The Image of Gold
May 24th, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
THE IMAGE OF GOLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-24-70 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas bringing the message entitled The Image of Gold. I thought today I would do it in a different way. Usually, I will read a text, a passage and expound the passage as such. This time I am going to take the story and, as I read it, bring the message that God has placed on my heart concerning it.
We are in the Book of Daniel, and we are now come to the third chapter of the Book of Daniel. And it begins like this:
Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.
Then he called all of his counselors and rulers and princes to worship the golden image which he had made. Now, Nebuchadnezzar was a mighty monarch. He was a tremendously successful general. He never lost a battle. He reigned over Babylon for forty years. His astuteness, his shrewdness are a matter of secular history. Therefore, when I see him do this, there must have been tremendous reasons that lie back of what he has thus chosen to do. As you read of this king of Babylon in secular history, you will find that he was unusually, zealously religious; and here is an instance of his liberality toward his religion. I cannot help but admire him, rearing up a giant image and covering it, plating it with pure gold. The worshippers of the true God are so many times stingy and begrudging with what they do to promote the glory of the Lord. But not this monarch! He lavishes an immense amount of wealth on creating this vast image in the plain of Dura.
Now there are cogent, conjunctive reasons that lie back of what the king has done, and I think of two of them: one, he sought in this way to create an unified, universal religion in his vast empire, and that’s smart. To weld the people together in a common faith is the toughest way to make them one, however diversified otherwise they may be. To have one religion – that’s what the Caesars tried to do, and that’s what the kings of England tried to do. And the persecution by the state in the realm of religion has always been for that purpose: to make all the people conform to one religion.
Now, that’s what Nebuchadnezzar was doing here. And the world likes that. It always has liked it. You see, when you can have one religion, it is easy for the state to dicker with it, to sign concordance with it, to make treaties with it, to use it, and the world has always liked it. And this is what Nebuchadnezzar is doing here. The flow of the world is always towards one religious faith. You see it today in these ecumenical movements, moving towards one religion. It’s a strange thing that the image you find in the third chapter of Daniel is the image that you find in the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation. There is a great sign and emblem of one-world faith. That’s what Nebuchadnezzar was doing – trying to make one universal religion.
Now the second reason that Nebuchadnezzar did this was that it pleases man to deify himself. And there on the plain outside of the great city of Babylon, he raises this giant image of a man that pleases the psychologist; it pleases the sociologist; it pleases the pseudoscientist; it pleases the politician. It pleases man to deify himself: "We have no need for God. We are not dependent upon an outside power; we seek no intervention or interference from heaven. We are able ourselves to settle all of our problems and to face all of our necessities." So they leave God out of it, and they like the deification of man.
You know, it’s a strange thing about the universal depravity of the human heart that ever exercises itself in the same areas and finds itself motivated by the same dark principles. The number of man, God says, is six. In the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation, it says, "Here it is wisdom: for the number of the beast is 666" [Revelation 13:18], And isn’t it a strange thing that as Nebuchadnezzar raises this image that defies man, it is 60 cubits high and 6 cubits broad? [Daniel 3:1]. That is, he always falls short, for six is a incomplete number – seven is the complete number! As the seven Spirits of God, in the first chapter and in the fifth chapter of the Revelation: seven is the number of fullness and perfection and completeness, but man never reaches it. His number is six. As last Sunday night, we spoke of the six stone jars at Cana at Galilee. The number of man is six!
And Nebuchadnezzar follows unconsciously that lack, shows that depravity, that falling short. His image is 60 cubits high and 6 cubits broad, and he himself in doing it shows his own lack of spiritual understanding. In the second chapter, you have the story of God’s revelation to this king, of the visions and of the destiny of his kingdom and the kingdoms of the earth until the consummation of the age. And when that revelation is made by the Lord through His prophet Daniel, the king says: "Of a truth, your God is a God of gods, and your Lord is the Lord of lords" [Daniel 2:17].
But how easily does a man forget the visions and the revelations of God. And Nebuchadnezzar here has already forsaken them, turning the goodness and the revelations of God into evil sin and folly. So erecting that giant image of gold, he sends word that all the princes, and the governors, and the captains, and the judges, and the counselors, and the treasurers, and the sheriffs and all the rulers of the empire are to come to the dedication of the image. And when Nebuchadnezzar bids you come, you come! So they’re there by the thousands: the rulers of the whole empire. Then a herald cried aloud – a paid stipend preacher – he says what others tell him to say, and the message he preaches is what others counsel him to preach: a paid hireling! Then the herald cries aloud, and he says, "To you it is commanded to worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up" [Daniel 3:4-5].
