<< Daniel 3: Nebuchadnezzar's Golden Image >>
“Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the comet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up."-DANIEL iii. 4, 5.
IF experience had not assured us of multiplied facts of a similar kind, we could hardly have believed it possible that the same king, who had acknowledged his conviction of the Divine Sovereignty of the God of Daniel, had returned to his idolatrous inclinations, made a golden god, and commanded that all the subject peoples of his empire should fall down and worship it. Yet so it was. The Israelites furnished many instances of a similar kind. Though they had been brought out of Egypt through astonishing displays of Divine power; though they had witnessed with profound awe the sublime grandeurs of Sinai, yet forty days afterwards, when Moses did not reappear, they were worshipping and dancing about the golden calf and exclaiming, These be thy gods, O Israel. Pharaoh, though often convinced for the moment, soon relapsed again, and finished his obstinacy in the Red Sea.
Miraculous impressions enter very slightly into the mind. They touch and pass away. Only that which enters into the soul through the understanding, by deep consideration, and then is accepted into the heart, and brought into the conduct of life, remains. Our Lord did no miracles to convince men of his truth, but only for purposes of benevolence and mercy, it is written, "He did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief" (Matt. xiii. 58). The soul that would come into the light must not ask for miracles to be convinced, but must think, consider, weigh, and meditate, from the love of truth. “He that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the Word, and UNDERSTANDETH it, who also beareth fruit, some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matt. xiii, 23). The reason of the instability of those who have been for the moment overwhelmed with some miraculous evidence, exists from the inrooted and overwhelming power of the ruling love. That love may be depressed and overawed by vivid demonstrations from without, but it will re-assert itself, and remain fixed and triumphant in the character, unless a man himself freely and earnestly desire to be enlightened and led by the truth. Divine power operating by the truth can make the soul free and bring it into the light and the love of heaven. Nothing else can. Hence Nebuchadnezzar, convinced for a time of the Divine Wisdom and Majesty of the God of Daniel, contrived to set that conviction aside, by arguments easily conceivable; probably attributing Daniel's wonderful discovery to some unknown power in nature, or some secret disclosure he had made in his sleep, or in some self-assuring way not needful to dwell upon, but all-important to one who wishes to find excuses to do what he is anxious to do, and turn away from the truth he hates to the darkness which inflates his own importance.
In the chapter before us, Daniel is not once mentioned---an evidence that the king had resolved to have his own way, but still respected Daniel too much to defy or insult him. His image of gold was probably an image of Nebuchadnezzar himself, covered with golden plating. One of the insanities of ancient mighty potentates was to be deified in their lifetimes, and they set up statues of themselves, that they might by obsequious and flattering multitudes be thus adored. This practice is often mentioned by ancient writers. It prevailed also in the later and more corrupt centuries of the Roman Empire, to the extent, that Caracalla directed the Roman people not only to adore his statue, but his horse. But whether the statue was only a larger and more costly idol in honour of Belus or Baal, the chief god of the Chaldeans, or one in honour of himself to be adored as god, is of little importance to know, for their idols were just the reflection of themselves, and were endowed with the attributes they most esteemed.
In Mars, the admirers of waridolized the desire for military glory; in Bacchus, the love of wine. Each idol was an image of what its worshipers loved, and in adoring it they were worshiping themselves. Belus, Bel, or Baal, whose worship, with slight differences: was widely spread over all the East, was especially prevalent in Babylon, and also in Canaan---as the frequent mention of places with Baal attached proves---was the Sun-God, It was an image of the sun, originally of the Sun of the Eternal World, and of the soul, “the true light, that enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world." Then, as men became carnal, sluggish, and coarse, the sun of the world became considered to be a god, and the Baal images were images of him. Then the images themselves began to be considered as gods, and the superstitious ascribed wonderful things to them. Thus men sank from one dark folly to another, until gods many and lords many, covered the earth, and gross darkness and fearful cruelty filled the gloomy places of the world.
