THE POOR MAN’S GOLD
In far back history someone first talked of brass as “the gold of a poor man.” And really it’s fitting; when polished, it has gold-like qualities—but it’s still brass, only brass! Rehoboam thought it could be hidden! All the golden shields of the days of Solomon were stolen by the king of Egypt. Judah fell into horrible sin so God allowed judgment to come upon them from Egypt. The conquering Egyptian hoarders ransacked holy places and stole all the treasures including all those in the temple Solomon had built to honor God.
If righteousness blesses a nation, then godlessness bankrupts it. (Proverbs 14:34) A nation, a family, an individual can go from grace to disgrace and from authentic to synthetic—from gold to brass.
Billy Graham gave a sad accounting of men with gold in their witness, but it went to brass. “There are many through the years on several continents whom I could mention, who have been tripped up by Satan. It usually started with something that seemed innocent, but it led to deeper and deeper problems and greater and greater sin.” He spoke of men called by God who allowed this to happen to them, but soon “their ministry was destroyed, their families disillusioned or broken-hearted, and thousands of people hurt.” The venerable Vance Havner joins him and adds, “More than once have we seen a preacher castaway who once served God with power, but somewhere along the road he struck a bargain with Shishak and now his shield is brass.”
And in ancient Judah when this happened, all that was of value was taken including the treasured items that symbolized their grandeur and greatness. Solomon’s army went to battle with shields laden with gold; those were all taken by Shishak. So with great embarrassment a quick, cheap substitute was made—shields of brass replaced those of gold! And to return to Billy Graham’s sad story, I too have known preachers and singers who hid their downfall: a divorce and families hurt and heartbreak or immoral relationship, and yet—they put on an empty smile and they tried to return to the ministry. It was a poor, pitiful substitute to what they once were. Their authority was gone, their voice was hollow, the anointing was missing! It was all a tawdry mockery, an absolutely disgraceful substitute for what once was there.
Here is what occurred; from Scripture we learn, “King Shishak of Egypt attacked and conquered Jerusalem. He ransacked the Temple and the palace and stole everything, including all the gold shields Solomon had made. Afterwards Rehoboam made bronze shields as substitutes, and the palace guards used these instead.” (I Kings 14:25-27, Living Bible)
It does not take a great amount of application skills to see how this applies to us today and what the New Testament church was, compared to what is now. And we hear that Mary Queen of Scots said she feared the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of England. Knox had a shield of gold, and she knew it! With Knox was awful holiness and irresistible power. He spoke with prophet-like instincts—Mary retreated, looking for a place to hide in Holyrood Palace.
Brass was substituted for gold, but we are told that Rehoboam’s guards went out and paraded before him and the people with these substitute shields hoping no one would notice the difference. We have seen the parades of religious pageantry, but no one is fooled. Even the most unchristian in a culture realizes something is missing. They see the pretense, the sham, and the vain show; hiding their smiles for “the king has no clothes!” Play acting is totally fraudulent; to impersonate a person who walks with God is to wear a mask, and brass shields in Christian service is sheer hypocrisy. No one is really fooled for long.
We have arrived at a crucial place. We must say it clearly—God hates the counterfeit! John Calvin was moved to say, “The Lord first of all wants sincerity in His service, simplicity of heart without guile and without falsehood.” In the Lord’s work let there be no lookalikes—God would have an army with no shields that are cheap brass ones! And I think Charles Spurgeon would agree with me, “Sincerity makes the least man to be of more value than the most talented hypocrite.” Call it plain dealing with God and let us beware of the corroding and terrible sin of religious professionalism. You see it in a studied manner and you hear it in a stained glass window preacher tone in one’s voice, but maybe worst of all is an “unholy familiarity with spiritual things.”
And there are those who keep up a good appearance hoping to delay spiritual bankruptcy. Soren Kierkegaard was a philosopher yet a radical Christian in many ways. He spoke the truth saying that in the Christian faith something was worse than dissentions and divisions, something worse than heresy and unbelief, and it is “playing religion.” See it, if you will, those same men who once carried famous shields of gold now walked out with cheap shields of polished brass.
