Thursday, September 29, 2016

Daniel 3: 19-30--Faith Refined

In the last post, we left Daniel's three friends--Babylonian administrators Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego--having just told King Nebuchadnezzar that they were not going to serve his gods or worship the golden idol he produced before his kingdom's leaders. The king was angered to have to address these three to begin with, but in verse 19, he "was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered...." That wording is so unusual.

"Brutish passions the more they are indulged the more violent they grow, and even change the countenance, to the great reproach of the wisdom and reason of a man.... Would men in a passion but view their faces in a glass, they would blush at their own folly and turn all their displeasure against themselves."
--Matthew Henry

The king does not take Matthew Henry's advice, however. So enraged is Nebuchadnezzar that he orders the furnace of Dura to be "seven times more" hot than it already was. Daniel makes a point of telling us that "valiant warriors" (3:20) were asked to tie up the three just as they were--no last words--and bring them to the opening of the furnace. It is believed that such a furnace would have had an opening on top with the fire section on the bottom. So, these soldiers would have walked the three up to the top. (There is no evidence that there was any struggle.)

The miracle of the three being saved actually begins before their descent into the furnace. The flames of the super-hot furnace killed the soldiers who brought the three to the top, yet the three fell into the furnace "still tied up," reads verse 23. How could that be? Tied up does not mean with metal shackles. Surely, ropes would have burned away in an instant, leaving the three if not dead at the opening then, at least, separated on their way down. But, no!

“Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” (3:24)

The king can hardly believe what he sees, asking those around him for confirmation. Not only is everyone OK in there, but there is a fourth person--"like a son of the gods!" My study Bible explains that this was a Pagan expression for "someone who appeared supernatural." There are some sources suggesting it was the angel Gabriel. It is also possible that this could have been Jesus in a pre-incarnate appearance. Let that thought sink in a minute. That has implications for us.

The king had seen enough and called the young men ("you servants of the Most High God") out of the furnace. The high officials in attendance at the ceremony examine the appearance of the men, noting that in every possible physical respect, it was as if the three had never been near a fire much less thrown into one. They had seen it with their own eyes, yet they could not explain it, except that it be of God (and not one of their gods).

"Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego...." (3:28) The Reformation Study Bible notes that just because Nebuchadnezzar used the phrase "Most High God" didn't mean he was professing God as THE God, "but only that He is supreme over other gods." Note, he doesn't say, "Blessed be the God of Nebuchadnezzar and the kingdom of Babylon...." He clearly knows that he has seen something miraculous, yet he is not ready to take that next step forward in his belief.

Does that sound like people we know? Does it sound like us, perhaps? The profound and mysterious come to be--things that defy explanation, when prayers are answered, etc. Do we take our faith only so far, or do we go the distance and render everything to the work of the One True God?

Nebuchadnezzar would seem to be taking baby steps forward in his belief, banning anyone from speaking against this God. (Although he remains true to form in not showing grace to those who don't and inflicting the limb-from-limb tearing/rubbish heap punishment on those who do.) He follows this with a promotion of the three friends, the last time of which they will be mentioned in Scripture. But, the beauty of Scripture is that it can be shared, and their story is of encouragement to us today.

Remember that quote from Matthew Henry's commentary of Chapter 2 that I thought we might revisit: "Thus, sometimes, before God brings his people into trouble, he prepares it, that it may be easy to them." How were Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to know that their very lives on that day of dedication might have been taken? Face to face with the king, an edict and a furnace--would they have thought to have prepared themselves for that? And yet, the example of Daniel--not only having seen him speak with those in authority, but having trained up alongside him and prayed with him--surely prepared them for that moment. How else can you explain their peace and obedience? 

They were not alone, either. In the moment from which they were unable to turn back--facing their own deaths--they were not alone.

"Those that suffer for Christ have his gracious presence with them in their sufferings, even in the fiery furnace, even in the valley of the shadow of death, and therefore even there they need fear no evil. Hereby Christ showed that what is done against his people he takes as done against himself; whoever throws them into the furnace does, in effect, throw him in."
--Matthew Henry

Does that encourage you as you move through these "present sufferings" (Romans 8:18)--that there is a "glory that will be revealed in us" no matter where Christ meets us: in the now, then or hereafter! "He will deliver us out of your hand, O king." (Daniel 3:17)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Daniel 3: 1-18--Image vs Character

No sooner does Nebuchadnezzar have a dream about a kingdom with "the head of gold" (2:38) than we read he actually has a gold statue created. Note, though, that we aren't given a time frame for when Chapter 3 occurs. It would seem logical for this to fall after his dream. But, the dream may have affirmed a statue he already had made, waiting for the time of dedication. We don't know.

