March 22nd, 1981 @ 7:30 PM
1 Kings 16:8-10
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Kings 16: 8-10
3-22-81 7:30 p.m.
Tonight the sermon topic chosen by these two divisions concerns Elah, and Belshazzar, and Herod Antipas entitled Worldly Entertainment. And to you who are sharing this hour with us on the great radio station of the Southwest KRLD and on KCBI the radio Sonshine station of our Bible Institute, we welcome you and bid your interest as we speak about some of the things that concern our daily living.
There is a theme that lies back of the subject tonight, and it is this, a very patent one, a very plain one and somehow a tragic one. It is never in our work that we go astray. Just once in a great while will a man be an embezzler in a bank. Just once in a great while will a man go astray in his work.
It is in our leisure time. It is in our entertaining time that we depart from the ways of the Lord and find ourselves bogged down in the ways of the world. And you are going to see that in this common denominator that is found in the lives of all three of these kings. The first one is Elah, and we read of him in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Kings, beginning at verse 8, 1 Kings chapter 16, verse 8:
In the twenty and sixth year of Asa, the king of Judah, began Elah the son of Baasha to reign over Israel . . .
And his servant Zimri, captain of his chariots, conspired against him, as he was in his capital city of Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza steward of his house in the palace in Tirzah.
And Zimri went in and smote him, and killed him . . . and reigned in his stead.
[1 Kings 16:8-10]
I would suppose that Arza the steward of his palace and Elah were great friends, and they were having a great time. But somehow there is something in the leisure moments of a man’s life that, if he doesn’t watch, it is a snare and a trap. And it was so in the life of this king Elah, for as boon companions, he drank until he was drunk in the house of his friend and compatriot Arza. Zimri the captain of his chariots smote him, and killed him, and reigned in his stead [1 Kings 16:9-10].
We have in our church the most famous and gifted of all the Christian cartoonists in the world. And I, looking through some of the cartoons that Jack Hamm has recently drawn, I was impressed by this one called “A Perennial Time Bomb.” And it is built around a quotation from the Pulitzer Prize winner Upton Sinclair the great American novelist. And quoting from Sinclair, Jack Hamm writes, “It has been my fate to live among drinking people; novelists, poets, playwrights, and stars of stage and screen. I have seen two score of them go to their doom; eleven as suicides.” What a tragedy that in our leisure time and in entertainment we find the deathtrap that ruins our lives.
The second king is found in the fifth chapter of Daniel, and his name is Belshazzar. Daniel chapter 5; “Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. And Belshazzar, while he tasted the wine” and was drunken “commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, and his wives, and his concubines might drink therein” [Daniel 5:1-2], that is, it is a drunken sexual orgy. “Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, and his wives, and his concubines drank in them. They drank wine” and in their drunken orgy “praised the gods of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of iron, and of wood, and of stone [Daniel 5:3-4]. And in that same hour . . .” following is the story of the handwriting on the wall [Daniel 5:5]. “And the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. And the king cried aloud in terror and in fear” [Daniel 5:6-7].
There’s nothing wrong with Belshazzar the king making a great feast to a thousand of his lords, nothing wrong; may have been one of the finest gestures of his life. What was wrong was the timing of such an event and the extremities to which it reached. You see, for over two and a half years the armies of Cyrus had been besieging Babylon; shows also the tremendous strength of that gigantic fortress that for two and a half years the world conquering armies of Cyrus the Persian was not able to take it. And while Belshazzar sat on his throne and called together this drunken feast of concubines and all of the princes of the elite of Babylon, his father Nabonidus was a prisoner in Borsippa, one of the great cities of Cyrus. And the son is there in this orgy. And just beyond the wall are the armies of the Persian Cyrus.
Three great walls surrounded Babylon. The outside one, the vastest one, Herodotus says four chariots could drive in a race around the city. It was so big, the vast extent of ancient Babylon, that they could stand a siege forever. They could grow their own food within the confines of those vast walls; and the Euphrates River ran through the middle of it, under a wall coming in under a wall going out. So with food to eat and with water to drink and with an impregnable wall around them, they thought themselves safe and secure forever. But the timing of this feast was tragic. Isn’t that like Satan? He’s a sly beast; the most subtle in the field [Genesis 3:1]. And he says, “Why, this is all right? You need not hesitate at that. And then this is all right, and then this is all right, and this is all right, and finally we are bogged down in his “all rightness.”
