Category Archives: Daniel

Daniel 10-12: So we had won after all

It’s all about THE FINISH.

We’re nearly at the end of 2011. And I can’t wait for Christmas and some holidays. And this week we had the last SCRIPTURE LESSON for the year here at school. We finished with the Christmas service. And our yr 12’s have finished the HSC. Laura’s busy catching up on playing SIM’s.

And our Uni students have finished for the year. And they’re all enjoying their break. Lachlan’s biggest decision is whether to go to the beach or the gym or shopping.

There’s SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO at the finish of all those things. A time TO CELEBRATE. And a chance to REST and RECOVER.

When you’re in the MIDDLE of things like that, it’s often a STRUGGLE. But when you know there’s something good to LONG FOR at THE END. Then it can make all the struggle WORTH it.

And we come to the end of DANIEL today, too. Perhaps you feel THAT’S been a bit of a struggle. And you’re looking forward to some rest and recovery. Hopefully not!

But that’s what these final chapters of Daniel are all about. THE END. Or to be more precise. The ENDS. And then the FINAL end. About how kings and kingdoms all meet their end. One after the other. All in God’s time. And then, that even HISTORY ITSELF will come to an end.

And the point is that if you belong to God’s people, things are going to be tough. You’ll be PERSECUTED. WHENEVER you live – Daniel’s time, Jesus’ time, today, or into the future.

But the message of Daniel – particularly these last three chapters – is “Don’t worry. Things MIGHT be tough. But there IS an end to it. And THAT end is going to make everything WORTH IT.”

Under the surface (10)

And Ch 10 is about SETTING THE SCENE for that message. About showing WHAT’S UNDER THE SURFACE. And it begins in a familiar way. The date stamp, and then a dream.

10:1 In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a REVELATION was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war.

Another dream. And it’s about a battle. Again! But then there’s something different. He goes on to say

“the UNDERSTANDING of the message came to him in a vision.”

Which sounds like SOMETHING DIFFERENT. And I think the rest of the Chapters 10-12 are about the vision that EXPLAINS the revelation. In other words, there’s a revelation that’s HARD TO UNDERSTAND. And then there’s the EXPLANATION of the revelation in ANOTHER vision. And WE only get the EXPLANATION.

Let me explain. Daniel has the terrible revelation in v1. Then, probably in response to that, he goes on to say, in v2.

2 At that time I, Daniel, mourned for THREE WEEKS (just keep that time period in mind). 3 I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.

And THEN, when the three weeks are over, he sees this vision of a man (from v4). We’ll get to him in a moment. But, down in v12, the man says,

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. SINCE THE FIRST DAY THAT YOU SET YOUR MIND TO GAIN UNDERSTANDING AND TO HUMBLE YOURSELF BEFORE YOUR GOD, YOUR WORDS WERE HEARD, AND I HAVE COME IN RESPONSE TO THEM. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me TWENTY-ONE DAYS. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 NOW I have come to EXPLAIN TO YOU what will happen to your people in the future..”

So, it took 21 days for this man to come in response to Daniel’s prayers. And Daniel had been fasting and, probably, praying for THREE WEEKS. Same time.

So, here’s the order. FIRST, Daniel sees a vision that he can’t understand. And which we don’t get a description of. THEN, he mourns, fasts and prays for three weeks. Wants to know what it means. And AS SOON AS he begins to pray, his words are heard. The answer WOULD have come straight away, but there was a delay. Which we’ll get to in a moment.

THEN, when the 21 days is up, the man arrives with the EXPLANATION. ANOTHER vision, which is what’s described for us in the rest of the chapters. And that’s all summarised back in v1. “In the third year of Cyrus, a revelation was given to Daniel… Its message was true. The UNDERSTANDING of the message came to him in a vision.

And the vision is of this man. V5.

5 I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. 6 His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

Who is he? Well, we’re not told. But he comes in response to Daniel’s prayer to God. So, at the very least, he’s from the heavenly court.

Is he an angel? Or MORE than an angel? I want to suggest, tentatively, he’s A REPRESENTATION OF GOD HIMSELF. A THEOPHANY. He certainly comes with all God’s AUTHORITY.

And in Revelation 1, Jesus is described in a similar way. Which helps my case I think.

So, what do we make of THE DELAY? 21 days? V13 – the man explains that the PRINCE of the PERSIAN KINGDOM resisted him. And it wasn’t until Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help him, that he was able to get away and come to Daniel.

In Jude 9, Michael is described as an ARCHANGEL. And in Daniel 12 v1 he’s described as THE GREAT PRINCE WHO PROTECTS THE JEWISH PEOPLE.

And then in v20 of Ch 10, we’re told that the man’s going to return to fight against the prince of Persia, and that after that, the prince of Greece will come.

So, joining all the dots together, it seems like God’s ruling over a spiritual battle going on between ANGELS. And that, in some way that’s not really explained ANYWHERE in the Bible, there are ANGELS who are responsible for certain earthly kingdoms. For PROTECTING them, or FIGHTING FOR them, or DIRECTING them.

And the conflicts that happen on an EARTHLY level REFLECT a battle going on at a HEAVENLY level.

It’s all a bit hard to get our heads around. But if that’s the case, it helps us to understand some of the stuff Paul talks about in the New Testament.

Like Colossians 2:15 that describes what God did when Jesus died on the cross. “He DISARMED THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross.”

It was an earthly event. But it reflected a battle going on at a HEAVENLY level.

And it’s not just GOD who’s involved in the battle. It’s US, TOO! In Eph 6:11, Paul says

11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God

It may be a secular society, or an angry boss, or a cynical, world-weary relative we’re trying to convince about Jesus. But at ANOTHER level, BENEATH THE SURFACE, the stakes are MUCH higher. As we live as Christians in a dark world, we’re part of a battle that’s rocking the very foundations of the Universe. A battle between spiritual forces in the heavenly realms.

And yet, most people never notice it.

It’s like you go to Sydney Aquarium. And you walk past one of the giant pools. And the water is smooth and still. It looks like it’s empty, like there’s nothing there. But go down the steps to the observation deck. To the thick glass window that lets you see BENEATH THE SURFACE. And it’s a different matter entirely.

What looked quiet and calm and deserted. Is actually teeming with life. All sorts of fish and sharks and whales. Coral and seaweed. All the action is underneath. And that’s where you need to look to see what’s going on. To understand reality.

And that’s what it’s like with this world. It’s MUCH MORE than just what you can see. There’s heavenly, eternal realities being played out on an earthly stage.

Daniel prays and prays. Day after day. And it seems like God’s not answering. That he’s not interested, or not powerful enough to answer. But that’s only ON THE SURFACE. The reality is  prayer is tapping into a reality beneath the surface. God IS powerfully at work. In HIS timing, according to HIS plans.