Our group on Monday waded through the pomp and circumstance of the first 7 verses. Why are there so many people and why are we repeating that there are so many people? Why so many instruments (and repeating all of that)? Clearly, it was an important enough reason for Nebuchadnezzar to invite the most important folks in his kingdom to attend--and to not just attend, but to actively participate. 

Why was Daniel not present? There is no definitive answer for this, either. The only clue we have is in his promotion by Nebuchadnezzar to serve "in the king's court." Did this new position somehow exempt him from this service? Did his new duties take him somewhere else? What we can say with certainty is that God's providence kept him safe, while still affording Daniel the opportunity to write about the amazing witness of his friends.

Back to the occasion at hand: This was not only the unveiling of a statue, but the first time the newest idol of Babylon would be worshiped. How does one show a unified front in worshiping an idol? Through a musical cue. Something that folks could hear, even if they weren't on the plain of Dura, perhaps. If not through the enticing music, then perhaps by the command that those not falling down to worship would be thrown into the "furnace of blazing fire" (3:6), which we also read plenty of times in this chapter.

"...That way that sense directs, the most will go; there is nothing so bad which the careless world will not be drawn to by a concert of music, or driven to by a fiery furnace. And by such methods as these, false worship has been set up and maintained."
--Matthew Henry

I love a great Matthew Henry quote, but, as someone who serves on a worship team, it reminds me again how holy worship is, and how it is not an activity to plan or to participate in lightly or without the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Among those called to the dedication were Daniel-appointed (Neb-approved) administrators Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. "...Certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews." (3:8) Did the friends bow down to the statue? No. But why were these Chaldeans so pleased to bring this information to the king? If they were involved with the dream-interpretation crisis of last chapter, they were likely looking for redemption in the king's eyes. They had just been humiliated! Really, anyone in a position of power (which all these folks had), would be envious of the three "10 times better" captives-turned suitors-turned administrators.

[Bible study teacher Beth Moore, in her study of Daniel, highlights the phrasing "brought charges against" or "denounced" in verse 8 as meaning, literally "ate the pieces of." It brings to mind the presidential debate of last evening.]

The Chaldeans repeat the law word for word before the king. Reading through this, again, as I'm writing today, I saw so clearly the image of the Pharisees of Jesus' day, spouting off the letter of the law without the spirit of the law in a way to lord themselves over others. "These men, O king, have disregarded you," (3:12) and all of the goodness you provided.

"'So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.' Then He said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand!' He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him."
--Matthew 12: 12b-14

Since the Chaldeans' attack is not only aimed at the three friends but at Nebuchadnezzar's character (the one who raised up and promoted "these Jews" in the first place), the king flies into a rage, once again. He graciously (?) gives the three one more opportunity to worship the image, adding, "...what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?" (3:15) as a last incentive. (Guess he forgot about saying Daniel's God was a "God of gods and a Lord of kings.")

The three reply with all respect due a king that "...we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter." (3:16) The answer was obvious that they would continue to serve God, no matter what was offered up or said.

That is the point that leaves us wondering on the inside, gals of faith, if we would do likewise. When our faith is tested, what is our answer? Is it obvious, as it was for Daniel and his friends? Would we be able to look at a seven times heated-up furnace as the path to victory??

When I did the Beth Moore study 5-1/2 years ago, one of her illustrations that I strongly remember is this one from Daniel 3, about when the people of God face a fiery trial:

Scenario A: We can be delivered FROM the fire.
Dividend?:  Our faith is built.

Scenario B: We can be delivered THROUGH the fire.
Dividend?:  Our faith is refined.

Scenario C: We can be delivered BY the fire, STRAIGHT INTO HIS ARMS.
Dividend?:  Our faith is perfected.

Next time, faith refined....

Friday, September 23, 2016

Daniel 2: 31-49

One of the questions that came out in Monday's conversations was, essentially, "How are we supposed to know that?!" Nebuchadnezzar's dream was a prophetic word of God delivered through Daniel. We understand that from reading the verses. But, the statue represents Greece, Rome, the millennial kingdom, WHAT?!....

