Sunday, November 27, 2016

Daniel 10: Angels Watching Over Me

Even though we did some combined work on these last 3 chapters, I'm going to break them apart for the purposes of writing. There's a lot to look at, even though all of this happened consecutively. (Thank you, Bible editors, for chapter breaks!)

We are in the time of Persian rule over Babylon. The Jews have been returning to Jerusalem since the time of the takeover. This is year #3 of Persian rule when Daniel receives this particular vision. We are also told that he has been in mourning for 21 days--a fact which doesn't mean much here but has great significance later on in the text.

My big question was "Why is Daniel mourning?" Not just a sadness kind of mourning, but what would seem an intentional time of mourning--denying himself food and wine, and not grooming. Remember, he's hardly a young man anymore. Not bathing for 3 weeks?! Why is he doing this?

"Some think that the particular occasion of his mourning was slothfulness and indifference of many of the Jews, who, though they had liberty to return to their own land, continued still in the land of their captivity, not knowing how to value the privileges offered them; and perhaps it troubled him the more because those that did so justified themselves by the example of Daniel, though they had not that reason to stay behind which he had. Others think that it was because he heard of the obstruction given to the building of the temple by the enemies of the Jews...."
--Matthew Henry

Matthew Henry goes on to comment that mourning accompanies one who so passionately loves the church. Daniel was steadfast in his prayers for his people, in their re-establishment of Jerusalem and the Temple, in their future--even if he would not be joining them. He would certainly want to know what and how to be praying for them.

It is in this time of mourning when Daniel receives a vision of "a certain man dressed in linen." In our group time, I likened him to the Oscar statue, because all the references to gold were overwhelming! But, there is actually some discrepancy as to who this "man" is. We pursued the text with the notion that he was the angel Gabriel. Certain commentaries--Matthew Henry's among them--suggest that the "man" is actually Jesus Christ. Wow, right!?

Can we be OK with not knowing, exactly? I hope so. Because what happens from verse 5 to the end of the chapter is not so much about the affairs of the world as it is about Daniel and his receiving of this word. Whomever he saw completely takes Daniel away from consciousness. God has designed the onset of this vision to be for Daniel's eyes only, somehow removing Daniel's earthly attendants from him.

"Then I heard the sound of his words; and when I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in a deep sleep, with my face toward the ground." (10:9)

Keep in mind these words as we continue on through this description of Daniel. The next voice he hears would not be the same as the one who uttered the words above. “...O Daniel, you highly regarded and greatly beloved man, understand the words that I am about to say to you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you....” Whatever transfixed state Daniel had previously been in, he was going to be lifted from it with the help of an angel. Here, there is more general agreement that this is the angel Gabriel, as there is an air of familiarity with Gabriel and Daniel since they have encountered each other before.

"Note, Before God gives strength and power unto his people he makes them sensible of their own weakness."
--Matthew Henry

OH, I love this quote! Daniel definitely recognizes that he has been, literally, laid flat in the presence of the man in linen. With Gabriel, he is unsteady and "trembling" (10:11). Daniel may be in the presence of an angel, but he does not immediately receive strength simply by being in his presence. Do you recognize that with your own circumstances? I might have the Word of God open, and be praying and humbled, but that does not mean that I am suddenly strengthened and ready to head off into battle. Most of the time, I'm still pretty down. Not that I don't believe God is at work, but I am in a place in which I recognize my weaknesses--and that's a GOOD thing! Remember, we can do all things IN CHRIST who GIVES US STRENGTH! (Philippians 4:13, slight paraphrase, emphasis mine :-) .)

Gabriel comes to Daniel to encourage and strengthen him. He tells Daniel how greatly he is loved. How can you not be encouraged by hearing how much you are loved! "Highly-regarded," too, is Daniel. And then, those words that fill the pages of Scripture: "Do not be afraid." After all that Daniel had experienced, this vision may be one of the most personally devastating for a good way, which is what may well lead you to believe that the golden man is Christ. God recognizes this, because He knows Daniel's heart so intimately--so, He sends Gabriel to reassure him, twice. And, if that's not enough, the archangel Michael comes along, too!

