Dream of the Four Beasts

Posted: February 23, 2017 in Uncategorized, Daniel

Daniel 7, “Dream of the Four Beasts”

Dreams can be funny things.  If we’re troubled about something, the events often show up in our dreams.  If we start new projects, we might dream about them at night.  Occasionally we’ll have nightmares that we hope to soon forget, and other times wonderful dreams we wish we could remember.  Of course, most of the time a dream is just a dream.  People often look for deep meanings, but usually there’s not much to be found.  The things God wants us to remember, He’ll cause us to remember – and such was the case with Daniel.

In Chapter 7, Daniel receives the first of several dreams, of which he records in vivid detail.  These were no minor dreams; these were prophetic dreams about the future of world events, even leading up to the end-times and the kingdom of Christ.  Some of what Daniel saw was troublesome, but other parts were awesome!  What God revealed to Daniel in his dreams is that God is always God, and He always reigns.  No matter what happens within the world, God rules, and He has His sovereign plans in motion.  One day we will see Jesus ruling the world as King, and all the world will see the same!

Daniel 7
1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts.

  • Notice the timeframe – the chronology jumps back several years to before the conquest of Babylon by the Medes & Persians.  Here, Daniel writes about “the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon,” the son of Nabonidus, during the year that Belshazzar assumed regency over Babylon while his father was out at war.  Thus this sets the timeframe around 553 BC, just a few years before Cyrus conquers Babylon & installs Darius the Mede as the new local king.
  • It was then that “Daniel had a dream.” He had interpreted dreams of others (two from Nebuchadnezzar, and would soon interpret the writing on the wall seen by Belshazzar); now he had his own.  This serves as a bit of a transition in the overall narrative of the book.  To this point, Daniel has (writing in the third person) recorded various events that occurred to him and his friends.  From Chapter 7 onward, he will write (mainly in the 1st person, changing back to the Hebrew language in Chapter 8) about visions, dreams, and oracles he received.  The dream of Chapter 7 serves somewhat as a bridge.  The content of the dream applies mainly to the Gentile kingdoms of the world, with a bit of attention put upon the people of Israel, whereas Chapter 8 starts to truly focus on the impact of world events upon the Jews.  (Which possibly explains the switch back to Hebrew at that point, rather than in Chapter 7.)
  • Please also note that although Daniel recorded what was important for us to know, he didn’t record everything.  He included “the main facts,” but didn’t necessarily give a comprehensive account of every single detail.  That’s OK – he wrote down what was needed to at least communicate what he saw.
  • The four beasts (2-8)

2 Daniel spoke, saying, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. 3 And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other.

  • He saw the four winds from the four points of the compass (north, south, east, west) stir up the Mediterranean Sea, causing “four great beasts” to arise from within.  Technically “the four winds of heaven” could be translated “the four spirits of heaven,” but the idea of wind far better fits the context.  After all, the focus isn’t on the spirit/wind, but upon the beasts that arise.  All the wind does is churn up the waters, and out of that chaos (where the Hebrews believed much chaos dwelt) came these four strange animals, which he soon describes in detail.  It should be noted that although three out of the four can be imagined rather easily, the fourth cannot.  Ironically, we have both the most and least detail given about the fourth beast – it simply defied description. (So take any graphic image of it lightly.)
  • Later in the chapter, it is specifically said to Daniel that these four beasts represent four kings/kingdoms (7:17) – and with that in mind, it becomes fairly easy to see parallels between Daniel’s current dream and the dream he interpreted years earlier for King Nebuchadnezzar.  Thus, we’ll look at the beasts hand-in-hand with the statue previously envisaged by Nebuchadnezzar.

4 The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.

  • Knowing what Daniel has already written about Nebuchadnezzar, there is little doubt that this first beast is a reference to the kingdom of Babylon, and specifically to him.  Just as Nebuchadnezzar had seen a head of gold, so did Daniel see a most noble beast: a lion, having two wings like an eagle.  It was a strong, proud animal until the point that it was humiliated, having its wings removed.  Yet even here, there was a demonstration of grace as the humiliated lion was “lifted up” and given “a man’s heart.”  Undoubtedly this is a reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation resulting from his pride, as God caused him to be insane for 7 years before finally restoring to him his mind and his kingdom.

5 “And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: ‘Arise, devour much flesh!’

  • NKJV says “suddenly,” but the word could just be translated “behold.”  There isn’t so much an emphasis on a shortness of time, but of something new to see.  We’re not told that the first beast disappeared, though it is certainly implied.  The second beast was a deformed bear of sorts, having one “side” larger than the other.  This corresponds to the statue’s chest of silver, with its two arms, i.e., the empire of the Medes and the Persians.  Why was one side “raised up”?  Because one of imperial powers had more authority and influence than the other.  Under the reign of Cyrus, Persia had far more power than Media, thus the bear seems to be stronger on one side than the other.
  • In addition, this bear had “three ribs in its mouth,” seemingly as a result of the command it had received to “devour much flesh.”  When the Medes & Persians conquered the ancient near east, they conquered three main kingdoms: Babylon, Lydia (which held most of modern-day Turkey), and Egypt.  Although scholars debate it, it seems likely that the ribs represented the kingdoms already devoured by the Persians.

6 “After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.

  • The third beast is typified by speed.  A four-headed leopard, with “four wings of a bird.”  This parallels the belly & thighs of bronze, the Grecian empire, specifically that of Alexander the Great.  Speed is a most accurate description of this empire, as Alexander conquered the known world within ten years, completed by the time he was 30 years old.  That the leopard had four heads is emblematic of the fact that after Alexander’s death, the Grecian empire split into four factions, much of which is discussed in later chapters of Daniel.
  • Keep in mind that Daniel is witnessing all of this in a dream several years before the Babylonians ever lost power.  And yet he is seeing future world events with incredible accuracy.  To critics, this is proof that someone other than Daniel wrote all of this several years after it happened.  To those who rightly acknowledge the early date of Daniel (indeed, Daniel’s own authorship), it is evident of the omniscience of God.  The God who transcends time and space can surely reveal intimate details about the future if He so desires.  After all, God knows the future just as well as He knows the past – He reigns over it all.
    • How comforting it is to know that we know (and are known) by the all-knowing, all-powerful God!  This God is our Heavenly Father, and He holds our lives in His hands.  This is the God we know through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a God we can trust!

7 “After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.

  • The final beast was much more disturbing to Daniel, as it was one that could not be easily described, at least in comparison with other earthly animals.  Daniel described the characteristics of this fourth beast, but words failed to do much more than that.  This one was “dreadful & terrible, exceedingly strong” – it was vicious & violent.  It had the power and will to cause incredible destruction, devouring whatever was in its way, and pound it into the dust.  The fact that it had “iron teeth” and “ten horns” is an indication that this parallels the iron legs & feet with ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision: Rome & the nations that endured after the Roman empire.  Every empire preceding it was brutal, but Rome was exceptionally known for its strength, and at its height commanded a kingdom that not only stretched over much of the ancient near east, but also all of Europe and north Africa.  The Roman empire held its iron grip for nearly 500 years as we normally imagine it (and continued on for another 1000 years as the much weakened Byzantine empire).  Truly, this was a kingdom unlike the world had ever previously known!
  • The interesting part of Daniel’s vision is that this beast combines the legs & feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, when Nebuchadnezzar had initially seen them as two separate things.  The legs were made of iron, whereas the feet were a mixture of iron and clay.  Obviously the feet were related to the legs, but there was a weakening as well.  In Daniel’s dream, it is all one & the same, perhaps indicating a greater emphasis on the feet (ten horns/ten toes) rather than the legs.  It was the set of horns that truly caught Daniel’s attention…

8 I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.

  • If the beast itself wasn’t monstrous enough, surely this horn was!  Out of ten horns came another one, supplanting three of the previous horns, and this one was grotesque in its growth.  It had the “eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.”  Literally, the Aramaic states that the mouth spoke “great words/things,” though the context later shows that these things were great insults and blasphemies against God.
  • The question then becomes: what is this horn?  If horns typically represent powers or kingdoms in the Bible (which they do), what power and/or kingdom does this monstrous blasphemous horn represent?  Antichrist.  It should be noted that scholars debate this, depending on their theological viewpoint of end-times theology, but the weight of the Scripture from the New Testament argues very strongly for this horn to be representative of the kingdom of Antichrist.  Paul wrote to the Thessalonians of a “man of sin…son of perdition” would promote himself above God and proclaim himself as God (2 Ths 2:3-4).  More specifically, John wrote of seeing a vision much like Daniel’s, and the language he used was incredibly similar (no doubt, written that way intentionally). [Revelation 13:1-8]  Notice that this beast also had ten horns, was physically a compilation of the other beasts of Daniel’s vision (leopard, bear, lion), spoke “great things” and blasphemies against God, and was given authority to rule the nations for a time while he persecuted the people of God (something which will be seen later in Ch. 7).  As Scripture is by far the best interpreter of Scripture, it seems evident that John envisaged Daniel’s fourth beast as Antichrist, as John used the same language to describe the beast he knew to be Antichrist.
    • All that being said, Christians need to be careful.  There is a very real tendency among those who study end-times to be always on the lookout for Antichrist.  People try to identify him, and point to signs of his soon approach.  Nowhere in the Bible are we told to do so.  We’re certainly told to be aware of the times in which we live, but the Person for whom we’re to watch is Jesus Christ.  We’re to look for Him & His coming, always ready to see Him face-to-face by either death or rapture.  We need to know the truth about Antichrist, but we’re not to obsess about him.  We’re to listen for the trumpet of our Savior, and prepare ourselves to meet Him in the air!
  • In fact, that’s what Daniel’s vision went on to do.  After all of the turmoil of the beasts came the calm serenity and pure power of God.  Vs. 9…
  • The Ancient of Days (9-14)

9 “I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire; 10 A fiery stream issued And came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, And the books were opened.

  • No longer looking upon a churning sea with raging beasts, Daniel sees the heavenly throne room of God.  Of all the thrones that are present, only one matters: the one on which “the Ancient of Days was seated.”  Why is God the “Ancient of Days”?  He is the eternal one.  God the Father, Son, and Spirit has no beginning, nor any end.  He stretches back into infinite past, predating time itself.  To refer to God as the “Ancient of Days” is not far removed from referring to Him as “I AM,” the ever-existent One.
  • The Ancient One is the Holy One.  His clothing and hair is described as “white as snow…like pure wool.”  Although we might associate white hair with age, contextually this seems to be a symbol of God’s holy righteousness (being that it is paired with His clothing).  There is none more righteous than He – His very presence exudes holy glory, such as was is shown as His throne as a “fiery flame.”  Seated among fire, with “a fiery stream” (Lava? Lightning?) issuing forth from Him, this is a God unlike any other.  The false gods of Babylon were nothing in comparison with the true Ancient of Days.  Mythological gods have beginnings, sin, and limitations; the True God has none of these.  He is beyond time, totally righteous, and infinite in His power.
  • Even the throne room was unique.  God’s throne seemed itself to be a fiery chariot (not unlike the vision Ezekiel received of God’s throne), and multitudes of angels “ministered to Him.”  The various beasts may have commanded large kingdoms of men, but they were nothing compared to the millions upon millions of angels who served Almighty God.  This was God’s courtroom, with the Ancient of Days presiding as the Judge, and the time had come for court to be in session.  “The books were opened,” as judgment began.  Who is the first to be judged?  Antichrist.  Vs. 11…

11 “I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.

  • No matter what blasphemous words this horn spoke about God, it was not enough to prevail against Him, and “the beast was slain,” with its body “given to the burning flame.”  Contextually, it seems that Daniel saw the flame from God’s throne consume the beast – but this is no doubt paralleled in the book of Revelation when John sees Antichrist and his false prophet cast into the lake of fire (Rev 19:20).  The beast has power for a time, but his power is temporary.  Everything he has is subject to the will of the Almighty God of justice.
  • Of course, it was not only the fourth beast that was destroyed, but the previous three beasts were also left powerless, though they were allowed to continue for a while.  How exactly this aspect of the vision ties in with Antichrist’s judgment is unknown.  It’s possible that it’s unrelated and instead refers to the influence of these other empires within world history.

13 “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him.

  • The vision returned to the throne room of God, and Daniel sees someone else: a person “like the Son of Man.”  Daniel sees Jesus!  Again, considering the fact that the Bible interprets the Bible, there can be no debate that this Son of Man is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.  There are only three major instances in the Old Testament where this phrase refers to a particular individual: (1) throughout the book of Ezekiel, referring to Ezekiel himself, and (2) here in Daniel 7:13 in reference to this incredible Man in the vision approaching God, and (3) later in Daniel 8:17 as a brief reference to Daniel himself.  That being the case, and knowing that “Son of Man” was (far & away) Jesus’ most common title to refer to Himself, to whom would He refer?  Certainly not Ezekiel or Daniel…it must be the Man of Daniel 7:13.  This is no ordinary man – this is the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ!  This Man comes “with the clouds of heaven,” referring to the weighty clouds of God’s glory, just as what was seen over the ancient tabernacle, or in the wilderness leading the children of Israel.  Additionally, this Man has the right to be brought “near” to the Ancient of Days – something that would be unheard of for any “normal” man.  This is Jesus, and Daniel sees the day that He is recognized as the King of kings.

14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.

  • The other beasts had dominions & kingdoms, but they didn’t have anything like this!  The kingdom of the Son of Man encompassed the entire earth.  It was universal in its scope, and eternal in its longevity.  To say that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him” is not to say that all people in all history are saved.  It simply means that there is no corner of the world where the reign of Jesus’ kingdom stops.  When Jesus rules in power and glory, He will rule over all the earth.
  • Question: Will all peoples & languages serve Him?  Absolutely!  This is no prophetic hyperbole.  This is something emphasized in Old & New Testament alike.  As Paul wrote, Philippians 2:9–11, "(9) Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, (11) and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  Jesus will rule over all the earth, and all the earth will see Him for who He is!
  • The interpretation (15-28)

15 “I, Daniel, was grieved in my spirit within my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. 16 I came near to one of those who stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. …

  • All of what we read sounds pretty amazing.  Why was Daniel troubled & grieved by it?  Probably because although he understood some parts of it, he didn’t understand all of it.  We have the benefit of having the completed canon of Scripture on which to rely – Daniel did not.  This was all brand-new to him, and he didn’t know what to make of it.  Thankfully, he recognized he wasn’t alone, so he asked one of the angels standing near him for help.
  • Apparently in his vision, an angel was just hanging out, and Daniel was able to walk up to him and say hello.  As fun as that may be, we have something far better: 24/7 access to God the Holy Spirit.  We have Almighty God as our Teacher, and He illumines the Scripture to us. (1 Jn 2:27)  When we have questions, all we need do is ask.  He may immediately provide the answer, or He may lead us to another godly teacher for help, but one thing is for certain: we’re never alone.

…So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth. 18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.’

  • The angel (unnamed here, though Gabriel is specified in Ch 8-9) said that the four beasts represent “four kings which arise out of the earth.”  This would have confirmed that Daniel’s dream mirrored that of Nebuchadnezzar years earlier.  Yet what Nebuchadnezzar didn’t have were the details of what would happen after those kingdoms arose.  He knew that they would be destroyed by a coming Rock, and God’s kingdom would last forever (2:44-45), but that was all.  Now, Daniel could be assured that he received more information to the events of how it would take place.
  • Interestingly, the angel also said that “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom,” rather than the Son of Man Himself.  Is this saying that the imagery of the Son of Man = the Saints?  No.  The saints of God belong to God, and are a part of the kingdom of the Son of Man.  In Christ, we are co-heirs with Him.  We share in His inheritance, and we are given thrones in His kingdom.  Thus although Jesus is the ultimate Ruler, we do in a very real way “receive the kingdom.” 
  • All of that had probably made sense to Daniel, and (notably) he doesn’t ask any details about the first three beasts.  It was the fourth beast that bothered him, and that’s what he went on to ask the angel about…

19 “Then I wished to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its nails of bronze, which devoured, broke in pieces, and trampled the residue with its feet; 20 and the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, before which three fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth which spoke pompous words, whose appearance was greater than his fellows.

  • Most of this is a repetition of what came earlier, with a few details added.  Not only did this beast have teeth of iron, but also “nails of bronze.”  The little horn that grew eventually took a place where it’s “appearance was greater than his fellows.”  Every time Daniel thinks upon this creature, it is more & more terrifying – and understandably so!  Antichrist will not be someone to be toyed with, when he does finally rise to power.  Anything of the devil is evil, and should be treated as such.

21 “I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.

  • In addition to the physical description of the beast, Daniel witnessed a bit more action from it.  The beast made “war against the saints,” even to the point of “prevailing against them.”  Again, Revelation 13 prophesies how Antichrist will “make war with the saints and overcome them.” (Rev 13:6)  This man of sin will rise to power seemingly making peace with the Jews, but will turn on them in a massive way, persecuting both those of Israel and those of the Gentiles who by this point had come to faith in Christ, and multitudes of people will be killed in martyrdom. (Rev 7:14)  There is a reason why the Great Tribulation is called “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” (Jer 30:7) – people will truly suffer in horrendous ways.
  • Yet that time of suffering is limited.  How long did Daniel watch it happen? “Until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High.”  As bad as the Great Tribulation will be (and it will be bad – Jesus specifically said that there would be no time like it ever before, Mt 24:21), it will be temporary.  The forces of Satan may rule the earth for a while, but not for forever.  The everlasting rule belongs only to the Lord Jesus.
    • In a very real way, what’s true of the Great Tribulation is true of all tribulation, at least in the case of born-again Christians.  We will face bad things in this world – we will suffer in very difficult ways.  But all of our suffering has an expiration date.  Eventually we will see our Lord Jesus face-to-face, and we will never suffer again!  Judgment has been made in His favor, and we will forever dwell in His presence.
  • This is what Daniel saw of the fourth beast and the horn, so the angel explained it to him…

23 “Thus he said: ‘The fourth beast shall be A fourth kingdom on earth, Which shall be different from all other kingdoms, And shall devour the whole earth, Trample it and break it in pieces. 24 The ten horns are ten kings Who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; He shall be different from the first ones, And shall subdue three kings.

  • The kingdom of Antichrist will be different.  From what?  “From all other kingdoms,” i.e., from all the kingdoms that preceded it.  The empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome conquered many nations & incorporated much of the known world – but the kingdom of Antichrist will involve all of the world.  It will “devour the whole earth.”  Generally speaking, the remains of the Roman empire has certainly influenced the entire planet – after all, what nation is there that has not in some way been touched by a survivor of Rome, be it Britain, Germany, France, Italy, etc.?  The United States of America was born out of the surviving cultures of the Roman empire, and has been the predominant influence on the globe (for good or bad) for the past 60+ years.  Even so, the angel seems to refer to more than mere influence, but to an actual kingdom itself – especially when referring to the “ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom,” with Antichrist himself arising from among those ten, specifically putting down three during his rise to power.  Are those ten kingdoms currently in existence?  Quite possibly, yes.  Efforts are periodically made to identify them, but considering how rapidly borders and alliances change, it’s rather futile to guess.  Again, Christians are not to be looking for Antichrist, but for Jesus Christ, so it’s best to keep our efforts on spreading the gospel rather than spreading rumors.

25 He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, Shall persecute the saints of the Most High, And shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand For a time and times and half a time.

  • Antichrist’s blasphemies are mentioned once again.  Technically, the adjective of “pompous” is assumed by the NKJV translators, but the context certainly warrants it.  This horn will speak words against God, and considering he spoke of “great things” earlier, these will surely be pompous blasphemies against God as Antichrist attempts to persuade people that he is God.  And not only will he speak, but he will act.  He’ll act in violence towards those who believe in Christ (as already seen), trying to wear them out & wear them down in exhaustion, and he’ll act legally within his earthly authority to “change times and law.”  If we think the legal system is biased against the saints of God today, that’s nothing compared to what it will be during the Great Tribulation.  During that time, anyone refusing to worship the beast or take his mark will be hunted down (Rev 13:15-17).
  • But again, this time is temporary – the rule of the beast is limited.  How long?  “For a time, and times and half a time,” or 3½ years.  This fits perfectly within the schedule listed elsewhere in Daniel and the book of Revelation, as the general Tribulation period is to last seven years, with the bulk of the trouble & persecution taking place within the latter half (Dan 9:27, Rev 12:14).  After that, it will be over.  The Lord Jesus will return in power and glory, Antichrist and his kingdom will be overthrown, and Jesus will reign on high forever!

