Exodus 20 reads – “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”

These first two precepts of the decalogue address the very heart of man’s fallen, depraved condition. People commit murder, adultery, theft and every other sin, because they do not perceive God as they should. And because we don’t look upon Jehovah properly, we elevate created objects, placing them in positions in our hearts where only the Lord should be.

These things are a part of the introduction to the Book of Romans, which we read a few minutes ago. “The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” The reason that our world is so filled with evil, wickedness, hatred and crime, is due to the fact that we have deliberately removed Jehovah from his proper throne in our hearts, replacing Him with false gods.

I suppose that people could debate long and hard about which false god is the worst – the most evil. Which might it be? Molech, who was worshiped through the sacrifice of children? How about the disgusting female goddesses of so many of those ancient peoples? Wasn’t the worship of Dagon kind of stinky? I’ve been doing some reading this week about Captain James Cook, the great of all naval explorers. On one occasion, while in Tahiti, Cook was invited to witness a religious sacrifice. There was a potential war between two tribes, and this particular group was preparing for battle. They selected one of their own men, beating him to death, and then invited Cook to witness the rest of the sacrifice. Some of Cook’s men were appalled, as well they should have been. They said that it was barbaric, and that if the men who had done this were in England, they would have been hanged. But the islanders we appalled at the idea of hanging, which to them was reprehensible, adding that no one should interfere with a perfectly acceptable religious exercise. You and I would have condemned the Tahitian war God, Oro, and the way that he was worshiped. But is Oro the very worst of all idol gods?

The Lord’s condemnation of idolatry in Exodus 20 and repeated in Deuteronomy 5, is pretty specific, but it leaves the door open for the condemnation of other forms of idolatry. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Does the fact that God condemns “making” any graven image, mean that if a someone found a rock which naturally looked like some preconceived god, then the worship of that rock was acceptable? Of course not. The worship of any thing other than the Lord, our Creator, is sin. And that includes the worship of man himself.

I can’t exactly speak for the Lord, but if I had to guess, I’d say that of all the false gods in this world, the most abominable in His sight would be the idols we create out of ourselves and other sinful human beings. The rock, the alligator, the scarab beetle, multi-breasted female image made out of gold, and even the madonna, are not as reprehensible as the gods we make of ourselves and our neighbors. That is one of the sins which we see in this chapter – Darius is being deified by his wicked counselors. To him is ascribed some of the rights and characteristics of God Himself. That can mean nothing less than disaster on several fronts.

Consider some of the human gods which are described in the Word of God.
The first hints of this evil was seen in the Garden of Eden even before the actual introduction of sin. When Eve, and then Adam, decided to over-rule the command of God, they were placing themselves above the Lord. You could describe the origin of their sin in a number of different ways – ignorance, foolishness, rebellion. But from another angle it could be considered the enthroning of themselves over the Lord. Later, when Cain came along, exchanging his rules of worship for those that his father taught him about God, again the same words might apply. Perhaps “self-deification” would be down from the top of the list, but in some ways that’s what it was.

Of course, this was not the first case of self-deification. The first came when Lucifer chose to rebel against the Lord, drawing a third of the angelic host with him. Isaiah 14 speaks about this rebellion. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” The sin of Lucifer is not exactly the subject of this message, because although he was a created being, he was not a man – but there are many parallels. And perhaps the most important parallel is found in Isaiah’s next verse: “Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” This is the true God’s estimation of rebellion and self-deification.

One of the first forms of human deification came in the name of “Nimrod.” Just two generations after Noah, Ham had a son, whom he called “Cush.” “And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.” We learn about the deification of Nimrod more through ancient, secular history than we do through the Word of God, but there is little doubt that this man was worshiped in the place of God.

We could run our fingers through the Old Testament and find people who wanted to replace the Lord. We could talk about Goliath for example, but I don’t know he would say that he believed himself to be God. What about Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3. Again it might be said that this was not self-deification, but just a stupid attempt to replace God with an idol.

A rather notable example of a man being praised as God involves Herod in Acts 12. In this case, this king wasn’t deliberately looking to replace God, and I doubt that he really believed that he was a god, but he accepted the praise of men without rebuking them. “Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country. And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.” Even if we couldn’t find another example of God’s hatred of man’s idolatry and self-deification, here is one that is perfect.

But there is another example, although we won’t pursue it this morning – the anti-christ.

The lesson is this: Beware; be very, very concerned over any thought of supercilious pride. Fall on your face before the Lord, when you are tempted to alter or improve any command of God. Worry about your soul, when those periodic thoughts come upon you about self-sufficiency or superiority. The moment foolish people around you, begin to praise you more than you know that you deserve, shut them down. Because not only they will be judged, but so will you.

It may never have been his personal intention, but his wicked associates encouraged Darius into thinking of himself in an idolatrous fashion …

More highly than he ought to have thought.
“O king, live forever.” We have touched on this before. This may have been the common Mesopotamian style of greeting for the king. Only once do we read of this greeting being directed toward anyone but these Chaldean and Persian rulers. For some of the people who approached the king with these words, they were mere empty formality. But it does appear to have been meant in some fashion.