And that is the most impossible thing to which any man ever set himself to do. You cannot command, you cannot coerce worship any more than you can command or coerce love or that you can command or coerce faith. Worship comes out of the soul, out of the deepest instincts of life. He does not worship who cuts the throat of the lamb, nor does he necessarily worship who bows the knee, for worship is something that takes hold of the grace and the almightiness of Jehovah God. Yet, Nebuchadnezzar attempts it. And through his herald, as he commands: "You bow down and worship at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, and the flute, and the harp, and the sackbut, and the psaltery, and the dulcimer, and all kinds of music."
What a prostitution! But that has been, again, the story of mankind from the beginning: for music is of God; music belongs to the angels; music belongs to the church! And you look at the world around you. Where there is permissiveness, and darkness, and evil, and folly, and prostitution, and sin, there you will find the background and the offbeat of music prostituting, desecrating God’s magic, God’s miraculous gift from heaven. Music belongs to God; music belongs to the people of the Lord; music is for the soul that overflows in gratitude and glory!
All of us ought to share in it: if we cannot sing vocally, then sympathetically. However it may charm us what a few are able to sing – yet real music is something in which an old man can share and a young child can shout a hallelujah, for music is for God’s people. And yet what a prostitution you see all around you: music cheapened and desecrated, and it was so here.
"That at the time you hear the sound of the cornet,"
"I don’t hear any cornets this morning."
"The sound of a flute,"
We’re just like all the rest of the depraved: "I don’t see any flute."
The psaltery and the harp, all these magnify God.
I love it when everybody is down here playing or singing – and you don’t have to have marvelous tones for music. If there is any pretty tone in a drum or a Timpani – what? Timpani. I don’t know what it is! It’s just stuff; it’s just noise! But that’s music! And we all can share in it!
And I love it when people come down here and they are dead and asleep – and by the way, some man came up to me and said, "Did you know last Sunday morning the camera showed three people asleep in your congregation?" I never had such an insult in my life! – Where are those timpani of yours? Those loud-sounding cymbals? They belong to God! There’s no piece of music that belongs to Satan. He prostitutes it. It belongs to the Lord!
"[At] the sound of that music, you bow down and worship that golden image." And you know, the king says that whosoever doesn’t bow shall be cast into the midst of a fiery furnace [Daniel 3:6]. Sort of hard to argue with a gentleman who can put you in a flaming fire, or cut you to pieces, or make your house a dunghill! Therefore, they all bowed down by the thousands and by the millions. Well, that pleases the world too, for society is a monster, and fashion is cruelly coercive! You do what the others do. When the others bow down, you bow down. That’s what the world says, and that’s what they delight in.
So they all bow – that is, except three. Three: Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah. They stood straight up! And the Chaldeans, the priests of Bel Merodach, came before the king – mealy-mouthed hypocrites, suave; and there’s no way to stab a man in the back like mealy-mouthed hypocrites; talk nicey-nice, but got a dagger to turn in your soul. And they came before the king, and in their gracious and most sycophantic tones, they say, "O king Nebuchadnezzar, live forever. Thou, O king, has made a decree; it is by your infallible and omnipotent word. Thou hast made a decree. But there are certain Jews" – and you can just read the contempt in their voices – "certain Jews whom thou hast set over the provinces of the Babylonian empire" – as though he had made a mistake in judgment, just green-eyed envy all over it – "these slaves, these importations, not fit, unfitted for rulership, you made ruler over us; these Jews, they have not regarded thee. Nor have they obeyed thy command to worship the golden image which thou hast set up" [Daniel 3:8-12].
And insubordination, disloyalty, is the most heinous and highest of all sin in the army and of all sin in the government. So these shrewd Chaldean priests of Bel speak these words into the ear of the king. And the result was exactly as these Chaldeans had surmised: Nebuchadnezzar was in a rage. "Can it be that in this whole empire there is anybody who dares to dispute my word or disobey my command? I don’t believe it," he said, "I don’t believe it. Bring them here!"
So they fetched Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and brought them before the king. And Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them: "Is it true? Is it true? I am incredulous! I can’t believe my ears! Is it true what these Chaldeans say about you?" Slaves whom he’d elevated – he was their lord and benefactor; he had set them in places of rulership over the provinces. "Is it true that you have disobeyed my command and don’t bow before the golden image?" [Daniel 3:14].