26 ‘But the court shall be seated, And they shall take away his dominion, To consume and destroy it forever. 27 Then the kingdom and dominion, And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.’

  • Amen!  All peoples everywhere will see Jesus, and they will know His “greatness.”  The saints will rule with Christ as the Millennial Kingdom fulfills every promise God ever made to David & Israel, and will continue into the eons when finally the new heavens and new earth come.  It will be glorious!  John received a bit of a preview of it as his own visions began: Revelation 5:13–14, "(13) And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (14) Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever."
  • I wonder sometimes if we truly grasp the reality that our Lord Jesus is King who reigns forever.  Not “might be” King; He will be King.  Actually, He is already the King today…we just await the consummation of His kingdom.  And when He rules, it will never end…ever.  Do we truly believe that?  We get so caught up in the affairs of this life – be it politics or debates or materialistic junk that is all going to rot & decay away.  Nothing of this world will last; it’s all going away.  The only things going into eternity are souls and Jesus, and His eternal rule will never waver or be in doubt.  That ought to radically alter our priorities. Those who know and understand the eternal kingdom of Jesus will spend our limited time in this life preparing for our eternal life, hopefully doing what we can to take as many people with us as possible.  That’s the stuff that really matters.

28 “This is the end of the account. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly troubled me, and my countenance changed; but I kept the matter in my heart.”

  • Question: we can understand why Daniel was troubled in his lack of understanding, but why now?  Shouldn’t he have cheered up after the interpretation?  After all, he saw some pretty glorious things!  Keep in mind that this is pretty weighty stuff.  Daniel didn’t have a church with whom he could share these things.  He had to bear all of this by himself.  Additionally, he just received a vision guaranteeing future trouble for his people.  Even knowing the ultimate victory of the Son of Man, the suffering is still bad news.  There was much to look forward to, but it was still a long road ahead.

Our God reigns!  What Daniel saw in visions and dreams troubled him, and it’s easy to understand why.  There was much trouble ahead, and even with as much as was explained to him, he didn’t understand it all.  Even so, there is at least one truth that stands head & shoulders above the rest: our God reigns!  He is the Ancient of Days, and He is Supreme.  The Son of Man is the Anointed King, appointed by God the Father to rule over all.  The kingdoms of the earth may be powerful, but they are miniscule in comparison with the Lord Jesus.  Antichrist will be the most powerful world leader yet known in history, but even he doesn’t stand a chance next to Christ Jesus.  When the appointed time has come, the Son of Man / Son of God / Lord Jesus Christ will be shown as supreme over all & every knee will bow before Him.

What does that mean for us today?  (1) It means our trials are temporary.  Again, remember that all of our suffering has an expiration date.  There is nothing we personally face today that will still be a difficulty in 100 years.  When we’re with the Lord Jesus, all of those things will be gone, and we will be suffering-free for the next 1000, 1 million, 1 billion years & more!  (2) It means we’re on the winning side.  When we believed upon the Lord Jesus for our salvation, we were brought into the family of God & made to share in the inheritance of Christ.  And that’s not in doubt.  The spiritual war we face is not one where we have to guess the outcome.  God knows exactly what will happen, and God has already determined the end: Jesus wins.  That ought to give us confidence & faith!

So let’s live like winners!  Not being arrogant or proud, but being confident in the victory of the Lord Jesus.  We need not live in fear or dwell in anxiety.  We can be anxious for nothing because we belong to the Most High God.  Our confidence is in Christ, because He is King.

The Pattern of Prayer

Posted: February 19, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 11:1-4, “The Pattern of Prayer”

How do you pray?  It seems like such a basic question – something that is absolutely foundational for Christians, but many people might not know quite how to answer it.  Some make it out to be ritualistic.  They come from traditions that instructed them to pray so many “Our Fathers,” and so many “Hail Marys,” without really knowing what they were saying.  It was all about the number of repetitions, not the content.  On that level, there’s little difference between that kind of prayer & the prayers of Orthodox Jews or observant Muslims who have a set number of times they are required to pray each day.  Surely true Christian prayer (Biblical prayer) ought to be different, right?  (Right!)  Other people think that they need to be in a special building to pray, or around certain people to pray, or in a certain body position to pray.  If their hands aren’t folded just the “right” way, then it’s not really prayer.  If they don’t say precisely the “right” words, it’s not really prayer.  But is that really the way it works?  Is God demand that sort of technical legalism, where if we get one little thing off, He doesn’t hear us?  (No.)

The good news is that Christians don’t need to guess at how to pray, because Jesus gives us a wonderful pattern and example.  We commonly know it as “the Lord’s Prayer,” though it would perhaps be better termed “the Disciples’ Prayer,” because that was why Jesus gave it.  He was asked how to pray, and this was His answer.  But as simple as His answer was, people still get confused by it.  This is the famous “Our Father” that gets repeated mindlessly, which was precisely the opposite reason why Jesus gave it.  Jesus wants us to be purposeful in our prayers, and the pattern He gave us accomplishes exactly that.

It comes as Luke begins a long section of Jesus’ teaching – some of which Jesus undoubtedly taught at other points in His ministry, including the Sermon on the Mount.  It does not mean that Luke totally changed the order of events in Jesus’ life (although both he & Matthew did not hesitate to organize things thematically, rather than chronologically).  It simply indicates that there were some things Jesus taught more than once – prayer being an example.

How do we know this was a different teaching than the Sermon on the Mount?  Its context.  Matthew has a seamless transition into the Lord’s Prayer as a purposeful contrast with other insincere acts of religious hypocrisy; Luke shows this as a separate teaching altogether, spawned by the question of a disciple who was witnessing Jesus praying at the time.  The setting was also different.  Matthew has Jesus in public, whereas Luke shows Jesus apparently in private with His disciples.  Thus, although these are extremely similar teachings, they are distinct.

This ought not to be surprising.  Teachers often repeat certain themes and ideas in different contexts.  No doubt Jesus was happy to repeat His instructions of prayer, because prayer is so important in the lives of Christians.  But the fact that these teachings were different ought to help clear up any potential confusion between the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, and the one in Luke.  Depending on the Bible translation you read, Luke’s version is far shorter.  The KJV/NKJV contain a version fairly parallel to Matthew, but the weight of the manuscript evidence strongly favors the shorter version found in the NASB, ESV, and others.  Did Luke leave anything out?  No.  He simply recorded what Jesus said at the time.  It was later scribes who eventually tried to reconcile Luke’s version to Matthew.  That said, the “extra” lines in the KJV/NKJV are not unbiblical (Jesus did teach these things elsewhere); they just aren’t original to Luke.  We can read them and still be assured we are on Biblical ground.

So what is it Jesus shows (in both Luke and Matthew)?  He shows a pattern to prayer.  This is practical discipleship.  Christians need to know how to communicate with God, and Jesus tells us how.  So pay close attention – there is no better instructor on how to pray than the Lord Jesus Himself!

Luke 11:1–4
1 Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”

  1. There’s much unsaid here regarding the setting.  At some time, in some place, by some disciple…  For as many details as Luke gives elsewhere, he provides few here.  The reason why is unknown.  It’s quite possible he simply didn’t have it.  Remember that Luke was not a direct eyewitness to these events; he was a consummate journalist & historian.  Luke interviewed those who were eyewitnesses.  What this means is that Luke didn’t invent anything.  He didn’t write fiction or make up other details simply to fill in the gaps.  He wrote what the Holy Spirit give him – no more, no less.  So what?  So we can trust his writing.  The lack of details here indicates his accuracy.  Our Bible is trustworthy!
  2. What was Jesus doing? “Praying.”  Luke often shows Jesus in the act of prayer, demonstrating it as one of Jesus’ regular habits.
    1. Jesus prayed when?  Always, everywhere – it might be easier to say when Jesus didn’t pray!  Especially in the gospel of Luke, Jesus is shown praying in all kinds of instances: at His baptism (3:21) – during His wilderness temptation (5:16) – prior to naming His apostles (6:12) – at His transfiguration (9:18), and more.
    2. Jesus prayed what?  To this point, Luke has not recorded the words of Jesus’ prayer, though John records Jesus praying to the Father at the tomb of Lazarus, thanking the Father for what He was allowing Jesus to do (Jn 11:41).  John records Jesus’ prayer over His disciples & future followers (Jn 17).  Matthew records Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying for the Father’s will to be done (Mt 26:39), and of course Jesus prays from the cross asking for forgiveness for those who mocked and tortured Him (Lk 23:34).
      1. It’s worth noting that at no time is Jesus Himself ever seen praying through the Lord’s Prayer.  As we’ll see, this was not given to Him, but to us.  Even so, it emphasizes that this prayer is an example for us.  There are all kinds of things we can pray – this pattern is just one of many options.
    3. Jesus prayed why?  This might be the most intriguing question, considering that Jesus is God the Son.  As the Son, shouldn’t Jesus automatically know the mind of the Father and the Spirit?  After all, God ought to know God.  And certainly He does.  There’s no indication that Jesus was ever ignorant about the mind of the Father, except concerning the hour of His return (Mk 13:32).  In fact, the Biblical record overwhelmingly shows Jesus knew the mind of the Father perfectly.  So why did Jesus pray?  Simple: for relationship – for communication.  Far from undermining the doctrine of the Trinity, Jesus’ habit of prayer underscores it.  God the Son spoke with God the Father – exactly something we ought to expect from two members of the Godhead.  There is love, conversation, and relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit, and the way that communication takes place is prayer.
      1. Just like it does with us!  When we pray, we are following the example of God Himself.  And considering that Jesus thought it important to pray, it ought to emphasize how much more important it is for us!
  3. So knowing & witnessing Jesus’ habit of prayer, “one of His disciples” asked Him for instruction on how to do it.  Who asked Jesus, we don’t know, but someone did, and this disciple had another teacher in mind as he made his request: John the Baptist.  Although we don’t know much of John’s personal habits in prayer, obviously he made an impact upon his disciples, of which two were now with Jesus (Andrew & John).  Since other teachers taught their disciples to pray, this disciple wanted the same from Jesus.  Would Jesus’ method be any different?  Would He have any new insight?  And it was good that the disciple asked.  Again, if you want to learn how to pray, there’s no one better to ask than Jesus.  Of any authority on prayer, Jesus tops them all!
    1. This brings up a good reminder for us regarding various Christian books and teaching.  It’s good to read the words of godly teachers, and it’s highly recommended that we do so – after all, some of God’s gifts to the church are pastors & teachers (Eph 4:11).  Just be careful not to do so in neglect of the word of God.  The Holy Bible is better than the very best book of men.  Start with Jesus, and go from there.  Then you’ll be equipped to compare everything else to the truth that God has already established.

2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say:

  1. Note two things here right from the start.  (1) Prayer is expected, and (2) Prayer is exampled.  First, prayer is expected.  This is something assumed by Jesus of His disciples.  Christians pray.  We have reason to pray through the details of our lives, for we endure so much & require God’s help, power, and guidance.  We have the opportunity & access to pray through the grace of Christ, something which we lack when we are unbelievers but now are freely blessed with in faith.  We have power to pray through the Holy Spirit, who not only prays on our behalf, but even interprets our prayers to God in order to bring our prayers in line with His will (Rom 8:26).  With all that in mind, the question is why we don’t do it more often.  Why does it get relegated to the dinner table and Sunday morning church?  Why do we give prayer a mere 45 seconds a day (if that much)?  What can possibly be more important than time spent with our Heavenly Father?  We make time for important meetings with other people…a one-on-one meeting with the God of the Universe is of supreme importance!
    1. That’s not said to be legalistic.  It’s easy to look at the prayer lives of the saints of the past & start to feel weighed down by inadequacy.  Some of these men and women prayed for hours on end, day-by-day.  We feel as if we’ve prayed a lot if we spend more than a couple of minutes in prayer.  The point is not one so much of comparison, but of value.  Do we value time spent with God?  If some of us spent as much time in prayer as we did on Facebook, we might find our lives transformed!  Each of us have distractions from our relationship with God, be it sports, hobbies, media, or whatever – we need to be careful.  It’s not that these other things are inherently bad (some of them can be good & joyful); we just need to ensure we have our priorities straight.  God ought to come first and foremost in the lives of Christians – after all, without Him, we have no life whatsoever.
  2. Secondly, this particular prayer is an example.  Jesus told His disciple(s) to “say” these things when He prayed.  That doesn’t mean this prayer is to be rote memory, blindly repeated.  Jesus specifically taught against that sort of meaningless prayer during the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6:7).  This particular prayer is a model / example / pattern.  How can we know?  Because the two examples of the Lord’s Prayer in the Scripture are different.  Similar, no doubt, but different.  Thus we have proof Jesus provides us a pattern for our prayers; not a legalistic ritual.
    1. What’s helpful about a pattern?  It means you never have to be lost for words.  Some Christians simply don’t know how to pray.  Maybe they weren’t raised in a Christian environment – maybe the only prayers they witnessed were the same words repeated a bunch of times.  Whatever the case, we never need to wonder what to say in prayer, or wait until we feel “moved” to pray.  You can make a regular habit of prayer simply by following the pattern given us by Christ.  You can even pray the very words Jesus used in this prayer, as long as you think through them & mean them sincerely.  Use what Jesus says as a jumping-off point as you talk to your Heavenly Father.  You’ll find that you’ll quickly have much to say, and you’ll likely have much to hear as well.

…Our Father [in heaven],

  1. How wonderful it is to be invited to pray to the Sovereign Lord of the Universe as our Heavenly Father!  Keep in mind, that is who God is, inherently.  He is Father.  Even if mankind never existed, God would be Father.  How so?  Because Jesus is eternally the Son.  IOW, God’s Fatherhood is completely independent of His work within Creation.  He is the Father within the Trinity.  He is, and has always been, the Father.
  2. Even so, it is amazing that we have the privilege to address Him as Father.  In our sin, we ought to address Him as Judge.  As a member of Creation, we ought to address Him as Lord & King.  It is through grace that we can address Him as Father.  Because Jesus died for us, rose from the grave & reconciled us to God, now we have been made His children.  We, former enemies of God, are now His family, sharing not only in the inheritance of the Son, be even in His own relationship to the Father.  Jesus’ Father is our Father.  Amazing!
    1. Is this how you know Him?  Do you have this kind of relationship with Him?  People can attend church for years, know all the songs & rituals, have even gone through the waters of baptism, and still not know God the Father as their Father.  It’s not supposed to be that way, but it often is.  The good news is that it doesn’t need to remain that way.  Anyone can know God the Father as his/her own Heavenly Father.  All you need is faith in Jesus Christ.  John 1:12–13, "(12) But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: (13) who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."  You can be given that right today – all you need to do is receive Christ by faith as your Lord & Savior.

…Hallowed be Your name.  

  1. We may not often use the word “hallowed,” but we certainly use the word “holy,” and that’s basically the meaning here.  God’s name is holy, and it is constantly made holy whenever His people praise Him.  That’s the idea.  Just like the seraphim and cherubim hallow God’s name as they circle His throne praising Him, so are we His people to do the same.  We proclaim His greatness, holiness, purity, righteousness, and His other glorious attribute when we pray.
  2. Notice that prayer starts with God and not with us.  The tendency for us is to launch into our own needs and desires when we pray.  Quite often, it is our need that drives us to pray in the first place, so it’s only natural that we would think of our needs when we pray.  But be careful!  Jesus’ pattern of prayer shows us that our needs are not of first importance; the glory of God is.  When we pray, we are to praise.  In prayer, we glorify God as we seek His face & His will.  That doesn’t mean that our needs are unimportant or trivial (after all, Jesus later shows us how to specifically pray for them) – it just means that we need to keep our prayers with the right priority in mind.  Just as we are to make prayer itself a priority, we have a priority within our prayers.  God and His glory comes first; everything else can follow.
    1. Spend time praising God – worshipping Him.  Worship is never limited to times spent in song (though we can feel free to sing as we pray).  Worship is when we proclaim the praises of God.  When we go to prayer, we start by thinking upon God’s Person & His goodness, and we tell Him these things.  We glorify Him for who He is & what He has done. 

…Your kingdom come. [Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.]

  1. The focus remains on the priority of God as prayer continues.  God’s plan is at work within His kingdom, and part of our prayer should be about seeing His kingdom, and that it His kingdom would come to fruition.  In the NKJV (and in the gospel of Matthew), Jesus paired this idea with praying that God’s will would be done, just as immediately and fully upon the earth as the angels might obey God in heaven.  All of this is part of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom.  After all, although we await the day of Jesus’ physical kingdom upon the earth, we know that He is already King today.  God has always been King, and He has always reigned on high – something acknowledged by the ancient kings of Babylon & Persia (Dan 4:3, 7:26).  So to pray for God’s kingdom is to pray for His current reign in heaven to be acknowledged upon the earth.
  2. That said, there is still a future aspect to this.  The kingdom of God instituted by Christ is both now & not yet.  It is “now” in the hearts & lives of all those who have repented of their sins & believed upon Jesus for forgiveness, but it is “not yet” for the rest of the world.  One day the Lord Jesus will return to the earth, and everyone will see Him in His glory.  One day every being who has ever lived will bow down and acknowledge Him as Lord.  Truly in that day, His kingdom will have come!
    1. BTW, we can get a taste of this every time a person comes to faith in Christ.  Every person who receives new life in Jesus is another person included in the kingdom.  The kingdom of God grows one soul at a time.  We have the privilege of participating in its growth every time we share the gospel.

3 Give us day by day our daily bread.

  1. After we have prioritized our prayers upon God, then we present our requests.  Again, it’s not bad or selfish to lift our needs to God in prayer.  It would be foolish not to do so!  Every good & perfect gift comes from Him (Jas 1:17).  We do not have, because we do not ask (Jas 4:2).  Paul specifically instructs the church to present our requests to God (Phil 4:6).  This is something we need to do!  Pray for God’s glory first – by all means intercede on behalf of others – but by no means neglect to pray for yourself.  We desperately need the help of God, so ask!
  2. The picture Jesus uses is that of “daily bread.”  To the Jews among Jesus’ disciples, this would have been a familiar picture: manna in the desert.  When Moses led the children of Israel out from Egyptian slavery, the way God fed them day after day was through the daily miraculous provision of bread from heaven, called manna.  Each Hebrew family was to go out morning by morning & gather the amount needed to feed their family.  If they attempted to store it away overnight, it rotted & bred maggots.  The one exception was the manna available the day before the weekly Sabbath.  That would keep for two days instead of one, and the Hebrews were supposed to gather two days’ worth on Friday mornings.  Thus when Jesus referred to “daily bread,” He referred to necessary bread – daily needs – daily provision.  What is it that is required for us this day?  Take it to the Lord in prayer.
  3. Does this mean that we are only to pray for what is absolutely essential for survival on a daily basis?  Food, water, shelter, etc., and nothing else?  Of course not – we can take all our requests to God our Father.  Be it big or small, pray through it all.  Just be sure not to leave out the “little” stuff.  We sometimes pray only about the big things, perhaps thinking that the other stuff is a waste of God’s time.  Absolutely not!  God wants to hear about even the most mundane needs of our lives.  Daily bread was (by definition) repetitious.  It was basic.  It was something easily taken for granted (which the Hebrews often did!).  Yet God still desires that His people pray about it.  Why?  Because it is a reminder of our dependency upon Him.  When we pray for daily bread, we are reminded that God is the One who must provide it.  As Christians, we are not partly dependent upon God & partly independent for ourselves – we need God for everything!  Big, small, exciting, mundane – everything we have and experience is by the mercies and grace of our Heavenly Father.
  4. So what’s included with daily bread?  Everything!  Any need that we have in the physical realm is a need for which we pray our daily bread.  Food, finances, health, family, employment, etc.  If it is found among the stuff of earth, it is something for which we ask the God who created the heavens and the earth.
    1. What aren’t you praying for?  Why not?  Pray!  God may not answer your request in exactly the way you imagine, but we can be sure that He will answer it in the way that we need.  Pray!