...Peace be to you; take courage and be strong.” Now when he had spoken to me, I was strengthened....” (10:19)

"When he had spoken to me I was strengthened. Note, God by his word puts life, and strength, and spirit into his people; for if he says, Be strong, power goes along with the word. And, now that Daniel has experienced the efficacy of God’s strengthening word and grace, he is ready for any thing: “Now, Let my lord speak, and I can hear it, I can bear it, and am ready to do according to it, for thou hast strengthened me.”
--Matthew Henry

Don't we wish we could have the assurance of the angel Gabriel, speaking the life-giving words of God to us, every time we have a crisis? Oh, don't we wish we could be as truly committed to everything Daniel had committed himself to in the name of our Lord? I don't think it's impossible, gals. Not that we would have Daniel's calling, but God does call us to something for His Kingdom. When we need to be strengthened in what we're doing, do we remember the Source of our strength? He is the same as the Source of our peace.

At the end of the chapter, we get a glimpse into the spiritual world behind our world. Gabriel explains that he knew of Daniel's prayers, but he was fighting with the spiritual prince of Persia for the past 21 days. Aha! The same amount of time Daniel had been in mourning, praying, the angel Gabriel was carrying on spiritual warfare with a demon of Persia. Angels and demons do not have the same attribute as God to be in multiple places at the same time. Gabriel may have known or have been apprised of Daniel's state, but there wasn't much he could do about it while fighting this battle.

[And, no, I cannot explain the realm of the spirit world. Again, we get but a glimpse, and probably one of the larger glimpses that you'll find in Scripture. Just be careful what you read about the work of angels in places outside of Scripture. Thank Daniel for writing down his experiences and thank God for His preserving that text in His Word!]

Gabriel will continue to speak into Chapter 11, which we will tackle here as a whole next week. But, I can't leave Chapter 10 without a look at this wonderful word:

"Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words." (10:12)

When we want to hear from the angels, when we want to discern God's direction, we need to consider what His humble servant Daniel did. He set his heart on understanding. For Daniel, it was understanding God's will for His people, the future of the Church. He also humbled himself before God. Not just for a day. Really, not just for 21 days. Daniel lived humility! And, he was heard, and to him who was faithful came a response from the Lord.

When you sing "Angels from the Realms of Glory" this Advent season, consider the text from verse 4 of the song, and remember Daniel's vision. We should pray it for our own.

Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear:
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Daniel 8: Carrying on the King's business

As we begin our look into Daniel 8, we need to remind ourselves about the language in which this book was written. There was that point, getting into Chapter 2, when the book switches from Hebrew to Aramaic--thus, the emphasis of the content being more driven to a Gentile audience. Here, in Chapter 8 and throughout the rest of the book, Daniel reverts back to writing in Hebrew--and so, the message contained here and for the remainder of the book is largely for a Jewish audience. We will read many things about the various kingdoms of the world, but the implications of the events and future happenings were meant to resonate with the Jews.

Why is there all this turmoil at this time? Why is everyone trying to take over the world? This has been a question in the last couple weeks within my group. Honestly, I'm not sure things are that much different today. In our lifetime--even in the lives of those most senior in our families--hasn't there always been someone looking to have "one/new world order"? Conquering the world was a reasonable goal for certain folks. It was Alexander the Great's full-time vocation!

Alexander studied under Aristotle. His father, Philip, was a great reformer of Greece, in that he conquered large areas of Macedonia (northern Greece) and updated the military with the latest equipment. Alexander came up as his natural successor and completely dominated the world map for a bit. Nebuchadnezzar's situation in Babylon was similar, although he didn't conquer as much and his kin didn't fare as well either. Alexander was "two" strong for the Medes and Persians, who could not hold their own alone or together (thus, the splitting of the ram's horns so soundly by Alexander's goat). When Alexander died (at 33)--leaving his entire kingdom to four generals who became kings [Note to better think things out in the will!]--Antiochus, the "little horn" would emerge from the goat's Syrian domain with the same determination to conquer but with a much more evil intent.

That's the short summary of the world scene with some of Daniel's received imagery thrown into the mix. Would that be frightening to you? Even though he received an interpretation, Daniel still didn't know the time all of this would begin nor who the actual players were. It covers a couple hundred years of history! The Medes and Persians rule for 100+ years. (Esther isn't made queen in Persia until 478 B.C., and Nehemiah doesn't try to get support from the Persians to help rebuild Jerusalem for 30 years after that.) Alexander the Great is present in the early 300 B.C. years. World conflict exists for a long time on a major scale--and then Jesus comes!