At the time of the interpretation, our footnotes would not have existed, if that makes sense. Yes, there was an understanding at the time that the statue in the king's dream represented several kingdoms--beginning with Nebuchadnezzar's "head of gold" (2:38), which was directly stated by Daniel. But, did anyone know to what kingdoms the rest of the body referred? Not at the time. What's challenging about prophecy is that fulfillment details are not always provided, so you have to live through the times before hindsight fills in the footnotes. Then, it becomes history! But, it does make prophecy open to interpretation/s, and that makes reading passages like this challenging.

Thankfully, we now have tools like study Bibles, with footnotes and column notes, commentaries, the Internet and, yes, history books, to help confirm a direction if not the actual facts. Would everyone like to know more about Revelation? You bet! Are there multiple interpretations out there--because we probably haven't lived through all of those times yet to know what all those references mean [but it depends on your interpretation]? Bottom line: Do NOT lose heart over prophetic writings because you don't fully understand them. God did mean those words for people at the time (as a warning, often, and as a sign of His presence and foreknowledge), and as we live--and look to reliable, Biblically based experts and resources--God will reveal the significance of His message to us in our time.

This will not be the last time we see references to these four earthly kingdoms in Daniel. They will take a different form in Chapter 7. (Hey, now you know what's coming up!) These four kingdoms are important to reflect upon in terms of the history of the Jewish church.

"This image [of the statue] represented the kingdoms of the earth that should successively bear rule among the nations and have influence on the affairs of the Jewish church. The four monarchies were not represented by four distinct statues, but by one image, because they were all of one and the same spirit and genius, and all more or less against the church. It was the same power, only lodged in four different nations, the two former lying eastward of Judea, the two latter westward."
--Matthew Henry

Then, there's the stone "...cut out of a mountain without hands...." (2:45) This represents Christ in His second coming--the Millennial kingdom. My commentaries and study Bible lead me back to look at Psalm 118: 22-23, from which Jesus Himself quotes in Matthew 21:

"The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief corner stone;
This came about from the Lord,
And it is marvelous in our eyes."

What else could possibly topple down the strongest of earthly kingdoms? Only that which God would build. The Messiah, "the stone" may have been "rejected," but he would become "the chief corner stone" at the hand of God. Could Nebuchadnezzar have imagined such a kingdom? We do not know, here, what exactly Nebuchadnezzar thought about the interpretation of his dream. But we do know how he responded to Daniel:
"The king answered Daniel and said, 'Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.'" (2:47)

Not only does he respond with his words, but the king treats Daniel like, well, a king!
"It was the custom of the country by prostration to give honour to kings, because they have something of a divine power in them (I have said, You are gods); and therefore this king, who had often received such veneration from others, now paid the like to Daniel, whom he supposed to have in him a divine knowledge, which he was so struck with an admiration of that he could not contain himself, but forgot both that Daniel was a man and that himself was a king."
--Matthew Henry

Be reminded that even though Nebuchadnezzar seems to do the unusual, Who is the One who puts the kings in their places at certain points in time? God is working through Nebuchadnezzar. Surely, once the dream was interpreted, the king could have easily had another fit. ("What?! My kingdom will be knocked off by a stone?!") Instead, he bestows honors and gives reverence to Daniel. God is also continuing to work through Daniel to carry out His much greater work of providential care. As the Book of Daniel goes forward, it will be easy to lose track of the fact that all of Judah is in Babylon with Daniel and his friends. That God does what He does with both the king and Daniel is all part of a much bigger plan, with ripples we haven't even seen yet.

"Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. And Daniel made request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego over the administration of the province of Babylon, while Daniel was at the king’s court." (2:48, 49)

A couple of things to note about the ending to this chapter. Daniel "made request" of the king. In a time when he could have lorded over the kingdom and his countrymen his new status and gifts, he continues to honor the king and to serve in his court. Respecting his office, Daniel seeks and receives permission from the king to bring his friends into positions of administration.

[Digression: Maybe you saw a footnote in your Bible about Daniel's use of his friends' new Babylonian names instead of using their Jewish names. Chapter 2 is partially written in Hebrew and partially written in Aramaic. Part of God's plan for His word to reach the Jews (in Hebrew) and the Gentiles (in Aramaic). The Gentiles would know the three by their Babylonian names. Would you say that's true for you?]

