December 1st, 1996
Dr. W. A. Criswell
And just for a moment, I thought there are five Sundays in the month. I thought the last Sunday in the month, I would speak on the twelfth chapter of the Book of Daniel about The Eternal Consummation Of The Age. Then the preceding Sunday will be the one before Christmas and I thought I would speak from the Book of Daniel on The Mystic Stone that refers to our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. Then I have three Sundays before the month closes, and I thought on one of them I would speak of the lion’s den and the writing on the wall; then the preceding Sunday, on the fiery furnace. And then, this morning, the first Sunday in the month, we shall conclude our presentation of Nebuchadnezzar.
It is one of the unusual things in the Bible, that there is more written and presented about Nebuchadnezzar than about any other Gentile heathen monarch in all the Word of God. Well we have the this morning before us, the second chapter of the Book of Daniel. And it starts off, of course, with the dream that the monarch has. Then it continues with his frustration that he cannot remember the dream and sends for the magi – the Chaldeans, the magicians – to recover for him his forgotten dream, and of course, to give the interpretation thereof. When they are unable to reply, he sentences all the group to death. Then beginning at the nineteenth verse, you have the answer of the prayer and the intercession of Daniel. And he is taken to the king, and giving the glory to God, he tells the king what he dreamed, then the meaning of it. This is repeated in the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel, and one cannot but marvel. Here it is about 600 B.C., and the Lord is outlining, in a dream that Daniel interprets, the entire history of the world – the kingdoms of the world, the empires of the world – until that mystic stone that comes and destroys all of the kingdoms of this planet and establishes a kingdom that shall stand forever. Then it closes, of course, with the wonderful and well-deserved exaltation on the part of the king of the gracious gift of God to Daniel.
So this morning, we’re going to close with this study of Nebuchadnezzar and then if I have a minute left, I’d like to speak of the language of the book. Now it is not unusual, according to the Word of God, for the Lord to reveal His message to a heathen prince, and that’s what He’s doing in the case of Nebuchadnezzar. For example, God warned Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, of a famine and He did it through a dream. Again, God spoke to Abimelech in a dream about his possible devastated judgment from taking Sarah, the wife of Abraham, as his own paramour. Then you have the dream of the Midianite when there is given to him the vision of the wonderful person of Gideon. So there are times when God uses the unrighteous for righteous purposes and He presents a holy message through the unholy.
Now in this second chapter of the Book of Daniel, the first verse speaks of his spirit being troubled and sleep was lost to him. There is no terror like the soul gripped in fear, the soul in agony. The darkness adds to the fear and on and on through the hours of the night is it emphasized. That brings intense agitation of mind: convinced that the dreams portended events of no usual importance, he tried resolutely again and again to call it, and to give shape to the various images that still floated in his mind. But all of it was in vain, the more he tried, the more he failed. The dream had startled the king: a mighty colossus of brilliant metal suddenly destroyed by a stone, the image falls in pieces while the stone grew to fill all the earth. Yet strong as the vision had been, no clear impression was made upon his mind, only a continuing sense of deepening terror.
He tried, but could recall nothing. So the frightened king is our contemporary: we are troubled by things that we do not understand, we are in the same state of mind as Nebuchadnezzar. The great world events of our lifetime bring to us a terrible and horrible dream. I lived through the First World War, I remember almost every syllable of it. Most of us here lived through the Second World War, and the papers as always, are filled with the devastating confrontations in places like Egypt or the Middle East – or those terrible things that are happening in Eastern Europe. That’s the world in which we live our lives. Now, there is a meaning and a purpose of all of these events. It is impossible to understand the savage moments of history and arrange them in an intelligent plan without God.
It is amazing, I say, to me, how things develop. We destroyed, when I was a youth, Kaiser Wilhelm II:
Kaiser Bill went up the hill
To take a peep at France.
Kaiser Bill went down the hill
With bullets in his pants.
Do you remember that? So we all followed the life of Kaiser Bill. Then, what followed? Hitler, of all things! So, we destroy Hitler and all of all things, Stalin is the ruler of that whole world; we destroy Fascism only to receive Communism and we destroy Communism to receive extended poverty. I haven’t been to Russia, but oh, there is a lot of our people that have been and some of them are still there. And they describe for me the vacuity in the nation left by the fall of Communism is almost indescribable. So we have China, and China is delivered from the Japanese only to welcome Mao Tse-tung – it doesn’t stop. Nebuchadnezzar may have lived thousands of years ago, but his face appears before us continually; he’s one of us. He stands in our midst today.