"The Jewish church, from its beginning, had been all along, more or less, blessed with prophets, men divinely inspired to explain God’s mind to them in his providences and give them some prospect of what was coming upon them; but, soon after Ezra’s time, divine inspiration ceased, and there was no more any prophet till the gospel day dawned."
--Matthew Henry

It must seem like I'm digressing a bit, but I think it helps us step into Daniel's head as we read about what he experienced. God gave him this vision--a 2nd vision--to explain the course of human events, especially as it pertained to his people, the Jews. This gives us perspective on God's hand in the events of the world (i.e., "I DID tell you this would happen") and how monumental a time the arrival of Christ into the darkness of world domination should have been. Something to think about as we get ready to celebrate Advent shortly!

"They are not expressly named, or prophecies must not be too plain; but they are here so described that it would be easy for those who understood scripture-language to know who were meant; and the Jews, having notice of this before, might be awakened to prepare themselves and their children beforehand for these suffering trying times."
--Matthew Henry

Most of what we read is now familiar; the images in the vision have changed. Statue-Beast-Ram/Goat/Horns are all pointing to the shifting in power. But, the description of the "little horn" becomes something to look at more intently, especially as it relates to the Jewish people. The horn itself grew "toward the Beautiful Land" which your Bible may have identified as Palestine--which, a long, long time ago used to be called Canaan, aka "the Promised Land." As mentioned a bit ago, this is the rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which means "the illustrious," says Matthew Henry. But, some folks called him Antiochus Epimanes ("the furious"). He ruled in the Syrian part of Alexander's empire, which contained Palestine.

Antiochus had it in for the Jews, and verses 8:10-14 speak of the things he would do to the people of God, not the least of which was that he [it] "magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host." This is the direct opposite of what Jesus says of His relationship to God in Philippians 2:6--"...Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage."

Keep in mind that the Temple had been completely rebuilt, but Antiochus took the daily sacrifice away.

"No doubt he took away all other sacrifices, but only the daily sacrifice is mentioned, because that was the greatest loss of all, for in that they kept up their constant communion with God."
--Matthew Henry

He would desecrate the Temple in 168 B.C. All of this to gain control of more land (and beat the Romans to it) by unifying all of his territories to a single cultural, social and religious framework and mindset. The Temple funded his military. But, when the Roman Empire threatened, Antiochus backed off, and he beefed up his rule and aggression of his own kingdom. Internal rebellion at the hands of those he appointed led to Antiochus killing thousands of Jews and abolishing Judaism. (Facts from My Jewish

I know, we're getting away from Daniel, right? But, we aren't, really, because this was the vision he was told to keep "secret, for it pertains to many days in the future." (8:37) As horrible as the future looks, God is giving His people that look. What a gift! Which is why we wonder if God still speaks to us through prophecy. Will someone in our future look back and say our times are a fulfillment of x? [I know; some are already talking like that, right? Pray, ladies! Pray before going there....]

There's a really important phrase to pull out in the midst of this--"And on account of transgression the host will be given over to the horn...." (8:12a, emphasis mine)

"God would not have permitted it if his people had not provoked him to do so. It is by reason of transgression, the transgression of Israel, to correct them for that, that Antiochus is employed to give them all this trouble. Note, When the pleasant land and all its pleasant things are laid waste, it must be acknowledged that sin is the procuring cause of all the desolation."
--Matthew Henry

As difficult as it was to hear of the little horn's work, how sorrowful for Daniel to hear that the transgression stems from the people themselves. Have you worked for a cause for yourself or for others only to see things fail because of your own doing or the sins of the group? God's discipline takes various forms. Remember that this discipline, via Antiochus, comes after 70 years of captivity. After all the prophets had spoken.

Not that Antiochus was simply a pawn. He met his own discipline from God when he was struck with a bowel disease (worms; dropping flesh; stench; UGH!) and said, "It is meet [suitable, proper] to submit to God, and for man who is mortal not to set himself in competition with God." (Ussher’s Annals, A.M. 3840, about 160 years before the birth of Christ)

Again, is it any wonder "...Daniel was exhausted and sick for days"? (8:27a) A most difficult vision regarding his people. The presence of an angel--Gabriel, of all the angels!--to deliver the message. Hearing the voice of God (8:16). And then being told to keep things under wraps.

