God’s House and the McMansion (Haggai 1)

Church BlueprintWhat good is a Temple?  What is the value of church?

In today’s world, these questions are answered largely on the basis of individual preference.  Spiritual community is only as valuable as its personal benefit.  Yet this is really nothing new.  The prophets faced similar challenges, even after the years of exile had ended.

END OF EXILE

In Haggai’s day, the exile was effectively over.  Now was the time to rebuild the Temple.  The story of reconstruction is told in the book of Ezra, but Haggai gives us a glimpse into the “story behind the story”—sort of like those old “pop-up videos” on VH1.

Haggai 1:1-15  In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest:  2 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.”  3 Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet,  4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?  5 Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.  6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.

7 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.  8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD.  9 You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.  10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce.  11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”  (Haggai 1:1-11)

On October 12, 539 B.C., Babylon fell to the armies of Medo-Persian, ruled by King Cyrus.  There’s some irony here: Cyrus, for political reasons, was willing to allow any god into the pantheon as a means of consolidating power.  Not only did he send them home, he issued a government bailout to help with the rebuilding of the temple.  The job was started by a man named Shesbazzar (Ezra 5:14), but he was quickly succeeded by Zerubbabel—the grandson of one of Israel’s former kings (1 Chronicles 3:17-19).

In 537 B.C., the project was underway.  The first thing they rebuilt was the altar—directly over the ruins of the first (Ezra 3:3-4).  Reconstruction of the Temple began on April 29, 536 B.C, 430 years to the day that Solomon had built the first temple long ago.  When the foundations were laid, the people even sang the same “hymns” they had at the first temple.

But construction quickly stalled out.  Israel faced two specific problems:

  • The elders remembered the “good old days.”  This second temple could never match the traditions of the past.  Ezra records that their weeping was so loud the builders couldn’t focus on their work (Ezra 3:12-13).  Ed Stetzer, a prominent analyst of the church, says that we face problems when people “value past traditions over present mission.”  A focus on preferences would be a barrier to the community’s future.
  • The Samaritans had basically become a cult that acknowledged God but also blended Israel’s traditions with the gods of neighboring nations (the very sin that God had punished with the exile to begin with).  The Samaritans wanted to join in the rebuilding.  The Jews refused.  The Samaritans started harassing God’s people, resulting in a 16 year hiatus in the building project.

During this 16-year period, the people had begun to use the government bailout not for the Temple, but for their personal gain.  “Paneled houses,” Haggai laments.  The people had exchanged the glory of God’s temple for the comfort of the McMansion.

CONSUMERS AND DISCIPLES

Are today’s values really that different?  It’s hard to argue that we’re anything other than a tragic generation of consumers, whose religious devotion runs as deep as the latest craze.  In 2010, Andrew Cherlin wrote a book called Marriage-go-round, in which he examined the state of marriage in today’s United States.  He observed two broad trends:

(1)    Marriage is still highly valued in western cultures, resulting in pressure to tie the knot.

(2)    Marriage is looked upon as a means of personal fulfillment, resulting in record numbers of divorces.

If Cherlin is correct—and he certainly is persuasive—then the same could be said for the bride of Christ, the church.  We want a religious experience that best fulfills our needs, that offers the immediate thrill of happiness.

To put it a bit more harshly, we don’t want the bride of Christ; we want the one-night-stand.

You see, whenever this topic comes up, people are eager to share two things:

(1)    Commitment to a local church is a large priority.

(2)    There may be times to change churches.

Do you see the resemblance between these points and Cherlin’s points about marriage?  I keep hearing the question: When is it time to find another church?  You know that’s a first-world problem, right?  I can remember when our friends Tsiry and Barbara were here, visiting from France, they remarked that in their culture, if you went to church, you went to the church—in a secular country, they didn’t have the spiritual buffet of churches to choose from like we do.

The tragedy is that today’s religious marketplace caters to the same kinds of consumerist preferences that Haggai railed against.  In their book The Churching of America, sociologists Rodney Stark and Roger Finke observe the way this mentality has shaped the religious landscape.  “Where religious affiliation is a matter of choice, religious organizations must compete for members…Religious economies are like commercial economies in that they consist of a market made up of a set of current and potential customers and a set of firms seeking to serve that market.”

Cater to preferences, and you cultivate a generation of consumers.  Devote oneself to the gospel, and you cultivate a generation of disciples.

COMMITMENT

Change came later in the form of King Darius.  Darius had ascended the throne in 522 B.C.  By 520 B.C. he was ready to devote attention to the farther portions of his empire, including Judah and the antagonism between the Jews and Samaritans.  The Jews appealed to Cyrus’ earlier decree.  Darius searched the archives, finding a copy in the former capital of Ecbatana.  Darius therefore allowed the work to continue, as well as provided funding.  His decree also silenced the Samaritan opposition as well as threatened them should they continue to oppose the rebuilding.

12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD.  13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD’s message, “I am with you, declares the LORD.”  14 And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God,  15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.

I’m not saying there are never good reasons to leave your church.  In fact, I would say the opposite.  There will always be good reasons to walk away.  But there is one true reason to stay committed.  In tomorrow’s post, we’ll examine this reason more deeply, as we consider the Temple’s true value in a world like our own.