All this declension was provided against in the Divine commandment, "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, or any likeness of anything in the heavens above, or the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor worship them." The manifest reason for this prohibition was, that every man has been created to be conjoined in heart with God Himself, to love from His Love, to think from His Wisdom, God is Infinite Love and Infinite Wisdom, He has created in man two grand receptacles---the will, for the Divine Love to enter in and inspire with all holy motives and desires; and the understanding, into which the Divine Wisdom can flow, and diffuse and unfold noble thoughts and hallowed views. A man can have no real happiness but in this supreme conjunction with the Lord, in the interiors of his being, He must abide in God, and God must abide in him, or everything in him becomes loose, irregular, and unbalanced. There is something wrong at the mainspring, and the whole machine of man's soul and body works mischievously; love becomes lust, thought becomes phantasy, and the energies of the soul become wild and hurtful efforts, instead of earnest powers for good. Hence the Lord is said to be a jealous God, because His Love is indeed most tenderly and wisely jealous that no selfish intrusion, like the worm at the heart of Jonah's gourd, should destroy man's happiness at its centre.
Hence the Lord has always revealed Himself as the great and only object of man's supreme love. This has ever been the first and great commandment. It was reiterated from Mount Sinai, but it had been the centre and soul of every dispensation. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God With all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might, And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart." The will, the understanding, and the operative energy, are the heart, the soul, and the might, and these comprise the whole man. The same truth was given to Abrahnm in the marvelously touching and beautiful words, "Fear not, Abraham, I am thy shield, and thine exceeding grand reward." (Gen. xiv. 1). Again, "I am the Almighty God: walk before me, and be thou perfect."
To preserve to man this supreme felicity of his being, and defence against all wrong, Revelation has constantly declared that God is One, and that He is loving, wise, and all-powerful. He is our Creator, our Saviour, our Redeemer, our First and
Last, "Before Me, there was no God fanned, neither shall there be after Me. I, even I, am Jehovah, and beside Me there is no Saviour." "For thy Maker is thine husband, Jehovah of Hosts is His name: the God of the whole earth shall He be called."
In the New Testament, God manifest in the flesh, and Who became thus manifest for this very purpose, to reveal Himself anew, in the deepest depths of our darkness, as constantly invites us to be conjoined with him. "Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. He that abideth in Me, and I in him, bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing." "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man will open the door I will come into him, and sup with him, and he with Me." This reciprocal conjunction of man with God and God with man, is the safeguard, the glory, the defence, and the happiness of the human race. It is man living as the servant, the friend, the child of God, his Eternal Father, in His palace, which is then His glorious home; in the world in time, in the better world in eternity.
But idolatry severs and destroys all this. The idol-maker worships, but he worships something of his own divising. Instead of his worship being a source of perfection and of peace, it is a constant source of degradation and declension. What can be more stupid than for man to put himself, his own follies and passions, in the place of the Divinely Wise and Good. Nebuchadnezzar's image, all plated with gold, represented self, all decorated with Divine attributes. That poor helpless figure, however gaudy, could neither hear nor see, speak nor walk. In the spiritual Babylon, in Christian times, when men decorate themselves with Divine attributes, they cannot really do a single Divine thing, although they claim to forgive sins, to open heaven, and to close heaven, and really to sit in the place of God. The priesthood pretending to have Divine powers is really as helpless as an image, either in changing the heart, casting out sin, or building men up for heaven.
The gold with which the image was covered represented the profession of love to God with which the lust of spiritual power covers itself. Self-seekers, in this respect, have salvation upon their lips, and piety in form and manner, but the secret purpose is the enslavement of human souls. They seek not to educate, to elevate, to make all men free and noble, and thus from principle to make earth heavenly, but to live only to spread their dominion, to extend their system. "What profiteth the graven image, that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and the teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone Arise, it shall teach. Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But the Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him" (Hab. ii. 18-20). Again,"But they are altogether brutish and foolish: the stock is a doctrine of vanities. Silver spread in to plates from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder: blue and purple are their clothing; they are all the work of cunning men. But the Lord is the true God, He is the living God and an Everlasting King" (Jerem. x. 8-10).
They who made these idols of gold knew, at first, that their handiworks were lifeless, helpless stocks, and metal. But such is the amazing power of self-deception, that after a time they become oblivious of their origin, and cried aloud as if the stocks could hear, and command, as Nebuchadnezzar did, that all people should do the same. So with modern Babylon. They who have set forth the Pope and the priesthood as possessed of Divine power upon earth, and able to open and close heaven, know that they cannot explore the motives and secrets of human hearts, or, in reality, judge and know the real interior states of any one. They know that the Popes have been as a class, not very different from other classes of people, some good men, many indifferent, and some fiends in human form. Their foolish pretensions, like Nebuchadnezzar's image, are merely vain and stupid things; a doctrine of vanities. It is vain to deck it round with gold; it is merely a stock. The makers may forget that they made it, as it is written "A deceived heart hath turned him aside that he cannot deliver his soul nor say, 'Is there not a lie in my right hand' " (Isa. xliv, 20).