"Then I got up again and carried on the king's business; but I was astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain it." (8:28)

We may be astounded by the works of God. We may be at a loss to explain why things are happening the way they are. We may have received a word from God that forthtells some difficult times in our future. We may be exhausted and sick for days of what life looks like. What do we learn from Daniel? We get up again and carry on the business of the king.

Let's go, gals!....

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Daniel 7: Beast of a Statue

We were warned in approaching last Monday's session that things with the Book of Daniel were going to look a little different. OOHWEE! But, if we break this down, it's really not all that unusual given some things we read earlier, especially Daniel 2. The big difference is that Daniel is receiving both the vision and the interpretation himself, and--in his words--"my thoughts were greatly alarming me and my face grew pale, but I kept the matter to myself." (7:28) No kings to impress this word upon at the time of receipt, but what a burden to carry within oneself.

This chapter is a flashback: It occurs before the feast that Belshazzar hosts in Chapter 5. Why does it end up here? What was Daniel's thought process in setting up his book this way? May have to continue reading the rest of the Book of Daniel before answering that. I did find an interesting tidbit in Matthew Henry's Commentary:

"Belshazzar’s name here is, in the original, spelt differently from what it used to be; before it was Bel-she-azar—Bel is he that treasures up riches. But this is Bel-eshe-zar—Bel is on fire by the enemy."
--Matthew Henry

Bel is the god of the Chaldeans, and if he was at first the holder of the treasury of the Temple, he is, approaching Chapter 5, the one who will soon die for misusing the vessels of God's treasury. The thought that I shared with my group was that we needed to go back and re-read Chapter 5--looking at Daniel, his character and his presentation in light of the fact that he has had this vision of Chapter 7 before he confronts Belshazzar. It would make sense for Daniel to change the spelling of his name in Chapter 7, given that he witnessed happened to Belshazzar (a fulfillment of 2 visions for which he received interpretation, in the sense of the nations involved).

Looking at his vision, Daniel beholds "the four winds of heaven" stirring up "the great sea." (7:2) We discovered that the sea is often used scripturally to refer to people. Note that it was four winds of heaven. Who rules in Heaven? Let us not forget, throughout this entire prophecy, that God knows all! From the sea come four beasts. Most conservative Biblical scholars believe that the beasts correlate with the materials of Nebuchadnezzar's dream statue--the rising of the earthly kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.

Before we go much further: Will you read other thoughts on this in other commentaries? Sure you will. Prophecy was generally received as a message to folks living in a certain period of time, with their language and their points of reference, etc. There is the possibility for more than one fulfillment. The more we look at prophecy as being a future fulfillment, the more likely we will have multiple interpretations. It doesn't mean prophecy isn't important to us, nor should we disregard its message as being for us, on some level--but, we all need to seek God's wisdom and discernment when it comes to what is being said TO US in OUR time.

"Whether those visions look as far forward as the end of time, or whether they were to have a speedy accomplishment, is hard to say, nor are the most judicious interpreters agreed concerning it."
--Matthew Henry

If you compare the statue materials of Chapter 2 with the beasts of Chapter 7, most of those comparisons seem pretty clear if not more so with the description of the beasts. The iron/clay kingdom of Chapter 2 suddenly becomes graphically "dreadful, terrifying and extremely strong" (7:7) in Chapter 7. Daniel didn't seem to know what to make of it at the time he saw it, as he was "contemplating the horns" when another one arose while he was still taking in the vision. It shouldn't surprise us that he asks for divine interpretation.

Although Matthew Henry mentions the Roman empire as being the 4th kingdom, he also says that some scholars suggest it could be Syria.

"And herein that empire was diverse from those which went before, that none of the preceding powers compelled the Jews to renounce their religion, but the kings of Syria did, and used them barbarously."
--Matthew Henry

[Remember what I just said about seeking God's wisdom. We can read commentary like this and think--Syria? Compelling believers to renounce their religion? ISIS? Contemplate, but seek His wisdom through prayer.]

