God had delivered His people from Egypt, and had united them to Himself in order that they might be separated from all the nations. And having brought them out of Egypt, and joined them to Himself, He said of them, "The people shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations" (Num. 23:9). It was only by remaining faithful to their union with God that they could be separated from all the nations. (Ex. 33:16).
Israel was then the church, -- "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). That church was united to God in solemn covenant, upon which the Lord said, "I am married unto you," and, "I was an husband unto them." Thus was that church united to God. And in this there was the complete separation of Church and State.
But Israel was unfaithful to God. She rejected Him and set up a State, and thus formed a union of Church and State. The result was the complete ruin of the State which they had formed; the scattering of the people in captivity among the nations; and the desolation of their land. In their captivity and their trouble they sought the Lord in contrition; and joined themselves again in faithfulness to Him. And this brought them back to their original position of being the church only, and so to their original condition of total separation of Church and State.
God had planted Israel -- His church -- in Canaan to be the light of the world, to give the knowledge of the true God; as at that time and for ages afterward Palestine was the pivot of the known world. By their being faithful to Him and having Him abide with them, He intended that they should influence all the nations for good. But they revolted and became not only "like all the nations," but even "worse than the heathen." Therefore the land became sick of them, and spewed them out, as it had spewed out the heathen before them. (Lev. 18:25, 28; 20:22).
As by their apostasy and union of Church and State, Israel had frustrated God's purpose to enlighten all nations by them in the land where He had planted them, He would fulfill His purpose, nevertheless; and, separating them again entirely from the State, would enlighten all the nations by them in the lands where He had scattered them. Israel, by becoming like all the nations, had lost the power to arrest and command the attention of all the nations, that the nations might know God, and be taught of Him. Nevertheless, God would now use them to enlighten those who, under Him, had acquired the power to arrest and command the attention of all the nations. Thus by them still He would bring to all the nations the knowledge of the true God, and teach them that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" (Dan. 4:17). This is the whole philosophy of the captivity and subjection of Israel and Judah to Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Grecia, and Rome.
God conveyed to the kings and people of these mighty empires, the knowledge of Himself and of His truth for people and kings. And, as we have found over and over in these studies that the separation of religion and the State is one of the fundamental principles of the truth of God for kings and nations, this is one of the great truths taught to the kings and people of these great empires. And this instruction was written out in the Word of God for the instruction of all kings and people until the world's end.
In the second year of his reign alone, to King Nebuchadnezzar there was shown in a dream a great image, whose head was of gold, his breast and arms of silver, his sides of brass, his legs of iron, and his feet and toes part of iron and part of clay. By the word of the Lord through Daniel this was explained to Nebuchadnezzar as signifying the course of empire from that time until the end of the world.
This dream was given to Nebuchadnezzar because that, while upon his bed, thoughts had come into his mind as to "what should come to pass hereafter." From what came to pass afterward with him, it is evident that his thoughts upon that question were to the effect that the mighty kingdom of Babylon, which he ruled -- the head of gold -- would in its greatness and glory continue on and on indefinitely. To correct this view, and to show him the truth, was the purpose of the dream.
The instruction in the dream, through the divine interpretation, was that the golden glory of his kingdom would continue but a little while, and then another would arise, inferior to his, and another, and another, and then there would be division, with all these descending in a regular scale of inferiority; and then, at last, "the God of heaven" would "set up a kingdom," and this alone would be the kingdom that should stand forever, and not be given to other people.
But Nebuchadnezzar would not accept this view of the subject. Accordingly, he formulated his own idea in a great image, about a hundred feet tall, all of gold from head to feet. This image he set up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon, to be worshiped, and called all his princes, governors, sheriffs, captains, rulers of the provinces, and people generally, to worship it.
This was a positive setting up of his own idea against that of God. This was to declare to all people that his golden kingdom was to endure forever; that there was to be no such thing as another kingdom arising separate from his and inferior to it, and after that others, descending so low as iron mixed with miry clay. No! there should be only his golden kingdom of Babylon, and it should never be broken nor interrupted; but should stand forever.