The image was set up in the plain of Dura, probably the same district mentioned in Genesis as the plain in the land of Shinar, referred to in the account of the Babel-builders of old. Dura signifies habitation and setting up this image on the plain of Dura means that this system of priestly dominion is not a speculative thing, it is to come into practical life. It will be brought into the habitations of men, to their business and their bosoms. None shall buy nor sell but those who have the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name (Rev. xiii. 17). The instruments of all kinds of music which were intended to usher in the worship of the golden image, represent the attractions of all kinds, the plausibilities, the sensuous charms, with which the lust of priestly ambition clothes itself in seeking to obtain its end. All sweet appliances and indulgences will subdue the soul to soft compliance, if only it will resign itself to deify men, and regard them in the place of God.
The image was sixty cubits high, and the breadth thereof six cubits. The same system of priestly ambition is described in the book of Revelation by six hundred threescore and six. Six, in a good sense, expresses all the truths which concern the states of the regenerate life, in allusion to the six days of labour. But six, when applied to an idol or a false system, will signify the falsities which result from a complete perversion of all truth; the holiness is not genuine holiness, the worship is not genuine worship, the life is not genuine life; all is perverted, and a factitious, morbid, unsound condition of thought and life exists, utterly opposed to real Christian virtue. This is what is meant by the image being sixty cubits high and six cubits in breadth. What a perversion of gold, that glorious metal, it was to make it into such an image, and an instrument for debasing and corrupting mankind. But still worse, infinitely worse is it, to use the gold of piety, of a profession of devotion to the Most High, to construct a system by which the liberty of mind and heart bestowed by the Creator all His rational creatures should be paralyzed, and they be trained not to be thoughtful disciples of the truth which makes a man free, but slavish bondsmen, the devotees of a system which manacles the soul, makes each rank of men slaves of other men, as a staff in the hand of its master, as a dead body to be galvanized by the ruling magician. Such a system may appear imposing, but it is only an image, hollow and helpless, albeit gaudy and meretricious.
They who submit to the fettering of the soul implied in worshiping the idol, the system of priestly rule, instead of embracing the government of truth and goodness, become debased, contemptible, weak, mentally blind and dark the enthralled intellect avenges itself by leaving the passions unchecked, the affections impaired, and the life immoral. Then too the hour of judgment soon gives its warning in the distance. Justice may seem to come slowly, but it comes surely. Every system that comes between the soul of man and God, is doomed to perish. It emasculates, withers, and blights the noblest instincts of God-given humanity, and produces such intolerable evils in men and nations, such decay, tyranny, and vileness, that at last its victims rise and sound its knell. Its doom comes, and it disappears amidst the cry of emancipated nations: Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, the hold of every foul spirit, and the cage of every unclean and hateful bird.
But true men avoid its condemnation and its sorrow by never bowing down to it, or suffering anything to come between their souls and their God. They never forfeit their glorious heritage, their heavenly birthright to seek the truth, to follow the truth, by truth to come to goodness, to blessedness. They know the truth, they feel its power, and it makes them free. They become free, for the truth has burst their bonds, the bonds of their own errors and self-indulgences. They walk in the truth, live in the truth, conquer themselves by truth again and again, until truth leads them to high and holy love, and fills them with spiritual beauty. They will not bow down to any image that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, may set up; they serve the living God. In vain, for these and such as these, the charms of music, or art, or any manner of seduction, may invite them to bow down to the golden image. They hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, but, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, it will ever be reported of them, "There are certain Jews whom thou thou has set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: these men, O king, have not regarded thee, they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image thou hast set up." Let us ever imitate this noble example. Let us bow down to no ecclesiastical, political, fashionable, or individual idols however allured by sweet persuasions, but ever love and abide in the Lord Jesus. Let Him be our Teacher, our Saviour, and our ever-present and eternal Friend. Let His light be our beacon. His love our blessing. If we follow His voice, our path will be sate. We shall hear a voice behind us, saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it," and at death we shall hear a voice above us, saying, "Well done, good and faithful servants, ye have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler of many things; enter ye into the joy of your Lord."
Author: Jonathan Bayley--- The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)