Now we come to what the world turns to, and I speak of the incompetence of the intellectual. Wearied with fruitless inward search, we also send for the magi, the wise men. So they’re there in the court to appear before Nebuchadnezzar: the magicians and the astrologers and the sorcerers and the Chaldeans – the magi, the wise men. That’s our modern world exactly. In the face of insoluble problems, national and international, we send for the philosophers, the Brahman cast in India. And we select and elect and listen to the words of these so-called "super-intellectuals."
Well, they appear before the king in great confidence, complimented that they are invited. And they are presented with rich gifts and honors. Their rewards are achieved by the skillful use of the king’s terror. Then their anticipation turns to terrible confusion, the more the king failed to recall his dream, the more determined he was that the wise men – the magi, the Chaldeans – should unravel the vision for him. Did not the magi enjoy the wealth and the rank and the power bestowed upon them? Did they not have influence with the super-intellectuals? They must now make good their claim. So we come, when in their last abject helplessness, they were unable. They were obliged to answer his question but his rage knew no bounds, the magi fled out of the king’s treasury. They could not tell his dream, much less what it meant. He had been brought up not only to revere them, but to obey those super-intellectuals. But they were dumbfounded and made every excuse and apology that mind could think for. Well, the king was furious; woe to them that could not quiet the spirit and gratify the demands of this Oriental despot. So, the judgment was announced, "All of them are to die, all of them, all are to be slain." They don’t know, like our intellectuals today. So like so many earthly rulers, Nebuchadnezzar was a man of violence, of cruel temperament and without restrain. So in verse 13 of that second chapter, he seeks Daniel to slay him.
Almost certainly these Jews lived apart from the Chaldeans, the Babylonians. They were not with the magi who had been so hastily called to the kingly palace. But when they came to the Jews – that’s Daniel, Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego – instead of being herded to the prison where the magi were collected for execution, Daniel, at his appeal to the head of the eunuchs, is taken into the king’s presence and Daniel promises to reveal the dream. What faith! He’s confident God would answer his supplication. What sublime faith, just trusting the Lord for it. He asked for time. Why ask for time? The answer is in the subsequent line: that he might speak to God, implore on bended knee the help, instruction and guidance of heaven.
That brings to us a wonderful lesson we ought always to remember: together they prayed. Together we ought to pray. He could have prayed alone. Do you remember what Jesus said in Matthew 18 and 19? If you will be together, "Where two are gathered together," or three – if you will be together, "you can ask anything and the Heavenly Father will bring it to pass." So these four youths are under the sentence of death, but all night long they spent in a vigil of prayer. We are to remember there is knowledge from God which is given at the moment when the wisdom of man fails. There is One who can see light when man can only detect darkness. And naturally, isn’t that what Jesus said? If you gather together and pray and ask anything of our Father in heaven, He’ll do it for you. And those four young men asked, implored, beseeched an answer from God. And Jesus says He will always answer. That’s a good thing to remember in your home: any time a situation develops that needs God’s help and God’s knowledge and God’s sustaining grace, pray together, call the family together, pray together.
Then, don’t forget what followed after: as God answered, they praised the Lord. God is a God of knowledge; 1 Samuel 2:3, Hannah calls Him that: a God of knowledge. Hannah’s praise eventuated over the birth of Samuel, so she praised God. We change that hymn here just a little bit, "Let us praise God together on our knees" – I changed that, "Let us break the bread together on our knees. Let us drink the cup together on our knees." But the song originally was:
Let us praise God together on our knees.
When I fall on my knees with my face toward the throne of grace,
Oh, God have mercy on me.
["Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees," African-American traditional hymn]
And that’s what they did, they had a community of prayer. Instantly, prayer turned to praise: they returned thanks to God.
I have a comment: the man who prays sincerely in the morning, will as sincerely praise God in the evening. "Is any afflicted?" In the Bible, it says, "Let him pray," take it to God, make it a matter of prayer. I have another comment: it is easy to be a Christian when we want something. But we believe as a heathen atheist when we have obtained it. Ask as a Christian, appeal to God as a Christian, pray as a Christian and then give glory to God as a Christian.