4 And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

  1. We are to pray not only about our physical needs, but also our spiritual ones.  The first listed by Jesus is forgiveness. “Forgive us our sins.”  In all the ways we have sinned against God, be it intentionally or not, we ask for God’s gracious pardon / release.  Our prayer is that He not hold these things against us, but allow them to pass from our account.
  2. Question: Why?  Why in heaven or on earth would God do such a thing?  As the Holy Righteous God, He not only has the right to hold our sins against us, but He also has the responsibility to ensure that justice is done.  How then can the Father forgive us?  On the basis of His Son.  It is only because of the cross & resurrection of Jesus that we can ask the forgiveness of God.  There, the justice of God was fulfilled, in order that His grace may be poured out in abundance.
    1. This is one reason why this model prayer is for Christians – for Jesus’ disciples.  It does no good to teach an unbeliever to pray the Lord’s Prayer, because they have no relationship with God in which they can pray it.  They cannot ask for ongoing forgiveness, because they have not initially received God’s forgiveness.  Without faith in Jesus, the Lord’s Prayer is just a bunch of words. 
    2. BTW – this part of the prayer is one reason why the common name is somewhat a misnomer.  Certainly the Lord Jesus gave us this prayer pattern, but it was not one that He Himself prayed.  Jesus has no need to ask for forgiveness, because Jesus never sinned.
  3. Notice that we are not only to pray for our own forgiveness, but we do so based upon a modifying factor: our willingness to forgive others.  Be careful here – this is not saying that we need to forgive other people in order for us to be saved.  The Lord’s Prayer is not a prayer of salvation; it’s a prayer of the saved.  Nowhere in the Bible is the gift of God’s grace predicated on anything but faith.  When it comes to our justification (our being made right in the sight of God & our being made His children), the only requirement is faith.  Ephesians 2:8–9, "(8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast." — Romans 10:9, "(9) that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."  We are saved by Jesus alone, only when we put our faith (and nothing else) in Him.
  4. So if this doesn’t refer to salvation, what is this forgiveness to which Jesus refers?  This is relationship – communion.  Just as spouses can still be married, yet have issues as roadblocks to emotional intimacy, so too can we be saved, but have issues between us & God.  Unforgiveness is one of them.  Grudges and unwillingness to forgive interrupt our daily communion with our Heavenly Father.  When we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts, we may find it difficult to pray, silence when reading Scripture, dead stoicism in our worship, etc.  Why?  Because we are now the ones in sin.  Even if someone has sinned against us, our unwillingness to forgive has now put us in the wrong.  How so?  Unforgiveness is the opposite of the gospel!  When we intentionally hold grudges, we engage in anti-Christian behavior.  If God held any grudges against us, we would be eternally lost.  The very reason we belong to Him as His children is because He chose to forgive us our sins, as monumental and incalculable as they are.  How then can we hold someone else’s sin against them?  As God has forgiven us through Christ, so we also ought to forgive them.  And for the same reason!  Do we think our neighbor owes us any more atonement than what Jesus has already paid on their behalf to God the Father?  Are our standards higher than His own?  Certainly not!  Forgive – and forgive freely.
    1. That’s not to pretend that forgiveness is easy – it’s not!  But it is necessary.  When you dwell in unforgiveness, the only person you hurt is yourself.  When you release the debt of someone against you, you’ll find that you are the one who has been freed.

And do not lead us into temptation, [But deliver us from the evil one.]”

  1. The final spiritual need for which we are to pray is protection.  We need protection not only from the devil who seeks to destroy us (as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount version of the prayer), but also from our own sinful nature which constantly threatens to consume us.  Christians are not free from temptation – far from it!  It wasn’t until we became Christians that most of us truly became aware of the temptations surrounding us.  Prior to that point, that was just life; only now do we see these things for what they are.  Now that we have received life in Christ do we recognize the things of death around us.  Thus we need protection & deliverance.  So pray for it – God is gracious in providing it!
  2. Question: What does Jesus mean when He teaches us to ask God not to “lead us into temptation”?  Might our Heavenly Father lead us into a point of tempting?  No.  The Bible makes it clear God doesn’t so that sort of thing.  James 1:13–14, "(13) Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. (14) But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."  We cannot blame God for our sin, or even our temptations to sin.  Yes, God is sovereign, but He is not deterministic, forcing us to choose our sin.  It is not God who leads us into temptation; it is us.  The prayer here is asking God to lead us out of temptation.  God always provides a way of escape from those situation (1 Cor 10:13), and we need His help to recognize them.  We need His strength and power to take them.  If God does not help us in our time of tempting, we have no hope at all.
    1. For some, this might be a lightbulb coming on for you.  Why is it you always fall in temptation?  Because you’ve been trying to tackle it in your own strength rather than the Lord’s.  You haven’t asked for His way of escape, or put forth the effort to look for it.  You haven’t thrown yourself upon the mercies of God asking for the power of the Holy Spirit in the moments of your great need.  In fact, it’s been the opposite.  Temptation comes along, and you shut your ears to God rather than seek Him when you need Him most.  What should we do when tempted?  Pray!  Pray fiercely and fervently!  In the hour of temptation, we never need wonder what the will of God is for us – pray!  You need the power of God, and Jesus’ command for you to pray for God’s help. 
  3. Whether the danger originates from the devil or ourselves, our prayer to God is one of protection.  It is one of guidance.  We are the sheep, and He is our Shepherd.  We need Him to lead us out of the thorns into which we wandered.  Did you ever get stuck in a tree you climbed as a kid?  You called for help & someone (probably your parents) had to lead you down.  That’s similar to what happens here.  We get ourselves into a mess, and we don’t know the way out.  If we continue guiding ourselves, we’re going to end up with a terrible fall into sin.  What do we need?  Guidance counseling from God.  We cry out for help, and our Father comes to lead us to a place of safety.  He will be faithful to do it, but we need to be willing to ask.

How to pray?  The Christian never needs to wonder.  Our Lord Jesus has given us a wonderful pattern by which we can pray.  We pray to the Father, for His glory and will.  We pray for our physical provision.  We pray for our spiritual needs.  Is it simple?  Sure.  Is it effective?  Absolutely!

Prayers do not have to be massively long, or intricately worded to be heard by God.  God does not value the prayers of a PhD more than that of a kindergartner.  But prayer does need to be sincere, spoken from the heart.  That’s why Jesus gives us a pattern instead of a ritual.  Use the Lord’s Prayer, but be careful of turning it into a “just another” prayer.  Prayers spoken without thought mean nothing to you – why should it mean any more to God?  Just because you spoke the words of a prayer doesn’t mean that God will honor that prayer.  Pray sincerely – pray with heart.  When you pray for God’s glory, think upon His goodness & grace, and praise Him for it.  Go into heartfelt worship.  When you pray for your physical needs, take the time to think through the things that weigh upon your heart, and simply talk to God about them.  When you pray for your spiritual needs (forgiveness, and protection), ask God for His help in examining your own heart, in order to see what things need to be addressed there.

When we do that, prayer will be purposeful – and that’s exactly the way it should be. 

When was the last time you engaged in purposeful prayer?  Hopefully it’s happened even today.  If not, it’s never too late to start.  Your prayer life can be revitalized the moment you put intention into it. 

Daniel’s Deliverance

Posted: February 16, 2017 in Daniel, Uncategorized

Daniel 6, “Daniel’s Deliverance” 

It’s been often observed that history has a tendency to repeat itself, seen in examples such as the failed invasion of Russia by both Napoleon and Hitler; the repeated wars in Afghanistan from Britain, Russia, and the United States; even in the rise and fall of Christian movements/denominations within the church at large.  The parallels between events are striking, and it’s worth studying them to learn their lessons (so we won’t be doomed to repeat them).

We see the repetition of history in the famous event of Daniel & the lions’ den.  Daniel had not yet passed from the earth before there was another pagan king whom God desired to reach for His glory, and more enemies who desired him dead.  God would once again bring about a miraculous deliverance, and the whole empire would be told of His majesty.

Something similar had been seen with Daniel’s three friends in regards to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, and eventually Nebuchadnezzar came to acknowledge the sovereign living God.  At that time, it was refusal to worship a king’s idol and the threat of being thrown into a fiery furnace.  This time, it was refusal to pray to the king, and the threat of being thrown into a den of lions.  Similar circumstances, with similar results.  Why did it need to happen all over again?  Because the same truth needed to be told.  God is alive, and He delivers.  That truth has not changed today.  God is alive, and He delivers us from death.  He is the only one who can save us, not merely from the traps of men, but from the enemy of death itself.  Our God saves, and the world needs to know of it!

Daniel 6

  • Darius Deceived (1-9)

1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, to be over the whole kingdom; 2 and over these, three governors, of whom Daniel was one, that the satraps might give account to them, so that the king would suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm.

  • Who was Darius?  The name has plagued the book of Daniel for years, with critics calling it proof of a literary fiction.  The Bible’s own testimony (even in this chapter! 6:28) is that Cyrus was king of Persia, and it was Cyrus who was God’s anointed servant to restore Israel from captivity (Isa 45:1-7).  Darius’ name is not found in any extra-biblical records, which gives ammunition to those who want to cast doubts upon the Bible (and especially the book of Daniel).  A few responses:
    • An argument from silence is not a good argument at all.  Just because secular history has not yet confirmed the name of Darius does not mean that it never will.  Belshazzar from Ch. 5 was famously mocked as a Biblical invention until his name was confirmed in the latter half of the 19th century.  Biblical names and events are often mocked until they are invariably proven true.
    • That Darius is mentioned as a king does not mean that he was necessarily the highest king in the massive empire of the Medes & Persians.  Even the book of Daniel seems to limit Darius’ kingdom to that of Babylon, acknowledging the superior rule of Cyrus.  It was not unusual in ancient empires for many “kings” to exist, with the final authoritative ruler being named the “king of kings,” a title ascribed to both Nebuchadnezzar (Eze 26:7, Dan 2:37), and Artaxerxes of Persia (Ezra 7:12).  Darius could easily have been a king, while Cyrus was the earthly king of kings.
      • Of course the ultimate King of kings is the Lord Jesus Christ!  No earthly power or kingdom is greater than He!
    • The name “Darius” could have been one of several names for the same individual, again, a practice not at all uncommon in the ancient world.  Extra-biblical sources point to an Ugbaru/Gubaru who was appointed by Cyrus as the ruler of Babylon.  This could easily be another name for Darius.
    • The bottom line?  The Biblical record can be trusted!  Skeptics and critics will always look for reasons to chip away at the trustworthiness of the Bible, but it is a book that has withstood the test of time.  Every time an objection is found, there has always been a reasonable answer, if not a complete vindication.  Give the Bible the benefit of the doubt.  Trust it!
  • In any case, Darius went through the process of reorganizing the government in this kingdom freshly-conquered from the Babylonians, putting in a tiered system with 120 satraps as regional officials, and three governors who managed the 120 satraps.  No doubt, the vast majority of these men were ethnic Medes & Persians – men whom Darius believed he could trust.  One, however, stood out: Daniel.  Daniel had served previous Babylonian administrations, but his reputation no doubt preceded himself.  Now over 80 years old, Daniel had been present the night of Babylon’s fall to Persia, even predicting the event moments before it took place.  It seems probable that Darius heard what happened that night, and took Daniel as one of his own advisors/governors.  Daniel “distinguished” himself in that role, to the point that Darius wanted to entrust him with the entire government.  As he had been to Nebuchadnezzar (2:48), Daniel was about to be raised to the position of prime minister, second only to King Darius.  As you might imagine, this didn’t sit well with the other men in Darius’ administration.  Vs. 4…

4 So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.”

  • The other governors and satraps were plainly jealous of Daniel.  Why?  Simply because he was good.  He did his work with diligence, and was obviously blessed by the Lord for doing so.  Just as Joseph consistently rose through the ranks of Egypt through his excellent work ethic & wisdom, so did Daniel do the same in both the Babylonian and Persian kingdoms.
    • Was it where Daniel wanted to be?  Not likely.  No doubt he would rather have been back home in Israel.  Yet he didn’t waste time pining away for something he couldn’t have; he did what he could where he was.  He didn’t give his half-effort; he gave his full attention to whatever it was that God sovereignly allowed to be in front of him.  Daniel is a great example of Paul’s instructions to the Colossians when he wrote to them, “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” (Col 3:23)  What we have may not be ideal, but it’s what God allowed to be there.  So do it for the Lord!  Do it with excellence, pursuing the best – God deserves nothing less.
  • Because Daniel did everything so well, that made finding fault with him difficult.  The governors & satraps wanted to find a way to bring him down, but they couldn’t.  No “error or fault [was] found in him” – he was plainly innocent.
    • That’s exactly the way it should have been!  Daniel didn’t give anyone an excuse to find fault.  If they hated him, it was their own problem; it wasn’t something he caused.  The hatred of the world is inevitable – after all, they hated Jesus, so they’re going to hate us (Jn 15:18).  Just don’t give them an extra reason!  If we are to be persecuted, let it be because of our faith; not because of our faithlessness and sin.  1 Peter 3:15–17, "(15) But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; (16) having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. (17) For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." That’s what happened with Daniel, and that’s the way it need to be with us.  News stories abound of men & women known for their testified faith in Christ, but also (more notoriously) for their sin.  It ought not to be that way!  Those things defame the Lord Jesus, and drag the gospel through the mud.  Enemies of Christ look for excuses to hate Christians; don’t give them any.  Be like Daniel: diligent & faithful.
  • Daniel’s enemies couldn’t find a reason to get rid of Daniel, so they decided to invent one.  If Daniel never broke the law, all they needed was create a law Daniel would refuse to keep.  Vs. 6…

6 So these governors and satraps thronged before the king, and said thus to him: “King Darius, live forever! 7 All the governors of the kingdom, the administrators and satraps, the counselors and advisors, have consulted together to establish a royal statute and to make a firm decree, that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.

  • If this seems like an incredibly egotistical law to pass, it is.  That was the strategy of the governors & satraps from the start.  They wanted to trap Daniel by the law, and the only way to do that was to guarantee that the law they desired actually passed.  So they appealed to the ego of the king.  For 30 days, the whole kingdom of Babylon would have to restrict their prayers only to Darius, putting their own gods aside as they paid homage to the king.  From Darius’ perspective, it was a solid test of loyalty, and it was strictly temporary.  After all, he wasn’t enacting this forever; just for a month – then things could go back to normal.  The old cliché says that it’s easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar, and a lot of honey was poured on to King Darius!  The governors and satraps stroked his ego by saying he was worthy of prayer (i.e. worthy of worship), and thereby invoked the oldest of temptations: “You will be like God.” (Gen 3:5)  (The devil is cunning, but he rarely plays any new tricks!)
  • Don’t miss the deception.  “All” of the governors?  Not by a long shot.  Daniel was purposefully left out of this discussion, though this fact is unnoticed by Darius.  But because “all” of his governors agreed about this, surely it was a good enough decree to pass.  Why investigate it any further?  If only Darius had been as diligent as Daniel, he might have avoided himself some heartache! 

8 Now, O king, establish the decree and sign the writing, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the written decree.

  • Darius signed the law, and it was unalterable.  Unlike laws in the US which can be repealed, the laws of the Medes & Persians had to be carried out.  By itself, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it signified that they were a kingdom ruled by law & that no one was above it (which is supposed to be the case here in the US as well).  The only problem arose when the law was bad.  What do you do with a bad law?  Modern Western governments have avenues of appeal; the Medes & Persians did not.  Of course, that was the whole plan of the governors & satraps.  They knew that once Darius signed the decree, he’d be obligated to uphold it, no matter what.
  • This by itself is a crucial difference here between Darius & Nebuchadnezzar.  Whatever Nebuchadnezzar said was law; Darius was bound to the law.  Not only does this demonstrate the change from a “golden” kingdom to a “silver” one (per Nebuchadnezzar’s dream), but it perhaps gives an indication that Darius was himself subject to the law under the highest king of the empire of the Medes & Persians, Cyrus. (Again, give the Bible the benefit of the doubt.)
  • So the trap has been set.  What’s next?  Vs. 10…
  • Daniel Discovered (10-17)

10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.

  • Notice three things.  First, Daniel knew the decree.  He was not ignorant of the situation.  Whether or not he was initially aware of the conspiracy against him is unknown, though it seems reasonable to assume that a man as influential as Daniel would have known of it.  But despite any previous information he had about his enemies, he certainly knew his enemies had a law passed against him now.  Whatever he did from this point was purposeful / intentional.
    • It’s one thing to fall into trials; it’s another thing to know into what you’re walking.  Obviously, no one wishes for persecution (or we shouldn’t!), but it takes courage and faith to willingly walk into a situation into which we know we’ll face persecution.  That sort of courage & faith is available to us through God the Holy Spirit – all we need do is ask.
  • Second, Daniel refused to hide.  He could have prayed in secret.  Instead, Daniel kept “his windows open towards Jerusalem.”  The temple was long gone by this point, but Daniel still chose to pray in the direction of the place where God had once put His presence.  But to the point, these actions could be seen.  Open windows don’t refer to raising some glass to let the breeze in; it refers to opening the shutters to where people could look inside the house.  Daniel knew that his enemies wanted to catch him in the act praying to God, and he didn’t prevent them from doing so.
    • Was Daniel inviting persecution?  Perhaps, but he was really offering his public testimony.  His enemies wanted Daniel to be taken down, or for him to show that he wasn’t the man of integrity that his reputation claimed him to be.  Daniel was prepared to give testimony to God, no matter what the reaction might be to him.
    • There comes a time in every Christian’s life in which we are forced to take a public stand for Jesus, knowing that our stand comes at a cost.  What it looks like varies from person to person, but be certain that if you haven’t experienced it, you will.  Paul put it simply: 2 Timothy 3:12, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution."  Not “some,” not “most” – “all.”  At some point (maybe many points), you’ll need to make the intentional choice to endure persecution for the name of Jesus.  Will it be tough?  Yes.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  Trust God to carry you through…He is faithful!
  • Third, Daniel refused to change.  This sort of prayer had been “his custom” for decades, since his “early days” when he first arrived in Babylon.  He had always prayed towards Jerusalem three times a day, and he wasn’t about to stop now, just because people were out to get him.  This wasn’t legalism on Daniel’s part; this was devotion.  It’s not that God would strike down Daniel if he took a break from his routine; it’s that Daniel didn’t want to give God anything less than his full devotion.  God had always been faithful to Daniel in the past – how could Daniel now be any less faithful to God?  It didn’t matter who in the kingdom wanted him to change, Daniel wasn’t going to do it.  He had served God 80+ years, and if that’s all the time God allowed him, then so be it.
    • When we don’t face outright persecution, we will routinely face pressure to hide our faith.  We’re told “It’s OK that you have freedom of religion to worship on Sunday mornings in whatever church you want – just don’t bring it to the open marketplace.”  Freedom of religion isn’t limited to a singular building – we either have it, or we don’t.  We will face pressure to hide, but we don’t have to hide.  People will say what they want, but ultimately the choice is up to you.
  • Keep in mind that none of this was new.  Daniel may have experienced this in the new kingdom of the Medes & Persians, but he had seen this sort of thing before.  This was the same situation faced by Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-Nego), when they were told to temporarily deny their faith and worship a false idol.  Just like Daniel, they also counted the cost to themselves and decided that faithfulness to God was worth it.  Like Daniel, they risked their lives – but the Lord God who gave us our life, breath, and promise of eternal salvation is worth everything we have to give.
  • BTW – What was it that Daniel prayed?  Thanksgiving.  Even in the midst of known persecution, Daniel still offered his thanks to God.  There’s never a time in which we cannot thank God for something – even if it is the opportunity to suffer to His name’s sake.  God is worthy of our praise.

11 Then these men assembled and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God.

  • Remember where it was Daniel prayed: his home.  For these men to have “assembled and found Daniel praying,” meant that they had to have gathered outside his house and waited for him.  We can almost picture the scenario in our mind: Daniel opens his shutters, sees his enemies assembled outside, and proceeds to go through his custom of prayer.  What pressure he would have faced to simply give in!  Yet he did not.  Daniel gave himself over to God, trusting that God is good, all the time. (And all the time, God is good!)

