’s sometimes quite difficult to argue with a gentleman who can back up his case with fiery furnaces and with threats to cut you to pieces and to make your house a dunghill. “Therefore, at the time the people heard the music, they all bowed down,” all of them [Daniel 3:7]. Well, that’s fashion. Fashion is a monster, and society is no less monstrous. They all did it. They all did it, just like they all do certain things today. They all drink. Why certainly. They all, and then just name it; society and fashion, it’s the genteel thing to do. It’s the gracious thing to do. It’s the nice thing to do. It’s the politic thing to do. They all do it.
“Therefore, at the time that the music was heard, they all bowed down and worshiped” [Daniel 3:7]. That is, they all bowed down except three young men who were slaves and captives from Judah [Daniel 3:12]. And when the cornet, and the flute, and the psaltery, and the dulcimer were heard, and the whole world of fashion, and culture, and politics, and society bowed down, those three young men stood up! stood up! stood up! stood there. So, the Chaldeans, the priests of Baal Marduk, the Chaldeans came near and spake to the king and said [Daniel 3:8]––and you never read in your life a more astute, shrewd approach than these priests of Baal Marduk make to the king––
O king, live forever, yes sir, O king, thou hast made a decree, you did it, infallible you, you made a decree, and you said, it is you, it is your divine, and hallowed, and sanctified, and infallible word, you said that all who were not on their faces before the golden image should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. But there are certain Jews . . .
and I can just hear their tone of contempt and scorn, “there are certain Jews whom you said,” as though it were a misjudgment––you see jealousy, envy, written all over this; well, they were the Chaldeans, and here are these slaves and foreigners and importations who have been exalted above them––“whom thou has set over the affairs of the provinces of Babylon, these men, yehudai, these men, O king, have not regarded thee” [Daniel 3:12]. And insubordination and disloyalty, as you know, is the number one sin in any army, in any political government, in any aggregate organization of state. “These men have flaunted thee and insulted thee! And they serve not thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou has set up” [Daniel 3:12].
And that shrewd, mealy-mouth, pious word of those hypocrites did exactly what those shrewd Chaldeans knew it would do. Nebuchadnezzar was in a rage and in a fury. And he commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego before him [Daniel 3:13]. Could there be, could it possibly be that, in all of the empire and kingdom of Babylon, there would be even three who dared disobey the mandate of the king? Could it be? He couldn’t believe his ears. So he called for the three young men themselves and said unto them,
Is it true? It is not credible, I am incredulous. Is it true? I must have been misinformed. Is it true you, you three? Why, I exalted you. I took you from captivity and made you ruler over my provinces. I am your benefactor and friend. I did that for you. And is it true that you Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-nego, do not serve my gods nor worship my golden image? Is it true? I cannot believe it, I cannot believe it.
And those young men answered and said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this manner.” What does that mean, “We are not careful to answer thee in this manner” [Daniel 3:16]? This is what that means, this is exactly what it means: “O king, we don’t even have to think. We don’t even have to discuss. We don’t even have to consider. We don’t even have to review. The thing is so set in our souls. It is so much of whatever we are, the tissue and fiber of our being.” You know what those young men had been? They had been grounded in those Deuteronomy passages. They had been grounded in those Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17]. Commandment number one: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” [Exodus 20:3]; commandment number one. Commandment number two:
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I am the Lord thy God.
Those boys had been brought up on that all the days of their lives. It was in their souls; and the everlasting hills were not more settled on the earth than those boys in that conviction that had penetrated their deepest souls.
“O king, we are not careful to answer thee” [Daniel 3:16]. We do not have to think about it or discuss it. “We will not bow down” [Daniel 3:18]. What do you think about that? That’s these sermons, the next two that lie ahead; I don’t have time even to begin to put it all in one message. Think of standing before a king who can throw you into a fiery furnace [Daniel 3:10-11], and say, “We will not!” [Daniel 3:18]. Isn’t it an amazing thing what religious conviction will do in the earth? Why, Nebuchadnezzar had thousands, he had millions, and they all bowed down except those three.
