Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament prophetic book of Daniel, and more specifically, is found in verses thirteen through thirty-one of the fifth chapter. This particular set of verses is a continuation of what we read and find in the first twelve verses of the chapter. As the fifth chapter of the prophetic book of Daniel opens, it does so with Belshazzar king of Babylon arranging a banquet for a thousand of his lords in which they engaged in drinking. Scripture records how when they had all tasted the wine, Belshazzar summoned that the vessels which were brought from the house of the Lord be brought unto him in that hall. Once the holy vessels of the Lord were brought forth from the house of the gods of he and his fathers, Belshazzar, his wives, his lords, and all those present persisted in drinking wine from the holy vessels of the Lord. What’s more, is that while drinking wine from the holy vessels of the Lord, they worshipped the false gods of gold, of silver, of brass, of wood, and of stone. WHAT’S IN THE HOLY VESSELS YOU HAVE IN YOUR HAND? I can’t help but read this passage and wonder if it isn’t possible that we can take the holy vessels of the Lord and instead of keeping them holy and sacred, we defile them and allow that which is unholy to enter them. Are there men and women who right now have in their hands that which is sacred and holy, yet instead of using those vessels for the service of the Lord, they are using them to fulfill their own desires, and to worship their own false gods and images. USING THE SACRED VESSELS OF THE LORD TO WORSHIP THE FALSE GODS OF THIS AGE! It’s worth noting that Belshazzar and all those present within that banquet hall had in their hands that which was sacred and holy, yet instead of using it for the service of the Lord, they used it to engage in drinking wine, and worshipping false gods. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if this isn’t a powerful and perfect picture of what takes place in many churches within this nation—and ultimately across and throughout the world—in this generation. How many churches may have that which is sacred and holy in their midst, and yet instead of using those vessels for the service of the Lord, they use them to satisfy their own desires and pleasures. Instead of using the sacred and holy vessels for ministry before and ministry unto the Lord, they use them to engage in idolatrous and false worship of foreign gods.
I can’t help but consider the fact that it might very well be possible that men and women have in their hands that which is sacred and holy before the Lord, and yet instead of keeping that sacred and holy, they defile and pollute it on their own desires and pleasures. There are men and women who have in their midst the sacred and holy vessels of the Lord, and they may even have those vessels within their hands, yet those vessels serve as permission to worship false and foreign gods. This actually leads me to another striking and startling concept, for I can’t help but wonder how many men and women within our churches today are truly worshipping the God of the Bible. The children of Israel had a golden calf that was made in their midst at the foot of the mountain when the true God was atop the mountain talking to Moses, and they worshipped that image as God. The northern kingdom of Israel during the days of Jeroboam the son of Nebat had not one golden calf, but two golden calves, and instead of worshipping the true and living God, they worshipped those golden calves as the God who had brought and delivered them up out of Egypt. When I read how Belshazzar and all those present with him that night worshipped the gods of gold, of silver, of brass, of wood, and of stone, were essentially worshipping gods because of what they could provide them. It’s quite interesting to consider the fact that they could indeed worship false gods of that which was nothing more than material possessions which they had in their lives, or had even acquired and accumulated. Belshazzar brought forth the vessels of the house of the Lord, and I can’t help but but wonder what those present on that night thought when the vessels were brought forth out of and from the house of their god. BRINGING THE VESSELS OF THE ALMIGHTY OUT OF THE HOUSE OF OUR GODS! Oh, how many men and women hide and conceal that which is sacred and holy before the Lord within the house(s) of the false god(s) they worship and serve. ON the surface, and perhaps at first, those who heard the calling forth of the vessels of the house of the Lord to be brought forth might have thought that they would have been used for a purpose somewhat connected to their original intent. Instead of using those vessels for service unto the Lord which their original intent and purpose, they were used to engage in drinking and worshipping of false gods of the age.
We would be incredibly naïve and foolish to think and consider for one moment that such a reality does not still take place among us within our generation. This type of event took place within the context of a heathen and Gentile kingdom and empire, yet we would be incredibly unwise to think for one minute that such a reality can only take place outside the house of the Lord. The more I stop and consider the words that are contained within this passage, the more I am convinced that this same type of reality can take place among us within our houses of worship and congregations. I must emphatically bold—and even insist—that not every church worships the true and living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Not every man and/or woman who walks through the doors of our churches worships the God of the Hebrews who drowned the horse and the rider in the sea. If the children of Israel could worship God in the image they had made before the awesome and powerful presence of the Lord at the mountain of God in the wilderness, we would be absolutely naïve to consider that it is not possible for us to do the very same thing. If the children of Israel could worship God in the images they had made in their midst within the inheritance, it is absolutely possible that we can in fact do the very same thing. There are ministers and lay people alike who may find themselves before the presence of the Lord, and yet instead of worshipping the true God who delivered them out of their slavery and bondage, they worship God in the false image they have made, and even profess deliverance from their slavery and oppression. Isn’t it amazing that the children of Israel could speak of deliverance before the presence of the Lord, and yet worship a false god of their own creation? Please don’t lose sight of or mistake this reality, for they still acknowledged their deliverance from slavery and bondage, yet they were worshipping false image of the God who actually delivered them out of that bondage and slavery. What’s more, is that their worship of this false image of the God who had delivered them out of slavery did not change the fact that they were indeed delivered. The Lord had indeed and had in fact delivered them out of their slavery and bondage, and yet when speaking of that deliverance, they did so in the context of worshipping God in the image they had created.