And that’s true for OUR PRAYER. It’s NOT a waste of time. We should be encouraged to KEEP praying. It’s SIGNIFICANT, POWERFUL, IMPORTANT, OFFENSIVE spiritual work.

I wonder if that’s how YOU think about prayer. How you think about GOD. Or whether you need to REPENT of your attitude. Whether you need to get a fresh vision of the God who is ALL HOLINESS AND POWER AND PURITY AND MAJESTY. And then SHOW that in the way you pray to him.

You see, Daniel was completely comatose after seeing the vision of the man. Speechless, strengthless. He couldn’t stand, or talk, hardly even BREATHE.

That’s what it’s like when you catch a glimpse of God. Perhaps we need a bit more of THAT attitude when we pray.

Ends (11)

The man strengthens Daniel. And he’s finally ready to receive the explanation of the vision. Which is what we see in Ch 11.

We didn’t actually read it this morning. Hopefully you did in Home Groups. But it’s about, once again, a series of kingdoms fighting against each other.

It’s long, and complicated, and incredibly DETAILED. And it describes, quite accurately, a series of events that happened between about 500 BC to 150 BC. And it focuses on TWO RULERS around Palestine and Egypt.

And the point that strikes me as I read through it. Again and again kingdoms rise from the ashes of a previous kingdom. Each one thinks they’re going to be different. That THEY’LL last. That THEY’LL succeed where everyone else has FAILED. And they try to hang on to power in all different sorts of ways. Wealth, war and conquest, political alliances and intermarriage, trickery, treachery and robbery.

But again and again each one comes to its end.

Let’s take a quick sprint through the chapter, and I’ll show you what I mean.

V2. Four kings will rise from Persia, one after the other. Then v3, a mighty king from Greece will rule as he pleases. That was Alexander the Great. But then, v4, his empire will be broken up. HE doesn’t last.

Jump down to v6. The daughter of the king of the South will make an alliance with the king of the North. But SHE won’t retain her power. And neither will HE. V7. One from her family line will rise and take her place.

Or jump down to v11. The king of the south will do battle with the king of the north, who, even though he’s got a large army, will be defeated.

Which leaves the king of the South. But, at the end of v12, he’ll slaughter thousands, but he won’t remain triumphant.

More battles through the next paragraph until v18. A commander will put AN END to his insolence. He’ll stumble and fall, to be seen no more.

Then, v20, his successor in a few years will be DESTROYED, but not in anger or battle.

V22. The prince of the covenant will be destroyed.

V25. The king of the south will wage war with a large army, but he won’t be able to stand because of plots devised against him. Traitors will try to destroy him.

V27. The two kings, with their hearts bent on evil, will sit at the same table, and lie to each other, but to no avail, because an end will still come at the appointed time.

Again, v29, AT THE APPOINTED TIME he’ll invade. And when he’s turned away, v30, he’ll take out his frustrations on God’s people who know their God, they’ll firmly resist him.

He’ll keep it up, v36, until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place.

More details of battles. V40, he’ll invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood. Many countries will fall. Until, finally, v45, HE will come to his end, and no one will help him.

If you take a step back for a moment, and don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. What’s the main impression you’re left with about all these future events?

 

God knows what’s going to happen. It’s all according to HIS APPOINTED TIME. And it doesn’t matter WHO it is. HOW powerful they think they are. And HOW they try to hold onto power. Their end will come.

Their POWER is limited. Their TIME is limited. God is the one who’s got it all in control.

And for Daniel who, together with his fellow Israelites, was doing it tough. The message is that suffering WON’T go on forever. ONE DAY attacks on God’s people will stop. There WILL be an end.

The end (12)

And so we come to Ch 12. The end of the book. And its topic is about the ULTIMATE end. Which will make it all worth it. The focus shifts from the time of these kings. From THEIR end. To the end of ALL things. The end of history itself.

It’s like you’re wearing bi-focal glasses. You focus, through THE BOTTOM of the glasses on the NEAR future. That’s Babylon and Persia and Greece and Rome. Daniel’s time through to Jesus.

But then, you LIFT your gaze, look through the TOP part of the glasses, and the DISTANT future comes into focus. Ch 12. The end of history. The end of pain. The end of evil and the end of death.

V1, there’ll be one final climactic time of distress, but then it will all end.

But at that time your people-everyone whose name is found written in the book-will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

This life ISN’T all there is. Everyone will be called to account. The good and the bad. The weak and the powerful. Nothing will be overlooked. No injustice or wickedness tolerated.

The atheistic society in England recently put banners on buses that said, “There’s probably no god, so stop worrying, and enjoy your life!”

Which is fine if life is GOOD. But what about if you’re the victim of injustice? What if you’re persecuted?

If there’s no God. If there’s no final justice and restoration and vindication. Then there’s no HOPE. There’s no endurance. There’s no JOY.

But that’s THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE of Daniel’s message. “There IS a God. And he’ll not only bring all earthly kingdoms to an end. But there’ll be a final vindication. There’s something worth anticipating. Something to strengthen your resolve, and give you resilience, and endurance and hope.

That’s the perspective the man wants Daniel to have. Look there in v3.

3 Those who are WISE will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

Wisdom is about recognising the way things are. About looking beneath the surface. Looking to the END. Even if it’s not obvious. And living accordingly.

Wisdom is about leading people to righteousness. Pointing out what true reality is like. Calling them to live IN RESPONSE TO the coming judgment. To take HOPE that injustice will finally be called to account. And to shine the light of that judgment onto their OWN actions.

In December, 1941, the American fleet in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, was attacked by Japanese planes. At that stage England was on its knees. Germany had conquered the whole of Europe. England, alone, was standing. London was a pile of rubble. Japan was running riot across the Pacific.

But when Winston Churchill heard the news of Pearl Harbour, he knew it would bring America completely into the war. Up to this point they’d been hanging around the edges. And he wrote these words in his diary.

No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. I could not foretell the course of events. I do not pretend to have measured accurately the martial might of Japan, but now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. SO WE HAD WON AFTER ALL!

So, we had won after all. He could see the TRUE state of things. Japan thought they’d won a victory. But Churchill knew the true strength of the US. That Britain would have an ally who would bring victory in Japan and Europe as well.

It DID take another four years. But he was right! Wisdom was seeing the true state of things. Even when it looked unlikely in the present. And living according to that vision.

God HAS won after all. Jesus HAS defeated every power and principality on the cross. Victory HAS been declared. There’ll still be suffering and injustice. But ONE DAY, all injustice will be overturned. And all rights restored.