After all the beasts appear, Daniel sees the thrones of heaven being established. The Ancient of Days (7:9)--the Eternal One, God the Father--takes His seat. That "consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29) is a stark contrast to the images of these creatures. It is He who will judge. [Know what Daniel's name means? "God is my judge."]

"And thus God deals with his church’s enemies; sometimes he breaks the teeth of them (Ps. 3:7), when he does not break the neck of them, crushes the persecution, but reprieves the persecutors, that they may have space to repent. And it is fit that God, in doing his own work, should take his own time and way."
--Matthew Henry

Daniel also received a new look at "the stone" from Chapter 2. The prophet sees "one like a Son of Man" (7:13) coming to the Ancient of Days. A vision of Christ! "And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him." AMEN! Is this a promise from prophecy that we can cling to with surety? Absolutely! Plenty of Scripture to support this! "His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him." (7:27)

Can't escape from Daniel's asking, quite pointedly, as to the "exact meaning" (7:19) of the fourth beast. Again, commentators are open to not only one possibility for this ruler who will "wear down the saints of the Highest One." (7:25) The Syrian empire, closer to Daniel's day than ours, brought forth a king named Antiochus Epiphanes, who did horrible things to the Jews; if the Roman empire, Julius Caesar might be the "little horn" rising; it could be the Turkish empire; and, what about the antichrist, whose appearance, per Revelation, is a significant mark of the end of the world as we know it? One? Some? All??

What may concern us is the thought that this ruler will "wear down the saints" (NASB); "oppress his holy people" (NIV); "will be cruel to God's chosen ones" (CEV); "persecute the followers of the High God" (The Message). God goes so far in His message as to say that the saints will be "given into his [the king's] hand for a time, times and half a time." That period (translating to 3-1/2 years) coincides with the latter half of antichrist's rule, until the return of Jesus. It is no wonder Daniel is alarmed and literally paled, not knowing when such a time might be at hand and how his people are involved.

But, Daniel's vision ends with the reminder that this most oppressive ruler's dominion will be taken away and his kingdom destroyed forever (7:26). But, the kingdom coming to the Highest One will be the kingdom that stands forever, a kingdom "given to the people of the saints of the Highest One."

"The design of Satan has been to wear out the saints of the Most High, that they may be no more in remembrance; but the attempt is vain, for while the world stands God will have a church in it."
--Matthew Henry

When the earth "dissolves like snow, the sun forbear to shine," God will bring the Church home to Himself. And prophecies will cease! (I Corinthians 13:8)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Daniel 6 -- Preyed upon the Innocent, but the Innocent Pray

If this chapter has familiar tones from an earlier chapter in Daniel, it's no surprise, really. The Medes and the Persians have taken over Babylon, so it makes sense that some new people were in power at all levels. It also should not surprise us that Daniel stands out from everyone in leadership. He was "distinguishing himself" from the other Darius-appointed leaders "because he possessed an extraordinary spirit." (6:3)

How many times do we need to read this story? As was raised up in my group this week, how many times do we need to respond humbly and consistently? How often do we need to look like Daniel? Or look like Jesus? Sometimes, the repetition is God's way of telling us how important something is.

Daniel is on his way to being the king's right-hand man when the green face of envy makes its appearance in the other appointed leaders. Why is Darius picking Daniel and not me? Why is "one of the exiles from Judah" (6:13) getting such a prime role in the kingdom? The Message paraphrase says Daniel "so completely outclassed" (6:3) his competition. In being that kind of guy, it made it very difficult for the would-be's to accuse him of any wrongdoing, thus demoting or "un-expatriating" him.

The only way they can trap him is to use his religion against him.

"Note, It is an excellent thing, and much for the glory of God, when those who profess religion conduct themselves so inoffensively in their whole conversation that their most watchful spiteful enemies may find no occasion of blaming them, save only in the matters of their God, in which they walk according to their consciences."
--Matthew Henry

[If only we could say that about a few folks in the public eye at present....]

The administrators draft a decree for Darius' approval that would certainly bring Daniel into trouble: Praying to any god (God) other than the king would now send one to the lion's den, according to the law of the Medes and Persians.