In a number of points this was an open challenge to the Lord. It was the assertion that Nebuchadnezzar's idea of the kingdoms of men should be accepted as the true and divine idea, as against that of God's, which had been given. It was the assertion that the embodiment of this opposing idea should be worshiped as God. As the idea and the embodiment of it was altogether Nebuchadnezzar's, this was simply the putting of Nebuchadnezzar himself in the place of God, as the ruler in the kingdom of men, the head of all religion, and the director of all worship.
A great day was set for the dedication of Nebuchadnezzar's idea, and the inauguration of the universal worship of it. A great multitude was assembled of many peoples, nations, and languages of his wide realm. When all were assembled, a herald proclaimed: "To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, 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: and whose falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace."
In the great assembly were three young Jews -- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. And when all the others fell down and worshiped, these stood bolt upright, paying no attention to the law that had just then been proclaimed, nor to the image. They were at once reported and accused to the king. Then the king "in his rage and fury" commanded them to be brought before him. It was done. He asked them if it was true and of purpose that they had not worshiped.
He then repeated his decree and the dreadful penalty. But they answered: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hands, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."
The furnace was heated seven times hotter than usual, and they were bound and cast into it. But suddenly the king rose up in astonishment from his throne and cried to his counselors, "Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king." But he exclaimed, "Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."
Then the king called them forth, and said in the presence of all: "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent His angel, and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God."
God had commanded all nations to serve King Nebuchadnezzar, and that whatsoever nation would not serve him, that nation the Lord would punish. Yet here He wrought a wondrous miracle to deliver the men who had openly and directly refused to obey a plain and direct command of the king. How could this consistently be? -- Easily enough.
This command, this law, of the king was wrong. He was demanding a service which he had no right to require. In making him king of the nations, the Lord had not made him king in the religion of the nations. In making him the head of all the nations, God had not made him the head of religion.
But being an idolater, and having grown up amid idolatrous systems, Nebuchadnezzar did not know this. With idolaters, religion always has been, and still is, a part of the government. In heathen systems, religion and the governments are always united; while in the true system, the genuine Christian system, they are always separate.
And this was the lesson which God there taught to Nebuchadnezzar. In a way in which it was impossible not to understand, the Lord showed to that king that he had nothing whatever to do with the religion, nor with the directing of the worship, of the people. The Lord had brought all nations into subjection to King Nebuchadnezzar as to their bodily service; but now, by an unmistakable evidence, this same Lord showed to King Nebuchadnezzar that He had given him no power nor jurisdiction whatever in their souls' service.
The Lord thus showed to King Nebuchadnezzar that, while in all things between nation and nation, or man and man, all people, nations, and languages had been given to him to serve him, and he had been made ruler over them all; yet in things between men and God, the king was plainly and forcibly given to understand that he had nothing whatever to do. The God of heaven there taught to that king, and through him to all kings, rulers, and people forever, that in all matters of religion and worship, in the presence of the rights of conscience of the individual, the word of the king must change; the decree of the ruler is naught.
And this was written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come. This is important instruction and present truth today. For throughout the whole English-speaking world today King Nebuchadnezzar's example of arrogance is being followed -- and that even by those who profess to know God and to be guided by the Bible. Nebuchadnezzar's offense was in setting up his own idea and forming it into a decree and then enforcing it as the law. And throughout these nations today, there are people who profess to know God and to be guided by the Bible, who have set up their own or some other one's altogether human idea of the Sabbath against God's idea of the Sabbath-Sunday against the Sabbath of the Lord -- and have secured the framing of it into a decree, and are having it enforced as the law. But it is all wrong, just as Nebuchadnezzar's assumption was wrong. And every one who will be faithful to God must say, We will not serve thy gods nor worship the image of the Sabbath which thou hast set up. And in the presence of the rights of conscience of the individual toнday, the word of the ruler must change; such laws are simply naught.
Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson. And this truth was spread to all the nations and languages in that day; and it must be spread to all in this day. Will all who today are following his wrong course, learn this lesson and correct their ways, as did he?