The obvious application for God’s people in our time is to dishonor the Lord with some continued spectacle. God deplores it. It was an irreverent antic to march out with brass shields pretending it to be gold. It was a disgraceful affront to the former glory of God, and it was grounds for human contempt and divine judgment. The author of Hebrews wrote with purpose of those who insulted God, and he gave sober admonition about “falling into the hands of a living (and angry) God” (Hebrews 10:31).
They reinvented the shields—it was false, fake, and fraudulent! It was an act of intentional profaning of God’s greatness and denigrating to the representative of what was in the days of Solomon. They polished them to purposely deceive and then marched out to the drumbeat in a parade of deception. The guards of the holy place became charlatans who perpetrated a lie. They were adorned in the sad remnants of what was—a sham and an absolutely planned counterfeit presentation, totally dishonest and altogether corrupt.
Imagine them marching out with swollen heads and shrunken hearts to parade their deception—look at their open folly! Now walking out with polished brass. There is a problem with all deception; Alexander Pope points it out, “He who tells a lie is forced to invent twenty more to sustain it.” Polish and more polish making the brass shields gleam, but it was still only brass! The treasure was lost. No one was really deceived. Brass was a poor substitute for the gold God had given to Solomon.
How much church activity today is as “sounding brass,” a kind of religious pep rally to make up for a loss of deep devotion and Holy Spirit power? All skillfully promotionally altered to hide the fact that our shields are only polished brass! The Christian faith must never be degraded into some sleight of hand, into what Paul termed “disgraceful, underhanded ways” (II Corinthians 4:2), something like this effort to deceive people as shields went from gold to brass, a kind of human engineering. It is borderline blasphemy to have deliberately contrived effects. Anything of play acting, all things that are manufactured by human manipulation, anything artificial is off limits. What is to be avoided is anything that would offend the Holy Spirit with counterfeit religious activities. Brass shields were a dishonest, intentional presentation. Spurgeon said, “Every liar is a child of the devil and will be sent home to his father.”
Today we have event centers used for celebrations, funerals, weddings, and award nights for various organizations. I heard of one with a wonderful sound system and pre-recorded music for different events. A stand-in technician was used for weddings, and as the bride walked in, he mistakenly played Chopin’s Funeral March! One of the couples in attendance said, “It makes no difference, this marriage is dead from the start!” Some religious events are like that too.
They marched out with gleaming brass shields, but “Ichabod” could have been painted on them for the glory of God had departed from Judah. So we see polished brass shields that are waved in the air, but it is no replacement for shields of gold. Too much that goes on today is just that—brass trying to be gold and the empty, haunting consciousness that it all resembles a faith of little consequence.
Speaking like a prophet, Professor David Wells wrote of this in our day, “God’s … truth is too distant, His grace is too ordinary, His judgment is too benign, His gospel is too easy, and His Christ is too common.” Today we are heavily invested in brass shields; in fact, we seem enamored with them! After all, ancient Judah knew nothing of our marketing techniques. We have blurred the distinction between gold and brass, between yesterday’s Christ and today’s culture!
It is a devastating loss when our Shishak (Satan) steals our golden shields, but it is even a greater loss when we refuse to recognize the absence of the authentic and play along with the sad spectacle, and applaud when the guards walk by displaying them. Instead of repenting of the sin that brought our “Shishak” upon us and having the kingdom restored, we only polish harder to make the brass shields shine brighter! But deep within, we know the difference. A pastor said to an evangelist as he prepared to preach on a Sunday morning, “My people expect to be entertained, and if you fail, they won’t be back. I’m not saying that is the way it should be—I’m saying that’s the way it is!” Polish harder if you will, but brass will never be gold!
The need of the hour is for someone to step forward and say with the full authority of heaven—stop the cheap charade! The brass shields must be exposed for what they are with words that sting and burn like hot lava on naked flesh. Someone must say, “this” is not “that” with words that sear like molten metal flowing in a burning stream. We must pray for such a person to come freshly from the throne of God to liberate from our cultural captivity.