12 And they went before the king, and spoke concerning the king’s decree: “Have you not signed a decree that every man who petitions any god or man within thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.” 13 So they answered and said before the king, “That Daniel, who is one of the captives from Judah, does not show due regard for you, O king, or for the decree that you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”

  • The trap had been set, and the governors & satraps pulled the king right into it.  They reminded him of the law he had only recently signed, and then told him that none other than Daniel had broken it.  They spoke of Daniel in the harshest of terms, labeling him derisively as “one of the captives from Judah,” rather than Darius’ most respected governor.  On top of this, they accused Daniel of disregarding/disrespecting the king – something which Darius certainly knew to the contrary.  Yet Darius was trapped by his own decree, and it cut him to the quick.  Vs. 14…

14 And the king, when he heard these words, was greatly displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him.

  • How striking!  Darius wanted to deliver Daniel.  There was no doubt he knew the truth, so he tried everything he could to avoid sending his friend to his death.  But it was all to no avail…

15 Then these men approached the king, and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is the law of the Medes and Persians that no decree or statute which the king establishes may be changed.” 16 So the king gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.”

  • The king was looking for a loophole, but the governors & satraps did not allow one.  They were firm in their hatred of Daniel & ensured that the king had no choice other than to sentence Daniel to death.
  • Forced to do so, Darius followed the law of the Persians, but his call to Daniel is so interesting.  Darius seems to have had full confidence that Daniel’s God would “deliver” him from death.  Whether or not Darius truly believed in God at this point is uncertain, but he certainly knew that Daniel’s God was different than the other gods worshipped throughout the Persian Empire.  Perhaps Darius knew of Daniel’s past exploits & the writing on the wall the night Babylon fell.  Perhaps in the past, Darius had conversations with Daniel about the true God, and Darius had seen the difference in Daniel’s life.  Whatever it was, this Persian ruler had a confidence about God that seems truly unusual for a Gentile.
  • Why did Darius believe that Daniel could trust God?  Because the king saw Daniel serve God continually.  The Aramaic word for “serve” refers to revering, fearing, worshipping – to serve God as someone who belonged to Him in faith.  Darius knew Daniel’s sincere faith, and he knew that made all the difference.
    • Faith makes the difference!  Not the false-hope faith of the TV preachers & so-called “faith healers,” who declare wealth upon themselves & healing on people planted in wheelchairs – but real faith, true faith, sincere faith in the Living God.  When someone is in a real relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing Him as we would know any real person face-to-face, then that is faith that is evident.  People around us see that faith & know that it’s real.  They know the difference between someone who just goes to church, and someone who knows Jesus.  That sort of faith makes an impact, and paves the way for the gospel.
    • In addition, that’s the sort of faith that delivers.  True faith in the true God brings us deliverance from sin and death.  Someone who casually attends church hoping to perhaps go to heaven can never have assurance of eternal life.  Why?  Because they have no real relationship with the Living God.  At the point they’re at, they’re still trying to earn their place in heaven & it can’t be earned!  Eternal life in heaven must be given to us, and it’s only given to those who truly know Jesus Christ as Lord & Savior.  Real deliverance comes to those who have real faith.

17 Then a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signets of his lords, that the purpose concerning Daniel might not be changed.

  • Daniel was thrown into the den, and the door was sealed behind him.  The seal wasn’t extra bracing on the door, making it more difficult to open – it was a seal of governmental authority.  If the wax seal of the king was broken, it was a crime against the king.  The whole point is that Daniel was there for the duration, and if he was snuck out at any point during the night, then everyone would know what had happened.
  • Although it’s difficult to label this as true foreshadowing of Jesus, the parallels are striking.  Once He died upon the cross, His body was laid in a tomb, also sealed with the wax seal of the governing authority.  No one would be able to steal His body away in order to claim resurrection.  Without a miracle of God, nothing would happen…and a miracle is exactly what did happen!  (Both with Jesus and with Daniel…)
  • Daniel Delivered (18-24)

18 Now the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; and no musicians were brought before him. Also his sleep went from him.

  • Although we’re not specifically told that the king prayed all night, that certainly seems to be the implication behind his fasting from food and entertainment.  At the very least, Darius mourned over Daniel’s state, and was not able to gain any rest all night long.

19 Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel. The king spoke, saying to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?”

  • Darius didn’t waste any time in the morning.  He hurried to the lions’ den & cried out with hope beyond hope.  Was his friend alive?  Was God able to save him?  Yes!
  • Such a good question: Was Daniel’s God able?  Yes!  Our God is absolutely able.  He can do exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or think. (Eph 3:20)  There is nothing impossible for Him. (Lk 1:37)  If our God can create the universe in six days – if He can part the Red Sea – if He can knit us together in our mothers’ wombs – He can do anything.  There is nothing too difficult for our God!  Be it a lions’ den, a fiery furnace, or any other difficulty, our God is able to deliver! 
    • And the most important thing?  He delivers us from death.  1 Corinthians 15:55–57, "(55) “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. (57) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."  He gives us the victory – He gives us the deliverance – He is able, and He does it!

21 Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.”

  • God protected Daniel via “His angel,” just as God had done for Daniel’s three friends.  Whether or not this was the Angel of the Lord (the preincarnate Christ), we do not know – but it would not be unsurprising if it was.  Interestingly, that’s all Daniel says about it.  For all the drama that we envision about the den of lions, it seems that the night was fairly uneventful (except for the appearance of the angel!).  Daniel sat there all night long, surrounded by big kitties, and that was it.  God had saved him, and granted him perfect peace.
  • Why did God do it?  Because Daniel “was found innocent before Him.”  God knew Daniel’s innocence, and proved it for all the world to see.  No matter what the world might say about us, our God knows the truth.  Whether or not it’s evident for anyone else is beside the point – God knows, and these things will be revealed at the final judgment.  God knows who belongs to Him, and He knows whom He has made innocent through the blood of His Son.

23 Now the king was exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God.

  • Darius rejoiced & rescued his friend.  Daniel was totally uninjured – something completely impossible without the miraculous intervention of God.  After all, not only were the mouths of the lions shut, but they obviously had not even moved against him to knock him down.  He experienced no violence whatsoever, apart from the scheming of his enemies.
  • How was it Daniel was unscathed?  “Because he believed in his God.”  Again, it goes back to faith.  He had a real faith in the real God, and God really delivered him.  That sort of faith can’t be faked.  We either have it, or we don’t.  (And everyone is invited to have it!)

24 And the king gave the command, and they brought those men who had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions—them, their children, and their wives; and the lions overpowered them, and broke all their bones in pieces before they ever came to the bottom of the den.

  • Quite the irony!  Instead of Daniel dying in the den of lions, it was his enemies that suffered this fate.  And not only them – their conspiracy brought the full wrath of the king down upon their entire families.  To 21st century ears, this seems overly harsh & downright cruel, but to ancient near-eastern kingdoms, it was standard practice.  No one would survive these families that would be able to take revenge upon Daniel or anyone in the king’s house.  Their entire lineage was brought down to the grave, all due to their jealousy and sin.  Keep in mind, their sin wasn’t only against Daniel, but against Darius as well.  They deceived the king in order to trap Daniel, so now they faced the revenge of the king himself.
  • If Daniel was judged innocent by God, evident by how he was unharmed by the lions, what then was God’s judgment of these men?  Guilty!  Daniel survived all night without a scratch; these men & their families were dead before they hit the bottom.  Lions are so powerful that a single swipe of their paws are enough to kill a man – not even needing their massive claws and teeth to be involved.  Obviously, the Biblical narrative is not necessarily stating that the people’s feet had not literally touched the ground before the lions killed them.  The pit likely had a gradual descent, and despite whatever efforts the people used to save themselves, they were all dead within minutes.
  • It was gruesome, no doubt – but so is sin & rebellion against God.  We might not think of it in those terms, but that is exactly what it is.  Just like these governors & satraps committed lying rebellion against their king, so do we commit rebellious treason against God in our sin.  This same sort of gruesome death is exactly what we deserve, for the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).  But this is exactly what the death of Jesus upon the cross is so wonderful!  We don’t have to go to the lions, nor go to the cross, nor suffer the eternal death sentence of our sin, because that price has already been paid.  Like these governors & satraps, we deserved it – but like Daniel, we have been delivered from it.  Almighty God has seen to that!
  • Darius’ Decree (25-28)

25 Then King Darius wrote: To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. 26 I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, And steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, And His dominion shall endure to the end.

  • If this sounds familiar, it should.  Much of this is the same as what Nebuchadnezzar wrote several decades earlier.  To all the peoples in the empire of Persia (or at least in the lands under the direct jurisdiction of Darius), the command was given for people to recognize and worship the “the God of Daniel.
  • Why should they worship Him?  (1) He lives.  Unlike gods of wood and stone, or the gods of our imaginations & mythologies, Daniel’s God actually lives.  God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is real. He has proved it through history – not the least when Jesus rose from the dead!  (2) He endures.  He is “steadfast forever” – He does not waver.  God knows those who belong to Him, and He holds us in the palm of His hand.  (3) He reigns.  He has an everlasting kingdom – on that is eternal & all-encompassing.  There is no corner of the earth over which God does not ultimately have the final word.  He is sovereign!
  • That is who God is.  What does God do?  Vs. 27…

27 He delivers and rescues, And He works signs and wonders In heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.

  • God saves.  “He delivers and rescues.”  There is not a single person who cannot experience the salvation of God if he/she calls out to Him through Jesus Christ.  God does not merely save occasionally; this is what He does.  He is a rescuer & redeemer.
  • God acts.  Again, He is the Living God.  This is not the god of deism, who sits back & watches the world work.  This Creator God personally interacts with His creation.  In fact, that’s the very reason He created us in the first place!  He wanted us to know Him, and to experience the love He has for us.  Thus He acts in the world – most specifically, He acts through God the Son, the Lord Jesus.
  • What was the proof of all of this for Darius?  God “delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”  The king had personally seen the actions of the Living God.  Do you want to know how God will act in the future?  Look to the testimony of what He has done in the past.  Has God worked in your life?  If nothing else, as a Christian, God has worked for your salvation.  Look to that, and trust Him!

28 So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

  • Wraps everything up with the follow-up note that Daniel went on to prosper in the kingdom…much to the chagrin of his enemies.  Just as Daniel prospered in Babylon, so he prospered in Persia.  He certainly would not serve the kings of Persia for very long (being advanced in years), but what Daniel did, he did well.
  • Conclusion of the narrative section of Daniel, as well as the Aramaic language.  The book will transition to more Jewish-centered prophecies using the language of the Jews (Hebrew).

Our God is the Living God who saves!  He delivers those who worship and serve Him.  Does that mean we have a blanket “get out of jail free” card for every trial we endure?  Of course not.  All over the world, born-again Christians suffer for their faith in Christ, and there is no miraculous physical deliverance for them.  Those forced to stand in freezing water for hours on end still die.  Those attacked by machete-wielding soldiers are still murdered.  Those having acid thrown upon them still suffer.  Has God forgotten them?  No!  Heaven forbid we would think so.  Their God & our God still knows them, loves them, and acts on their behalf.  How so?  (1) He gives them the strength to endure their trials, which is no small thing in itself.  God the Holy Spirit gives us the grace we need in the moment, and that is a glorious thing.  (2) God has delivered them, because He has delivered them from eternal death.  The greatest enemy we face is not outside; it’s us.  Our sin and rebellion has sentenced us to suffering and death away from the presence of God, but God delivers us!  He saves us from our sin, forever!

Praise God for His deliverance!  Tonight, think over the many ways God has delivered you, and give Him thanks.  Determine to walk in faith, allowing your testimony to shine forth from your life as a witness to the world around you.  And trust God, not only for what He has done, but for all thing things He has yet to do in your life.

Sibling Rivalry

Posted: February 12, 2017 in Luke

Luke 10:38-42, “Sibling Rivalry”

Sibling rivalry can make for some interesting times.  The story is told of a Sunday School teacher who was discussing the Ten Commandments with her class.  After explaining the commandment to "honor" thy Father and thy Mother, she asked, "Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?"  Without missing a beat one little boy (the oldest of a family) answered, "Thou shall not kill."

Few things are worse than one sibling looking at the privilege/blessing of another sibling, and coveting it for himself.  How bad is it?  Don’t forget, sibling rivalry was behind the first murder in history (Cain & Abel).  It can get bad!

Sibling rivalry was bad between Martha and Mary on this particular day with Jesus.  What should have been a joyous occasion was marked with petty sniping and jealousy.  The Lord Jesus Christ was in their home – one would think that everything else might get set aside in order for the whole household to spend time with Him, yet that wasn’t the case.  One sister set to work, while the other sister sat down, and the sibling rivalry began.  Martha’s jealousy and irritation with her sister boiled over to the point of her taking her complaint to Jesus, to which Jesus responds with incredible gentleness and compassion.

Question: Is Martha a bad person?  Certainly not!  Martha is no worse than any of us.  She was just a Christian having a bad day…something all of us experience at some point.  The contrast between Martha & Mary is often held up as evil/good, sinner/saved, and that’s not the case.  The contrast here is not one of salvation.  Both sisters had faith in Christ, believing Him to be the Messiah.  The contrast regards their activity & interaction with Him.  Martha was distracted by her circumstances; Mary was attentive to the Lord.

It is Mary’s attention to Jesus which makes this fit the overall context so very well.  Chronologically speaking, we do not know when this happened in the life of Jesus.  Jesus had “set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51), and although the home of Martha & Mary was certainly on the way, this seems to be rather early for Jesus to arrive.  We need to remember that the gospel authors do not always arrange things chronologically, but thematically.  Such seems to be the case here.  Luke doesn’t show Jesus arriving in Jerusalem until Chapter 19, but He’s only two miles from Jerusalem here.  Thus, this probably indicates that Luke is recounting an earlier event – one that fits with the general thematic context Luke had arranged.

What was that?  The parable of the Good Samaritan.  After rejoicing over the experiences of the disciples as they prepared towns and villages for Jesus’ arrival, Luke shows Jesus being questioned by an expert in Jewish law regarding how to inherit eternal life.  Having the question turned back around to him, the religious lawyer recited the two greatest commandments: to love God wholeheartedly, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  In addition, he tried to justify himself with the second, giving himself a loophole out of loving quite everyone, which Jesus used to show him the truth.  It is impossible for anyone to keep the law and earn heaven for themselves – and the religious expert didn’t understand true love for neighbor anyway.

So how does this fit?  Remember there were two commandments quoted by the lawyer: love God & love others.  The parable of the Good Samaritan demonstrated what it looks like to love your neighbor; the contrast Martha and Mary show what it’s like to love God.  One sister gave her Lord everything – every bit of attention with her heart, soul, mind, and strength.  The other sister allowed herself to get distracted, and in her jealousy, attempted to take her sister with her.

Don’t get distracted from Jesus!  Choose the good thing: devoted discipleship.

Luke 10:38–42

  • The contrast

38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.

  • Who are the “they”?  The disciples.  They say nothing in this event, but their presence is silently felt.  Again, due to the fact that we don’t know when this took place chronologically, we don’t know how many disciples were with Jesus at the time.  The full 70 mentioned earlier in Chapter 10 seems unlikely – if it was, they certainly did not all stay at this one house.  Yet even if Jesus only had 1-2 other disciples with Him at the time, we can easily imagine the stress level growing on Martha.  Although she was glad to have Jesus with her, just hosting one other person can be difficult – much less 12 or more!
  • It’s interesting that the village remains unnamed, as Luke only labels it: “a certain village.”  From John 11 & 12, we know that Bethany was the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.  Lazarus is unmentioned entirely, which isn’t all that curious, considering he doesn’t have anything to do in this particular event, but keeping the village unnamed seems to fit the thematic arrangement by Luke.  He isn’t drawing attention to the village’s proximity to Jerusalem; he’s showing what took place there.
  • And what took place was a good thing!  Martha “welcomed Him.”  She received Jesus as a guest into her home.  Already there is a contrast with the earlier Samaritan village (9:51-56), and the instructions Jesus gave to the disciples about villages that might reject Him (10:10-11).  In this particular town, there was someone who gladly welcomed Jesus, receiving Him into her home as an honored guest.  Although it’s doubtful that this was the first time Jesus met Martha & Mary, this is still a good thing.  (Again, Martha isn’t set up as the villain…be careful not to think of her in those terms.)
    • Welcoming Jesus is good; worshipping Him is better.  Not that Martha did not/would not worship Jesus…she just became overwhelmed, and would need a bit of prompting to do so.

39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.

  • If there were any doubts, the fact that Martha’s sister was Mary seems to confirm this was the same Martha & Mary of Bethany.  Mary’s name was extremely common in 1st century Judea, but for her to have a sister named Martha, and for both of them to be so well-known by Jesus that He stated at their house narrows down the possibility of people pretty quick.
  • Mary’s interaction with Jesus was different.  More than welcoming Him as a guest, she “sat at [His] feet.”  More than simply sitting down, this potentially signifies something different: the mark of a disciple.  Just as Paul was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), so did Mary sit at the feet of Jesus.  Keep in mind that any interaction between women and Jesus would have been considered somewhat striking at the time to ancient readers – to show Mary in the position of a disciple would have been downright shocking.  Could women be disciples?  Absolutely yes!  It seems silly for us to even consider today, but we’ve got the benefit of 2000 years of Christian history, and we live in a culture fundamentally influenced by Christian values.  Around the world, and throughout history, that is not the case.  In areas around the world where other religions are the predominant influence, women are routinely treated as inferior, pushed to the side (or worse).  It is the gospel that has been the primary elevating force for women, as they have been properly shown to have equal value.  There is neither male nor female in Christ – we are all one (Gal 3:28).
  • How can we know this was discipleship?  Because this was no passive presence; Mary actively listened to Jesus and “heard His word.”  Mary drank in the teaching of Jesus, not wanting to miss a single thing He had to say.
    • How do you hear the word of Jesus?  Mary had something we don’t, in that she was able to physically sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him.  At the same time, we have access to something Mary did not: the entirety of the written word of God.  We have the full revelation of the Scripture from Old Testament to New Testament, inspired by God the Spirit, handed down to us through the ages.  And the amazing thing is that the entirety of the book is about Christ!  From Genesis to Revelation, it is about Jesus.  We learn about God’s plan to redeem the world in Genesis.  We learn about the holiness of God and the blood of sacrifice in Leviticus & Deuteronomy.  We learn about the promise of the Kingly Messiah in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.  We learn about the prophetic acts of Christ in the Psalms.  And the list can go on & on.  Want to learn of Jesus?  Read the Bible!  Drink it in deeply & richly.  How to do it might look different from person to person, but just do it.  When Jesus gave the Great Commission to make disciples of all the nations, He said to do so by baptizing people into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (i.e. evangelism), but also by teaching people His commands.  Matthew 28:19–20, "(19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  How do we know His commands?  By reading His word.  A fundamental aspect of discipleship is Bible study.
      • Again, this looks different for different Christians, but we can surmise at least this much for everyone: we need it all.  Not just a verse-a-day (or less!); we need to take time in the word of God.  And yes, it does take time…but it’s worth it!
    • Keep in mind, hearing the word of Jesus includes Bible study, but it isn’t limited to it.  Prayer plays an essential part in Christian discipleship.  It is through prayer that we not only speak our requests to God, but we listen to Him, exactly as Mary did with Jesus.  Granted, we aren’t likely going to hear His audible voice, but we will know Him speaking to our hearts.  We will know His leading & His guidance.  This is especially true when we combine prayer with Bible study.  As you read the Scriptures, read it with a mind (and ear) towards Christ.  Look to what it says about Him, and ask God the Spirit to reveal to you the things He wants you to know.  Bible study is never dry when you’re doing it under the guidance of the Spirit!
  • Again, keep our context in mind.  The Good Samaritan demonstrated what it was like to love his neighbor as himself, loving even an enemy to the extent that his needs were fully provided for.  Mary demonstrates what it’s like to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  She has wholehearted devotion to Jesus, hanging upon the words He spoke.  Granted, this is just a snapshot in time – there were other moments when Mary surely did serve, and do other things, just like there were times that Martha listened to Jesus.  But in this moment, Mary’s attention was firmly fixed upon Christ; something of which could not be said of Martha.  Full attention to Jesus is full devotion to Him, and that is exactly what He desires from us.
    • This sort of active attention is exactly what will guard us from legalism and simply going through the motions, in regards to Bible study & prayer.  It’s one thing to let your eyes run down the words on a page; it’s another thing to actively read them.  Likewise, it’s one thing to spit out the same words you always pray; it’s another thing to mean the words that you say & take time to listen.  God deserves our full attention.  Think about it: we know when someone is answering us, but really ignoring us…  God knows the same.  Pay attention to Him – be active in your devotional time.  It’ll make a difference.
  • The complaint