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Victory at the End – Daniel 11:36—12:13

These past three days have been the most difficult passages upon which to write devotional thoughts of all that we have done in all our sermon series with associated writings. These Scriptures are very complex and would take chapters to explain the varied nuances of the verses, the historical backgrounds, the relevant passages from other prophetic books, and the variant views held by different biblical scholars. We don’t have time and space for that, but I hate to just come off with a flippant “trust me on this one” approach either. But thanks for hanging in there!

Reflecting both on yesterday’s writing about prophetic revelations that have now been fulfilled in the past, to beginning today with verses that speak of events yet to be fulfilled, let me illustrate it this way …

When I am at Antietam Battlefield and am lecturing to guests about that bloodiest of Civil War battles, as a part of the orientation and introduction I will point to the southern horizon where a line of mountains are visible. It all looks like one set of mountains in the same range. However, in one eyeshot, you are able to distinguish Maryland Heights in Maryland, Loudon Heights in Virginia, and the hills that descend into the valley where is the town of Harpers Ferry, WV. There, the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers join. We who study such things know that because we have been there, and then when backing away from it some dozen miles to the north in Sharpsburg, we are able to know what we are looking at. But for the first-time visitor, it all looks like the same ridgeline.

That is how the future looked to Daniel … all these events simply ran together. But the revelations from the angel about his vision brought some clarity to it. Having lived through the post-Greek Empire era of world history, we clearly see how those prophesies were fulfilled (11:5-36). But other prophecies in Daniel’s vision are yet future, and we are not as able to so clearly identify every last detail.

These final verses of chapter 11 are speaking of the coming Antichrist. Though some believe it is a continuation of material about Antiochus Epiphanes, it cannot be, for he did not have historical events that correspond to this communication.

The King Who Exalts Himself

36 “The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place. 37 He will show no regard for the gods of his ancestors or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all. 38 Instead of them, he will honor a god of fortresses; a god unknown to his ancestors he will honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. 39 He will attack the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god and will greatly honor those who acknowledge him. He will make them rulers over many people and will distribute the land at a price.

40 “At the time of the end the king of the South will engage him in battle, and the king of the North will storm out against him with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships. He will invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood. 41 He will also invade the Beautiful Land. Many countries will fall, but Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon will be delivered from his hand. 42 He will extend his power over many countries; Egypt will not escape. 43 He will gain control of the treasures of gold and silver and all the riches of Egypt, with the Libyans and Cushites in submission.44 But reports from the east and the north will alarm him, and he will set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many. 45 He will pitch his royal tents between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.

Again, what I am telling you here is a compilation of best beliefs based upon putting these verses you just read together with other portions of Daniel, Ezekiel, and the book of Revelation. The Antichrist makes a peace treaty with Israel, and that marks the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation period. The first 3.5 years are peaceful, but it all falls apart into end-time battles in the second half (called time, times, and half a time). A coalition of kings from the north and south threaten Israel, and the European-based Antichrist moves to protect the nation. When those kings are miraculously defeated, he takes credit and sets himself up to be worshipped by all. In the end he will be attacked again by an army of 200 million from the east (China?) and others from the north … upon which Christ returns and defeats the combined forces of these remaining world powers. Then begins the period of time known as the Millennium – a 1,000-year rule and reign of Christ upon the earth as the Messiah, fulfilling God’s covenant promises to Israel. And that is what chapter 12 describes briefly, given Daniel a sense of peace …

The End Times

12:1  “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.”

Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?”

The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, “It will be for a time, times and half a time.  When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.”  

I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?”

He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.

11 “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. 12 Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.

13 “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”

Exactly how these varied numbers work out and how all these revelations precisely go together is not completely certain, but we are able to get the broad outline. And from that we know for sure that God and truth prevails in the end. There have often been difficult times in the history of the world, and the worst of times is yet to come.

Here in this season of March Madness with the NCAA basketball tournament, I’ll close with a basketball illustration. Every good basketball game has times where each side goes on a “run” where they score a number of unanswered points. Usually there is a timeout called, and often the other team figures out what is going wrong and makes changes, whereupon they may reverse their fortunes by going on a “run” of their own.

That is how human history has been. Certain times are great times of prosperity, as in the industrial age or the post WW2 expansion of American power. But there have been terrible times like the Civil War era or the Great Depression.

When I played basketball, I sure would have enjoyed the games a lot more if I knew in the opening minutes of the second half when the other team was running us off the floor, that it was only a temporary setback, that in the end, we were certain to ultimately prevail, no matter what! I could have relaxed a bit, enjoyed the sport more, winked at the cheerleaders, and even looked around to see who was sitting in the stands!

But, in Christ, we have the great blessing of knowing that in the end our team wins. We not only may have times of difficulty, in fact, we will have them. But … not to worry. Christ is our Captain and he will bring us through to victory with Him in the end.

Sorting the History of the Past and the Future – Daniel 11:1-35

Evaluate the following paragraph as to when it was written and who might have penned it…

“A powerful, arrogant, and convincing little man will arise out of northern Europe. He will enthrall many with his oratory and pull together a downtrodden nation. They will grow strong and make war against all nations around them, conquering lands and crushing all who stand in their path. The evil man will rail against the historical Chosen People, and six million of them will be annihilated. Another evil dictator to the south will join with him, and a similar ethnic power of evil from the distant east will arise. All the world will be drawn into war. After four years, an alliance of nations from the western world and around the globe will push back and defeat the evil man of Europe. And the power of the people of the east will be broken by two explosions such as mankind has never before witnessed in human warfare.”