Isn’t it an astonishing thing, the unconscious tribute that the world pays to religious conviction? Why bother with them? Ignore them. Can’t ignore them, as long as there are three men who have conviction like that, the world has to deal with them. They can’t escape it. Isn’t that a strange thing? It’s like Jesus of Nazareth. Why the scorners, and the scoffers, and the infidels, and the unbelievers, and the whole world practically, says, “Virgin born? how stupid. Son of God? how incredulous. Isn’t that incredible and unimaginable? He was just a carpenter, a good man, the son of Mary and Joseph, or pantheros, a Roman soldier.” Well, if that’s all He is, an imposter and a mere carpenter, why don’t they forget Him? Because you can’t forget Him, you just can’t. It’s like prayer: “Nothing to prayer, self-delusion, talking to yourself, it’s psychologically explained.” Well then why don’t we forget it? Because you can’t. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? Out of the millions in the Babylonian Empire, just those three; but they can’t move, and they can’t go forward, and they can’t be settled until first those three are dealt with.
Now those young men could have said, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, don’t be hasty, wait. Let’s have a confrontation. Let’s discuss this. Maybe we can find common ground where we can do what you want us to do and at the same time keep our religious faith.” Or they could have said, “Did you know,” talking among themselves, “did you know we’re officers of the state, and this is expected of an officer of the state. And when we bow down, we’re not compromising our faith. We’re doing this as political entities. We are rulers and officers, and we’re doing this in expediency.”
Or they could have said, “Everybody else is doing it, why, there are Jews that are doing it. And they even put an idol in their own temple. And everybody’s doing it, and the counselors, and the rulers, and the governors, and the princes, and surely everybody can’t be wrong. They’re bowing and we shall bow.” And they could have said, “It’s just for a moment, just this one time. Why argue over a peccadillo? Why be cantankerous or obstinate over some little old thing, some little tiny thing? Why, it doesn’t matter that much.” They could have said, “You know it’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion. He who fights and runs away will learn to fight another day. It’s better to be,” oh, “red than dead.” There are a thousand things by which they could have extenuated and ameliorated and compromised that political appeal. Isn’t it an astonishing thing they stood up? [Daniel 3:16-18]. I have to close.
That’s what God expects of us; an open, unashamed, unreserved avowal. A faith that will not stand, a faith that will not be owned is not a faith that will save. Matthew 10:32-33: “If you deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father which is in heaven. If you confess Me before men, I will confess you before My Father which is in heaven.” Romans 10:9-10: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He lives, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
I cannot be saved by any other kind of a faith but one that is openly avowed. It’s always been like that; as Moses cried in the midst of the camp, “Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come and stand by me” [Exodus 32:26]; as Joshua cried, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” [Joshua 24:15]; as it said of Ezra, “Ezra purposed in his heart to know the word of God, and to do it” [Ezra 7:10]. As it says of Jesus, “And Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” [Luke 9:51]. As it was of Athanasius the great church father who defended the faith and the deity of Christ, someone said to him, “Athanasius, the whole world is against you. The emperor, the bishops, the church, the whole world is against you.” And Athanasius replied, “Then I am against the whole world.” And that’s where that Latin proverb came from, “Athanasius contra mundum,” Athanasius against the world!” They all bowed down [Daniel 3:7] but these three, and they stood up! [Daniel 3:16-18]. That’s what we’re to do. That’s saving faith [2 Timothy 3:12], and that’s a commitment that honors God, as you shall say it.
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal. And for you, to give your heart to God and to devote your life to our Lord, to join with us in this exaltation and worship of Jesus, you, come and stand by me. “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” In the balcony round, there’s time and to spare, come. On this lower floor, a family you, a couple, or you, just you, make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. “Here I am, pastor. I make it today. I’ve decided in my heart, live or die, in age, in youth, in poverty, in affluence, in the day and the night, I’ve decided for God. And here I come to give my life and all that I am to Christ.” Do it. While we stand and while we sing.