We had the question in our group about why the law of the Medes and Persians could not be revoked. Interesting that if you look up "law of the Medes and Persians" on, it says "unalterable law." [So, on your next chance to use that phrase in conversation, go for it!] I found one resource--a paper from the Bible Study Resource Center--that suggested the following:

"This immutability of the king's commands was peculiar to the Medes and Persians: it was due to their regarding him infallible as the representative of Ormuzd [from elsewhere in the paper, "The Persian king was regarded as representative of the chief god, Ormuzd."]; it was not so among the Babylonians."

Thus, a decree coming from the king would also be something not to be changed. We could take off on another tangent here pretty easily: Are the decrees from God immutable? Have we ever changed them? Do we follow them as we're instructed?

Daniel does follow God's decrees to the letter! He prays toward Jerusalem every day, three times a day. My study Bible says that this is how Solomon regularly prayed, and his father, King David, was also in the habit of praying three times a day. Was there a law against praying to God in the Medo-Persian kingdom? No. Was Daniel asked to give this up when Darius put him in office? No. Yet this is the rug upon which the administrators would pull to trip up Daniel--and Daniel knew that!

"When Daniel knew that the writing was signed he might have gone to the king, and expostulated with him about it; nay, he might have remonstrated against it, as grounded upon a misinformation that all the presidents had consented to it, whereas he that was chief of them had never been consulted about it; but he went to his house, and applied himself to his duty, cheerfully trusting God with the event."
--Matthew Henry
As if this isn't enough of a character-building decision, consider the following. The changing of the guard in Babylon was the beginning of the Jews' return to Judah. I know it seems like the Jews have only been in exile in Babylon for a few weeks, but, it has been decades! Remember, Daniel is in his 80s at this point. But he has made the decision not to return home. His understanding of God's plan for his life is so crystal clear. Like Esther, he is here for such a time as this--lion's den and all!

O, Lord! For such understanding, for such trust in You, we humbly pray. There is nothing to keep us from following the example of Daniel, except that we are not in fully with You. Help us to see! Help us to pray!

Darius is left with no choice but to throw Daniel to the lions, a situation that completely wrecks him. He knows he has made a dreadful mistake, and all he wants to do is work out a rescue plan. But the powerful king is powerless to do anything about it. He shows compassion, beyond anything we saw from Nebuchadnezzar--he fasts, accepts no distractions and acknowledges, in hope, that God will rescue Daniel. Short of praying all night--as Daniel and his 3 friends did before Daniel received that first dream interpretation--Darius does what he is able to do.

Darius does show that he has hope in Daniel's God in that he wakes from his restless night very early and races for the den. His voice of lament shows his doubt, but Darius is relieved and empowered, once again, as he hears the voice of Daniel:

"O king, live forever! My God has sent His angel and has shut the mouths of the lions so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also before you, O king, I have committed no crime." (6:21-22)

With humility and a gracious matter-of-factness, Daniel proclaims his innocence. It is God who has shut the mouths of everyone else by preserving Daniel's life through a miracle. No injury is on his body, just as no odor of smoke was left on his three friends after their time in the furnace--"because he believed in and relied on and trusted in his God." (6:23b) Darius issues a new decree--after he punishes the perpetrators with the same punishment they created for Daniel. (Hm....which sounds a lot like what happened to Haman in Esther's day.)

"May peace abound to you! I issue a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to [reverently] fear and tremble before the God of Daniel...." (6:25-26)

Given that this was the law of the Medes and Persians, it was unalterable. But, the kingdom of Darius and Cyrus the Persian was only so large. The Jews were returning to Judah. New kingdoms were still to rise. Nebuchadnezzar's dream statue was not yet completely built. The unalterable law would eventually fall off the law books--but a new peace was coming!

#          #          #

And, for us, a very different bunch of readings, as the Book of Daniel changes from stories of service and miracles to the prophet's own visions and interpretations. Probably back to two posts a week as we wade through some challenging texts. Study Bibles and commentaries ARE NOT CHEATING! Let's explore and learn together. See you Monday!....

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Daniel 5 -- Similar story, but First-hand delivered

Reading Daniel, Chapter 5, was so much like reading earlier chapters of this book. (I'm hearing a soap opera announcer's voice: "The part of Nebuchadnezzar will now be played by Belshazzar.") This story has so many familiar plot points--extremely anxious king; call for the "wise men"; a message which could not be interpreted; a call to Daniel. There are some marked differences, however.