I’m going to take the example of a man in our church. He’s dead, I buried him, that’s the reason I have the temerity to speak of him. He was a very successful businessman, not too far from our church. On one of the fine streets of our city, he had a very effective and important business house. Well he belonged to our church, as I say, and he became desperately ill. And I visited him several times in the hospital and, of course, prayed for him. In those visits, he said to me, "Pastor, if God will answer your prayers and raise me up, I will attend church. I will be faithful in my presence there. I will give my life to the Lord and use my strength and my wealth to further His kingdom in the church." Wonderful! Wonderful! I thought that was about as fine a thing as a man could say. "If God will heal me and raise me up, I’ll do wonders, by God. I’ll be there at church. I’ll help in the work." Will you believe this? God answered that prayer: raised him up, sent him back to his business in health and in strength. And he never came to church one time – not one time, not one time did he come to church – much less did he use his wealth and his genius and his gifts to further the kingdom of God. I can’t enter into that in my mind, I just cannot. How do we ask of God and pray to God as a Christian, and then, like an infidel, like a heathen, never serve Him after the prayer is answered? I don’t understand it. When you pray, ask God anything, it doesn’t matter; God invites us to do it. There’s not anything that you cannot make as a subject of prayer. Do it, God invites us to do it, share with the Lord anything. Only remember that when the prayer is answered, do good by the Lord. Just doubly give your life in strength and devotion and support of Him and His kingdom.
So in humility, they praised the Lord. Daniel strove to make the king look away from him – Daniel, and look to the God of answered prayer. Not, "Look what I did!" But, "Oh, king, look what God has done!" That’s the way we ought to be in all of our life. Now, an astonishing remarkable way of God: look at His everlasting mercies to His people, look at the situation there. The city of Jerusalem is destroyed, the nation of Judah is scattered; the Temple is in ruins, the sacred vessels of the sanctuary are now the property of a heathen king. The glory has departed from between the cherubim: Ichabod, Ichabod, "the glory is departed." The inscription on the entire nation is that: the sons and daughters of Judah now are captives beside the Euphrates, how deeply distressed the whole of Israel as they sat down by the rivers of Babylon. But in this state of agonizing tragedy, I want you to look at the manifest grace, wisdom, and power of God. Completely apart from external advantages, God showed Israel that the way was not dependent upon outward accoutrements, but upon His mercy.
And haven’t you heard me say there are three things incomparably glorious that developed in the captivity of the Jewish people in Babylon? Number one: they were never again polytheistic. They were forever thereafter monotheistic. When you read the story of the Jewish people in the Old Testament, again and again and again and again, there they are worshiping Baal; there they are worshiping a golden calf; there they are, calling upon the name of the gods of the people all around them. They were constantly, constantly idolatrous. All you have to do is just read it; there’s no exception to it. But when they experienced the tragedy of the Babylonian Captivity, they were never again polytheistic. How about them today? Could you imagine a Jew bowing down before an image of Buddha or one of those one thousand gods of the Hindus? Unthinkable! That’s one thing that came out of the captivity: they were forever monotheistic.
Number two: the second thing that came out of the captivity was the canon of the Old Testament. They gathered together in the captivity, under Ezra they gathered together the sacred writings of the prophets and they canonized them and there they are to this day, in this Book that I hold in my hand, this canon of the Scriptures is born in the captivity. That’s the second great advantage that came of it.
All right a third one, and I thank God for this one, that reaches even down to us: the remnant – those that survived, the remnant that returned to Judah waited for, looked for, prayed for, believed in the Messiah who is coming. All you have to do to see that is to read the Greek New Testament: how those Jewish people, when they returned back to Judah to their homes, were looking for, praying for, expecting the glorious appearing of the promised Messiah. I only have one little aside here to make about it and that is, I do not know of a greater tragedy than that when He came, most of them did not receive Him and therefore lost their nation, lost their freedom, lost their people. But God was good and He took advantage of the repudiation that our Lord found in His native people – He was crucified. That’s our sins; we’re forgiven in the blood, the atoning grace of our Lord. And the Christian was scattered abroad. And some of them came to America and won my great grandparents to Jesus, and finally, came down to me. Oh, the wonder of God in taking advantage of the tragedies that happen to us in life and using them to open a door to an incomparable blessing; and that can be true with you in every one of your sadnesses and sorrows; when the outward fabric is dissolved, the inward glory that seems restricted to its walls only breaks forth with greater splendor and spreads throughout the world with greater speed. It’s a marvel what God does through the sorrows and tragedies of our lives. You remember the sermon of Stephen? While he was being stoned to death, he looked up and there was the Lord Jesus standing – the only time in the Bible the Lord is ever presented as standing, always the Lord is presented, pictured as seated, He’s seated at the right hand of God. There’s no exception to that: always He’s seated, He’s on his throne – but when Stephen was being stoned to death, he looked up and there was Jesus standing to receive him in glory. It is a wonderful thing what God can do in the sorrows of our lives!