Though it is written as something that is predictive of the future, you would conclude that the details given about the history of World War II could only have been written by someone after 1945 who knew accomplished history.

That is an illustration of Daniel 11:1-35. Conservative scholars believe it was written by Daniel in the year 536 BC, as he records the interpretation of his vision about the future. But liberal scholars, who are unwilling to admit the divine inspirational element of Scripture and biblical prophecy, conclude that the detail is such that it must surely have been actually written several centuries later – after the events were known to all.

Again, like the entire book of Daniel, this is complicated stuff; and time and space do not permit an analysis of every verse. Beyond that, our goal is to write of the practical application that arises from these ancient texts.

11:1  And in the first year of Darius the Mede, I took my stand to support and protect him.

This first verse actually goes with the material of chapter 10 and completes the thought presented there.

The Kings of the South and the North

“Now then, I tell you the truth: Three more kings will arise in Persia, and then a fourth, who will be far richer than all the others. When he has gained power by his wealth, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece. 

This second verse of the chapter details the next four kings to follow the time in which Daniel was living in the Medo-Persian Empire. These kings – identifiable in world history – would consummate in a fourth ruler (Xerxes – ruling from 485-465 BC – King Ahasuerus in the book of Esther) who fought wars against the rising power and kingdom of Greece.

Eventually Greece would become the next world empire under the conquering power of Alexander the Great. He would have an empire unlike any other up to that time, though he would die at the age of 32. His empire was divided about his four generals as predicted previously in Daniel’s visions.

Then a mighty king will arise, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases. After he has arisen, his empire will be broken up and parceled out toward the four winds of heaven. It will not go to his descendants, nor will it have the power he exercised, because his empire will be uprooted and given to others.

These four generals (and their areas of rule) were Lysimacus (Asia Minor), Cassander (Macedonia and Greece), Ptolemy (Egypt), and Seleucus (Syria and Mesopotamia).

Daniel’s interest is in the area of Palestine and the Holy Land, which you can see is wedged between the areas of these last two generals and their dynasties. Verses 5 to 20 tell the story of the back and forth battles between them. Israel is sort of like our area of Maryland and West Virginia during the Civil War – a crossroads over which the two sides contended for the next 150 years after Alexander died.

The details of these verses are amazing when compared to known history. There is not time for us to go into it …

“The king of the South will become strong, but one of his commanders will become even stronger than he and will rule his own kingdom with great power. After some years, they will become allies. The daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to make an alliance, but she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last. In those days she will be betrayed, together with her royal escort and her father and the one who supported her.

“One from her family line will arise to take her place. He will attack the forces of the king of the North and enter his fortress; he will fight against them and be victorious. He will also seize their gods, their metal images and their valuable articles of silver and gold and carry them off to Egypt. For some years he will leave the king of the North alone. Then the king of the North will invade the realm of the king of the South but will retreat to his own country. 10 His sons will prepare for war and assemble a great army, which will sweep on like an irresistible flood and carry the battle as far as his fortress.

11 “Then the king of the South will march out in a rage and fight against the king of the North, who will raise a large army, but it will be defeated. 12 When the army is carried off, the king of the South will be filled with pride and will slaughter many thousands, yet he will not remain triumphant. 13 For the king of the North will muster another army, larger than the first; and after several years, he will advance with a huge army fully equipped.

14 “In those times many will rise against the king of the South. Those who are violent among your own people will rebel in fulfillment of the vision, but without success. 15 Then the king of the North will come and build up siege ramps and will capture a fortified city. The forces of the South will be powerless to resist; even their best troops will not have the strength to stand. 16 The invader will do as he pleases; no one will be able to stand against him. He will establish himself in the Beautiful Land and will have the power to destroy it. 17 He will determine to come with the might of his entire kingdom and will make an alliance with the king of the South. And he will give him a daughter in marriage in order to overthrow the kingdom, but his plans[c] will not succeed or help him. 18 Then he will turn his attention to the coastlands and will take many of them, but a commander will put an end to his insolence and will turn his insolence back on him. 19 After this, he will turn back toward the fortresses of his own country but will stumble and fall, to be seen no more.

20 “His successor will send out a tax collector to maintain the royal splendor. In a few years, however, he will be destroyed, yet not in anger or in battle.

After this 150-year period of battles between the Ptolemies and the Selucids, one of the latter would arise to great power – named Antiochus Epiphanes. He is given much emphasis, not only because of his effects upon Israel at that time, but also because he foreshadows the Antichrist at the end of time – the little horn of chapter 7. The “abomination of desolation” spoken of occurred in 167 BC, when Antiochus built an altar to Zeus on the altar of offering outside the Temple in Jerusalem, and then had a pig offered upon it. His evil deeds, as well as his personal destruction, foreshadow the same thing and destiny for destruction of the Antichrist to come…

21 “He will be succeeded by a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty. He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue. 22 Then an overwhelming army will be swept away before him; both it and a prince of the covenant will be destroyed. 23 After coming to an agreement with him, he will act deceitfully, and with only a few people he will rise to power. 24 When the richest provinces feel secure, he will invade them and will achieve what neither his fathers nor his forefathers did. He will distribute plunder, loot and wealth among his followers. He will plot the overthrow of fortresses—but only for a time.