"Those that helped him with their prayers shall share with him in his honours, such a grateful sense had he even of that service. The preferring of them would be a great stay and help to Daniel in his place and business. And these pious Jews, being thus preferred in Babylon, had great opportunity of serving their brethren in captivity, and of doing them many good offices, which no doubt they were ready to do. Thus, sometimes, before God brings his people into trouble, he prepares it, that it may be easy to them."
--Matthew Henry

Did you catch that last sentence? We might just revisit that idea as we embrace Daniel 3 on Monday.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Daniel 2: 1-30--"I Had a Dream"

Thankfully, it's not every day we have a dream that wakes us up with our spirit "troubled." (2:1) But, when we do, as we talked about on Monday, it is disturbing, uncomfortable, sleep-robbing and, sometimes, even day-devastating--unless we do what we need to regain perspective.

For King Nebuchadnezzar, ruling over a kingdom full of "wise men," sorcerers, magicians and the like, waking up with that kind of anxiety meant calling in the answer guys. "I had a dream and my spirit is anxious to understand the dream," he said. (2:3) At this time in Babylon's history, with Babylon's culture, it was not unusual for the gods of their day to give messages through dreams. What the king didn't understand was that this was no ordinary dream, and the God who planted this in his mind gave him a vision for things that still have not all completely come to pass. Imagine! ("immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine...," right? Eph. 3:20)

How interesting, reading Matthew Henry's commentary on this chapter, that he suggests Nebuchadnezzar was so distraught over the dream that he actually forgot what it was when he woke up! That's why the king asks for both content and interpretation. (In our group, we pondered that he hadn't taken his medication that day and flew off the handle!) He was clearly beyond reach as he not only asked for answers but issued a decree to kill those who could not deliver on that command, meaning all the wise men.

Daniel was not called to join the other wise men in the king's room--despite the king's pleasure with him and his friends as mentioned in Chapter 1--and first wind of the air of anxiety is hearing the announcement of his pending death! We witness his response beginning in verse 14. Continuing with his attitude of wisdom, grace and resolve, Daniel speaks to the captain of the king's bodyguard (or, executioners, it says in my column notes). Note, he speaks "with discretion and discernment," and then "requested of the king" that he might have time to interpret the dream. Daniel continues to be truly wise in his dealings with the authorities in his life, and knows that the One true authority is with whom he needs to consult.

But, also, his friends! This should come as a relief to us, but I wonder if it does? We are reminded that we do not have to walk through difficult situations by ourselves. It's not that we need to ask our friends for anything tangible; sometimes we do, but not always. But, do we ask our friends for the important things, like prayer? Daniel and his friends "request compassion" from God. We see other translations using "plead," "ask," or "seek mercy" from God. Humility in unity.

"Praying friends are valuable friends; it is good to have an intimacy with and an interest in those that have fellowship with God and an interest at the throne of grace; and it well becomes the greatest and best of men to desire the assistance of the prayers of others for them."
                                                                                        --Matthew Henry

Daniel receives "a night vision" (2:19) with the dream and its interpretation. Though his three friends do not receive the same vision, their prayers have most certainly been answered through Daniel's vision. Again, how wonderful our gift of friendship with those in Christ can be when we are able to trust and share our deep concerns with them. (It puts into perspective that time when Jesus asked His three friends to pray for Him in the Garden of Gethsemane that night--Hmm....)

In response, as we should be expecting from him at this point, Daniel praises God for this revelation through a song or psalm, acknowledging fully that this is the work of God alone and of no one else. “It is He who changes the times and the epochs;
He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding." (2:21) There are so many verses in this psalm to love, but for the times we are facing right now, I love the truth that Daniel shares here.
God is in charge of who is in charge, and if we pray to Him (ask, seek, plead, with humility in unity) will He not also grant us understanding?

"...There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries...." (2:28)

"I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can make the interpretation known to the king!" announces Arioch, the captain, in bringing Daniel forward to Nebuchadnezzar. (Nevermind that he was just sent to execute Daniel not that long ago!) With God's wisdom and revelation upon him, Daniel not only tells the king his dream and the interpretation, but he witnesses to the glory of God at the same time.

  • "He who reveals  mysteries has made known to you what will take place." (2:29)
  • "...This mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man...." (2:30)

Next post, more on the interpretation....