WORSHIPPING GOD IN THE IMAGE WE HAVE CREATED WHILE ACKNOWLEDGING DELIVERANCE! There are men and women right now who have indeed been delivered out of slavery and bondage, and yet they persist in worshipping God in the image(s) they have made. Both during the days of the wilderness, as well as during the days of inheritance, the children of Israel worshipped God in the image they had made, while still acknowledging His works. The deliverance of the children of Israel from their Egyptian slavery and bondage came with great signs and wonders, as the Lord completely devastated the land of Egypt with a series of ten plagues, thus indicating that their speaking of the deliverance of the Lord was also an acknowledgment of the signs and wonders He had performed in the land of Egypt. It is absolutely possible that we ourselves can speak of the deliverance of the Lord, and even acknowledge the signs and wonders He had performed within our lives, and yet we are doing so in the context of worshipping God in the image we have made. Perhaps we are even worshipping God in the image(s) we have made, for it’s not just one false image of God we have fashioned, but multiple images of God we have fashioned within our own hearts and minds. It is absolutely possible that we can be delivered by the Lord from slavery and bondage, and yet still find ourselves worshipping Him in the false images we have fashioned and created ourselves. It is a very dangerous place to be in when we find ourselves engaged in this type of worship, and it was ultimately a type of worship that called for a sword. Reverend Carter Conlon of Times Square Church in New York City preached a message entitled “Worship That Calls For a Sword,” and it was a message that centered upon the false worship that took place at the foot of the mountain as the children of Israel engaged in worshipping God in the images they had created. On the surface it might have appeared that they were worshipping the true and living God, for after all—they were speaking of deliverance, and His mighty works, signs and wonders. When you look much deeper into the true heart of the matter, however, you will find that it was in fact an unholy worship that may have talked about God without actually worshipping God.
WORSHIP THAT TALKS ABOUT GOD BUT DOESN’T ACTUALLY WORSHIP GOD! What I find so incredibly interesting about what we read in the days of Moses, as well as in the days of Jeroboam son of Nebat is that while their worship talked about God—talked about his deliverance, His signs, His wonders, His power, His strength, his might—it wasn’t actually worshipping Him. This actually causes me to believe how much of our worship today may very well talk about God, yet it’s not actually worshipping God Himself. Taking this a step further, I can’t help but wonder how many of the songs we sing in our churches today may very well sound good because they talk about God, yet they don’t actually bring us into the place where we are actually worshipping God. I am sure the children of Israel thought they were worshipping God in the image of the golden calf before them, yet all they were doing was talking about God while worshipping before a false image. TALKING ABOUT GOD WHILE WORSHIPPING BEFORE A FALSE IMAGE! There the children of Israel were in the wilderness—and centuries later in the midst of a divided inheritance—and while on the surface they were talking about God, their worship was actually nothing more than an idolatrous worship before.a false image they had created. This brings me to the place where I wonder what images we have fashioned and formed of God within our own lives. Oh, it is true that we do a lot of talking about God, yet we don’t actually do any talking to God. How incredibly easy it is to talk about God without actually talking to God—a dangerous game we play all too often within our churches. Many of our songs are great at talking about God, yet they never actually talk to God. Much of our worship sings songs about God without actually singing to God. Many of us are pros, and even experts at talking about God—even in worship—and yet we never actually talk to God. Many of us are great at talking about God when we sing the songs that are sung in our church, and yet we never enter into the realm of actually worshipping God. Taking this a step further—the children of Israel were talking about God, and even acknowledging His signs, wonders and might, and yet it wasn’t even leading them into the presence of the Lord. It was Moses who was atop the mountain in the presence of the Lord, and Joshua, and Aaron who were experiencing the presence of God atop the mountain.