25 “With a large army he will stir up his strength and courage against the king of the South. The king of the South will wage war with a large and very powerful army, but he will not be able to stand because of the plots devised against him. 26 Those who eat from the king’s provisions will try to destroy him; his army will be swept away, and many will fall in battle. 27 The two kings, with their hearts bent on evil, will sit at the same table and lie to each other, but to no avail, because an end will still come at the appointed time. 28 The king of the North will return to his own country with great wealth, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant. He will take action against it and then return to his own country.

29 “At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different from what it was before. 30 Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart. Then he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. He will return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant.

31 “His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. 32 With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him.

33 “Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. 34 When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. 35 Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.

Though there are more verses in this chapter 11, I am going to cut it off here and add the remaining verses with chapter 12 tomorrow. Up to this point, everything written about is history from our perspective. But from 11:36 and forward, it is all prophetic and in the future, even for us.

Point to take away – Is it not good to be able to know the God of the past and the God of the future, and to know Him today?!?  This chapter illustrates the sovereign hand of God over all the times and affairs of mankind. We see His work in the past and we have His promises for the future. Past, future … it is all the present to Him, as He is beyond and outside of time. Passages like this today make us stand in awe of our majestic God. Yet at the same time, this God over the universe and every detail of creation and history knows us and loves us individually. He has called us to Himself and made us His own possession. Such thoughts and truths give new perspectives to every situation and circumstance of our lives. We can have confidence, even in uncharted days and places. Wow!

Tough Times Don’t Last … Or Do They? – Daniel 10

One of those sayings that get tossed about as a truism of life is that “tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” Well, some times are undoubtedly worse than others, but there are really no times that are not tough – not in this world. “In this world you will have tribulation,” Christ said. And be as tough as you want, but, the writer to the Hebrews gives the ultimate truth – that it is appointed to man once to die.

The prophet Daniel was born in difficult times. In his youth, Judah and Jerusalem had been taken captive by the Babylonians. He had been carried off to a far away land, where, in spite of living in a perverse culture, God had blessed Daniel in many ways. And now, as an elderly man about 70 years later, he desires to know what will become of his people.

This chapter, along with the next two that we will also look at this week, is the account of one vision of Daniel and its meaning. The time is the third year of Cyrus = 536 BC, and the 70-year captivity was now over. Exiles from Israel had gone recently to begin to rebuild the temple. Surely there would be good times now.

But Daniel has a terribly upsetting vision of war, and for three weeks he is stricken due to an inability to understand the meaning. Finally, an angel appears – certainly the angel Gabriel, who had come to him before (8:16).

Every so often in Scripture, the curtain is opened just a bit and the spiritual world behind it is visible. Gabriel says that he was delayed in coming due to conflict with what he calls the prince of Persia. This is referencing a demonic angel in Satan’s structure who sought to prevent this revelation from getting to Daniel, and the angel Michael came to his assistance.

Angels are messengers – that is what the word means. They are organized in various ranks in God’s service. Evil angels, known also as demons, are likewise organized by Satan as his workers in the kingdom of darkness. It is a continuously ongoing war in the spiritual realm between these forces. Paul wrote of this reality in Ephesians 6:12 … “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Israel was still going to experience difficult times, and we’ll talk about that tomorrow especially. But in the end, Messiah’s kingdom reigns, and we too anticipate such a day. But until then, there will be tough times, and the only tough people are those who both know the Lord and understand the big picture of God’s work as revealed in Scripture. And that is why we study the Scriptures and write these devotionals – that we may know the Lord and know his workings throughout all of time, culminating in eternity.

10:1  In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision.

At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.

On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.

10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

15 While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless.16 Then one who looked like a mantouched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I feel very weak. 17 How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.”

18 Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. 19 “Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.”

When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength.”

20 So he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; 21 but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince.

World History in One Dream – Daniel 7

Skipping over the familiar story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den in chapter six, we move into chapter seven. The shift is like going off the shallow waters of the continental shelf and into a deep ocean trench! But it is as interesting as it is deep.

This is complicated, but let me try to sort it out quickly. Believe me when I tell you that there is a tremendously huge amount of supporting material for what I’m going to say in comparing this chapter with Daniel 2, Ezekiel 38 and 39, much of the book of Revelation, and a number of other passages as well. To put all of that in here would be to write a book – of which many have been written on this subject.

The first six chapters of Daniel are about experiences of his life in the Babylonian and Persian empires. The last six chapters will be the record of various dreams and visions, including this dream of chapter seven that troubled Daniel – as it would anyone who had such a nightmare of beastly animals … but, putting it ALL together, here we go …

This dream came to Daniel about three-fourths of the way through his years of service – in about 555 BC. It is a vision of what would happen after Daniel’s life – depicting “the time of the Gentiles” – from the conquest of Judah until the coming of Messiah’s Kingdom, which we know as the Millennium or 1,000-year rule of Christ upon the earth after his second coming.

Four great beasts come up out of the sea – these beasts representing world empires.

Beast 1 – Lion with eagles wings – represented the Babylonian Empire through which Daniel was living, and particularly the great King Nebuchadnezzar.

Beast 2 – Bear, with one side higher than the other – represented the Medo-Persian Empire, where the Persians were stronger than the Medians – and they conquered three kingdoms – the Lydians, Chaldeans, and Egyptians.

Beast 3 – Leopard with four heads and four wings – represented the Greek Empire and the swift conquering of the world by Alexander the Great, whose empire fell apart and went to his four leading generals. We’ll talk more about this before this week is over.

Beast 4 – A horrifically powerful mongrel beast with 10 horns – represented the Roman Empire. And here is where it gets really hairy!