Now isn’t that something? How unconsciously the world pays tribute to great, deep religious conviction. Why bother with this bubble? It is a fraud. Three out of millions and millions and millions. Three: why don’t you disregard them, forget them, overlook them? It is a peccadillo; it is an inconsequential; it is a minutia. Forget it! Three out of millions! I don’t know why, but somehow the world cannot rest until it confronts those three! Somehow the world cannot rest until it has to do with deep religious conviction! I say that’s an unconscious tribute that the world of unbelief pays to real faith! The Lord Jesus Christ – why didn’t they just dismiss Him? "He is a fanatic! Just a good man, but mistaken. Not born of a virgin – born of Plethora, a Roman soldier, or at least a Joseph and a Mary." If He is not anything, if He is just another man, why all of this stir about Him? And these books about Him! Somehow the world cannot get rid of Jesus! And it can’t rest until it wrestles with the problem!
Just like prayer: "Prayer is self-delusion," they say. "Prayer is just talking to ourselves. Prayer is psychologically explicable," they say. "It is nothing but our talking to ourselves."
Well, fine! Then why discuss it? Why think about it? Why bother with it? Why enter into it? Because you can’t rest as long as great religious conviction obtains in the world! And that’s what happened here: Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t rest, the Chaldeans couldn’t rest, the rulers of the empire couldn’t rest, the whole populace of millions couldn’t rest until they dealt with those three! So they stand before the king, and the king says, "I don’t believe this. So we’re going to play that cornet, and that flute, and that dulcimer, that psaltery, we’re going to play them again. And when that sound – you bow down when that sound is heard."
And those young men replied: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee," What does that mean? "We are not careful to answer thee" [Daniel 3:16]. What that meant is this: "King, we don’t even have to discuss it. We don’t have to consider it. We don’t have to think about it. We’re ready to answer on the spot. It’s rooted in your souls! We’re ready to answer thee right now! We will not bow down!"
Those young men had been brought up on the Ten Commandments, and the first commandment was, "Thou shall have no other Gods before Me," and the second commandment is, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of a thing which is up in heaven above or anything that is down here in the earth beneath or anything that is in the water of the earth, thou shalt not bow down thyself to them or serve them [Exodus 20:3-5], Period!" says God, "and exclamation point!"
"For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and you are not to make unto thee any graven image, nor are you to bow down yourself before them."
Somehow idolatry has been the curse of the world from the beginning. There’s no age and no generation that does not know its graven images. They were everywhere in the ancient world, they were everywhere in the medieval world, and they’re everywhere in this world. There are churches that are full of them. There are hearts, and homes, and houses, and lives that are full of them!
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, neither shalt thou bow down thyself before it," and those three boys had been brought up on that second commandment. Ah! The everlasting hills were not more settled in the heart of the earth as they stand on the resting place of the foundation of the deep than those religious convictions were rooted and grounded in the soul of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. "No, sir! We will not bow down!"
We will pick the message up next Sunday morning. I must close. God asks of His people a public and unashamed avowal. There is no such thing in the Bible, or in Christian history, or in human experience of a faith denied that saves. Saving faith is an openly avowed faith! Jesus said so – Matthew 10:32-33:
Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven.
But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father which is in heaven.
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, man believeth unto a God-kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made (openly, publicly) unto salvation.
That’s what God asks of us: an open, public avowal, commitment. It was the voice of Moses as he stood in the midst of the camp: "Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come and stand by me" [Exodus 32:26]. It was the avowal of Joshua: "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" [Joshua 24:15]. It was that of Ezra: "And Ezra purposed in his heart to seek the word of the law to do it" [Ezra 7:10]. It was the word of Jesus: "And Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem" [Luke 9:51]. And it is our high calling from God today: "Here I stand, so help me, Lord."
In the days of the [church] fathers, Athanasius, Athanasius stood up for the deity of Christ. And someone came to him and said: "Don’t you know the emperor is against you, and the bishops are against you, and the churches are against you? The whole world is against you, Athanasius!" and Athanasius replied, "Then I am against the whole world." And that’s where that great famous Latin proverb and epithet came from: Athanasius contra mundum – "Athanasius against the whole world".
That’s what God asks of us, and that’s what we’re ready and willing to lay at the feet of our Lord: a believing heart, a committed spirit. "Here I stand, so help me God." And in the day and hour of my death, "Here I live, O God, long enough, with breath enough to say my soul, my destiny, my future, my forever, my every hope is in thee, Lord God." That’s what it is to be a Christian, and that’s what it is to be saved.
We’re going to stand in a moment and sing our hymn of appeal. You to give your heart to God, will you come and stand by me? To give your life to the Lord, will you come and stand by me? "I believe in God. I trust in Christ, and I’m coming this morning." A family you to come, a couple you to come, a one somebody you to come, in the balcony round – do it now, there’s time and to spare – down one of these stairways; on the lower floor, into the aisle and here to the front, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." Make that decision now, and in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. Do it now; make it this morning. And God will bless you and angels will attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.