So it was with Belshazzar that tragic night [Daniel 5:1]. What happened was while they were drunk the armies of Cyrus diverted the path, the channel, of the Euphrates River. And while they were in their orgy, the soldiers of the great Persian monarch came through the bed of the Euphrates River, and that night Belshazzar lost his life [Daniel 5:30]. What a tragedy for a king to die like that.
“Who hath woe?” said the smartest king who ever lived; Solomon:
Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes?
They that tarry long at the wine; they that seek mixed drinks.
Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth its color in the cup, when it moveth itself aright;
At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.
[Proverbs 23: 29-32]
The tragedy of the king of Babylon.
And while I think of Belshazzar, two hundred years later in that exact city and in that exact palace Alexander the Great drank himself to death at the age of thirty and three years. And while I’m thinking of it, I suppose the greatest military strategist in modern history was Napoleon Bonaparte. And he fell at Waterloo! Why? Because his great Marshal Ney had been too long over his favorite bourbon the night before; and when the battle was joined, Marshal Ney’s mind was clouded, and his thinking was fuzzy, and Napoleon lost the war. What a tragedy in the life of a king.
A third one: in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, Herod Antipas; “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, And he said, This is John the Baptist; raised from the dead” [Matthew 14:1-2]. For it came about like this, the death of the great Baptist preacher. When Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias, Salome, danced before the king and pleased him. Whereupon in his drunkenness he made an oath to her, saying, “Whatever you ask that will I give to the half of my kingdom” [Mark 6:23]. And being before instructed by her mother Herodias, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist on a charger, on a great tray” [Matthew 14:6-8], usually covered with vines.
And the king was sorry: nevertheless for his oath’s sake, and for them who heard him swear, he commanded it be given her.
And he sent, and they beheaded John in the prison.
And his head was brought on a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother.
In the world of entertainment:
She danced for the king,
The dear little thing,
With bare neck and arms
And all her soft charms,
She pleased the great king,
The cute little thing.
There were ladies fine,
Noblemen and wine,
“Whate’er your behest,
I’ll grant the request,”
In haste swore the king
To the sweet little thing.
Her eyes open wide,
She planned on the side,
Herodias in the lead,
On a gift agreed
To ask of the king
For a nice little thing.
“John the Baptist’s head
Now bring me,” she said;
She spoke it out loud,
In front of the crowd,
While pale grew the king,
The mean little thing.
The monarch was dazed,
Was shocked and amazed,
His face wore a cloud,
With grief his head bowed;
She had won from the king,
The sly little thing.
The mirth had all died,
What would he decide?
Then slowly he said,
“Bring hither the head
For the oath of a king.”
The hard little thing.
[“The Dancer,” copied from Western Recorder (Kentucky Baptist Convention)]
The world of entertainment, a common theme through it all, not in our work do we go astray. It’s in our moments of leisure, and laughter, and pleasure. And the common denominator in it all is the service of alcohol; the wine and the liquor and the mixed drinks. They all are found together. It is so easy to find a life bowed down and bogged down with the habits of the world. And who can deliver us? I have prayed. I have taught. I have wept. I have made appeal. I have begged in every way that I can, the people who are in those areas of life are so difficult to reach. But God is able.
Last week I received a long letter from one of the members of our congregation. She and her husband found themselves bogged down in the world of compromise and pleasure. And I quote some of the sentences from her letter to me. “The,” and she emphasizes it, “the place in Dallas to go,” that’s where they went: “if you were anybody except a true Christian, you went there to see and be seen. Oh, if people only really knew of what that so-called glamorous nightclub life with drink in hand can do, and do so quickly. Once there, and being tired, I would drink as fast as I could to relax. Thank God our mothers never quit praying that God would change our lives. I didn’t try to stop drinking or any of the other bad habits. The Lord just removed them, and soon after the same thing happened to my husband. Now I do not tell these things that anyone would feel pity for me, but to show how the Lord has dealt with me. To live in the world and of the world is so easy; but to pay the price is so painful.” The whole world is like that. And I can understand, easily understand.