Let me ask you this – who conquered the Romans? The answer – nobody really… they more or less fell apart. So, putting it all together (all those other passages I mentioned above), in the last times, the Roman Empire will be revived in the European/Mediterranean world. The one horn that rises up boastfully is the Antichrist, the Beast, who unites a coalition of nations around him. He guarantees safety to Israel in a treaty of protection – thus marking the beginning of a seven-year period known as The Tribulation. Halfway through this time, Israel is attacked by kings from the north and south. The antichrist (called also the king of the west) moves to protect Israel, while the attackers are miraculously destroyed by God. Taking credit for this, he breaks his treaty and what follows is a terrible time of 3.5 years of great tribulation.

At the end of this, Jesus returns and wages a war of judgment upon the Beast and all the other peoples of the earth who rebel together against God. This ends the campaign of battle over this final half of the seven years – a campaign (not just a single battle) called Armageddon. Thus follows the 1,000-year kingdom rule of Christ upon the earth, in fulfillment of Scriptures throughout the whole Bible.

Ya got all that? Let me make one big statement of application, and a couple of extra thoughts at no extra charge.

The main idea is this: God is in control of the big picture and is the sovereign over the nations and over all of time. This gives us peace in the midst of living through uncharted times … because … well, honestly, though we don’t know all the details, God has the master charts already drawn up. Daniel, Ezekiel, and later John on Patmos – they got to see some of it and write it down for us to have. Why would God include this in the Holy Scriptures? To give us peace – the knowledge of where it is all headed, and that by being connected to him, we are ultimately in safe keeping.

Extra free stuff …

#1 – As a child growing up in a Bible prophecy-enriched home and church during the era of the Cold War, it was always preached that the country of Germany had to be unified as one land – not divided into East and West Germany. This seemed ludicrous to imagine such in the days of the Iron Curtain. My grandparents talked about this and looked to see this happen, though they died in the 1960s. I lived to see it with the fall of the Soviet Bloc. However …

#2 – A confusing part of the collapse of Russia as a front-burner world power is that this does not comport well with Ezekiel… especially with the loss of Ukraine. For the events of which I’ve briefly spoken about just above to transpire, at a minimum, Russia needs to be a formidable power, and Ukraine as an ally would seem to also best fit the narrative. So what is happening on the world scene right now?  Hmm?

Daniel’s Dream of Four Beasts

7:1  In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.

“The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it.

“And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’

“After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule.

“After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.

“While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

“As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.

11 “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

The Interpretation of the Dream

15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.

“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, forever and ever.’

19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. 20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.

23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.

26 “‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

28 “This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”

The Original Writing on the Wall – Daniel 5

I wonder what percentage of people in our secularized society actually know that the commonly-used idiom of “the writing is on the wall” actually finds its origin in a biblical story? Indeed, for the vast multitudes of people who do not know Christ, the “writing is on the wall” about their imminently dangerous condition.

Let’s go through the story and comment in application at the end.

The accounts we looked at last week in chapters one and three of Daniel were related to the great Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Remember that it was in about 606-605 BC that he first conquered Judah, returning to put down additional rebellions in 597 BC and 586 BC. Daniel and his friends were likely deported near the beginning of these conquests. So the stories of the first four chapters were while Daniel was a younger man. But here in chapter five it is now in September of 539 BC, where it might be estimated that Daniel is about 81-years-old.

5:1  King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them.While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

It sounds like a happy time, doesn’t it? A great state banquet in the East Room of the Palace! Actually, it is a drunken affair at 11:59:59 on the calendar of the Babylonian Empire. The Medo-Persians under Darius the Mede had defeated the Babylonian armies in the field and were set up outside the city walls. Though Babylon was thought to be an impregnable city, the situation is rather grim for the home team. King Belshazzar and his administration are essentially drinking their problems away.

During this drunken feast, the king orders to have the sacred vessels from the temple in Jerusalem brought in. These would have been brought to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar almost 70 years earlier and stashed away in the treasury. (When it says that Nebuchadnezzar was his father, the word would be better translated as ancestor or predecessor … he was likely a grandson through his mother … it’s a long, messy story!) And the goblets are used to mock the God of Israel and drink rather to the idols and gods of this pagan empire (the king’s father was a huge moon worshiper).

Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.

Again, I love the old King James description for that last phrase – that “the king’s knees smote one against the other” – drinking will help do that to you. But in any event, it would be pretty creepy to see an unattached hand writing a message on the wall. It surely put quite a damper on the party! The music stopped; goblets hit the floor. People got sober in a big hurry.

The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

Now that’s generous! Third in the kingdom! What a reward at this time! This would be like being a back-up football player who sat on the bench for the whole game, and then while losing 49-0 with five seconds remaining in the game being told you are now the new starting quarterback!

Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.

We have heard this story before in the book of Daniel where the wise guys weren’t so wise! And so the queen – actually the queen mother, who would be the daughter of Nebuchnezzar – comes to the banquet with the memory of a person who had the skills to decipher such a mystery.

10 The queen,hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. “May the king live forever!” she said. “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale! 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father <predecessor>, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. 12 He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.”

13 So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? 14 I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. 15 The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. 16 Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

The last thing Daniel needed was a gold chain and purple robe – he had God’s work to do, and it was not going to be easy to deliver the bad news of the interpretation.

17 Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.