40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

  • What was good for Mary was disturbing to Martha.  She now felt all alone in her various acts of service, most likely that of meal preparation.  The word for “distracted” speaks of being pulled away, busy, overburdened – and no doubt that exactly described the state of her mind & heart.  Too many things needed done – too many tasks needed to be accomplished.  Many a household cook has felt the same way at Christmas or Thanksgiving.  There’s the turkey, the dressing, the casserole, the pie – not to mention the table needs setting, the house needs cleaning, etc.  Whatever it was Martha had to do, she was doing it alone, and it was enough to drive her to distraction.
    • Question: Who was it that gave Martha these many tasks to do?  No one but herself.  There is no record of Jesus requesting an elaborate feast, yet Martha took it upon herself to provide one.  That was her first problem.  No doubt, she did all of this with the best of intents – after all, to honor Jesus with a feast is a wonderful gift. But when she took so much upon her that it took her away from Jesus, she had a problem.  Imagine it: the Lord Jesus Christ is in your home, and you’re rushing past Him to the kitchen.  He’s engaged in teaching, and you’re excuse is: “Just a minute, Jesus, I’m getting dinner ready!”  At that point, priorities are out of order.
    • Yet isn’t this what so often happens?  We get so involved with good things in life: our families, our friends, our careers, our church – which can all be wonderful things in & of themselves – but over time we find ourselves too busy for Jesus.  We can’t spend any quality time in our Bibles or in prayer because we’re too busy trying to get out the door & on to the day.  We tell ourselves we’ll do our devotionals at work, or on our break time, but that comes & goes.  We tell ourselves we’ll do it when we get home, and our families require our attention, etc.  The weekends are no better – there’s always something to do.  And when we do have a few free moments, we just want to zone out for a while and relax.  What’s happened?  We’ve done exactly the same as Martha.  What started out as good things ended up distracting us from Jesus, and we missed the Best Thing.  Our priorities got out of order & they need to be reshuffled.
  • Of course, Martha hadn’t realized any of this yet.  She was in the midst of her stress, and the reacted, taking her complaint to Jesus, tattling on her sister.  Martha was running herself ragged, and her sister was just sitting there.  If she couldn’t guilt her sister into action, maybe Jesus could.  Note that in addition to this, Martha actually blamed Jesus. “Do You not care?”  As if Jesus was willfully ignorant of her situation and wanted to see her stressed out and suffering.
    • Again, be careful not to paint Martha in your mind as a bad person.  She simply had a bad day.  Any of us can become irritable from time to time, snapping at the people we love – even snapping at Jesus.  We blame God for our problems & our stress, when many times our problems are of our own making (just as it was for Martha).  Thankfully, God is gracious with us, just as Jesus was with Martha.  He is a merciful God!
  • How did Martha propose to solve the problem to her stressed-out jealousy?  She wanted Jesus to force Mary to help her.  Think about this for a moment – this was precisely the opposite of what she could have done.  Martha didn’t ask Jesus if it was alright for her to sit down alongside Mary.  She didn’t even ask Jesus if she and Mary could trade places for a while. She certainly didn’t ask Jesus if it mattered to Him if dinner was late.  No – Martha was not planning on spending time with Jesus, and she wanted to pull Mary from Him as well.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, she wanted Jesus to force the issue.
    • It’s bad enough when we neglect spending time with Jesus.  It’s worse when we cause others to do the same.  It’s a sobering thing to consider the events of your day and think about the times you may have distracted someone from Jesus.  Maybe it wasn’t pulling someone away from prayer or their Bible time – but it certainly could have been a poor witness to them, being irritable with them, or acting in some other way that doesn’t reflect Jesus.  Remember that Jesus said that every idle word spoken would be accounted for on the day of judgment (Mt 12:36).  The fewer, the better!  (And thank God for His grace through Jesus!)
  • The correction

41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.

  • If Martha was callous towards Jesus, Jesus was compassionate towards her.  “Martha, Martha…”  He patiently responded to her, ministering to where she was at, emotionally.  As God the Son, Jesus had the right to firmly discipline her for her impertinence, but He didn’t.  She had blamed Jesus, accusing Him of being uncaring towards her – all at the same time that He was personally sitting in her home proclaiming the word of God.  Her personally-inflicted stress had caused her to lash out at the Son of God, something which is foolish (at the least).  Yet Jesus responds to her in tremendous kindness, calling her back to Himself.  “Martha, Martha” – the double name calling her gently to attention.  People perk up when our names are mentioned, but to have Jesus look into her eyes and do it twice?  No doubt all of her distractions fell away in an instant, and she finally gave her full attention to Jesus – probably for the first time since He arrived.
    • God knows us and understands us…and He still loves us!  Praise God!  We who are so unlovable, are beloved by God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He created us, and knows exactly who & how we are.  He understands our stresses better than we do, in that He knows exactly what’s causing us to get so stressed.  He knows our reactions before we ever experience them, because He knows precisely how we think & even what hormones are physically firing off in our brains.  He knows us!  That doesn’t excuse our sinful attitudes, but we can take comfort that God our Father loves us and patiently helps us through our struggles.  God isn’t looking to punish us; He wants to help us.  (Because He does want to help us, it means He will discipline us when necessary, but that’s not His primary goal.  His goal for us is to know Him better and be transformed into the image of His Son by the work of the Spirit.)
  • Jesus specifically demonstrated that He understood Martha’s struggles when He said she was “worried and troubled about many things.”  He was not ignorant of her stress, especially as she watched her sister sit by Jesus.  He knew exactly how much Martha was doing.  He knew & cared about the details in her life (just as He does with us).  He also knew that her attention was pulled away from Him by “many things.”  This was the opposite of what Jesus had taught others (although we don’t know what subject Jesus was teaching that very night).  Matthew 6:31–33, "(31) “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (32) For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. (33) But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."  Birds of the air didn’t worry about food, neither do flowers of the field worry about being clothed – God the Father cares for them.  Neither should we be worried about the little things in our lives.  Trust the Lord!  Seek Him first & foremost, and let the rest come.  But again, Martha was doing the opposite.  She was worried & anxious about everything.  She allowed everything else to gain her attention besides Jesus.
  • What were these ‘tremendously important’ tasks?  We’re not told specifically, but it seems obvious it had to do with the preparations for Jesus’ visit.  Perhaps it was preparing many dishes for an elaborate feast, with Jesus as the guest of honor.  Perhaps it was making room for all the extra people in her house.  Whatever it was, it was all ultimately unnecessary, because Jesus & the others were already there & apparently in need of nothing.  If Jesus had needed anything, He would have asked.  Keep in mind that the main event wasn’t the meal; it was the Messiah.  Martha could have served the 1st century Jewish equivalent of PB&J, and it would have been enough.
    • Do we try to give things to Jesus that He doesn’t want?  Sometimes it seems that we try to replace listening to Jesus or being a disciple of Jesus with acts that are ultimately unnecessary.  I.e. we’ll feel good about our walk with Christ because we listen to Christian music, even though we haven’t read the Bible on our own for weeks.  Or we get involved with all kinds of activities (even good ones), while neglecting our own prayers and devotions. What good can we be to others when we are malnourished in God’s word?  How can we direct others to Jesus when we never spend time with Him ourselves? 
    • What is it Jesus wants most of all from you?  You!  There is not a single thing you can do, or activity in which you can participate that will make you ‘more valuable’ in the sight of God.  If you’re a parent, think of it in terms of your children.  Do you want them to obey?  Absolutely.  But does their cheerful obedience ever make them any more or less your child?  Absolutely not.  Parents love their children simply because of who they are.  Likewise with God.  Our Heavenly Father loves us because we are His children, and He wants us far more than any activity or ritual from Him.
    • Keep in mind, this goes hand-in-hand with the gospel!  We are not saved by our activities; we’re saved by the grace of Jesus.  There’s not a single work we can do to earn our forgiveness from sin or our place in heaven.  Salvation comes only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  If that’s the case for our initial salvation, why would we think it’s any different in our daily walk & relationship with God?  Do we honestly think that we are saved by grace, but walk in works?  Heaven forbid!  We are justified by grace, sanctified by grace, and will eventually by glorified by grace.  Everything we have in God is by the grace of Christ Jesus, or we have nothing!  Certainly, our works are important, but our works are not what make us important to God.  He loves us, simply because we belong to Him through Jesus.
    • For some of you, this ought to be incredibly freeing, because you’ve tied yourself up in your works & activities.  Although you believed upon Jesus as the Son of God crucified for your sins & resurrected from the dead, knowing your salvation rests upon Him – you’ve still tried to prove yourself worthy of God’s love.  The Bible calls us to walk worthy of our calling; not to prove ourselves worthy.  Why?  Because it can’t be done!  No amount of work is ever enough (again, that’s the point of the gospel).  We don’t rest in our works; we rest in Jesus…thus we give Him ourselves.

42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

  • All of this is contrasted with the “one thing…chosen” by Mary – the part that was “good.”  Many things could be done, but only one was most “needed,” and that’s what Mary did.  She sat at Jesus’ feet as a disciple.  She heard the word of God in the presence of the Son of God, and it was good!  As AT Robertson put it, “The best dish [was] on the table, fellowship with Jesus.”
  • Discipleship & fellowship with Jesus: that is what He wants most from us.  How much does Jesus value it?  So much so that He guards it jealously.  Mary’s part with Jesus would “not be taken away from her,” despite the complaints from her sister.  Jesus wasn’t about to command Mary to leave the His presence to go set the dinner table.  She was doing what was right, and not only should she not be reprimanded, but she didn’t need to change a thing.  The only problem that existed was the one in Martha’s mind because she allowed herself to get so stressed.  As for Mary, she could stay put.
    • A great rule of thumb for how we treat other people is this: do we lead them to Jesus, or away from Him?  Do we help people walk with Christ, or do we hinder them from it? … It’s so a great question to help you evaluate other relationships, activities, and other things in your life.  Whatever leads you away from Christ is something that requires a drastic change.
  • BTW – did you notice how Mary enjoyed that fellowship with Jesus?  She chose it.  Devotion and discipleship is a choice.  If you’re waiting for the moment that you’re going to simply slip into a deep relationship with your Savior, as if through osmosis, you’re going to be waiting a long time.  Sometimes we get the idea that although we find ourselves distracted today, that one day we’ll wake up & we’ll automatically be spiritually mature without a distraction in the world.  Not so.  Discipleship is a choice…a daily one.  We have to choose for ourselves from day to day if we’re going to put God first, or if we will allow the stresses and circumstances of our world to take charge.  If we decide to just let the day unfold, then we will be ruled by the tyranny of the urgent.  There will always be something to take us away from God…that’s just the way the world works.  And even if it didn’t, we’re still engaged in spiritual warfare, where we have an enemy that would like nothing better for our eyes to be off Jesus & onto our own stresses and problems.  Thus we have to make the daily choice for to be devoted disciples.  Remember the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  That doesn’t come without a choice.  “Love” is a verb, which means love must be engaged.  We have to choose to love God wholeheartedly, or it won’t happen at all.

It’s often held up as the classic comparison of the worshipper vs. the worry-wart.  Yet is it really all that simple?  Is the only conclusion here to be that Mary is to be commended, while Martha is condemned?  Not quite.  Mary certainly chose what was better, but that didn’t make Martha a bad Christian or someone in need of punishment.  No – her priorities were temporarily out of place, and Jesus’ very gentle chastisement helped correct the situation.  How do we know that things got resolved?  Because the other times we see Martha, she’s not complaining about her sister; she’s focused upon Jesus. (Esp. with the death of her brother…)

As we close, let’s look at what this is & isn’t.  This is not…

  • A condemnation of Martha.  Never in the Bible is she labeled as sinful.  She had her issues, as all of us do, but she is not set up here as an enemy of Jesus.  She welcomed Jesus, and loved Jesus – even if she had a bad day when He visited her house.
  • A discouragement of service.  Too many examples exist in the Bible extolling faithful service to God.  Works are commonly seen accompanying our faith, and rightly so.  Works go hand-in-hand with faith – never saving us, but being part of the result of our salvation.
  • An exhortation of monasticism.  We’re never told to do nothing but sit.  If all we did was sit, we’d have a different problem altogether.  After all, as much as Jesus commended Mary for the good part she chose, He also gave the Great Commission, which requires us getting up & going out into the world.

This is…

  • A gut-check for our priorities.  Is our love for God first & foremost above all things?  Do we value time with Him more than the time we spend doing other things?  There are all kinds of activities which can be good, but to which Jesus never specifically called anyone.  He did, however, call us all to be disciples.  That needs to come first.
  • A call to personal devotions.  There is no substitute for Bible reading and prayer in the life of a Christian.  Obviously we don’t need to legalistically enslave ourselves to someone else’s plan or schedule for their ‘quiet time,’ but we do need something for ourselves.  A mini-verse & dinner-table prayer is simply not enough.  If that’s all we have, we’re malnourishing ourselves.
  • An example of Jesus’ ministry to the saved, both with Mary and Martha.  This is not an evangelistic section of Scripture, for the simple reason that both Martha and Mary had faith in Christ.  But just because we have faith in Christ doesn’t mean every day is beautiful & rosy.  We all have bad days, and Jesus is just as much available to us on our crabby days as our great ones.  He loves us where we are, and when we turn to Him, He will get us through those things.

Be careful with your priorities!  Don’t allow yourself to get distracted from Jesus.  There are many things that could claim our attention, but there is one thing that truly matters: Christ Jesus.  Make the choice to devote yourself to Him.

The Writing on the Wall

Posted: February 9, 2017 in Daniel, Uncategorized

Daniel 5, “The Writing on the Wall”

“He should have seen it coming…the writing was on the wall.”  We use the phrase to refer to warning signs that we ought to recognize, but sometimes don’t.  It’s become a common idiom in the English language, though few people know they’re referring to the Bible when they say it.  (That’s true regarding quite a few phrases.  “By the skin of your teeth,” Job 19:20;  “Drop in a bucket,” Isa 40:15; “Fly in the ointment,” Ecc 10:1)  People might be surprised how much the Bible they quote without realizing it!

This particular phrase comes out of the events of Daniel 5.  There’s a new king in Babylon, and he has become even more arrogant than Nebuchadnezzar.  The earlier king was humbled, but this one would face judgment.  God gave him a supernatural warning through the famous writing on the wall, but the prophetic warning would find its fulfillment that very night.

The king could have walked humbly with God earlier, but he wasted the opportunities had had been given.  We don’t want to waste ours!

Daniel 5

  • A feast interrupted (1-12)

1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand.

  • First things first: who was “Belshazzar the king”?  Questions have been raised about this, considering extra-biblical sources do not show Belshazzar as being king over the empire of Babylon, but rather his father Nabonidus as the last king of Babylon.  For this, a bit of historical context is required.  After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, his son Evil-Merodoch (otherwise known as Amel-Marduk) ascended to the throne, reigning only two years before he was assassinated.  The man who assassinated him lived only four years, and was succeeded by his own son, who in turn was assassinated after 9 months.  The leader of that particular rebellion was Nabonidus, who took the throne.  Nabonidus married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, strengthening his claim to the throne, but spent much of his time abroad in efforts to expand the kingdom.  While gone, he entrusted the political rule of the empire to his son Belshazzar, who would have been correctly recognized as the regent-king of Babylon.  Thus, although the lines of succession are no doubt messy, Belshazzar was still the proper grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, and the ruling king in Babylon.
  • Belshazzar may have been king, but he was still foolish.  Whether he was young or not, we do not know – but he certainly acted like it.  His drunken frat party is a prime example.  The regent king gathered 1000 of the ruling class together, and threw a massive party for them.  Large feasts were not altogether uncommon, but this one became rather debauched fairly quickly.

2 While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.

  • Drunkenness not being enough for the king, Belshazzar had the “gold and silver vessels” of the Jerusalem temple brought out, so he & his guests could consume their booze straight from the holy goblets.  The Bible never tells us precisely when these items were made, and the amount of gold and silver in the Jerusalem temple varied depending on which king reigned on the throne, and how much he allowed to be given/taken away.  2 Kings 25 speaks generally of the various items of gold, silver, and bronze that were taken away by Babylon, though no specific list is given.  In the opening of the book of Ezra, an account is provided of the precious items that were returned to Israel, with the number being 5,400 articles of gold & silver (Ezra 1:11).  Whether or not that was everything that had been originally taken, it certainly was a large amount received back!
  • The blasphemy on display was astounding!  Whatever these vessels were, they had a sacred history, being set apart by Jewish priests for use in the worship of the one true God.  If these were goblets, no doubt they were goblets from which only priests and/or Levites drank.  Of course, it’s possible that these were even more precious – maybe even being the vessels that collected the blood of sacrifice to be poured out on the altar, or upon the mercy seat itself in the Most Holy Place.  There is no way to know which vessels Belshazzar and the others used, but they certainly hadn’t been intended to be used the way he and his lords did.  Instead of used in humble acts of worship, they were used in brazen drunkenness and debauchery.
  • More than that, they were used in idolatry.  There’s no small amount of irony that while Belshazzar and the others drank from goblets of gold & silver, they also “praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.”  Items intended and consecrated for the worship of the Most High God was used to worship a multitude of false gods.  Belshazzar had thrown down a massive gauntlet, and God Almighty didn’t hesitate to pick it up!
    • The Babylonian king provoked God, which was most unwise!  How many times have we seen others do the same thing?  Perhaps we’ve even done it ourselves.  Instead of humbling ourselves before the God who gave us life and daily breath, we poke at Him with our sin, like a foolish boy poking a massive bear, provoking Him to righteous wrath.  Just because someone has skated by on blasphemy in the past does not mean that God will forever ignore it.  As has been seen throughout Daniel (and even the history of the Jews), eventually even the incredible patience of God runs out.  God will respond to those who rebel against Him.  What we sow, we reap – and the thing we reap may just be the whirlwind of God’s righteous anger.
    • Of course, the good news is that no one has to experience the anger of God…that is exactly why He sent Christ Jesus!  Jesus took on the anger of God in our place, so that we wouldn’t have to.  Even so, we are not to provoke God to wrath.  We do so at our own risk.

5 In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. 6 Then the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other.

  • If it sounds like the king was utterly terrified, he was!  How could he be otherwise?  Imagine being there: you’ve got your raucous party and drinking, and all of a sudden disembodied fingers appear and begin writing words on the wall.  That’s something straight out of a horror film…it’s no wonder Belshazzar’s knees were knocking together!
  • What exactly was this hand?  No one knows.  It could have been the hand of an angel – it could have been the hand of God Himself.  Technically, the first part of verse 5 identifies “fingers” that were seen, but there is a reference to a “hand” in the rest of the verse.  Yet as incredible as the hand may have been, that’s not the focus of the passage.  The focus is upon what the hand/fingers wrote.  A message had been delivered; now it just needed to be understood.  That’s what Belshazzar attempted next…

7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” 8 Now all the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly troubled, his countenance was changed, and his lords were astonished.