And this needs to be considered theologically and practically. You and I are eternal souls. I won’t get into the debates that men have had in the past, but I believe that you and I begin – our souls began – at the moment of conception in our mothers womb. The Lord has arranged it that way, and our souls will never cease to exist from that time of conception. For the wicked – the unsaved – the unbeliever – after they die, they will experience the second death. That means that their eternal souls will be separated from the blessings of God for all eternity. They will never cease to exist, but they will be living in a kind of spiritual death. This is something to fear and to shun – by seeking the face of God in repentance and faith. For those whom the Lord saves, regenerates, and brings into His eternal family – in addition to our eternal existence – we have eternal life. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The point is this – our souls are eternal. Additionally the saint of God possesses eternal life, only because that is the will of God and the gift of God. Your soul is eternal only as the eternal God has ordained it to be eternal. It is not eternal by right or even by nature. It is eternal because Jehovah ordained it to be so. And the same must be said, even more abundantly, about our eternal life. Eternal life is not natural; nor is it earned as a reward or payment; it is a gift of divine grace. If God was not eternal, there would never be anything else eternal. In this light, for someone to say to Darius or anyone else, “O king, live forever,” that could be construed to be a declaration of his eternality and thus his deity. An exception might be when this is spoken to one of God’s saints, but even then it could be misunderstood. And certainly the idol worshipers in this chapter had no concept of Jehovah’s gift of eternal life. These counselors were implying that Darius was God.

Following this blasphemous greeting, came the even more blasphemous edict. “All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions.”

I am very careful, whether in a letter, email, sermon or article, about the way that I write the word “god.” Generally I try to capitalize every name, every title, and even every pronoun which refers directly to the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Conversely, I refuse to put a capital on the word “god” when I am writing about an idol or false god. Having said that, notice the way your Bible has the word “God” in verse 7. “Whosoever shall ask a petition of any GOD or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions.” To my way of thinking, this was a deliberate attack upon Jehovah God. Even though the word “any” drops this into a law against praying to any idol or god, the capitalization suggests that our translators believed that this was primarily directed toward the true and living God.

The recommended decree was that Darius was to replace all other gods for a period of thirty days. The priests of Bel and Baal, were to redirect their daily prayers to Darius. The devotes of Molech and Ashtoreth were to cease and desist their devotions for a month. And the Jews were to stop calling on the name of the Lord. For thirty days the king of Persia was to be the only god in all the universe.

Of course the idea is as ludicrous as it is blasphemous. Darius wasn’t going to be able to determine whether or not it rains in Spain or on the Duran plain. He wasn’t able to ignite the volcano, or direct that thunderbolt. The king wasn’t to have any more ability 15 days from now to stop the raging fever in that little girl. So the idea is preposterous. Nevertheless the very suggestion is blasphemous. Even if the king laughed when he signed the decree, it should have been burned in the fire, cast into the shredder, or thrown into the pigsty. Darius is standing on brink of being eaten up by worms.

It was a policy among the Medes and the Persians, that when a law was signed by the king – it was irrevocable. If that paper had mistakingly omitted the words “for thirty days” then by law the religion of Persia would have forever been to worship the king – or at least to worship this king until he died. Why did these people have such a law? Why were all their precepts perpetual and permanent? Wasn’t it because there was a sense in which they really did think of their rulers as infallible? When our king speaks “ex cathedra” then he is perfect – all wise – god. This is a current Roman Catholic heresy and blasphemy. Under special circumstances, what the Pope publishes from his royal throne is perfect and infallible. Under those conditions, that man is considered virtually god himself – which of course is blasphemy. Sadly, most Catholics don’t realize that this didn’t become church law until 1870. In regard to their laws, the Medes and the Persians believed that their king was already god.

But of course, He was not a god. If he really was, then why was it necessary to take the law-breaker and cast him to the lions? If Darius really was god, then he should have omnisciently known ever law-breaker, and he should have executed him with his omnipotent powers no matter how far away the transgressor was. But perhaps I am pushing this a bit too far. Maybe the Persian idea of god falls short of my definition.

Have you noticed that part of the insanity of this event was that this royal divinity was being manipulated? I won’t call Darius a buffoon, but at the very least at this point he was a dupe. These wicked counselors of his were using him – their proposed god – to accomplish their nefarious plans against Daniel. They are trying to get Daniel executed, and to do it they actually trick and deceive their king into being god. Darius may have not been deity, but he was king, and when they were exposed, those men and all that they possessed were destroyed.

I know that this has been a rambling and incoherent message….

But now I would like to make an application which should bring it home to all of us.
The decree was not so much that everyone’s prayers should be directed toward Darius, even though that was a part. The primary emphasis was that no one, and particularly Daniel, could pray to their God, for thirty days. Linked to self-deification is man’s idea of self-sufficiency. Aren’t we inching closer and closer to making ourselves gods, when we are not bringing our petitions and problems to the Lord? When we believe that we are wise enough to see into the future, and that we are capable of solving our problems, aren’t we on the verge of declaring our own deity? The prayerless, professing Christian, is behaving very nearly as these Persian counselors were advising.

And a corollary to this is in the matter of salvation. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, we declare God a liar, and we are ascribing to ourselves the characteristics of deity. If we believe that we are capable of ridding our souls and our records of sin, then we are coming close to declaring ourselves to be gods. There is a God, who really is God, and we are sinners in His sight. We need a Mediator to stand between us and the holiness of that God. Sinners, like us, must repent before the Lord, acknowledging who, and what, we really are. And we need to trust the work that the Lord Jesus did on the cross to provide us with salvation. Darius needed to repent of this foolishness and to trust Daniel’s God. And this is exactly what you and I need to do as well.