I look at television very, very seldom and very, very short-lived when I do. But I happened to walk by the room in the parsonage where there is a large television, and I saw on the screen an actress. I had never seen her except as Edith Bunker, Archie Bunker’s wife. Her name, I think, is Jean Stapleton or something like that. Anyway I’d never seen her except just in Archie Bunker, All in the Family. But there she was playing a serious part in a movie called Angel Dust. Now I had to be told what angel dust is. That’s some kind of a tragic drug that these kids take. So I just stopped and stood there and watched for a while.
The story concerned a teenager who’d been caught in a tragic drug habit, angel dust, and was in an institution; the institution seeking to reconstruct the life, the tragic life of the young boy. Now as the thing progressed and the hurt and the tragedy of that boy caught up in a drug habit, in the middle of the play of the movie, there is this scene: the father is pleading with the boy, who is making a visit to his home out of the institution of rehabilitation. The father is pleading with the boy concerning the drugs that he has given his life to. And as the father pleads with his boy concerning the tragedy of the loss of his life in drugs, do you know where the movie takes the boy and the father for the plea? The father puts his arm around his boy in tender love and walks with him to the bar in the house. And as he pleads with his boy concerning the drugs, he pours liquid pot for himself and liquid pot for the boy, and they drink it together while the father makes appeal for the life of his son!
As I looked at it I thought, “I can’t conceive of such sheer unadulterated hypocrisy!” Why a scene like that in a movie? Because it’s a sop to the distillers, it’s a sop to the liquor industry. It’s a sop to the drunken priests. It’s a sop to the world. There’s no difference in a drug whether I drink it called alcohol, or smoke it called marijuana, or take it like acid in L—whatever it is. It’s a curse. It’s a damnable trap, and our people fall into it by the thousands and the thousands and now by the millions and by the millions. It’s in the leisure time of our life. It’s in the entertainment world that we are led into these tragic judgments of God upon our lives. And there is a great Deliverer.
One time I came across a thing in the life of one of our tremendous preachers in the South named Len G. Broughton. I never got to hear him; he died before my time. But I preached in many places where he has preached. And the tremendous influence, the shadow of that man’s life, extended through the generation.
He grew up in a little red clay farm in North Carolina. His father was a drunkard. And the family lived on that farm in penury; in want, in poverty. All that they had the elder Mr. Broughton drank away. Upon a day, the mother in the home called to her teenage boy, Len, and said to him, “Son, there is nothing to eat in the house. I’ve made out a list here of groceries that a cord of wood will buy. Will you go to the woods, and will you cut the cord, put it on the wagon, take it to town, and sell it? And for the amount of money that the cord of wood will bring, will you bring mother these groceries, for there is nothing to eat in the house.”
So the boy, Len, went to the woods, cut the cord of wood, loaded it on the wagon, and with the little piece of paper and the few groceries it would buy tucked in his shirt pocket, he started to drive away. As he began to drive out and away from the little farmhouse, his drunken father staggered out of one of the sheds, and he had in his hand an empty whiskey bottle. He came up to the little fellow Len, his teenage boy, and shoved that bottle up into his hands and said, “Son, when you go to town and sell this cord of wood, bring your daddy back a bottle of whiskey like this one.”
And the little fellow replied to his father and said, “Daddy, I can’t do that. Mother says there’s nothing to eat in the house. And she’s given me this list of groceries to buy. I can’t bring you the whiskey.”
And the father said, “Son, you’ll do as I say. A bottle of whiskey just like this bring back with the money the cord of wood will buy.”
The boy looked narrowly at his father. He raised that whiskey bottle above his head, and on a rock by the side of the wheel of the wagon, he dashed it and broke it in a thousand pieces. It infuriated the father. He reached up, pulled that boy down, and beat him. Then when he shoved the boy back up on the wagon, he went inside, came back out with another empty whiskey bottle and shoved it up into the boy’s hand and said, “Son, this time you’ll do as I say; with the money the cord of wood will buy bring me a whiskey bottle just like this.”