For DANIEL it was all a long way away. He’d only seen the terrible events in his visions. Over in v8 he’s still confused. “My Lord, what will be the outcome of all this?” And he’s told (v9)

“Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end.

In other words, Get on with life. Because it’s all going to happen a long time from now. Life’s going to continue for a long while yet. V10.

10 Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.

Wise and foolish. Wicked and righteous. And then he says it again. V13.

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

Get on with life. Live WISELY. Then you’ll REST. And then, a LONG time from now, you’ll RISE to an eternal inheritance. And it will all be WORTH IT.

What WONDERFUL words! And even MORE wonderful FOR US. Those who live on THIS SIDE OF THE CROSS. For us who understand what that eternity LOOKS LIKE. Who understand how it’s been WON for us. Who understand more fully the God who promises to live with his people. And to destroy sin and death and sickness and pain.

Are you living WISELY? Shining like the brightness of the heavens in a dark world? Leading many to righteousness? Struggling through injustice and persecution. But longing for, and expecting, our deliverance.

Wisdom is struggling through it all. But being able to say, despite appearances, “So, we had won after all!”

Daniel 9: How long, O Lord?

I used to do a lot of BUSHWALKING as a teenager. 3,4,5 days trips, walking from dawn to dusk, up mountains, along creeks, through scrub. Carrying everything on our backs.

We’d start each day in the cool of the morning, enthusiastic and energetic. But as the day went on, the temperature would rise, and our enthusiasm would flag.

And before long, the chorus would begin, “Are we there yet? How long until we get there? How much further?”

And the answer we’d get would always be the same. One of the leaders would answer, “Just at the top of the next hill.”

So, we’d be ENCOURAGED. We’d swing our packs onto our backs, fix our eyes on the top of the hill, and push on with renewed energy. Until we got to the top of the hill…

Only to see ANOTHER hill stretching off into the distance. Even FURTHER away, and HIGHER UP. The NEXT step in our journey.

What the leader had said wasn’t FALSE. It just wasn’t the COMPLETE truth. We’d achieved PART of the goal for the day. We’d climbed ONE hill. And it was good to arrive. And the view was great. But there was more to be achieved. With even BETTER views.

The leader had a perspective on the trip we COULDN’T. He’d seen the map. He’d walked the trail before. He knew where we were going.

We thought climbing the hill immediately in FRONT of us was enough. But he knew there were MUCH GREATER THINGS AHEAD. Better views, greater victories.

And that’s the sort of thing I think we’ve got going on here in Daniel Ch 9. Daniel wants to know how long. And God’s answer is, “In SOME ways, it’s not long. But in OTHER WAYS, it’s a LONG WAY to go. And there’s more to it than you can see.”

The date stamp in v1 is the first year of Darius. The year the Medes and Persians took over Babylon, including Daniel.

That makes the year 539 BC. 12 years after his awful dream of Ch 8. And 67 years after he first arrived in exile from Israel.

Daniel’s seen out the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. They’re gone. And now there’s a new king on the throne. And Daniel’s hopes are up. Perhaps there’s change in the wind.

And he begins to ask the question, “Are we there yet?” “How much longer?”

You see, God had made it PERFECTLY CLEAR why the Jews were in exile. Prophet after prophet, all the way back to Moses himself. Like Jeremiah (p554). In Ch 25, he tells them,

4 And though the LORD has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, YOU HAVE NOT LISTENED. 5 They said, “TURN NOW, EACH OF YOU, FROM YOUR EVIL WAYS, and you can stay in the land the LORD gave to you … 6 Do NOT follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not provoke me to anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you.” 7 “BUT YOU DID NOT LISTEN TO ME,” declares the LORD, “…8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “… 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. 10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness,

God had PROMISED it. And he’d DELIVERED it.

Daniel KNEW it. He’d LIVED it. But he also knew what came NEXT in Jeremiah’s prophecy.

(10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness), … 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon SEVENTY YEARS. 12 “But WHEN THE SEVENTY YEARS ARE FULFILLED, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever. …. 14 THEY THEMSELVES WILL BE ENSLAVED BY MANY NATIONS AND GREAT KINGS; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.”

And now Daniel had seen THAT come to pass. Seventy years had passed. And Babylon was gone. Punished for HER sins. Just like God had promised.

But what about ISRAEL? What had he promised FOR ISRAEL? And so Daniel kept reading in the prophet Jeremiah. Until he got to Ch 29. A letter Jeremiah wrote from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon. V10.

10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and FULFILL MY GRACIOUS PROMISE TO BRING YOU BACK TO THIS PLACE. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 THEN YOU WILL CALL UPON ME AND COME AND PRAY TO ME, and I will listen to you. 13 YOU WILL SEEK ME and find me when you SEEK ME WITH ALL YOUR HEART. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Daniel asked how long. He read his Scriptures. And he did his sums. And he listened to God’s promises.

The seventy years were nearly up. Babylon had been punished just like God had promised. And Daniel TRUSTED God’s promise, and he DID WHAT GOD COMMANDED. “Call upon me and pray to me. Seek me,” said God, “And I’ll be FOUND by you, and I’ll RESTORE you.”

So Daniel PRAYED. And BOY did he pray! I reckon it’s probably the BEST PRAYER IN THE OLD TESTAMENT. The one that gets right WHO GOD IS, and WHO WE ARE. And on WHAT BASIS we can pray, or ask God’s forgiveness.

God is righteous, and we’re not (4-19)

And lots of bits I can focus on, but I want to summarise the prayer in THIS way: “God is righteous, and we’re not.”

It’s one of the descriptions of God Daniel uses again and again. Like v7.

7 “Lord, YOU ARE RIGHTEOUS, but this day we are covered with shame

Or down in v14.

14 The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God IS RIGHTEOUS IN EVERYTHING HE DOES; yet we have not obeyed him.

And once more in v16.

16 O Lord, IN KEEPING WITH ALL YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS,

God is righteous, and we’re NOT.

But what does it MEAN that God is righteous. At the very LEAST it means he always acts in a way that’s RIGHT. That’s MORALLY UPRIGHT.

But Daniel’s saying more than that here. He’s saying that God is TRUE TO HIS WORD. He keeps his promise. He acts in accordance with how he’s PROMISED to act. In other words, he’s RELIABLE, and FAITHFUL to his WORD.

Have a look at how he BEGINS his prayer. V4.

“O Lord, the great and awesome God, WHO KEEPS HIS COVENANT OF LOVE with all who love him and obey his commands, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.

You’ve KEPT your side of the covenant, and WE HAVEN’T. And THEN he says in v7, “Lord, you are RIGHTEOUS, and we are covered in shame.”