  • Sound familiar?  This was basically the reaction of Nebuchadnezzar in regards to his two prophetic dreams.  To be sure, Nebuchadnezzar may have been troubled by his dreams, but he wasn’t terrified.  He didn’t have the same experience as did his grandson.  First of all, Nebuchadnezzar had most of his interactions with God and God’s messages through his dreams; not in waking life.  Secondly, there were parts of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams that he liked (such as the obvious references to his earthly glory), while there were other parts he simply did not understand.  Those were the parts that troubled him.  For Belshazzar, things were different.  He (along with everyone else in the room) saw the disembodied hand writing these words, and he didn’t understand a bit of it.  That sort of experience would tend to sober up a drunk pretty quick, and it seemed to have that precisely that effect on the king.
  • That’s when (like his grandfather), Belshazzar summoned all of the wise men, magicians, and anyone else he could find.  He commissioned them to read and interpret the writing, promising to handsomely reward the person able to do so.  To be “clothed with purple” was a symbol of distinction and royalty.  The “chain of gold” was a valuable reward in itself, along the lines of receiving a royal medal.  It’s possible that this was less of a necklace & more like a massive collar – but it was valuable, whatever it was.  To be “the third ruler in the kingdom” was the highest distinction Belshazzar was able to give.  As the regent-king, he was already the 2nd in the kingdom, so he was basically promising to make the able magician the prime minister under himself.  Again, this was similar to the situation of Nebuchadnezzar regarding his dreams of Ch 2 & 4.  The king needed help, and he was willing to pay handsomely to receive it.
  • The problem?  No one was able to do it.  Whether or not the wise men were able to actually discern the letters of the script is unknown.  No doubt they knew Aramaic (the language in which this section of Daniel is recorded), but although it’s possible that the writing was written in a kind of spiritual “code” script, it seems unlikely.  The most probable situation was that the wise men read the words, but hadn’t a clue as to what it meant.  That itself was the most troubling part to Belshazzar.  It’s one thing to be given a supernatural message such as this, but what happens if he can’t understand it?  What if God was warning him about something (which He was)?  If Belshazzar cannot read the warning, then things might be even worse than they already were.  Thus the king was troubled even more than he was before he first assembled the wise men.
    • Whatever it was the wise men could/couldn’t read on the wall, they certainly did not understand what was written.  Why?  Because it had been given by God, and thus the mind of God was needed for comprehension.  Earthly people understand earthly things, and spiritual people understand spiritual things.  This is precisely the point Paul made with the Corinthians in terms of the gospel.  1 Corinthians 2:14–16, "(14) But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (15) But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. (16) For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ."  The message of the gospel is truly good news to those who believe, but to those who are perishing, it’s foolishness. (1 Cor 1:18)  What is required to understand the spiritual truth of the gospel is the work of God the Holy Spirit in those willing to believe.  Without the work of the Spirit, no one understands the gospel, and thus no one gets saved.  How can someone receive the work of the Spirit?  Humility and faith…the very things Belshazzar did not have.
    • There are people for which you’ve prayed for years, who still are not saved.  Why?  They haven’t humbled themselves before God.  In many cases, it’s not because you haven’t shared the gospel – you have!  It’s not that you haven’t been clear in your presentation of the Scriptures – you have!  It’s that they’ve resisted the conviction of the Holy Spirit regarding those things, and they’ve hardened their hearts to the Spirit of God.  Because they remain natural, they do not receive the things that are spiritually discerned.  So what do you do?  Keep praying for them!  Keep loving them!  Keep pursuing them for Christ.  You will not be able to “sell” them into the kingdom, or debate them into faith, but you can continue loving them with the love of Jesus.  Pray their hearts will soften, and they will be receptive to faith.
      • Maybe that doesn’t apply to someone else, but to you.  Humble yourself tonight & be saved!
  • So the king was left in a quandary.  With his wise men perplexed, what was he to do?  Word of his situation traveled fast, and it apparently reached his mother, who came out with some advice.  Vs. 10…

10 The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came to the banquet hall. The queen spoke, saying, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts trouble you, nor let your countenance change. 11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers. 12 Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.”

  • The “queen” referenced here is most likely Belshazzar’s mother, the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, whom scholar believe was taken as a wife by Belshazzar’s father, Nabonidus.  She had memories of a man who was able to help – someone for whom she apparently had the highest of respect, referring to him in the same way as did her father.  This was a man “in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God.”  As with the earlier reference in 4:8, this should be “the spirit of the holy gods,” (the plural being specific to quantity, rather than majesty).  She, like her father, still had a polytheistic mindset & language, but there was no question of her regard for the man who interpreted the dreams of her father.  So much did she respect him, that she referred to him by his Hebrew name, rather than the one assigned to him upon his arrival in Babylon.  There was something different about this man – something which set him apart from every other magician & astrologer in the kingdom.  And there was!  He was a servant of the Most High God, and God used Daniel in marvelous ways to reveal His glory.
  • How wonderful it is to have the witness of the Spirit so much upon our lives, that it is immediately evident to those around us!  There is nothing wrong with Christian t-shirts or the like, but our faith ought to be evidently visible without those things assisting us.  Far better than a Christian bumper sticker is a sincere & evident Christian testimony.  When people see the work of God within our lives, it makes an impact.
  • A sign interpreted (13-29)

13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke, and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? 14 I have heard of you, that the Spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15 Now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not give the interpretation of the thing. 16 And I have heard of you, that you can give interpretations and explain enigmas. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”

  • How fast Daniel had been forgotten!  He had been incredibly influential during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, but that had apparently been lost during the ensuing years of political turmoil.  By this point, Daniel was late in life (perhaps 81 years old), and unused by the current royal court.  Adding insult to injury, Belshazzar questions him with awful arrogance, referring to him as “one of the captives from Judah,” rather than a retired prime minister/royal vizier of Babylon.  Yes, Daniel as a captive Jew, but he was far more than that in the administration of the king’s grandfather!  Perhaps Belshazzar was speaking out of his drunkenness, but it was rude, nonetheless.
  • Even so, Belshazzar presented his problem to Daniel, stating how all the other wise men had failed at the interpretation of the writing.  He even promised the same rewards to Daniel, showing at least a bit of evenhandedness here…

17 Then Daniel answered, and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation.

  • The rewards of the king didn’t appeal.  Why?  Probably because Daniel had already read the inscription and knew the promise wasn’t worth much.  What good would it be to be third in the kingdom, if it was only going to be for a few hours at most?
  • Even so, Daniel shows that his interpretation cannot be bought by the king.  Knowing what the writing said, it would have been easy for Daniel to get nervous.  After all, messengers delivering bad news to ancient royalty often found themselves without a head fairly quick.  The danger didn’t deter Daniel in the least.  Perhaps he was relying upon his faith in God – perhaps he simply didn’t care about the arrogance of a young regent-king.  Either way, he was going to speak the truth, regardless of rewards or punishments.
    • Although we cannot say for certain that Daniel’s faith in God caused him to have this boldness (because the Scripture says nothing about it), there’s no question that at other times, Daniel’s faith in God is explicitly shown in his expressions of boldness in the face of danger.  Faith gets us through fear.  Faith and fear are often opposites of one another, so that when we’re experiencing one, we forget about the other.  When our eyes are on our problems, we can see nothing else.  We get overwhelmed, stressed, panicked, etc.  Yet when our eyes are on Jesus, nothing else matters.  Faith casts out fear.  When facing tough choices and situations, the first thing we ought to do is go to the Lord.  Affirm your trust in Him, and follow the lead of Jesus through the time of trial.
  • Daniel promised to give the interpretation of the writing to the king, but first he needed to set a bit of background.  Belshazzar wasn’t the first arrogant king in Babylon.  Another had come before him, and his interaction with God was quite different.  Vs. 18…

18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. 19 And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down.

  • If Belshazzar believed himself to be great, his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar was far greater.  Belshazzar was just a regent, but Nebuchadnezzar was the true king.  He was mighty among his enemies, and beloved by his people.  His power was virtually unlimited within his kingdom, and whatever his heart desired, so he did. He was the textbook example of what it meant that “it’s good to be the king,” and was likely the very person that Belshazzar aspired to be.
  • Yet even Nebuchadnezzar faced his limits.  Vs. 20…

20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. 21 Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses.

  • Of course, here Daniel recounts the events of Ch 4.  Despite God’s multiple attempts to reach out to Nebuchadnezzar in mercy, in order that Nebuchadnezzar would humble himself before the true God, the Babylonian king hadn’t done it.  Instead, he doubled down on his pride (disregarding the warnings from Daniel), and God struck him with insanity.  For seven years, Nebuchadnezzar lived as an ox in the fields until the day God graciously gave him mental lucidity again.  When He did, Nebuchadnezzar finally gave God the glory He deserves, and God restored the king to his prior position.
  • Although this is something with which we’re readily familiar (particularly after reading Ch 4), this would have been shocking for Daniel to speak on this night at this time.  It’s not very likely that this story had been uttered too often, particularly in such a public setting.  Although Nebuchadnezzar had been restored to his throne, it was still a period of humiliation, and ancient courts often hushed up perceived failures of their monarchs, wanting their kings to be seen as strong as possible.  For Daniel to speak so boldly of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity would have captured the attention of every single person in the room, wondering what was to happen next.  If Daniel was bold enough to speak of that, what else would he say?  The answer: Daniel called even Belshazzar to the carpet regarding his sinful pride…

22 “But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. 23 And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.

  • Belshazzar knew what had happened to his grandfather, but he hadn’t paid attention to the lessons that were learned.  Nebuchadnezzar believed himself to be the most glorious of all kings, until he was humbled by the King of kings.  Finally the king of Babylon recognized the supremacy of God, understanding that God alone rules over an everlasting kingdom.  Nebuchadnezzar, as great as he was in the eyes of men, was nothing in comparison to the Most High God.
  • Belshazzar could have learned from that example of humility, but he didn’t.  Instead, he became worse.  He blasphemed the Lord God by defiling the holy temple vessels – he committed idolatry, praising the false gods of silver and gold – he blinded himself to the true God who gave him breath & life.  In every way that it was possible for Belshazzar to spit in the face of God the Father, he did so.
    • This wasn’t just a little misstep; this was massive.  This wasn’t “boys being boys”; this was rebellion.  This was downright sin, and it needed to be called out for what it was.  Keep in mind that Daniel endangers his life here by being this bold to the king, but he was determined to say what needed to be said.  So do we.  Sometimes we need to be bold in a prophetic voice in our culture, unafraid to call things what they are.  To be sure, it can be tough to do so.  We face all kinds of pressure to “go along to get along,” and simply be quiet.  But some things call for a louder voice.  If the people of God don’t stand up and say something, who will?
    • In our current environment, we might immediately think of political & cultural hot-button topics – and those things certainly apply.  But challenge yourself on this.  It is far more difficult to have a loving face-to-face conversation with someone regarding their sin, than it is to blast out a general passive-aggressive statement on Facebook.  Obviously not every issue is one that requires confrontation, but some things do.  Those are not just the hardest conversations to have, but they are likely far more important.  And the way to go about it is with a healthy dose of humility, love, and grace.  Galatians 6:1–2, "(1) Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (2) Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."  (1) Determine if there truly is a sin, (2) Determine if you’re really the one to confront it, in consideration of your own issues, (3) Actually deal with the issue, always with an eye towards restoration instead of punishment, and (4) Maintain gentleness and humility at all costs.  We cannot confront someone on their sin when we’re sinning in how we confront them.
    • Be bold.  Speak up & say what needs to be said.  Be humble while you do it, but do it.
  • The sin of the king addressed, Daniel moves to the actual interpretation of the writing.  Belshazzar and the others had praised the gods who do not see nor hear, but the true God who does gave something the king could see.  Vs. 24…

24 Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written. 25 “And this is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN 26 This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; 27 TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; 28 PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”

  • Major Bible translations typically leave the inscription in Aramaic: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.”  Each word is a noun, referring to weights/measures of decreasing forms of monetary currency.  The Hebrew equivalents would be minas, shekels, and half-shekels.  That much may have been understood by the Babylonian magicians…what it all meant was something completely hidden from them.  Daniel readily discerned the interpretation, using the verbal forms of the words in determining the meaning.
    • Mene: The verb (מְנָה ) refers to numbering or reckoning, thus Daniel says that “God has numbered your kingdom.”  He put it through the accounting system for a thorough evaluation.
    • Tekel: Here, the verb (תְּקַל ) refers to weighing something.  In this case, it was the kingdom of Babylon, or more specifically, Belshazzar himself.  He had been weighed in the balance by God to determine his worth.  In this case, Belshazzar came up short.
    • Peres: The reason this appears different from the first word (“upharsin”) is for two reasons.  (1) The “u” is really the Aramaic conjunction.  (2) “Pharsin” is the plural form of the noun “peres.”  Here, the verbal form (פְּרַס ) refers to breaking something in two.  In this case, it would be the kingdom of Babylon itself, divided among the Medes and Persians in the next succession of empires.  There’s actually a bit of wordplay involved here as well, as the same consonants used for this word are identical to the one used to refer to the Persians.  The only difference between the two words is the vowel pointing.  Thus there is an emphasis on the division of the kingdom, specifically going to the Persians.
  • That’s a radical message to deliver to the king!  First, Daniel recounted some embarrassing family history – then he flatly told the king that he was in arrogant sin – then he finishes by telling him the kingdom is lost, and that Almighty God was giving it to someone else.  That sort of message might have been accompanied by an order of execution elsewhere.  Thankfully for Daniel’s sake, it didn’t.

29 Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

  • Belshazzar was good to his word, but his reward wasn’t worth much.  Daniel received everything as promised, but he didn’t even enjoy his promoted position even for the rest of the evening, as God’s word came to pass that very night.
  • A prophecy fulfilled (30-31)

30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. 31 And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

  • That very night…”  To those listening to Daniel, his prophecies would have seemed incredible (but then again, so was the supernatural hand writing on the wall!).  If nothing else, they might have imagined this coming true at some later time.  Not so.  Belshazzar no longer had any time to repent – his judgment came that very night.
    • Some people push God to the limit and find that they’ve already reached it.  People commonly say that they’ll eventually repent & “get right” with the Lord.  They want to enjoy their season of sin for the time being, and they’ll deal with God later.  The problem is that we don’t know when God is going to deal with us.  As the book of Hebrews says, it is appointed for men to die once, and then face judgment. (Hb 9:27)  At some point, every single human being will come face-to-face with God.  Our difficulty is that none of us knows when that might be.  Thus we can’t afford to push off repentance until later – we’ve got to do it in the opportunity that we’ve been given.
    • That’s not just for someone initially coming to faith in Christ – that’s true regarding all sin.  For born-again Christians, we know that our sins are forgiven (thankfully!), but we dare not abuse the grace of God and purposefully engage in ongoing sin.  Those are things we need to deal with immediately.  Again, we don’t know the hour of our death, nor the time of the rapture.  At any moment we might find ourselves looking into the eyes of our Savior.  Do we want Him to find us engaged in our sin?  Do we want to have unconfessed issues in our lives when we see Him?  Keep clean accounts!  None of us are perfect, but be sure to deal with these things as they arise.
  • Question: Was this historically accurate?  This makes for a great Bible story, but is this verified in history?  Yes.  Although extra-biblical accounts obviously do not record the story of Daniel’s confrontation with the king, we do know quite a bit about the fall of Babylon to the Persians, and the city did indeed fall in a single night without a major battle being held.  Out of the two rulers, Nabonidus was the soldier, whereas Belshazzar was not.  The Persians were known to be nearby Babylon, but Belshazzar (and his advisors) were so arrogant that they believed that the city was impregnable, and indeed, it hadn’t fallen in battle in ages.  The ancient historians Xenophon and Herodotus record that the Persians got in the city by redirecting the waters of the Euphrates river into a channel, thereby lowering the water level enough for the army to wade through the river gate into the city itself.  Apparently there was a massive feast taking the attention of most of the city (as per the Biblical text), and they were able to conquer Babylon quite easily.
  • The bottom line: Yes, this is accurate, and God’s word came true to the letter…just as it always does!

Babylon may have been the most powerful kingdom on earth at the time, but even Babylon was taken down.  The kings of Babylon had their opportunities to walk humbly with the true God, but they squandered them.  Thus God judged them, found them unworthy, and cast them down.

May we learn the lessons Babylon ignored!  Don’t be weighed & found wanting – walk humbly with God, glorifying Him with the opportunities He gives you. 

Some of those opportunities might be speaking forth God’s truth in difficult situations, such as what Daniel faced.  Pray for the strength, humility, and courage to follow the Lord in faith.  Others of those opportunities might be having the courage and humility to admit when we’re wrong, such as what Belshazzar was unwilling to do.  Either way, we’re dependent upon the Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Love Without Loopholes

Posted: February 5, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 10:25-37, “Love Without Loopholes”

Sometimes we hear a particular Bible passage taught a certain way so often, that we lose sight of what the bigger picture.  The oft-quoted “judge not” statement from Jesus is a prime example.  There, Jesus does not command us never to have any judgment at all, but to judge rightly and without hypocrisy.  The story of the sheep and the goats is another example.  While it is frequently taught as a parable proclaiming the importance of good works, it is actually a teaching of what will happen to the nations that survive the Great Tribulation.  Their faith in Christ will be demonstrated by how they treated the people who were persecuted for Jesus’ sake.

A similar situation exists with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  So often, it is taught as the premier example of good-works, sometimes to the extent of a works-based salvation.  Some look at this as the clearest example of Jesus’ endorsement of social justice and the social gospel.  All of that misses the bigger picture – it misses the primary point addressed by Jesus.  By all means, there is a high value placed upon a person’s actions, and it shows the emptiness of a hypocritical faith without works – but that isn’t the primary issue.  Those are the trees…we need to see the forest.  What is the big picture?  Love.  Love without loopholes.  A true love of God and a sincere love for our neighbors doesn’t look for loopholes, fine print, and escape clauses.  When our love for God is real, we don’t attempt to justify ourselves, because we understand that it’s impossible.  True love for God and others is dependent upon our faith in Christ, just like our salvation.

Luke left off with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem – a setting that will remain throughout the next 9 chapters.  Although there are certain events that plainly fall within that timeline, others are a bit more ambiguous.  Many of Jesus’ teachings recorded in this section could have been given during any number of trips Jesus took to Jerusalem, so it’s difficult to pinpoint this with any accuracy.

That said, the subject matter mentioned here fits very well into the general setting of Luke’s narrative.  Jesus sent messengers throughout the land to prepare His way south, knowing that some towns would receive Him and others would not.  One particular town that refused Him was in Samaria, causing James & John to throw a bit of a temper tantrum, requesting fire from heaven to destroy it.  Anti-Samaritan racism was alive & well among the Jews, even among Jesus’ disciples – something which comes to the forefront here.

Whenever this particular event took place, what happened was all too common.  Someone wanted to know how to earn eternal life, only to find out that it cannot be earned at all.  Legalism & loopholes do nothing for our salvation.  That only comes through the love and grace of God.