18 “Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. 19 Because of the high position he gave him, all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. 20 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes.

There was a time in Nebuchadnezzar’s life where he went out of his mind – literally so… it’s a common thing that happens over there (that was a lame Saddam Hussein / Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joke if you missed it). You can read the story in chapter four, where Nebuchadnezzar, in the end, acknowledges Jehovah the most powerful God. This, however, was not a humble attitude that would be coming from Belshazzar.  From Daniel … “So, King B., do you want to hear the good news first or the bad news?… but wait … oh, sorry, there is no good news.”

22 “But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. 23 Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. 24 Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.

25 “This is the inscription that was written:

mene, mene, tekel, parsin

26 “Here is what these words mean:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.

27 Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.

28 Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

29 Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.

30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians,was slain, 31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.

Remember the part about the city being impregnable? Well, an engineer for the Medes and Persians that night figured out a way of diverting much of the flow of the Euphrates River, lowering the water level, and allowing their army to enter the city, bust up the party, kill the king, and establish a new empire. And Daniel would serve in government briefly for a few years in this new Medo-Persian Empire. This would be even more amazing than, say, Rand Paul being elected President of the USA and retaining Eric Holder as Attorney General.

So what do we take away from this story? Of course there is the macro truth that God is sovereign over all the nations and their times of authority. We see also the righteous judgment of God. Remember our recent studies from the prophet Habakkuk? He had the word from God that this would indeed happen, and that is what today’s chapter is about – a picture of the last hours of the Babylonians.

God’s truth always prevails in the end. Our role – the role of people of all times – is to be aligned with that truth and living in alignment with God’s grace through trust and obedience. Because, for all those who choose otherwise, well, the writing is on the wall and judgment is certain, no matter how much they deny it and party away. As the Apostle Paul told some smart guys on the hill of the Areopagus in Athens, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

To Stand or to Bow? – Daniel 3

Eric, Chris and I went to the theatre together this week to view the film “Son of God” in order to render opinion on it, take the church youth to see it, etc… and we’ll have more on that in other writings – simply will hint here that it is going to be fairly positive.

But while at the theatre and seeing the trailers for upcoming flicks there was one called “God’s Not Dead.”  To be released on March 21st, it is the story of a young man who chooses to stand alone against a liberal, atheist college professor. He is challenged to a series of debates in class and other ignominious expressions, to which the student stands his ground successfully. Apparently the plot is based upon an unverifiable, but oft-repeated story of such an encounter by someone, somewhere, in some college. Does this happen? I’ve heard that this sort of challenge often happened regularly in our own little college in our own little town by our local most famous proponent of atheism. One of my boys attending a most liberal university did have to stand alone against professorial abuse on the issue of doubting the scientific veracity of climate change. It got ugly.man in front of tank

The courage to stand alone in the face of power or supreme authority – that takes fortitude based upon deep belief and conviction. My first mental picture of such is that fellow some years ago in Tiananmen Square who stood alone, face to face against the Communist tank. Sometimes the tank turns around, sometimes the tank takes a different route, but sometimes the tank runs you over.

Today we see the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who conspicuously on a vast plain surrounded by thousands of people who bowing to the image of Nebuchadnezzar, chose to literally stand out in that throng of people.

The story is a simple one and needs no explanation …

The Image of Gold and the Blazing Furnace

3:1  King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”  

Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! 10 Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace.  12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”

13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver usfrom Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

A question may arise, and has been asked over the years – where was Daniel? Bowing somewhere? On a trip out of town? At a level of government not requiring the same allegiance? We don’t know; but we do know of his faith and boldness … since, all of us having read Daniel before know that there is a lion’s den story coming up soon.

And who was this fourth person in the fire – identified by Nebuchadnezzar as some sort of divine being? This is a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ – like the visitor to Abraham, the wrestler with Jacob, the voice from the burning bush, and the Captain of the Lord’s Host who appeared to Joshua.

I have had a few awkward moments in my life where I’ve had to take a stand – I remember one at age 17 where I walked away from a whole gang of my high school friends at a county fair, when they started picking up girls toward the end of going drinking, etc., etc. that evening. I walked home alone in the dark that evening, and though truly the event held little actual interest or temptation, I remember keenly to this day the feelings of loneliness and isolation of that night. But all to say, I’ve never had to take a stand like these three Hebrews … not yet, that is.

I add that last little phrase, because, it could happen to me, to you, to any who name Christ. In fact, it happens all over the world every day. I tell you the total truth here when I say that mere minutes ago, while writing this, my computer trumpeted and popped up an incoming monthly email from the Religious Freedom Report. This news bulletin highlights the ongoing nature of the persecution of Christians around the world. Here are some headlines:

“Murder of 7 Coptic Egyptians in Libya met with Indifference”

“Pakistan: Two Young Christian Girls Killed”

“Archbishop Testifies on Capitol Hill of Flagrant Christian Persecution in Middle East”

“Persecution of Chinese Christians Continued to Increase in 2013”

Just days ago in his March 4 homily, Pope Francis called persecution a “reality” of the Christian life, challenging the faithful to take up the cross.

There are more Christian martyrs in the world now than at any other time in human history. It is just not happening much here in America, even as we uncomfortably sense some shifting winds and tides … and while we note changes in the culture that give rise to an intolerant hatred of the people of the gospel. But remember, this is normal; this is the common experience of the disciples of Christ over the centuries.