To be RIGHTEOUS means God acts in the way he AGREED to in his covenant.

A bit further down (v11) he says it again.

11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.

And how does God respond? Exactly the way he PROMISED.

“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us

V13. JUST AS IT’S WRITTEN, all this disaster has come upon us.

Or v14.

14 The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, FOR THE LORD OUR GOD IS RIGHTEOUS IN EVERYTHING HE DOES

In other words, we’ve got nothing to complain about because you’ve acted exactly the way you PROMISED. You’re RIGHTEOUS. You SAID you’d punish sin. And you DID.

And then Daniel gets to the ASKING bit (v15).

15 “Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 O Lord, IN KEEPING WITH ALL YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS, TURN AWAY YOUR ANGER AND YOUR WRATH from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill.

Daniel REMINDS God of how he SAVED his people. And then he says, “In keeping with all these RIGHTEOUS acts, forgive us.”

God isn’t just righteous when he PUNISHES. But when he SAVES, TOO. Because God is being true to his character. True to his promises when he RESCUES. And so, Daniel is asking God to be RIGHTEOUS, and to SAVE his people once again.

Notice what he DOESN’T say. He doesn’t say, “Forgive and save us because we’ve IMPROVED. We’ve pulled our socks up. We promise we won’t be bad again.” Look there in the second part of v18.

We do not make requests of you because WE are righteous, but because of YOUR GREAT MERCY.

That’s your CHARACTER. That’s your declared way of dealing with people. So, we ask you to act in RIGHTEOUSNESS, and (v28) listen, and FORGIVE. Hear and ACT. Do not delay, because your city and your people bear YOUR NAME.

Daniel prays on the basis of who GOD is, rather than who WE are. And everyone can learn A LOT from that attitude – whether we’re OT or NT people of God.

God is righteous, and we’re not.

But perhaps you can see the problem for God here. Everything Daniel’s prayed is TRUE. But the basic question is, “What’s the RIGHTEOUS thing for God to do? Punish sin, or FORGIVE it? Which is being true to his character? Which is JUST?”

How can God fit those two aspects of his promises and character together? To rescue and forgive. And to punish with justice?

There’s a long way to go

The solution is wrapped up in his ANSWER to Daniel.

The QUESTION was, “How long?”And the ANSWER?: “There’s a long way to go”

V20. While Daniel’s in the middle of his prayer, the angel Gabriel turns up. V23. He’s come straight from heaven with an answer.

Daniel’s thinking about the EXILE coming to an end. About the people returning to Jerusalem and re-building the temple. He’s thinking “70 years.” But Gabriel says (v24)

24 “Seventy ‘SEVENS’ Are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. 

It’s a bit like the bushwalking leader. Our eyes were fixed on the hill immediately in front of us. But the leader knew that there was another, higher, more spectacular mountain beyond the FIRST one.

And God’s saying the same thing. Yes, there IS a little hill in front of you. Yes, 70 years will pass. And there’ll be a new temple re-built in Jerusalem. And the people will be restored. Yes, I’ll forgive your sin – I’ll hear and act because I’m righteous.

But that’s NOTHING. You’re short-sighted. Lift your gaze and look a bit FURTHER. 70 times 7 years. Same place. Same people. But the view is so much more spectacular. Forget animal sacrifices patching up sin, so you can sin again. Forget unrighteousness. Forget a temple that’s only A BUILDING. Forget a people from ONE RACE ONLY.

I’m talking about A SPECTACULAR VIEW (v24). About FINISHED transgression, atoning for wickedness. I’m talking about bringing in EVERLASTING righteousness. I’m talking about SEALING UP prophecy and vision – bringing it to an end.

Forget sacrifices and cleansing that work until the end of the day. Or that need repeating NEXT year. That only deal with the OUTSIDE. I’m talking about ANOINTING the most holy people. Pouring out my Spirit on them to make them TRULY holy.

Forget a temple that’s only A BUILDING. I’m talking about a NEW type of temple. A PERSON. A person who’s the TRUE meeting place of God and man. No barriers, no ritual, no distance. God and man TOGETHER.

That’s a mountain worth climbing. A view worth enjoying.

And the key to it all is God’s anointed. The Messiah, or Christ. His special king. There in v25.

25 “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until THE ANOINTED ONE (or Messiah), the RULER, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’

And it was approximately 500 years later that JESUS appeared. God HIMSELF in human flesh. Completely righteous in every thought and word and action. But who was murdered as a common criminal. By God’s design. The righteous in place of the unrighteous. Punished in our place.

And I reckon that’s what Gabriel’s describing (v26) when he talks about the Anointed One BEING CUT OFF AND HAVING NOTHING.

It’s JESUS who finished transgression, who put an end to sin. Who atoned for wickedness. Who brought in everlasting righteousness. Who anoints his people with the Holy Spirit to make them holy.

It’s JESUS who is the goal and target and culmination of all prophecy and vision. Who seals them up.

And it was IN JESUS that problem is solved of how God can act in a way that is RIGHTEOUS. In Jesus, God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS is revealed.

JESUS is the answer to how God can be righteous in PUNISHING Israel and sending them to exile. AND RIGHTEOUS in SAVING them. Rescuing and RESTORING them.

God promises to PUNISH sin. And God promises to SAVE from sin – to deliver his people.

And, until Jesus came, those two promises were black and white. The whole OT is about God ALTERNATING from one to the other. First God PUNISHING. THEN, God SAVING.

Like in the book of Judges. The people would SIN, God would PUNISH them by sending an oppressor, the people would CRY OUT to God. And he’d DELIVER them by sending a Judge. Then the cycle would begin all over again.

But the sacrifice of Jesus puts the two together. God’s righteous PUNISHMENT and his righteous SALVATION. And God is shown to be RIGHTEOUS.

And it’s the MESSAGE of the cross – the GOSPEL – that’s the SOLUTION to the puzzle.

Flip over to Romans 1:16 for a moment. And I’ve just changed the translation slightly to make it a bit more true to the original Greek. Paul says in v16.

16 I am not ashamed of THE GOSPEL, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 FOR IN THE GOSPEL  GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS IS REVEALED, righteousness that is BY FAITH from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” 

God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS is revealed in the gospel. His faithfulness to his promises.

Here, it’s his promise to SAVE that’s focussed on. We benefit from God’s righteousness – recognise it and appreciate it – when we TRUST him. His salvation comes to all who BELIEVE.

That’s good news. That’s something not to be ASHAMED of. And the whole of the letter to the Romans is Paul explaining how that salvation works itself out. What righteousness LOOKS LIKE.