Luke 10:25–37

  • The question (25-28)

25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

  • Although this seems perfectly primed for a lawyer’s joke, we need to understand that the lawyer wasn’t what we would consider a legal attorney or prosecutor, but rather an expert in Jewish law.  These were like the scribes (perhaps being one), who not only knew the Mosaic law (Torah) forwards & backwards, but also the traditions and rabbinical interpretations (Mishna).  Even so, this man had a shrewd legal mind, looking for all the loopholes of which he could take advantage.
  • Knowing his religious scholarly background is important when it comes to this “test.”  The question he asks of Jesus is not an honest inquiry – it isn’t true curiosity or interest.  It is very specifically a test.  This lawyer knew the answer to the question he asked (or at least, he thought he did); he wanted to see if Jesus knew the answer.  Actually, he wanted to see if Jesus would agree with his own interpretation of the answer.  He knew what he wanted to believe; he wanted to see if Jesus would back him up on it.  This lawyer came with an agenda.
    • It’s understandable when people have questions of/about Jesus.  There are many difficult situations people encounter, and very few of them have easy answers.  But God isn’t afraid of tough questions (just look at Job!).  But questions ought to be honest.  When skeptics go to God with an agenda, they ought to expect some challenge – after all, it’s not as if anyone can sneak something past God, or catch Him unaware.  He’s the all-knowing God.  If we come with an agenda, He’ll know it.
    • That doesn’t mean God will love us any less, or punish us for questioning Him.  He is just & righteous; not petty & vindictive.  It just means that God is not going to be fooled with agenda-driven questions, and He’ll either be silent or even cause us to look at the root issue behind our agenda…perhaps causing us to look at things in our own life we weren’t quite expecting.  God’s desire is that we would know Him through Jesus & be saved…and He will do what is necessary to allow that to happen.
  • On its face, the question itself is a common one: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  He asks politely of the famous rabbi how he can live forever – he asks how to go to heaven.  Who doesn’t want to go to heaven?  Given the choice between eternal paradise & eternal torment, paradise is far better!  (People today sometimes claim that they’d rather go to hell where the party is, but it proves that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of hell.  If they truly knew what awaited them there, they would do anything to avoid it!)  This particular lawyer wanted to go to heaven/paradise.  He knew it had to be given to him (i.e. “inherit” it).  That much was good.  The problem comes in how he thought to inherit it.  He wanted to know what he needed to do.  He was looking for an action to be defined.  In other words, he saw the inheritance as less a gift, and more a wage.  He wanted to know how eternal life could be earned, and particularly how he could guarantee it for himself.
    • The lawyer isn’t alone in his thinking.  All over the world, millions of people in all kinds of religions try to do the same thing: earn for themselves eternal life.  Even among multitudes of church-going people, this is a common thought.  They want to earn their salvation.  But…salvation cannot be earned – it’s impossible!  There is no work that can be done by man to earn his/her place in heaven.  If we do not receive eternal life as a free gift of Christ, we do not receive it at all.
  • This is precisely what Jesus is going to show the lawyer.  It takes some time to demonstrate, but Jesus will show him that none of his works are good enough.  He’ll show that the lawyer’s own heart is sinful, and that he needs the gift of God’s grace.  But to do that, Jesus needs to draw out the lawyer a bit, which He does in the questions of His own…

26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”

  • Jesus answered the question with more questions.  It goes to show that He was not fooled by the man’s insincerity.  Jesus knew He was being tested, so He turned the tables.  This man knew the law, and was looking to earn eternal life from the law.  If that was the case, the answer must be in the law.  What did this lawyer believe the Scriptures said about his issue?
  • BTW – This is more than a clever debating tactic.  The answer to the man’s question truly was in the Scripture.  If would be a bit different than his current idea, but it was there.  The Bible is the inspired word of God, and it has all of the answers we need.  Jesus told the lawyer to look again at the Bible – He would say the same thing to us as well.

27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

  • The lawyer answered Jesus with the same response the Lord Himself gave under similar circumstances.  When Jesus eventually got to Jerusalem, another lawyer asked Jesus about the greatest commandment in the law, and He likewise responded with the two mentioned here.  Matthew 22:37–40, "(37) Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (40) On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”"  The first is the famous Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, verses that faithful Jews pray at least twice every single day.  The second is a quote from Leviticus 19:18, referred to in the New Testament as the royal law, or as the summary of all the interpersonal commandments.  Indeed, as Jesus noted in His later encounter, all the Hebrew Law hung upon these two commandments.
  • The first: love God.  Love God with all you are and with all you have.  Whatever it is that makes you “you,” love God with that.  The idea is that we hold nothing back from the Lord God our Father.  It’s interesting that the first and greatest commandment is to love God.  We might expect it to be to fear God, or at least a command to submit to & obey God.  And certainly, we are to do those things.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  The need to obey God ought to be self-evident.  But to love Him is the first command.  If we love God, the rest naturally follows.  Those who love God have a reverent righteous fear of Him.  Those who love God obey Him – not out of obligatory legalism, but desire.  If we love Him, we want to please Him.  After all, He is our heavenly Father.  So yes, love God.  Don’t let anything get in the way between you & Him.  Whatever does is, by definition, idolatry.  God (Father, Son, and Spirit) is to be our first love, and when He is, all the rest of Christianity flows from that point.
    • Of course, the question becomes: how can I love God in this way?  There’s always a distraction.  There’s always something held back.  If the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole beings, then that’s a command we constantly break.  Answer: it’s only through Jesus!  When we receive the sacrifice of Christ – when we place our faith in Him as Savior & Lord, then He makes us the children of God via the Holy Spirit.  We cannot do anything to make ourselves love God any more…but we can be transformed so that our love of God fundamentally changes.  Once we are in Christ, then our desires change.  Now we want to please God – we want to be dedicated to Him – we want our lives to be given and lived for Him.  It’s all through the grace of Jesus.
  • The second: love others.  Love your neighbor in the same way you would want to be loved.  Show compassion to them, as you would want compassion shown to you.  Forgive them as you want to be forgiven.  This is the essence of the Golden Rule: treat them as you want to be treated.
    • And again, we find ourselves at a loss.  This is the summary of all interpersonal laws, yet we fall short.  Inevitably we treat others with selfishness or indifference.  For every instance in which we do well, there are likely ten others in which we’ve failed.  Here too, we need the grace of God, available to us in Christ.  Without it, we’re lost.
  • Question: If that’s the case (that we’re lost, unable to keep these commandments), why did Jesus tell the lawyer that he was right, and that if he did it, he would live?  Because the lawyer’s inability to obey ought to have been obvious.  If the man wanted to earn his salvation, then the answer was clear: be perfect.  Love God totally, without a single day of failing, and love others in the same way.  Keep in mind that these commandments are proactive; not reactive (which Jesus will point out in regards to the 2nd commandment).  It wasn’t enough to simply avoid offending others – perfect love of neighbor requires proactively treating them as we want to be treated.  Had the lawyer done this?  Of course not.  The lawyer was looking for a way that his actions proved his right to eternal life.  Jesus effortlessly showed him that the only thing he had earned for himself was death.  What the lawyer required was a healthy dose of humility and grace…something which he was not yet ready to admit.
  • The parable (29-35)

29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

  • Notice the key word here: “justify.”  The lawyer knew he failed the commandments by his own reading of them.  So he looked for a loophole.  He wanted some way to vindicate himself.  If he could narrow the scope of the commandment, maybe he could argue his case.  He hadn’t been perfect towards others, but perhaps he did well with a few.  So using his best negotiating skills, he attempted to argue down the law.  (Not a good strategy when talking to the One who gave the law!)
  • What’s the problem with loopholes?  If you’re looking for one, you’ve already lost the argument.  At this point, the only person the lawyer was trying to convince was himself.  Far better to simply admit his sin & need for grace, than continue down this path of self-deception.
    • Isn’t this what we so often do?  Convicted of our sin, the last thing we want to do is actually admit it & humble ourselves before God.  We want to find some way to feel better about ourselves, so we look for loopholes, offer excuses, and do whatever we can to justify our actions.  To be blunt, that’s just doubling down on stupid.  Do you want to feel better?  Do you want to feel cleansed?  Then confess!  Humble yourself before God and simply confess as He has led you to do.  Not only is that the quickest way to receive cleansing & forgiveness – it’s the only way. (1 Jn 1:9)
  • So this lawyer is looking for a loophole.  If he has to love his neighbor, all he needs is a strict definition of who his neighbor might be.  That’s the next question he poses to Jesus.  Jesus’ answer this time is a bit more involved…

30 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

  • The parable begins and Jesus sets the scene.  A man has left Jerusalem traveling to Jericho. [MAP]  It was a 17 mile journey, mostly downhill with various twists and turns.  The road was infamous for its danger, as there were many hiding places for bandits along the way.  As it turns out, this man found some, and was beaten within an inch of his life.  Robbed, stripped, & bleeding, this man was in obvious dire need of rescue.  If someone didn’t help him, he was sure to die.  Enter his expected neighbors: fellow Jews from Jerusalem…

31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.

  • Not only were these Jews, they were religious Jews.  Surely if anyone was going to keep the commandment to love his neighbor, it would be someone like a priest or Levite.  Right?  Wrong.  Both saw the man, and both passed by on the other side.
  • Some have theorized that the reason Jesus said they avoided the man was to avoid ritual impurity.  That seems unlikely, and misses the point.  If that was the case, then the lawyer might have thought these two men were justified in their action, that they had loopholes of their own onto which they could fall back…precisely the opposite of what Jesus was teaching.  No.  These so-called “holy” men were without excuse.  The right action was obvious, and they totally ignored their responsibility to their fellow countryman.
  • It goes to illustrate that a person can be formally “religious,” and have no true religion about him.  Someone can attend church every Sunday and Wednesday, and still have no love in his/her heart.  Someone can have multiple degrees in theology, and still have no knowledge of Jesus, and certainly no heart transformed by Him.  Our pedigrees do not make us holy; only the grace of Jesus does.  And when you’ve tasted that grace, how can you not share it with others?  That sort of love pours out not only over our lips, but all through our lives.  That sort of love isn’t theoretical & something merely to discuss & debate – it’s tangible, and interacts with real people all around us.
  • So the religious Jews did not help their neighbor in need.  Who did?  A Samaritan…

33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.

  • It’s almost impossible for us today to imagine the kind of shock felt by the lawyer when Jesus mentioned a Samaritan in this way.  We hear the term “good Samaritan” so much that we automatically assume that all Samaritans were good.  We even have “good Samaritan” laws in our legal system, based off the principles shown by the Samaritan in the parable.  But we need to understand this from the viewpoint of a 1st century Jew.  To them, there was no such thing as a “good” Samaritan, unless perhaps you were talking of a dead Samaritan.  The concept of a good Samaritan was simply an impossibility, like if you were told to look for a purple orange in the grocery store, or attempted to breathe underwater.  Perhaps the closest racial concept for us might be to show a fundamentalist Muslim having compassion for a Jew or Christian.  It’s a concept that seems surreal – but it certainly makes a point.
  • So imagine it for the Jewish lawyer.  His religious heroes (the priest and Levite) passed by on the other side of the road from their fellow Jew, leaving him in his misery and facing certain death.  But then comes a Samaritan – a half-breed & heretic – and he doesn’t pass by.  Before Jesus mentions a single act he takes, Jesus describes the Samaritan having something that the religious folks did not: “compassion.”  The Samaritan’s inner being was moved for this man in need.  He had heartfelt pity for someone he knew to be an enemy.  The Samaritan would have been away from home…he would not have expected to see any of his own countrymen on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Even stripped of garments (perhaps including his prayer shawl and other items with fringe), it was obvious that this wounded man was a Jew.  And still the Samaritan saw him and had compassion.
  • Apart from a sincere love for God, that is often where love for our neighbor begins. (1) See them, (2) Have compassion.  The first step alone is hard enough for some people.  We don’t want to see the problems.  We don’t want to look at our brother in need.  After all, if we don’t see them, then we won’t feel the need to help them.  No doubt, this was one reason the priest & Levite passed on the other side of the street: to avoid looking at the man.  Be we need to look.  We need to see.  Closing our eyes to a problem doesn’t make it go away, and God knows when we’re purposefully avoiding an issue.  – On the second point, we need to have tender hearts if we are to have compassion.  Too often, we become cynical.  We see some people abuse the trust of others or otherwise take advantage of the system, and then we just assume everyone else to be the same way.  Our hearts grow hard, and we lose the ability to show compassion.  Of course the problem is that when we do, we stop acting like Jesus.  How many times have we taken advantage of His grace?  How often have we broken trust with Him?  Yet He still has compassion with us.  He still responds to us with love.  He did it with us, so we are to do it with others
  • What did the Samaritan do with his compassion?  He put it to work…

34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’

  • Not only was the heart of the Samaritan moved, so were his hands.  He didn’t feel pity & keep on walking; he jumped into action.  He took care of the man’s medical needs, cleansing and disinfecting the wounds.  He gave the man an opportunity to rest, putting him on his own animal (thereby making himself uncomfortable by walking), and taking the man to an inn.  He even took care of the man’s financial needs by fronting his lodging expenses with two-days’ wages & promising to reimburse the rest.  The whole picture is one of self-sacrifice and service.  The Samaritan took no thought to himself, but instead provided for all the needs of the wounded man.
  • Interestingly, there’s no mention of any dialogue from the Jewish man in all of this.  The Samaritan’s actions and words are described, but nothing from the wounded Jew.  That’s kind of the point.  The Jew wasn’t in the position to ask for anything – it was the Samaritan who took charge and did what was necessary.  Obviously he didn’t give up his whole life to care for the Jew (shown by the fact that he eventually went on his way) – he just did what was needed at the time, and acted towards the Jew how he would want someone to act towards him.
    • Loving others doesn’t necessarily mean giving them whatever they want.  It means helping them with their need in the best way you can.  Sometimes the things people want can actually be harmful.  We need wisdom and compassion when helping our neighbors.  Both are required.
  • Jesus brings the point home…
  • The answer (36-37)

36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” 37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

  • Talk about your obvious answers!  Which of the three acted as a neighbor?  The one that the Jewish lawyer couldn’t even bring himself to name: the Samaritan.  So ingrained was his cultural racism that the lawyer couldn’t name his nationality; only the description of his actions.
  • But what a description!  Here, the lawyer nailed it.  Mercy was the key.  Loving one’s neighbor was not something that could be narrowly defined and dissected.  This was not a law to be parsed and skirted around the edges.  No.  Love was mercy, and mercy can’t be faked.  Mercy transcends boundaries & cultures.  Mercy goes beyond the minimum, by definition.  The lawyer had been seeking a loophole, whereas God wanted love – and love is exceptionless mercy.
  • That being the answer, the application to the lawyer seemed simple: “God and do likewise.”  Yet that’s anything but simple!  To love one’s neighbor to the extent of the Samaritan seemed downright impossible.  It’s one thing to show mercy to a family member, a friend, or co-worker – but an enemy?  To treat a person like that with the same level of mercy that we have received from God?  That’s impossible!  Exactly right.  Humanly speaking, it is impossible, and this lawyer finally found himself at the point where the law did not justify him; it convicted him.  That’s all the law can do.  The law can never bring someone salvation – it can never earn eternal life for anyone.  All it can do is show us our sin, demonstrate our spiritual poverty, and then lead us to Jesus.  The law cannot justify us; only Jesus can.  He alone can save…we just need to be humble enough to ask.

This lawyer found himself in a pretty sticky situation.  He had tested Jesus with the law, looking for a loophole that would prove himself righteous in the sight of God.  Instead, he found himself convicted of his sin, condemned by the very law which he finally understood at its heart.  In his case, the law literally led him to the feet of Jesus – whether or not he ever took the next step, we’ll never know.

The law of love cannot be loopholed.  If we’re looking for exceptions and fine print to the commands of God, we’re going to come up short every time.  Yes, the whole of the law can be summed up with two commandments, but that doesn’t make it easy to fulfill.  It just underscores how desperate we are for the grace of God.

In regards to the parable: who is your neighbor?  With what person or group of people do you have trouble extending mercy?  Who do you actively avoid, in hopes that you won’t have to see them and help them?  Be a neighbor.  Be the representative of Jesus that He has called & equipped you to be.  You can’t do it on your own.  You need the power of God the Holy Spirit, but He is abundantly available to every believer in Jesus Christ.

In regards to the main context: in what ways have you tried to justify yourself?  Where have you argued with God, attempting to prove yourself right?  Keep in mind, born-again Christians can do this just as easily as those who don’t know Jesus.  We have our pet sins for which we make excuses.  We have our habits we don’t want to give up.  We rack our brains trying to think up reasons why we can continue what we’re doing, when all along we know what the plain and obvious will of God is for us.  We know we need to humble ourselves in repentance, make restitution, act out in compassion (or whatever), but we just don’t want to do it.  Stop trying to justify yourself.  The only person you’re trying to convince is you…and you’re not likely even doing a good job with that.

Instead, go back to the gospel.  Go back to the simplicity of the message of the cross.  The plain truth is: we have no excuses.  All our vain attempts at self-righteousness are just that: vanity.  Instead, we need to cast ourselves at the feet of Christ.  We need to look upon the Jesus who loved us so much that He died for us, and simply confess our need for His grace.  Any time we’re trying to prove ourselves right is a time that we’re trying to walk without grace…and that isn’t Christianity. 

Discovering the Greater King

Posted: February 2, 2017 in Daniel, Uncategorized

Daniel 4, “Discovering the Greater King”

Parents: how many times have you said this one?  “I’m giving you to the count of three…”  We’ve extended chance after chance for our children to obey, but finally our patience runs out.  Eventually, we have to follow up our commands with consequences, and (not too infrequently) our children force the issue. 

Of course, it’s not much different with the Lord God.  He gives us opportunity after opportunity to repent, or to bring about whatever change we know is required, and eventually He has to follow up His commands with consequences.  We test His patience, and though it extends far beyond what we can imagine, eventually even the patience of God runs out.  Even in terms of salvation, this is true.  God is so incredibly patience with men & women, granting us day after day to come to faith in His Son & receive the forgiveness He graciously offers.  Yet eventually the days stop coming.  The opportunities we have to receive the salvation of Christ are in this life alone, and when someone perishes, they perish forever.  That isn’t God’s desire, but that is the reality.  Eventually, the consequence has to come.  He loves us too much to allow us to remain in that position of disobedience.  The sooner we learn our lesson, the better.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had his own lesson to learn.  Like us, he had also rebelled against God, ignoring the multiple outreaches of God to him.  At first blush, we might not even consider the fact that God desired to reach a Gentile king with His grace – particularly not one who had led the conquest against Jerusalem and the rest of the kingdom of Judah.  Yet even Nebuchadnezzar was made in the image of God, and the Father desires that all people be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4)  So yes, God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to be saved.  He wanted even the king of Babylon to know Him and worship Him, just the same as He desired that of the Jews.  Thus God repeatedly reached out to Nebuchadnezzar in mercy.

The first time was an instance much like the events recorded in Chapter 4.  Nebuchadnezzar had repeatedly received a dream that disturbed him greatly.  Knowing that his cadre of counselors & magicians would invent an interpretation that suited themselves, the king refused to provide them the details of his dream, and demanded of them both the details of the dream and its interpretation.  Obviously they failed, and in their place came Daniel the Jew.  Still a young man at the time, and still in-training to become one of the king’s wise men, Daniel received the dream and its interpretation from the Lord God, and then related it to Nebuchadnezzar.  The dream was about the future of the Babylonian kingdoms, and all the kingdoms that would follow.  Each one would be temporary, all ultimately replaced by the everlasting kingdom of God that would encompass the whole earth.  At the time, Nebuchadnezzar was impressed, and understood that Daniel’s God was “the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets,” (Dan 1:47) – but that’s as far as he got, not yet truly coming to faith.

The second was an event involving Daniel’s friends, famously known by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah).  These three refused to bow in worship of a golden image erected by Nebuchadnezzar, who wanted a symbol of the greatness and (supposed) eternity of his kingdom.  God protected the three Jews from the fiery furnace prepared by the king, and the king was truly humbled by the God of the Hebrews who truly had power to deliver His servants from any earthly king.

These were two incredible miracles – personal interactions from the God of the Universe as He reached out to Nebuchadnezzar in mercy.  Yet the king still worshipped other gods – he still saw himself as most glorious of all.  In so doing, he almost exhausted the patience of God.  So God gives him one more chance.  A command had been given, and consequences were sure to follow.

Would the king of Babylon finally recognize the greater King of the universe?  Will we?