Yes, we are still in Babylon. Belshazzar is the name of the new king, and we are not really sure what his relationship was to Nebuchadnezzar. Some translations say "your father." But, the Aramaic word used in the text (remember, this part of Daniel was originally written in Aramaic, so the Gentiles would get it) can be translated "ancestor." The same goes for the "queen" who may or may not be "mother" in the text starting with verse 10. We do know these events occurred about 20 years after Nebuchadnezzar's rule.

Babylon is still Babylon, but a chink in its armor has been revealed. The Medo-Persian empire has moved into Babylon.

"We must know that about two years before this Cyrus king of Persia, a growing monarch, came against Babylon with a great army; Belshazzar met him, fought him, and was routed by him in a pitched battle. He and his scattered forces retired into the city, where Cyrus besieged them. They were very secure, because the river Euphrates was their bulwark, and they had twenty years; provision in the city; but in the second year of the siege he took it, as is here related."
--Matthew Henry

It's a very odd party scene, then, with Belshazzar drinking in front of a thousand people from the sacred items of the temple of Judah stolen by Nebuchadnezzar. It is possible that he suspected something was up, which is another reason his anxiety almost killed him. But there was more to happen before this inevitable conclusion.

"Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began writing opposite the lampstand on [a well-lit area of] the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the part of the hand that did the writing." (5:5)
[Which, for me, recalls these verses--“You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5: 14-16) The True Light had entered the palace!!]

We don't think of God as being creepy a whole lot, but, YIKES! Depending on how much everyone had had to drink, who knows if they would have even seen this. But Belshazzar definitely saw it, as intended, and his "face was changed." (5:10) In a King Neb move, he calls for his wise men, but, unlike Neb, Belshazzar offers a handsome reward upfront, not a death warrant. But, as we know, no one can figure out the hand, the message or the interpretation. As someone in our group said, the Word from God needed to be given through a person of God!

Daniel. He was a significantly older man (80 or 90 years old) and not an active part of the Babylonian leadership. But, his people were still in exile, and he remained in the city. The "queen" presents Daniel to Belshazzar as if he is an unknown, which is debatable. She has nothing but words of praise for the prophet, although, from her language, she doesn't sound as if she had any personal contact with Daniel, much less with Daniel's God. But, this shows us, again, how God can work through anyone to accomplish His purposes--and, how God can call the seemingly historical to a new state of prominence and leadership.
"Note, There are a great many valuable men, and such as might be made very useful, that lie long buried in obscurity, and some that have done eminent services that live to be overlooked and taken no notice of; but, whatever men are, God is not unrighteous to forget the services done to his kingdom."
--Matthew Henry 

Daniel's demeanor with Belshazzar is brusk, compared with how we last saw his relationship with Nebuchadnezzar. Bribes he will not take. Instead, Daniel launches into a full-blown testimony about the king he served. He recounts Nebuchadnezzar's greatness (since Belshazzar doesn't seem to recall this at all!) and is faithful to reveal that the king had his issue with pride. He describes Neb's consequences--should Belshazzar be paying attention--which are as fresh in Daniel's mind as when his king suffered them. And, as assuredly as Daniel told his king that God was responsible for both his rise and fall, Daniel told Belshazzar that this same God ruled now.

"And you, his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart (mind), even though you knew all this." (5:22)

OH! If that isn't the biggest blow right there, I don't know what is.

"It makes the sin of children the more heinous if they tread in the steps of their parents’ wickedness, though they have seen how dearly it has cost them, and how pernicious the consequences of it have been. Do we know this, do we know all this, and yet are we not humbled?"
--Matthew Henry

Daniel goes on to interpret God's handwriting on the wall, which, despite the foreign text, is clearly understood (vss. 25-28) At that instant, Belshazzar awards Daniel his promised gifts, as if he had won "Let's Make a Deal." Although with Belshazzar, Daniel makes no deal nor does he offer any words of encouragement or reconciliation. God made it clear through His Word that what was to happen was going to happen. There was no time. That should have caused Belshazzar the most anxiety of all.