But let’s just look at one more passage in Romans that talks about God’s righteousness. Ch 3 v25. We’re really skimming the mountain peaks today. Daniel 9: The greatest PRAYER in the OT. And Romans 3:25 – in the middle of THE GREATEST PARAGRAPH IN THE WHOLE BIBLE. And its subject? God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Let’s start at v21.

21 But now God’s righteousness, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

The gospel about Jesus SHOWS us how God is righteous. Jesus makes US righteous when we trust him. That’s what JUSTIFIED means – it’s actually the same word as righteous, but as a verb. We’ve been RIGHT-ified. Made into people on the right side of the covenant – who HAVEN’T broken it – rather than people who HAVE broken it. All by trusting Jesus’ work.

That’s US. But look at what it goes on to say about GOD being righteous.

25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. HE DID THIS TO DEMONSTRATE HIS JUSTICE (it actually says RIGHTEOUSNESS!), because in his FORBEARANCE he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice (RIGHTEOUSNESS) at the present time, so as to be just (RIGHTEOUS) and the one who justifies (who MAKES RIGHTEOUS) those who have faith in Jesus.

The cross demonstrates that God is RIGHTEOUS.

Back in Daniel’s prayer, he acknowledges that God is righteous when he PUNISHES. And then he asks God to be righteous and FORGIVE sin, and save his people. And the two only go together because God OVERLOOKS the sin. Romans says in his FORBEARANCE he left it UNPUNISHED. It LOOKED like God was being UN-righteous when he forgave sin, and saved his people. Because they DIDN’T DESERVE it. Grace ISN’T just.

But what Romans is saying is that the cross DEMONSTRATES God’s righteousness. It shows him to be BOTH RIGHTEOUS AND the One who MAKES people righteous.

The cross shows God’s JUSTICE in PUNISHING sin. AND his righteous love and grace to SAVE sinners. He DEMANDS death for sin. But then satisfies his own justice by killing His only Son.

And the reason Daniel can pray for God’s deliverance. The reason God GRANTED Daniel’s prayer. Is because of Jesus.

And the reason WE can pray like Daniel. The reason we can come to the Father and ask forgiveness. The reason God can GRANT that forgiveness and still be RIGHTEOUS. Is because of Jesus, TOO.

What a wonderful mountain top! What a wonderful view! What a wonderful privilege! Forgiven and made righteous by our perfectly righteous Creator because he satisfies his justice in the death of another.

Is that a view YOU recognise? Is that a view YOU appreciate? Is that a view you LIVE OUT in humility and gratitude and obedience and trust?

Daniel 8: What is the world coming to?

Another chapter of Daniel, another DREAM. Another dream about KINGDOMS COMING AND GOING.

Are you someone who REMEMBERS your dreams? I can’t. VERY occasionally, one will stick in my mind as being particularly memorable.

I reckon Daniel’s dreams were a bit like that. A couple of weeks ago we looked at Ch 7 – a dream Daniel had in the FIRST year of King Belshazzar. 553BC.

Today, in Ch 8, we’re looking at a dream Daniel had in THE THIRD year of Belshazzar’s reign. 551BC. 12 years before he was overthrown by Darius the Mede.

Two years between the dream of Ch 7, and that of Ch 8. So, he probably doesn’t have dreams like this every often. Which is just as well, considering how much it shakes him up.

And, while the dream in Ch 7 was more of a NIGHTMARE. With scary hybrid, mutated animals. And more about GENERAL PRINCIPLES, rather than specific kingdoms.

This dream is more of a POLITICAL CARTOON. With NORMAL animals. And we’re told EXACTLY WHO it’s about. But it’s just as scary.

When you think of it like a political cartoon, perhaps it’s not so strange AFTER ALL. Here’s a cartoon where ANIMALS represent COUNTRIES. Russia’s A BEAR. China’s a PANDA.

The idea is the ANIMALS share some characteristics with the KINGDOM. It COMMUNICATES something about the KINGDOM by representing it as an ANIMAL.

And that’s what we’ve got here in Ch 8. And just to make it easier. Just like some of those cartoons have LABELS on them to help the reader. We get some help from the angel Gabriel. From v17, he explains what everything stands for.

So, v2. In Daniel’s dream, he’s in the city of Susa, the capital of PERSIA. It’s not that significant at the MOMENT. But, in the third year of Belshazzar, word is Persia’s a kingdom on the rise. The newly established combined state of the Medes and Persians are going to be a big player.

And that’s where Daniel’s transported to in his dream.

And he sees (v3) a ram with two horns, one longer than the other. It charged towards the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against him, and none could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.

Down in v20, Gabriel tells Daniel the ram represents the kingdoms of Media and Persia. Perhaps not that hard to guess, since it’s standing beside the city of Susa.

Not great at the moment, but before long, they’ll take the world by storm. None can stand in its way. Including Babylon. Which, significantly, is nowhere to be seen.

But there’s more. Because ANOTHER animal appears. V5. Jump forward FURTHER in time. It’s a goat with one prominent horn. It races across from the west, not even touching the ground. V7. It crashes into the ram, shattering its two horns. The ram’s powerless and there’s no one to help.

Down in v21. Gabriel the angel tells us it stands for GREECE.

So, the mighty kingdom of the Medes and the Persians crushes Babylon in its path. But then, in turn, Media-Persia’s no match for GREECE.

Then in v8.

8 The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off,

And history tells us that’s just how it worked out. The large horn was Alexander the Great, the King of Greece, who raced across the world, conquering everything in his path. In a ten year period, he conquered every nation from Greece to India.

But then, in 323BC, he died suddenly at the age of 33, having burned intensely, but quickly. That’s the horn being broken off in v8.

But the dream continues.

In its place FOUR PROMINENT HORNS GREW UP toward the four winds of heaven.

Alexander died so young, there was no heir. So, on his deathbed, he divided his kingdom among his fellow generals. Eventually four successors assumed control over the kingdom. Cassender ruled Macedonia. Lysimachus got Asia Minor, Ptolemy got Egypt. And Seleucus got Syria, which included Israel.

And those kingdoms lasted until Rome rose to power around 180BC.

But Daniel’s attention in the dream is drawn by SOMETHING ELSE. V9.

9 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and TOWARD THE BEAUTIFUL LAND.

“The beautiful land” is Israel. And, so, what this little horn does next is important to Daniel. He’s got a vested interest. The little horn STARTS small, but his impact on God’s people is HUGE.

10 It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. 11 It set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host; it took away the daily sacrifice from him, and the place of his sanctuary was brought low. 12 Because of rebellion, the host [of the saints] and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.

The dream describes dark days in Israel’s history. 400 years after Daniel. One of the ancestors of Seleucus, Antiochus Epiphanes, rose to power in 175BC on the back of imprisonments, deceit, assassinations, political deals with Rome, even killing his own baby brother. His nickname, Epiphanes, means “God made manifest”. You could say he had a very healthy ego!