Could you stand? Would you? The three friends were miraculously saved by the Lord. But in the book of Acts, Stephen was stoned. And though Hebrews 11 speaks of the great faith of many, it also talks about those Christians who were sawn in two.

Sometimes the tank turns around, sometimes the tank takes a different route, but sometimes the tank runs you over. And God is in all three situations. Can you stand?

I told you the story last week of my pastor friend’s son – the 30-year-old pastor also, who was killed in a head-on collision. Here is the final written article by that young man – a weekly note to his church where he said, “… later Sunday night, after preaching on Philippians 3, praying and talking with God, the prevailing question was: is Christ enough? Is his work enough, or do I want more, do I seek my own will, or my own desires, or do I make it more about myself than I make it about Him? It’s a tough question, and it is even a harder question to answer. But my prayer is what Paul said earlier in Philippians 1:21 that “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Standing = living or dying = gain

The Revenge of the Vegetarians – Daniel 1

Today we begin a new book in our series with the first of seven selections among the 12 chapters of Daniel. We also with the first of these two readings (today and tomorrow) anticipate the related sermon in the series, rather than reading related passages after the Sunday message.

Daniel picks up with events just a couple of decades after the life of Habakkuk. This is the fulfillment of what that prophet had received from the Lord – that the Babylonians would be the instrument of judgment God used upon Judah.

1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.

In history, we are talking about the year 605 BC (again – check the chart in the historical background page listed above). This is the beginning of the Babylonian Captivity – this exile being the reference for prophets being pre-exilic or post-exilic, etc. The northern 10 tribes of Israel had been taken captive by Assyria 117 years before in 722 BC. Every king in the north was evil. The southern kingdom of Judah had at least some good and godly kings – not a majority – but at least a few. So they were preserved by God for a longer time, though finally also falling under His judgment for their disobedience and idolatry.

Jehoiakim was taken to Babylon, though allowed to return later and rule under Babylonian authority. Jeremiah had prophesied to him that he should obey … that this was God’s will. But he rebelled, and after a total of 11 years he was again defeated and replaced.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.

A method of subjugation of conquered peoples that was used by the Babylonians was to take away some of the cream of the crop of young nobility and those with royal family connections in order to train them at Babylonia State University. The goal was to get them when young, acculturate and educate them in the systems, language, and religion of Babylon, and thus have leadership that would be submissive and productive for the goals of the Empire. Daniel and his three friends in this story were among those selected from Judah for this three-year course of the Harvard / Princeton education of that day.

The process can be seen even by their names. Each of them had a name that was a compound of the name of God, but each was given a new name that was a compound of the gods of the Babylonians.

8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

This choice food and drink would have been ceremonially unclean according to Jewish dietary law. Daniel understood this and desired, with his friends, to maintain this truth value from their heritage and faith. It was a bold move, based upon conviction and a desire to obey and please God above all else.

9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

This last phrase in verse 10 is probably my favorite selection of all time as written in the New American Standard Version – the main text I used in my college and seminary years, where it says, “Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.”  OK, I give up, you win, I forfeit – here’s my head.

So, Ashpenaz – the resident advisor in charge of these preppy undergrads – was simply afraid that he would get in trouble if the four Hebrews did not feast on the best food in the school cafeteria, and rather ate only from the salad bar.

11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

So Daniel strikes a deal with the official for a 10-day trial on nothing but veggies and water. And God blesses this in every way.

17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Not only did God bless Daniel and the three friends physically, he prospered them in all that they did. They were beyond their peers, with Daniel also having a unique skill that was not something derived from the occult-like practices of the “wise men” of Babylon, but was rather by God’s divine enablement. His government service extended to King Cyrus – that is the first king of the next empire! That would be like someone working in the administration for FDR, and then all the way through to Obama.

It was certainly not Daniel’s first choice to live through a time of history where his nation was subject to a pagan empire. It was certainly unpleasant in certain ways to have been likely separated from family and homeland. But the point is this: His personal success did not rise and fall on the outer circumstance of his life or because of his connection with the prevailing culture of the day. Rather, his success came because he ultimately lived to obey and please God rather than men. And that is what we call a “timeless truth” that extends to us today.

Trusting God Through Perilous Times – Habakkuk 3

It is great to live in times of prosperity, and by most any measure of the millennia through which mankind has lived on this planet, most of us have enjoyed much comfort and ease.

Yet there are difficult times that cycle throughout human history and God’s dealings with His creation. There are cataclysmic periods, and in those times there are always remnants – be they often small – of God’s faithful people.

If we read the Scriptures accurately – in my humble opinion based upon a lifetime of study – well, it does not end well for mankind. As end times approach along with the impeding hand of God’s judgment, there are going to be difficult days even for God’s elect people. Might we be the people … the generation … that lives through such a time? Yes, for there is nothing special about us that we should escape such an experience; and there is concurrently every reason for God to intervene in the human condition where He is so oft despised by our culture and the bulk of the peoples of the world.

Habakkuk lived in such a time of God’s pending action. Judah was about to be judged for disobedience and neglect. The instrument of God’s wrath upon them was to be the Babylonian Empire. And the period of time was to be 70 years. Why 70? Because, for 490 years the people of Israel/Judah had failed to honor the Sabbath year – where each 7th year they were to allow the land to rest, as God would provide enough for them in advance. But, not believing, they did not do it. And it is not to overstate anything to say that God is even faithful to keep his word to the dirt!

So Habakkuk now understands that he will be living through this period of time and judgment. And this third chapter is his prayer of praise and submission to God.