So often, when the visible church is in ruins does God construct upon the rank a more glorious frame, a house not made with hands, more beautiful than the temples of Baalbek, more impressive than the cathedrals of Europe, more splendid than the theaters of Ionia and more magnificent than the Temple of Solomon in all of its glory. Often when the church has no miter upon its head, and no Urim or Thummim upon its breast, that the world reads more legibly the inspiration upon her brow; namely, 2 Timothy 2:: "the foundation of God standeth sure,God knoweth them that are His own," beautiful thing!
So, God has given the greatest manifestations of His mind and power to sufferers. The children of God in the wilderness: to them He gave the Ten Commandments. To the weeping Jeremiah, He gave the prophecies of restoration. To the captive Daniel beside the banks of the Urai and the Hiddekel rivers, He unfolds the whole panorama, the sweep of history through the ages. Paul is in prison, but the gospel message of redemption is just scattered throughout the Roman world. John is exiled, a prisoner on dreary Patmos, but the grand procession of the saints is revealed unto him. The two witnesses of prophecy in sackcloth, in the Revelation, bring to us the marvelous hope of the end of the world. And to men who felt they had nothing on earth, did God make known how much they had in heaven. Isn’t that a marvelous, marvelous way of our Lord?
God brings to naught the wisdom of this world. God silences the so-called wisdom of men. God shows the wisdom of man to be folly. Seeking to make the Bible conform to science, they have to rewrite the books of science every 10 years. You know, I can hardly believe such a thing as this: in the library of the Louvre in Paris, France – I guess the largest library in the world – there are one and one half miles of books of science that are without relevance. If you seek to make the faith of God conform to books of science, you have to rewrite those books at least every 10 years. What was scientifically true yesterday is foolishness today. It is amazing how God’s truth is revealed in Holy Scripture.
Now, I say, what Nebuchadnezzar did, we do. When in despair, what do we do? We call upon the Chaldeans – the magi, the wise men, the intellectuals, the intelligentsia – they did not help the king, and they are as helpless today as they were then. We call also upon the intellectual, the influential, the professionals, the brain trust, when actually we need the wisdom of God. Where philosophy ends, God begins. Where learning concludes, God commences. That’s a wonderful thing for us to remember: not in those books of science and not in those lectures of the philosophers and not in the wisdom propagated by the professors, we look to God. And as long as we look to God for answers, we will never, ever fail.
Well, another unusual thing about God: He saves the lost for the sake of the righteous. Daniel’s first request in Daniel 2:24 is this: "Destroy not the magi of Babylon." Now, isn’t that something? God gives life to the unrighteous because of the request and devotion of the righteous. You look at it in the Bible: the house of Potiphar is blessed for Joseph’s sake. The prisoners and sailors are spared in that Mediterranean storm for Paul’s sake. Israel is blessed for Moses’ sake, standing in the breach. And you look at this – could you believe this? – the Lord would have delivered Sodom, if he could have found 10 righteous. Had he been able, scouring up and down the streets of that city, had he been able to find 10 righteous men, just 10, he would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain; just for the sake of 10.
Rapture is coming when the church is caught up; then what follows? The great tribulation; the wicked are blessed for the sake of the righteous. So you have a church, and out there are those infidels who look with disdain and contempt upon the church. Even here in Dallas, more than 50 percent have nothing to do with the church, but if there’s no church – you put it down, crime and violence and sin are unspeakable. So, we are saved for Jesus’ sake. He was the Righteous One.
Well, I don’t know what to do with these five minutes I have left. I have an excursus that I have written that I wanted to read. And I’m afraid to begin. So, we’ll just quit. You’re so precious and gracious and gifted to listen. And I look forward to next Sunday, when we gather here in this sacred place.