And he was BRUTAL in his treatment of the Jews. He plundered the temple utensils, outlawed circumcision, and temple sacrifices, as well as the possession of Scriptures.

He murdered many Jews. He erected a statue of the Greek God, Zeus, in the temple and forced the Jews to worship it. He even sacrificed A PIG on the temple altar! Which is probably what’s meant by the “rebellion that causes desolation” in v13.

What’s the point?

That’s pretty much the dream. They were dark days in the pages of Israel’s history, and I’m sure Daniel would much rather not have dreamed them.

But they were all described 400 years before the event. A long time after Daniel. So what was the point? Why did God reveal it to him?

1. The FIRST reason was to show that God not only FORESAW it, but BROUGHT IT ABOUT.

Back up in Daniel’s dream, in v13, a holy one asks how long the terrible events will go on for – “the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, and the surrender of the sanctuary and of the host that will be trampled underfoot?”

And the answer is given (v14) 2,300 evenings and mornings. EXACTLY. God KNOWS. He sees it all. And brings it all to pass according to his timeframe.

Terrible events, but he knows their length. He’s ticking off every missed sacrifice. Every missed prayer. They’re MEANINGFUL to him.

And, in his perfect timing, he’ll BRING it to AN END. And RESTORE the sanctuary. Jump down to Gabriel’s explanation of the dream in v25.

25 He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, BUT NOT BY HUMAN POWER.

Despite the unspeakable evil of what will happen, God’s still got it all in control. And brings it to a close.

Which is pretty much the same point as all the other dreams we’ve seen. It’s God who raises kings and kingdoms. And it’s God who brings them DOWN. They’ve all got a use by date. And God’s the One who stamps the packet.

2. You see, there’s A PATTERN to the world. Again and again. Kingdoms LOOK permanent and indestructible. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media & Persia, Greece and Rome.

They fight against God and his people. We shouldn’t be surprised, or disappointed when it happens.

Because the reality is they ALWAYS come to an END.

You know, from Daniel’s perspective these visions look ahead to a future ruler who’ll stand against God and destroy the sanctuary. Antiochus – who set up the rebellion that causes desolation.

But he’s just PART OF THE PATTERN. A couple of hundred years later, you get to Jesus. And HE looks ahead to a future time for HIM, and sees the same pattern repeating. And he borrows the language of Daniel. And he says in Matthew 24:15-16:

So when you see standing in the holy place, the abomination that causes desolation spoke of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

See, Jesus uses the language of a proud and evil leader from Daniel to speak of ANOTHER future king. Same pattern.

Another one after Jesus will come who’ll be like Antiochus. And that’s perhaps the Roman emperor Caligula in the first century AD who orders statues of the god of Zeus to be set up in the Jerusalem temple.

It’s the pattern of the world. Leaders are proud and powerful. They arrogantly set themselves up against God. And they make God’s people suffer. Happened THEN, and it’s happening TODAY.

But there’s ANOTHER lesson that brings GREATEST hope. And it’s one Daniel received TOO.

The greatest comfort for God’s people when they suffer at the hands of powerful rulers. Is that there’s SOMEONE ELSE with all the power. And Daniel’s already seen him in Ch 7. The Son of Man – who’s establishing his kingdom FOREVER.

In Ch 7 we saw the Son of Man coming on the clouds before God’s throne, and being given all authority and power. He’ll sit on the heavenly throne and all peoples, nations men of every language will worship him.

This is Jesus. God crowned him with glory and honour after his death and resurrection and ascension.

And if we go back to Matthew’s gospel again. We can read about Jesus looking FORWARD to that event.

We heard him speak about the SUFFERING to come (24:15)

So when you see standing in the holy place, the abomination that causes desolation spoken of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

But further down in the same chapter Jesus says (v30)

At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see THE SON OF MAN coming on the clouds of the sky, with POWER AND GREAT GLORY. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the others.

Dark days ahead. But Jesus will put an end to ALL of them when he comes with glory and power. And he’ll gather all those who belong to him. Everyone who’s suffered under powerful evil kingdoms. From every age and place.

Which is a wonderful hope to look forward to. It gives PERSPECTIVE for us when we’re in the middle of the sort of suffering that’s being described.

And it strengthens our resolve to stick it out. To fix our eyes on the goal. The prize. The finish line.

Whether our persecution is life-threatening like our brothers in Egypt or Nth Korea or Laos. With physical and mental suffering. Even death.

Or perhaps it’s just the insults and shame and mockery of friends and family and workmates. Who disown us. Who snigger and roll their eyes. Who go quiet when we walk into a room. Who tell us to keep our stupid beliefs to ourselves.

We’re NOT alone. We’re NOT unique.

About the king’s business

The Apostle Peter wrote his letter to people experiencing the very same persecutions Jesus was looking ahead to. And he had these words of comfort and perspective.1 Peter 4:12.

Dear friends, DO NOT BE SURPRISED at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something STRANGE were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed WHEN HIS GLORY IS REVEALED.

It’s a perspective WE’RE able to have THIS side of the cross. That Jesus’ glory WILL one day be revealed. And all his people vindicated.

Daniel didn’t have THAT. And the events he’d seen were SO TERRIBLE, it knocked him for six. But even so, there’s a little hint at the end of the chapter about how we can learn from Daniel’s attitude.

It says there in v27.

27 I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I GOT UP AND WENT ABOUT THE KING’S BUSINESS.

He processed it all. He prayerfully worked through it. And then he got up, and went about the king’s business. He got on with living faithfully in God’s world for his glory.

And we have a MUCH GREATER king whose business WE are to be getting on with. There ARE dark days ahead. No doubt. But we’re not to get depressed. Not to be paralysed in fearful indecision, or withdraw into a holy huddle.

We’re to get out into the world that belongs to the King of kings. And declare that his Son Jesus has WON the victory. And he’s bringing it to bear.

It’s advice Peter gave to the persecuted Christian reading his letter. To get on with the King of king’s business. A bit further on from the verse we just read, he says (5:7)

7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Be about the king’s business. Living as salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. Live out the truth.

We’re NOT alone. We’re NOT unique. We’re just PART OF THE PATTERN. The pattern God’s controlling. The pattern God will, one day, bring to an end. When his Son, the heavenly exalted Son of Man, is revealed to everyone in all his glory and power.

At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see THE SON OF MAN coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the others.

Daniel 4,5: How the mighty fall

In the last 12 months, there’s been dramatic changes in the world political climate. All through the Middle East and North Africa long-standing rulers have been overthrown.