The little boy, hurt already, looked at his father narrowly again. And in the same spot and on the same rock where he’d dashed the first bottle a thousand pieces, he threw the second one! And the father was livid with rage; he pulled the boy off of the wagon and taking one of those pieces of wood, raised it to beat the life out of the lad! But as he raised the wood to beat the life out of the boy, he was suddenly paralyzed. He heard a cry that seemingly broke his soul in two, and he turned to look and to see—and there on the porch of the small farm home was the mother. She had fallen to her knees. She’d raised her hands to heaven, and with a cry that only a mother could give to God, she pled for the life of her boy. Something about the cry and something about the sight of that mother with her arms raised to heaven paralyzed that drunken father.
He laid the piece of wood down, he turned loose of the lad, and he stumbled into the woods. And the boy drove away and into town. That night, not knowing what could happen, that night in the middle of the night, there was a knock at the door. And Len and his little brothers and sisters pulled the cover over their heads in terror. And the mother lighted a lamp, lifted the latch, and in came her husband.
Len listened. He was speaking words he’d never heard before; words of consecration, and love, and conversion, and devotion. And he pulled the cover down, and there silhouetted against the light of the lantern was his father holding his mother in his arms and saying, “Dear, I have found the Lord. I’ve been praying in the woods all night long, and I have found the Lord.” He then came to the bed where the boy lay and knelt down by the side of the bed and said, “Son, yesterday dad beat you. He’ll never do that again. God has forgiven me, and you’re going to have a new father. And we’re going to have a new home. And it’s going to be for us a new day.” And the great preacher said from that moment on his father lived a beautiful, a model, and a Christian life. And the boy, Len, grew up to be one of our greatest preachers. What God can do?
There is no man irreclaimable. There is no heart too hard for God to break it. There is no life too lost, but that God can save; God having purposed some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. He is not delighted when we destroy our lives; fall into ways of the world that hurt Him and hurt us. God is delighted when we look in faith [Ephesians 2:8], and in trust, and in reconsecration to Him, and when we walk in the light of the pilgrim way that leads from this world to the beautiful world that is yet to come. God is able and mighty to save [Hebrews 7:25].
While our orchestra remains seated in prayer, now may all the rest of us stand together? Our glorious and wonderful Savior, we don’t all sin alike. We’re not all drunkards. We’re not all whoremongers. We’re not all gamblers. We’re not all embezzlers. We’re not all murderers. We’re not all bank robbers. We’re not all wife beaters. But we all sin, all of us. We sin in different ways, but we’re all sinners, and we’re all lost, all of us. We throw ourselves upon the mercies of God. We humbly ask God to forgive us, to save us, to keep us, to make over our lives every day in a new and a wonderful way. And when we [go] astray, may the Shepherd guide us back into the flock. And when we make mistakes, may the forgiving Jesus who knows all about us tenderly guide us into a more beautiful and perfect way. And, our Lord, we pray that tonight, in the presence of this great company and in Thy presence and in the presence of the angels in heaven, that there will be a harvest precious to God and to us.
And while our people stand in intercession before our great Lord, a family you to put your life in the circle and circumference of our wonderful church, come. A couple you to give your heart to Jesus, come. Or just one somebody you, “Tonight, I have decided for God and I’m on the way.” As the Spirit shall make appeal to your heart, as God shall open the door, to put your life with us in the church by letter, by baptism, by confession of faith, come and welcome. To take Jesus as your personal Savior, to reconsecrate your life to Him and begin all over again, as the Spirit shall make appeal, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we sing the song, on the first note of the first stanza, take that first step. If you’re in the balcony, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, when you come down to the front, there’ll be room and to spare, walking through the orchestra to us who pray for you, who welcome you, who rejoice in your coming.
So Lord, in Thy great and abounding merciful goodness, having died for us [Matthew 32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3], now, Lord, save us and keep us close to Thee, walking in the way of our wonderful Savior, in whose name we pray, amen. Now as we sing, as we make appeal, a family, a couple or just one somebody you, “Tonight, pastor, I have decided for God, and here I come” [Romans 10:9-10]. Or, “Tonight we’re putting our lives in this dear church.” Do it now. Come now. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we wait, while we pray, and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Kings 16: 8-10
I. Theme: our leisure time and entertainment is the way we depart from God
II. Elah and Arza – great friends, drinking companions, Elah made himself vulnerable to attack
1. Drunken orgy, praising gods of gold, silver, wine
2. Used the vessels from the Jerusalem temple
1. Herod’s birthday
2. Obeyed daughter’s wish to murder John the Baptist
V. We go astray in our leisure time