"During that same night Belshazzar the [last] Chaldean king was slain [by troops of the invading army]. So Darius the Mede received the kingdom; he was about the age of sixty-two." (5:30-31)

Darius the Mede is likely not a name but a title. It could have been Cyrus the Great of Persia or it could have Gubaru, who was the general who led the attack that very night on Belshazzar and his kingdom. So, the "head of gold" became "the breast and arms of silver," if we remember Nebuchadnezzar's dream statue. And how timely for Daniel to be called to interpret a message? To accept a "third ruler" position within the kingdom of Babylon, even from an exiting king? Things that make you go "Hmmmmm...."

Friday, October 7, 2016

Daniel 4: 27-37--New Vision Brings New Vision

"...O king, may my advice be pleasing to you...." (3:27)

Daniel faced the difficult task of not only being the bearer of bad news, as prophets often were, but giving bad news to someone for whom he had a level of compassion--and someone who still wielded enormous amounts of earthly power. Nebuchanezzar had not notably changed in his belief in God or in the way he served. Daniel lets the vision's interpretation stand by itself on that point: "...your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules." (3:26) But, in his words of advice to the king, he says the following:

"...break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity." (3:27)

We talked a bit at our table about the question on our worksheet: "If Nebuchadnezzar had repented of his sins as Daniel advised, do you think God would have withheld his judgment, or was his decision irrevocable at this point?" If Nebuchadnezzar had truly repented of his sins in his heart, God would have truly forgiven him, and it is possible that his future might have had a different look. Note, Daniel says, " case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity." (emphasis mine) But, as was mentioned in our group, there are times when we do repent, ask for and receive forgiveness, but God's discipline for the consequences of our sins is still brought forth. (David has a few stories--and reflective psalms--that deal with this very thing.)

Do we consider that part of our being repentant of our sins is not only "breaking away" from our sins and seeking forgiveness, but "doing righteousness" and "showing mercy"? As my study Bible adds, Daniel was not "presenting a works salvation, but treating the issue of sin exactly as Jesus did with the rich young ruler in Mt. 19: 16-23."

As we know, Nebuchadnezzar does not repent. He's had "12 months" (3:29) to re-consider his path, but he chooses to stay on it. At the height of his earthly majesty and sovereignty, Nebuchadnezzar acquires what some believe was lycanthropy--a disease in which a person thinks he is an animal and lives as such. But, we know that it was the angel's warning now made the king's sentence. 

"Let us pause a little, and view this miserable spectacle; and let us receive instruction from it."
--Matthew Henry

One of the gals in our group defined Nebuchadnezzar's condition as such: "He [God] made him not so much in His image." Pride is definitely not part of God's image. The preaching on pride takes up much of the Book of Proverbs. We discussed in group how it is possible to take pride in something, like our children's achievements and progress, things that we do well, etc. There is a fine line, though, and pride in something can easily turn into proud, period. Through Who's work should that being proud of something be reflected?
The king's vision is completely fulfilled as presented, with "seven periods of time" (3:32) passing before Nebuchadnezzar recognized "'...that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.'"

"But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever...." (3:34)

And we know, as we finish the chapter, that the king meant it all "for reals." He was returned to his physical self. His kingdom was completely restored to him, without question. [Probably another reason Daniel held the position he did, as there would have been a lot of explaining to do to everybody else in the kingdom!] "...And surpassing greatness was added to me." (3:36) More importantly, the king gave praise and thanks to the One True God and documented his witness of that fact, thanks to Daniel. 

When we lift our eyes to heaven, our reason returns. Think about that!

King Nebuchadnezzar would not live long past this admission--maybe another two years. Yes, changes were coming to the kingdom of Babylon, still, because God's work on the larger scale in the world had not yet been completed. But God's working in the life of a prideful, powerful, polytheistic king had reached its most significant milestone nearest its heavenly perfection. 

"Whether he [Nebuchadnezzar] continued in the same good mind that here he seems to have been in we are not told, nor does any thing appear to the contrary but that he did: and, if so great a blasphemer and persecutor did find mercy, he was not the last. And, if our charity may reach so far as to hope he did, we must admire free grace, by which he lost his wits for a while that he might save his soul for ever."
--Matthew Henry

Or, as TobyMac would sing quite a bit later:
"I don't want to gain the whole world and lose my soul."

--Toby McKeehan, Christopher Stevens and Michael Ripoll, composers