First, protests all across Tunisia saw their president of 23 years flee to Saudi Arabia and then resign. Within days, it inspired a revolution in Egypt that resulted in Hosni Mubarak being ousted after 30 years. Then, in Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh was removed from power after ruling since 1978. That’s 31 years!

And, most recently, we’ve seen Muammar Gaddafi in Libya come to a grizzly end after 42 years of brutal rule.

 

Who would have thought that ANY of those powerful regimes would have come to an end, let along ALL of them!

And it all happened SO QUICKLY. From HERO to ZERO in a matter of days.

And that’s the sort of thing we see happening in the Book of Daniel today. Two Babylonian kings go from HERO TO ZERO in a flash.

And it just goes to show that NO ONE can take their position for granted. No matter HOW powerful or secure. That God is the One who ultimately raises people up, and he’s the One who ultimately brings them down. Whether it’s Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar way back THEN. Or Mubarak and Gaddafi TODAY.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream

Now, we’re looking at TWO chapters again this morning. At King Nebuchadnezzar in Ch 4, and his son, King Belshazzar, in Ch 5.

But we’ll focus mainly on Ch 4. Which begins in an unusual way. The TOPIC is familiar. But the STYLE is different. King Nebuchadnezzar’s had A DREAM. But he’s going to tell us all about it HIMSELF. V1.

4:1 King Nebuchadnezzar, To the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world: May you prosper greatly! 2 It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. 3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! HIS KINGDOM IS AN ETERNAL KINGDOM; HIS DOMINION ENDURES FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION.

It’s like reading the last page of a mystery novel FIRST. We know “who did it” before we find out what he DID. God’s done something amazing that shows he’s king over every kingdom. That he endures, while everyone else fades into history. But we don’t know WHAT.

And then Nebuchadnezzar goes on to tell us about the dream. He’s got a feeling it’s about HIM. And so, it scares him SILLY. Once again, v6, the wise men are no use explaining it. So Daniel gets the call.

And if we jump down to v19, Daniel DESCRIBES the dream, then EXPLAINS it. He says to the king, “It’s not good news. I wish it was about someone else. But unfortunately, it’s about YOU.”

V20. He saw a tree that was large and strong, that stretched up to the sky. So big the whole earth could see it. And it provided food and shelter for the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. And v22. It represents Nebuchadnezzar.

22 You, O king, are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.

That’s the GOOD part. He’s great and strong, and people over the whole world are ruled and protected by him. Problem is he’s starting to believe his own publicity. That he’s great and strong BECAUSE OF HIS OWN ABILITY. Rather than because God’s made him what he is.

So v23, we get to the SCARY bit. A heavenly messenger announces the tree is to be cut down and destroyed. But the stump is to be left in the ground and bound with iron and bronze.

Daniel explains what it all means in v24.

24 “This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. 26 The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules.

God’s decision is that the King will be cut down to size. He’s too big for his boots. He’ll have some sort of mental breakdown. But once he learns his lesson. Once he acknowledges that God rules. Then God will RESTORE him.

That’s the dream and its meaning. But we’re also told what the PURPOSE of the dream is. V27. It’s a WARNING! Change your attitude, and it won’t happen!

27 Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: RENOUNCE YOUR SINS by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

 

SHOW you know your rightful place. Show it by the way you TREAT people.

When you recognise your place before GOD it affects how you treat OTHERS.

Christians should be the most forgiving, accepting people there are. We know we’re sinners. We know we deserve nothing from God’s hand. But he shows us grace and mercy anyway. We SHOULD be willing to cut other people the same slack God’s showed us.

And yet, we seem to have this reputation as judgmental and bigoted and non-accepting.

Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar to SHOW his changed attitude to God in the way he treated people with kindness and justice. We should so the same.

Nebuchadnezzar’s pride

We’re not told how the king RESPONDS to Daniel’s warnings. Until 12 months later. V28. Perhaps he DID change his ways – kept his pride in check – for A WHILE. But then his TRUE PROUD NATURE just bubbles back out. V29

29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, BY MY MIGHTY POWER AND FOR THE GLORY OF MY MAJESTY?”

And God’s TRUE to his warning. No delay. Instant consequences. V31

31 The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.” 33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled.

He has some sort of breakdown. He lives like an animal. Even LOOKS like one. His hair grows like eagle’s feathers. His nails like bird claws.

It’s ironic that the man who thought he was A GOD is made like AN ANIMAL so he could learn that he’s ONLY A HUMAN.

And he stayed like that until GOD decided it was time. Seven times could be weeks or months or even years. The point of “seven” is that it’s GOD’S time. He’d PREDICTED it, he’d brought it ABOUT. And he ENDS it. v34.

34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and MY SANITY WAS RESTORED.

And Nebuchadnezzar’s response was what it should have been in the FIRST place. Rather than honouring HIMSELF, he honours God.

Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified HIM WHO LIVES FOREVER. HIS dominion is an eternal dominion; HIS kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 ALL the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. HE does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back HIS hand or say to him: “What have you done?”

otice the change in attitude from v30?

“Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by MY MIGHTY POWER AND FOR THE GLORY OF MY MAJESTY?”

And the moral of the story? Down to v37.

(37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven), BECAUSE EVERYTHING HE DOES IS RIGHT AND ALL HIS WAYS ARE JUST. AND THOSE WHO WALK IN PRIDE HE IS ABLE TO HUMBLE

Don’t I KNOW it, he thinks!

Learn the lesson of Nebuchadnezzar

And so we come to think about learning the lessons of Nebuchadnezzar. After all, that’s what the chapter’s WRITTEN for. Back in v1 he writes to peoples, nations and men of every language who live in all the world. He writes to tell us about how great God’s signs are, and how his kingdom never ends. He wants US to learn from his experience.

But before I get to US. I want to look at how well the lessons were learned by those CLOSE to NEBUCHADNEZZAR. How well his own DESCENDANTS learned from his mistakes. I think that’s reason we jump straight to the reign of Belshazzar in Ch 5.

It’s another story about a king, about a message from God, about Daniel, and about how the king goes from hero to zero. You see, Belshazzar might be called Nebuchadnezzar’s SON, but he’s not learning any lessons from DAD.

The very next sentence after Nebuchadnezzar’s lesson – “everything God does is right and those who walk in pride he’s able to HUMBLE.” We read

5:1 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3 So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4 As they drank the wine, THEY PRAISED THE GODS OF GOLD AND SILVER, OF BRONZE, IRON, WOOD AND STONE.

The contrast is like black and white. He’s learned NOTHING from the fall of his Father. And he’s headed for the same fate. Much WORSE actually.