Habakkuk’s Prayer

3:1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth. < This is some sort of musical notation >

2 Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

Habakkuk prays in awe of God, seeking for God’s work to transpire soon and for God’s mercy in the midst of it all. The following is a reflective description of the prophet as he looks back to what God did in Israel’s history in delivering them from Egypt. It was another powerful time, and this same almighty God was going to use all of nature and His created world to manifest his power once again.

3 God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth.

4 His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.

5 Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps.

6 He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed—but he marches on forever.

7 I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish. <These are neighboring nations who, near the Red Sea, saw God’s mighty power.>

8 Were you angry with the rivers, Lord? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode your horses and your chariots to victory?

9 You uncovered your bow, you called for many arrows. You split the earth with rivers; 10 the mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high.

11 Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear.

12 In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations.

13 You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot.

14 With his own spear you pierced his head when his warriors stormed out to scatter us, gloating as though about to devour the wretched who were in hiding.

15 You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters.

Habakkuk now finishes his hymn of praise … physically exhausted from the majestic vision he has seen and heard, yet confident in the Lord and in his faith in God.

16 I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.

17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

Habakkuk essentially says that no matter what happens – even if everything is upset and the worst of circumstances are to cause the normal sustenance of life to evaporate – he would still trust in God through it all. His confidence would enable him to feel that he could live like the deer – sure-footed even on the perilous places of the mountain cliffs.

In perilous times we don’t need to be undone under the circumstances if we are living in trust under the Lord.

When it seems that injustice prevails and that God is doing nothing, we must remind ourselves that He has done everything. He has given His son to conquer death itself. And He has given us His word that the victory in ours in Christ, and that a final day of righteousness and justice will arise. We are moving toward it; we are not there yet, but it is coming.

Wait for it … wait for it … (Habakkuk 2)

Where does the commonly used phase of anticipation “wait for it … (pause)…” come from? According to my research, though there is much debate, the answer is that it seems to have arisen from the movie … (wait for it) … “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” – coming toward the end of the film when the Merry Men are saving Robin from being hanged at Maid Marian’s wedding to the Sherriff of Rottingham.

Actually, I think it goes back to God Himself!!

As Chris Wiles and I met to discuss upcoming teaching series (as we do regularly), and at the time we settled upon this “Uncharted” series, it was because of the similarities of the times in which the prophets lived and ministered to the times and feelings we have today in our increasingly godless generation. We can all see the resemblance between then and now in terms of the rise of injustice and the scoffing at faith and trust in a transcendent God.

Both then and now, God’s people are in a sort of waiting pattern – living in times where it may not seem that God’s work is very evident. Rather, it looks like evil prospers and goes unnoticed by the loud silence of heaven. But the reality is much different. God is always at work, though it is most often not seen or very obvious.

We must wait, we must live by faith.

That was the answer for Habakkuk, that was the answer for first century Christians, and it is the answer for us today.

As we go to the second chapter of Habakkuk today, the first verse really would have really fit better as the last verse of the first chapter, as it is a continuation of the complaint of Habakkuk to the Lord … with God beginning His answer in verse two. And a first reading of this verse appears to smack of some attitude! …

2:1  I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

The picture is of a person on the city walls, watching out … expectant and waiting for an answer. And that is the main idea here – expectancy – not that he was saying something like, “I’ll bet God can’t give me a decent answer to my grand objections!”  In fact, the wording might even be construed to include an attitude of readiness to be rebuked for a lack of understanding.

The Lord’s Answer

2 Then the Lord replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.

This is an odd verse, even in the Hebrew – who is running and reading … the herald, or those receiving the message? In any event, we can say this: God is NOT stuttering!

3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.

4 “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness

So there you have it in terms of a message to Habakkuk and to any who trust in God:  Wait for God and live in faith and trust. God keeps good books; his accounting skills are impeccable. He will rule in justice at an appointed time … until then, live faithfully.

Most of the rest of the chapter is a pictorially descriptive statement of the bad character of the Babylonians and the certain judgment that is to befall them.

—5 indeed, wine betrays him <speaking of the enemy>; he is arrogant and never at rest. Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples.

6 “Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying, “‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?’

7 Will not your creditors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their prey.

8 Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you. For you have shed human blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

9 “Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain, setting his nest on high to escape the clutches of ruin!

10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.

11 The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.

12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice!

13 Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?

14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!

16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!  The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory.

17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed human blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

18 “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman? Or an image that teaches lies? For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak.

19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.”

20 The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.

This last verse (20) you may have at some point heard used to speak of God being ready to receive worship. Actually, it is saying that God is at a point of preparing to execute judgment.

Notice the fantastic statement of verse 14 in the midst of that condemnation of Babylon (and any others opposed to God and truth). This speaks of an end time – a final end-all scenario of God’s truth and victory prevailing upon the earth and covering it fully … and then finally in the eternal state to come.

Until then … wait for it. This was the message given to those Jewish Christians addressed in Hebrews chapter 10 – remember that these were people who were being severely persecuted for their faith and who were living in perilous times…

32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,“In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.”  38 And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” 39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

What does the writer to the Hebrews do here to encourage these believers … did you catch it? He quotes the little book of Habakkuk … chapter 2, verses 3 & 4.

Today friends, whatever peril or obstacle befalls, be strong, live in faith, be a person of trust … wait for it!