Daniel 4

  • Opening salutations (4:1-3)

1 Nebuchadnezzar the king, To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you.

  • What’s interesting about this is Nebuchadnezzar’s own signature (so to speak).  Obviously Daniel is the author of the book, but it seems that he chose to include a letter submitted by the king of Babylon.  A pagan king as the author of Scripture?  It may seem incredible to believe, but it is the truth.  (And perhaps it is one indication that Nebuchadnezzar really did eventually come to faith in the Living God!)
  • Otherwise, this is a standard opening that the king of Babylon would have used with any of his imperial correspondence.  He wasn’t literally addressing every nation on planet earth – he wouldn’t have known how many there were!  He’s addressing all of the peoples within his own empire.  Babylon had conquered many peoples & nations, who each had their own languages.  It is to them that he sends this royal decree.  What did he say?  Vs. 2…

2 I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me.

  • This is his personal testimony!  Right from the beginning, Nebuchadnezzar talks about the works of “the Most High God.”  Scholars have debated whether or not it can be definitively stated that Nebuchadnezzar truly came to saving faith the YHWH of Israel, and perhaps no answer can be given that doesn’t have at least some amount of lingering doubt.  After all, the historical record of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia says nothing about a conversion away from the national gods of Marduk or Nebo.  Of course, there shouldn’t be an expectation otherwise.  No doubt those who recorded Babylonian history would be hesitant to include such information.  Even so, the Scriptural record shows at least some faith on the part of the king.  If nothing else, even if Nebuchadnezzar never fully gave up his polytheism, he still acknowledged Daniel’s God as being “the Most High God.”  Of all the gods that could be worshipped, this one God was supreme over all.
  • God is supreme!  Not that there are other gods in the universe, but whatever else is there, God is supreme over all.  God is more powerful than natural forces.  God is more powerful than the angels and demons.  God is more powerful than the devil himself.  There is no spiritual power that holds a candle to the mighty strength of God – He is over them all!  He is infinite in His might, totally omnipotent in every respect.  There is nothing He cannot do, and no throne over which He does not reign.
  • And the amazing thing is that this God works on our behalf!  God the Father sent God the Son anointed with God the Spirit for our sakes, that we might be saved.  God has intervened between us and our sin, inserting His omnipotent power and infinite grace where the punishment for our sin ought to have been.  He has worked for you, me, and even for Nebuchadnezzar.
    • How amazing is it that the Most High God has worked for you?  He has rescued you from hell, given you life, filled you with God the Holy Spirit, and made you His child.  You will spend eternity with Him, all because of His grace.  Almighty God has done that for you!  What privilege – what grace!  However God did that for you, that is your testimony, and that is what you can share with anyone who asks.  When it comes to evangelism, a born-again Christian is never unequipped.  You’ve been given the Holy Spirit and your testimony of Christ – nothing else is required.

3 How great are His signs, And how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And His dominion is from generation to generation.

  • Again, right from the beginning, we see that the king has learned his lesson.  He will relate the story of how he got to this point, but he doesn’t leave the reader in suspense.  This is exactly what the Lord had been trying to teach him for years (ever since his first dream, 2:44) – and finally it had sunk in.  God is truly great, and His kingdom alone is an everlasting, all-encompassing kingdom & dominion.  As great as the empire of Babylon may have been, it was nothing in comparison with the kingdom of God.  God’s kingdom is supreme, and will last into the ages.
  • And amazingly, it’s already begun!  When Jesus walked among us during His earthly ministry, He began instituting the kingdom of God.  Though His death and resurrection, He performed the work necessary for the kingdom to be extended to all the world.  During this present age of the church, the news of the kingdom continues to go out & the kingdom grows inch by inch, person by person.  After Jesus’ return, the kingdom will be gloriously installed over all the earth, and will be known in its fullness for 1000 years.  Then after one brief moment of rebellion, all Satanic attack and temptation will be forever removed, and the kingdom will continue into eternity.  So is God’s kingdom an everlasting kingdom?  Yes!  And we are blessed to be made its citizens in this present day!
  • That was just the introductory remarks.  Nebuchadnezzar goes on to write about his dream…
  • A dream given (4:4-18)

4 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at rest in my house, and flourishing in my palace. 5 I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts on my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. 6 Therefore I issued a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream.

  • This is all reminiscent of the event years earlier, when Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream, and his spirit was anxious to know the interpretation (2:3).  One would think that based off his earlier experience (as well as his obvious trust of Daniel), that he might have sent for Daniel immediately.  Instead, he brings in the other “wise men of Babylon,” for their help in interpretation.  As to why Daniel wasn’t summoned, perhaps he was serving elsewhere in the kingdom at the time, or perhaps the position to which the king had promoted him was too high for this sort of thing.  Daniel seems to have been a kind of prime minister or vizier – perhaps Nebuchadnezzar wanted to go through the “normal” channels first.  Whatever the case, he asked the wise men, but they were no help…

7 Then the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers came in, and I told them the dream; but they did not make known to me its interpretation.

  • This was also the same as before, with one slight change: Nebuchadnezzar did not withhold the content of his dream from them.  He told them the details, but even with that information, the so-called “wise men” of Babylon could offer the king nothing in regards to the interpretation.  His dream had come from the Lord, and the wisdom of men had nothing to offer.
    • It never does!  No one knows the mind of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Cor 2:11)  If we want to know the answer to spiritual things, we need to go through God the Holy Spirit and His resources (i.e. the Bible). 
  • Of course, Nebuchadnezzar had not yet totally come to this conclusion, so his answer is delayed until he sends for the one man in his court who actually knew the Living God: Daniel…

8 But at last Daniel came before me (his name is Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god; in him is the Spirit of the Holy God), and I told the dream before him, saying: 9 “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the Spirit of the Holy God is in you, and no secret troubles you, explain to me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and its interpretation.

  • What’s interesting here is the contrast between Nebuchadnezzar’s conversation with Daniel & Nebuchadnezzar’s stated testimony.  In vs. 2, he plainly references “the Most High God,” whereas here, he still uses Daniel’s pagan name & seemingly talks in terms of polytheism.  The Aramaic used for “Spirit of the Holy God” is actually plural: “spirit of the holy gods.”  Although the Hebrew word for “God” is often seen in a plural form with a singular translation (plural of majesty), that’s not the grammatical case here.  In Nebuchadnezzar’s use, it is truly plural – which makes sense if he was still thinking in polytheistic terms at the time. (Which is why most English translations render “gods” as plural.)
  • This shouldn’t trouble us – it actually underscores the truth of the passage.  Nebuchadnezzar is simply relating the events as they happened.  Yes, he did eventually acknowledge Daniel’s God as the Most High God, but at the time he spoke to Daniel, he didn’t.  At that time, the king was just as pagan as he ever was.  He had a bit of respect for the true God, but he didn’t yet know Him as the true God.
    • There’s a lot of people in that same boat today.  They know of God, but they don’t know God.  They know God exists, but they do not know Him personally.  They might be able to answer some questions of doctrine correctly, but they still aren’t saved.  Think about it: cultists can correctly answer some doctrinal questions.  Jehovah Witnesses can affirm that God is the Creator of the heavens & the earth.  Mormons can say that Jesus provides the atonement for our sins.  What neither can do is affirm Jesus as being fully God the Son, along with God the Father and God the Spirit.  They might have a few ideas right, but they’ve missed the bigger picture.
    • We need more than a bit of knowledge about God; we need to know the true God as God.  The only way that knowledge comes is through Jesus Christ.  If we know Jesus, we know Jesus’ Father (Jn 8:19,14:7) – He is the only way to the Father (Jn 14:6).
  • One other thought: Nebuchadnezzar (for all of his faulty theology about God at the time) recognized that the Spirit of God was in Daniel…but the Spirit certainly was not in Nebuchadnezzar.  One of the glorious promises of the gospel is that through Christ, we are all baptized into one Spirit! (1 Cor 12:13)  Just like Daniel was filled with the Holy Spirit, you & I are filled with the Holy Spirit.  We have direct access to God just like any of the prophets of the past.  We might have different gifts, but we have one God.
  • Nebuchadnezzar goes on to explain his dream to Daniel.  Vs. 10…

10 These were the visions of my head while on my bed: I was looking, and behold, A tree in the midst of the earth, And its height was great. 11 The tree grew and became strong; Its height reached to the heavens, And it could be seen to the ends of all the earth. 12 Its leaves were lovely, Its fruit abundant, And in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, The birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches, And all flesh was fed from it.

  • So far, so good.  A huge fruitful, strong tree was seen in the dream.  Everything you could possibly want to see in a tree was seen in this one.  It was a blessing to all life, and its splendor “reached to the heavens.”  As with the king’s earlier dream, it started out wonderful – it’s what followed that troubled him.  Vs. 13…

13 “I saw in the visions of my head while on my bed, and there was a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven. 14 He cried aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, Strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts get out from under it, And the birds from its branches. 15 Nevertheless leave the stump and roots in the earth, Bound with a band of iron and bronze, In the tender grass of the field. Let it be wet with the dew of heaven, And let him graze with the beasts On the grass of the earth. 16 Let his heart be changed from that of a man, Let him be given the heart of a beast, And let seven times pass over him.

  • Although Nebuchadnezzar didn’t really have the words to describe it, it seems that in his dream, he saw an angel.  The angel came with a proclamation to chop down the tree to the ground.  It’s common to prune trees & bushes, but this was pruning to the extreme.  This once-glorious tree would be taken down to a mere stump.  Its fruitfulness would be removed, and its ability to bless the beasts of the field would be gone.
  • That said, the tree would be left alive.  Most trees, if cut to a stump, would die.  Even the roots would shrivel up.  Not this one…this one would remain alive, if yet imprisoned in a “band of iron and bronze.”  It wasn’t going anywhere, but neither would it totally perish.
  • If that wasn’t disturbing enough, the picture changes from that of a tree to a man (end of vs. 15 & 16).  “Let it [the stump] be wet…let him [the man] graze…”  There’s no doubt that there was a personal punishment involved.  This man would no longer have the heart of a man, but have the “heart of a beast,” and he would remain in this state for “seven times.
  • There is all kinds of symbolism involved here (which is addressed in Daniel’s interpretation), but there was at least one thing clear: the purpose of the punishment.  Vs. 17…

17 ‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.’

  • The judgment was that of Almighty God, but the sentence was pronounced by the angels.  To say that “this decision is by the decree of the watchers” doesn’t mean that the angels had the right to pass judgment upon the king; it simply shows them as the messengers of God.  Nebuchadnezzar did not yet know the true God, but he could recognize angels when he saw them (such as in the fiery furnace with Daniel’s three friends).  Thus they were the best method by which the message could be given to him.
  • What was it he needed to know?  “That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men.”  Nebuchadnezzar needed to know that God is supreme – he needed to know that only one Kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and that God is control of all earthly kings.  Of course, this is what was stated, and though it was plainly said, Nebuchadnezzar still required an interpretation.
  • It’s no wonder this dream made Nebuchadnezzar afraid!  No doubt, much of this would have been terribly confusing to him.  That’s why he sought out his friend Daniel…

18 “This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, declare its interpretation, since all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for the Spirit of the Holy God is in you.”

  • His concluding request.  Basically saying, “Everyone else failed, but I know you can do it.  You’re different.”  On that, Nebuchadnezzar is right.  Daniel was different, because Daniel had the “Spirit of the Holy God” (though not the “holy gods,” as the king imagined).
    • Likewise with every believer in Christ.  Our unsaved friends look at us differently, and rightly so.  We have the Spirit of the Holy God within us!  Because God the Son has saved us and God the Spirit indwells us, our very nature has changed.  We exude the aroma of Christ, and His light shines out from within us.  Whether or not they say anything, people see that, and they know the difference.
    • If they don’t see that, there’s a problem!
  • The dream interpreted (4:19-27)

19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him. So the king spoke, and said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation trouble you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies!

  • It’s understandable why the dream troubled the king, but why did it trouble Daniel?  Because he was a friend of the king.  Yes, Daniel was a Jew in the middle of Babylonian captivity – no doubt he would have rather been back in Jerusalem, living under an independent monarchy of the line of David.  But he had made the most of where he was, and he served his king with honor.  He didn’t want to see anything bad come to the king. 
  • In addition, those bearing bad news to ancient kings often didn’t live long after delivering the message!  Daniel obviously understood the interpretation immediately, but was more than a bit hesitant to share his knowledge.  No doubt, he wanted to keep serving the king for as long as possible; not lose his head simply for doing his job.  Thus, Nebuchadnezzar gave him reassurances that he shouldn’t be troubled.
  • At that point, Daniel (using typical courtesies of ancient near eastern royalty) passed along the news…

20 “The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong, whose height reached to the heavens and which could be seen by all the earth, 21 whose leaves were lovely and its fruit abundant, in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and in whose branches the birds of the heaven had their home— 22 it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong; for your greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth.

  • In all likelihood, Nebuchadnezzar probably understood this much.  Fruitful trees as images of strength were common, even seen often through the history of Israel.  That the grandness of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be likened to a massive fruitful tree was probably expected, and welcomed.  It was the events that followed that would have bothered the king.  Vs. 23…

23 “And inasmuch as the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave its stump and roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze in the tender grass of the field; let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let him graze with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him’; 24 this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king:

  • He directly relates the dream back to Nebuchadnezzar, not out of mere repetition or of a delaying tactic, but in order that the interpretation might be accurate to what the king had seen.  Notice how Daniel points directly to the Lord God in all of this.  This wasn’t Daniel’s word or opinion; this was “the decree of the Most High.”  IOW, this wasn’t something that the king would take lightly – this was the decree of Almighty God.  The God barely acknowledged by the Babylonian king, and certainly not worshipped by him, was speaking directly to him.  This was a final judgment – the consequences certain to come, decreed by God in His role as Judge and King of kings.

25 They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.

  • Who is the “they”?  Probably the angels/watchers.  They would remove the king’s sanity from him, and he would become more beast than man.  God decreed that Nebuchadnezzar would no longer dwell in palaces, but live in the fields, eating grass like the cattle. 
  • For how long?  “Seven times” – most likely a reference to seven years.  There’s a bit of debate on the actual length, as the Aramaic word for “times” refers to any set amount of time and is not specific to years.  From later passages in Daniel, the context for the word is obviously years – it’s a bit more ambiguous in this particular context.  In any case, it would be for 7 times (be it years or seasons), with however long it was being long enough for Nebuchadnezzar to finally come to the realization that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever He chooses.”  IOW, for as long as it took for Nebuchadnezzar to realize that God is sovereign & that He reigns over every kingdom on the earth.
    • This is what God did in Nebuchadnezzar’s life to bring him to this point.  What does He have to do in ours?  Don’t push Him to the limit!
  • For as radical as this was, there was a silver lining.  Vs. 26…

26 “And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules.

  • This is mercy!  Yes, the tree would be cut down to the stump.  Yes, the king would be literally driven insane for a time (for 7 times!).  But this punishment was temporary.  Nebuchadnezzar would not die in the fields in his insanity.  He would not permanently lose his kingdom.  All that God took away from him would be returned in due course.  God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to be humbled & come to faith – and then He wanted the king to continue to serve.  A humbled king was far better than a dead king.  The former could still be used by the Lord for His glory – the latter would just perish.
    • God’s desire for us is always repentance!  This is one reason why He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.  Far better in His eyes that the evil person repents & lives!  The repentant person is a person who comes to grips with the love & mercy of God.  The repentant person is a person restored to relationship with God.  The repentant person is a person who glorifies God.  That’s the Father’s desire for each of us, if we would only receive of it!
  • That’s what Daniel pleaded for the king as well.  Vs. 27…

27 Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

  • God had decreed this punishment to come, yet Daniel knew that God is merciful.  If Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself in true repentance & faith, who knew what God would do?  God turned back from His judgment of Nineveh, when that city repented at the preaching of Jonah.  Perhaps God would have done the same with Nebuchadnezzar.  Unfortunately, there’s no way to know as Nebuchadnezzar never did it.
  • The dream fulfilled (4:28-36)

28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of the twelve months he was walking about the royal palace of Babylon. 30 The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?”

  • For 12 months, the king endured, perhaps shaken for a time by Daniel’s interpretation, but eventually going back to business-as-usual.  One day, as he was strolling about the palace, admiring all of the achievements there (and there were many!), he gave himself the credit & the glory, and thus incurred the wrath of God.
  • BTW – this wasn’t just spoken by the king; history shows that it was inscribed by him.  On what’s referred to as the East India House Inscription (now housed in the British Museum), a limestone tablet engraved with Babylonian cuneiform records some of Nebuchadnezzar’s accomplishments – which sound amazingly like the record here in Daniel.  [PIC] “To Marduk, my lord I make supplication; Oh eternal prince, lord of all being, guide in a straight path the king whom thou lovest and whose name thou hast proclaimed as was pleasing to thee. I am the prince, the favourite, the creature of thy hand. Thou hast created me and entrusted me with dominion over all people. According to thy favour lord, which thou dost bestow on all people, cause me to love thy exalted lordship. Create in my heart, the worship of your divinity, and grant whatever is pleasing to thee because thou hast my life; By thy command, merciful Marduk, may the temple I have built endure for all time and may I be satisfied with its splendour;”  Not only was this incredibly pagan, with no thought at all given to the Most High God (YHWH), but it was also incredibly proud.  These were the works of Nebuchadnezzar, all done for his pride and glory. 
  • How many times the king uttered statements or declarations like this is unknown, but there was at least one time that turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.  He had exhausted God’s patience, and it was now time for judgment.  Vs. 31…

31 While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! 32 And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”

  • Whether this was the voice of God, or of the watcher/angel is unsaid – but the judgment decreed earlier by the watcher in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was now reiterated and set in motion.  No doubt the words of Daniel came ringing back into Nebuchadnezzar’s ears during those last few moments while he mind remained sane.  The last sober thought he had was surely one of terror!

33 That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.

  • It sounds utterly incredible, but this actually describes a very rare psychological disease known as boanthropy, in which a person believes he/she has become an ox/cow.  It’s part of a larger (yet still rare) group of disorders labeled zoanthropy, which includes all kinds of animals such as wolves (i.e. people believing they are werewolves), pigs, or anything else.  In one case documented in 1999, a woman believed she had claws growing into her feet. (History of Psychology, 2015, vol 25, pg. 93)  Nebuchadnezzar’s case is believed to be the oldest case on record, and it was incredibly severe with him.  For years (no matter how one counts “7 times”), the former king lived as an animal in the fields.  His hair grew out & became matted, and his nails were basically claws.  During this time, he was totally insane, probably thought of as a lost cause to everyone except Daniel.

34 And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?”

  • What glorious words these must have been for Nebuchadnezzar to write: “at the end of the time…”  Praise God that this time had an end!  It was a terrible consequence for Nebuchadnezzar to endure, but at last, it was over.  And just as God had decreed, the king of Babylon finally gave glory to the King of the Universe.  No longer did he see God as just one of many gods among his kingdom – now Nebuchadnezzar knew God as “the Most High and praised and honored Him.”  Again, some scholars debate whether or not Nebuchadnezzar ever truly came to faith, but the Scriptural record strongly indicates that he did.  He may not have had all of his theology right, but he knew this much: the God of Daniel was the true God, and this God had a kingdom that would never end.  This God was the Almighty God who ruled over all the earth, and no one and nothing can stand in His way.
  • This God is our God!  This God is the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  He is the King of kings & Lord of lords & He is utterly glorious in every respect!

36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me.

  • What mercy this was!  Just how sovereign is God over the nations?  He’s so sovereign that even after removing Nebuchadnezzar from the throne of Babylon for 7 years, He could restore Him right back to that same place, giving him an even greater majesty than what he had before!  Whoever it was that served as regent over the empire during the king’s absence did not stand in the way of the king’s return.  Perhaps it was Daniel himself; perhaps it was another.  Either way, God had taken out Nebuchadnezzar, and God put him back in.
  • Can God bring restoration?  You bet!  Nothing stands in the way of what God can do!

37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.

  • With his lesson learned, the king concludes his letter with his confession of faith.  Here, he praised not Marduk, not Nebu, not Bel, but “the King of heaven.”  He praised the Most High God “whose works are truth and His ways justice.”  He praised the all-good, all-glorious, all-sovereign God.  Finally, the king of Babylon now rightly feared the King of the Universe, and that was the beginning of wisdom.

Our God reigns!  Our God is sovereign over all the earth – there is nothing He cannot do, and no person over which He has no power.  That’s true on a national level, in that God rules over every world leader, installing those whom He wills.  That’s true on a personal level, in that God is sovereign over every aspect of our lives.  He knows when the sparrows fall, and He certainly knows how to care for you & me.

To those who are full of pride, beware!  God desires you to know Him & worship Him, and He will not hesitate to take drastic measures to bring you to a place of humility.  That doesn’t merely apply to those who don’t know God (like a pagan king), but to His own people as well.  Don’t forget that the whole context of this event is the Babylonian captivity.  The entire Jewish nation was experiencing their own humbling at the hands of God, having pushed God to the points of Him pouring out His judgment.  If we ignore God’s commands, we too will experience the appropriate consequences.  Don’t push the limits & patience of God!

To those who are humbly repentant, rejoice!  God gives grace to the humble – His very nature is love, and He delights in restoration.  Trust His sovereignty & His will – trust Him to do what is right.