THERE IS A WORSHIP THAT TALKS ABOUT GOD, YET IT NEVER ACTUALLY BRINGS US INTO THE PRESENCE OF GOD! I am finding myself wondering if there aren’t a number of songs that we sing within our churches—and while those songs do a lot of talking about God, and even appeal to our emotions and senses, they don’t actually lead us into the presence of God. WORSHIP IS ABOUT MORE THAN TALKING ABOUT GOD! WORSHIPPERS CAN BE THEOLOGIANS, BUT THEOLOGIANS AREN’T NECESSARILY WORSHIPPERS! What I mean by this is that we can worship the Lord, and from that place of worship our theology can be obtained, for knowledge of the Lord can flow from the place of worship. With that being said, I would also state and perhaps emphatically declare that not everyone who knows about God is in fact a worshipper of God. There are men and women who know enough about God, yet they don’t actually worship God Himself. Jesus spoke of worshipping God in spirit and in truth, yet I am convinced that not everyone who worships does so in spirit and in truth. I am reminded of the words which the prophet Isaiah prophesied and spoke in the twenty-ninth chapter of the prophetic book which bears his name, for he speaks of those who draw near the Lord with their mouth, and with their lips they even honour Him, and yet their hearts have been removed far from Him. Furthermore, the prophet goes on to speak of how their fear toward Him was and had been taught by the precept of men. I believe with everything inside me that there is a worship that is taught by the precept of men, and yet it isn’t worship at all. There is a worship that is taught in our churches today that may on the surface sound wonderful, yet it is actually nothing more than drawing near to the Lord with their mouths, and honoring Him with their lips, and yet their hearts have been removed far from Him. There is a worship that is taught by the precept of men, and it is a worship that is completely lifeless and is void and absent the presence and power of God. There is a worship that is taught by the precept of men and sounds good to the untrained ear, yet it is a worship that will always take place outside and apart from the presence of the Lord. I am reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Colossians congregation in the second chapter of the book:
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perishwith the using;) after the commandments and doctrine of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh” (Colossians 2:16-23).
How much of our worship may even be sound theologically, yet it has always and will always operate outside the presence of the Almighty God? How much of our worship may sound appropriate, and even doctrinally correct, yet there is no spirit or breath within it? What the children of Israel were saying before the golden calf was indeed correct—the Lord had delivered them up and brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, yet that worship wasn’t actually worshipping the true and living God. What they were saying wasn’t entirely incorrect, for they had been delivered from the slavery and bondage of Egypt. What they failed to understand and recognize was that their worship was nothing more than a false worship of God in and according to an image they had made. What about your worship? Does you worship sound great theologically speaking, yet it does not bring you into the presence of the Lord? What’s more, is how many of us equate goosebumps and emotional highs and feelings with somehow being in the presence of the Lord? We experience these manifestations within our hearts and lives within the house of the Lord, and yet we aren’t actually in the presence of the Lord of hosts. The children of Israel weren’t aware of what was taking place atop the mountain was not only the giving of the law, but also the giving of the Tabernacle to in fact show them how they were to worship and approach the true and living God. The Lord was revealing unto Moses the pattern for the tabernacle and what true worship of the Lord would look like for them, and while that was taking place, they allowed themselves to get caught up in talking about God without actually worshipping Him. The Lord brought them into the wilderness to reveal Himself unto them, but also from that place of revelation to give unto them the law to show them how to obey and please Him, and to give them the tabernacle to show them how to worship and approach Him. Up until that moment they really didn’t know or understand how to worship the Lord and what the Lord required of them, and they found themselves worshipping God in the image that had made. We would be incredibly wise to pay close attention to this concept and reality, for we might very well find ourselves worshipping God in the image(s) we have made, and yet the Lord is atop the mountain revealing unto us how to truly worship Him. The Lord is atop the mountain revealing unto us His statues, His precepts, His commandments, and yet we are doing nothing more than talking about God while we worship an image that not only looks nothing like Him, but also isn’t Him at all.
What I also can’t help but be struck with when considering this image they worshipped is that they dared to worship this image as the God who had delivered them out of their slavery and bondage of Egypt, yet if that was the case, how could they explain their being created in the image and likeness of God. It is possible that we can get so busy fashioning an image of God within our hearts and minds, and at the very same time completely ignore the image we were created in. Anyone who fashions an image of God in their hearts and minds and begins to worship that image have lost sight of the reality of the image they themselves were created in. How many men and women have lost sight of the image they were created in, and as a result, they have fashioned God in an image of their own choosing? How many men and women not only need to rediscover the image and likeness they were created in, but they also need to rediscover the true image of the divine—the true image of the holy? We play a very dangerous game when we allow ourselves to fashion these false images of God within our hearts and minds, for more often than not we do so from a place when we have forgotten the image we have been created. You have heard of “identity crisis”—well I would speak of and suggest that there is an “image crisis.” There is an image crisis men and women are facing in that they have lost sight of the image they have been created in, and as a result, they have lost and no longer understand their Idenity. There are men and women who are facing an image crisis with the Lord of heaven and earth, for they have allowed themselves to form and fashion an image of God of their own choosing and making. There are a number of men and women who desperately need to recover from image crisis within their hearts and lives, and not only recover their own image, but also the image of God. There are a number of men and women who need to transition from that place of talking about God, to actually talking to God. There are men and women who need to transition from the place of talking about God, to actually worshipping God. It’s one thing to know about God—it’s another thing to know God intimately and personally. Oh that we would not only know God personally and intimately, but also that we would not merely talk about God, but talk to God face to face. The children of Israel were down at the foot of the mountain talking about God, while Moses was atop the mountain talking to God face to face. The children of Israel were worshipping God in the image they had made while talking about Him, while Moses was talking to God face to face and perhaps even worshipping Him in His presence. What a tremendous challenge this is within our hearts and lives, and one that we would need to be absolutely aware of and work as hard as we can to ensure we not only recover from this image crisis, but also understand how to worship God rather than simply talking about Him.