Instead of RULING with justice and wisdom. Instead of acknowledging God’s power and glory. He’s partying with his subjects. He decides a good drinking game is to praise the Babylonian gods, while they skoll from the Jewish temple cups. The very OPPOSITE of acknowledging God.

So a hand appears and writes some words on the palace wall. A heavenly hand, but just normal words. But what do they MEAN? Once again, none of the wise men except Daniel are any use. He’s called to the palace. Again!

But before Daniel provides the interpretation, he gives Belshazzar a talking-to. A lesson he SHOULD have learned from his father. There from v18.

18 “O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor.

People everywhere FEARED him. Then v20.

20 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.

I can imagine young Belshazzar impatiently squirming in his throne. “Who cares about HISTORY?! Get to the point!”

So Daniel DOES. V22.

22 “But YOU his SON, O Belshazzar, have NOT humbled yourself, though you knew all this. 23 INSTEAD, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. BUT YOU DID NOT HONOR THE GOD WHO HOLDS IN HIS HAND YOUR LIFE AND ALL YOUR WAYS.

 

And THEN he gets to the meaning of the words. Mene means NUMBERED. God’s numbered his days. Tekel means WEIGHED. God’s weighed him up, and he’s come up short. And Peres means PERSIA. That’s who’s going to DELIVER THE BLOW.

And the chapter finishes very differently to Ch 4.

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

God had raised UP. And God had brought LOW. And set someone ELSE up in Belshazzar’s place. Just like Daniel had described.

 

And whether you’re God’s people BACK THEN, with Babylon or Persia in charge. Or God’s people TODAY, with dictators or presidents in charge. There’s COMFORT in that. And CONFIDENCE. And HOPE.

Because God IS on the throne. He’s the one who’s raised these rulers to where they are. The just and the unjust alike. He knows everything they’ve done. And he knows how long they’ve got.

And when he calls them to account. Everything will be done with perfect justice.

And, PRACTICALLY, that means we should PRAY for our leaders. We should OBEY and SUPPORT and RESPECT them, as best we’re able under God. Because they’re God’s agents.

But it’s not just a lesson for RULERS. Nebuchadnezzar wants EVERYONE to learn a lesson from him. We’re not all rulers of KINGDOMS. But there’s a sense in which we ARE rulers.

Back in Ch 2 Nebuchadnezzar was told (v37),

The God of heaven has GIVEN YOU DOMINION AND POWER AND MIGHT AND GLORY; 38 IN YOUR HANDS HE HAS PLACED MANKIND AND THE BEASTS OF THE FIELD AND THE BIRDS OF THE AIR. WHEREVER THEY LIVE, HE HAS MADE YOU RULER OVER THEM ALL.

And there’s a sense in which that’s the rule that’s been given to EVERY ONE of us. When God made human beings back in Gen 1. Here’s what he said to Adam and Eve.

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

God gave HUMANITY the responsibility to rule over his creation. With HIM ruling over US. He made us his IMAGE-BEARERS. His representatives. Every ONE of us.

And the big story of the Bible is about how humanity RESPONDED to that job. Instead of recognising God as OUR ruler. And serving and ruling under HIM. We chose to rule instead. Decided WE knew better than God.

The same sin of PRIDE that was Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall. The same sin of pride that was Belshazzar’s downfall. Adam and Eve chose it. And every human being SINCE chooses it. We all think we know better than God. We all want OUR way, rather than God’s way. We all think what we have and where we are is because of OUR OWN abilities.

But the reality is GOD is on the throne. And NOT us. We need to REPENT, to RETURN to God. Recognise his right to rule. Submit to HIM. Submit in our attitudes, and our choices. In our words and thoughts and actions. And then SHOW that in the way we treat HIS WORLD. Show that in living out justice and mercy.

THAT’S the lesson Nebuchadnezzar wants us to LEARN from him.

But there’s one FINAL point I want to make. And it’s about good rulers. The reality is, no matter how good or bad a ruler is, there’s ANOTHER who’s on the throne. One who’s been given all authority and power just like Nebuchadnezzar. One who despite it all, not ONCE, grabbed for more than he was entitled to. Not ONCE let pride turn the right order of things upside down. One who ALWAYS lived in submission.

We looked at him a couple of weeks ago in Daniel Ch 7.

God’s on the throne, but there’s One who comes with the clouds of heaven. He’s THE SON OF MAN. And, v14, God gives him authority, power, glory and sovereign power. All peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Daniel only saw it in a vision. But we’ve EXPERIENCED it. Jesus is that Son of Man. Jesus, God’s eternal, loved, and ONLY son, was born as a human. He lived a perfect life of submission, love and humility.

Then he died a criminal’s death in our place. And then God raised him to life. Declared him Christ and King. And seated at his right hand.

And that’s where he is NOW. Seated and ruling over everything. Ruling over Tunisia and Egypt and Yemen and Libya. Ruling over global financial crises, and environmental crises. Ruling over presidents and governments. Ruling over YOU AND ME.

 

But for all that power and might. All that authority and right. There’s none of the pride and injustice that goes with HUMAN rule. None of the rebellion and self-serving that we found in Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar.

And he calls us to THAT SAME ATTITUDE in the way we live our lives serving him. That’s the way to learn the lesson from Nebuchadnezzar.

Listen to how Philippians 2 challenges us to learn those lessons. And I’ll close with these words. Phil 2 v3

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

 

Daniel 3 & 6: Courage under fire

Is there anything you’d RISK YOUR LIFE for?

Last Sunday I watched a documentary about Johnny Copp and Micah Dash. Two American climbers preparing to tackle the previously unscaled southeast face of Mt Edgar in southwestern China.

They’d been training intensely for 12 months, and organising for every eventuality. They were in top physical condition, and perfectly prepared. They were cautious when they arrived because the area was unstable with frequent rock falls. Bad weather kept them at base camp for most of the four week climbing window.

In the last few minutes of the program, they decided to come home. They set out to retrieve their gear from the second camp they’d established further up the mountain.

But then the documentary switched to a voice-over. The two were missing, then later found dead, killed by an avalanche. They hadn’t even started to climb!

They knew the risks, but loved the thrill.

A couple of hours later, I heard that Marco Simoncelli died after falling off his motorbike while racing in the Malaysian Moto GP. He knew the risks, but loved the thrill.

Is there anything YOU’D be willing to risk your life for?

In 1999 teenaged gunmen were moving through Columbine High School shooting their schoolmates. In the library, 18 yr old Val Schnurr was hiding under a table with her friends as Dylan Kleebold moved through the room shooting whoever he saw.

Val was hit 8 times in her chest, arm and abdomen. She fell out from under the table onto her knees, and cried out, “Oh God, oh God, help me!”

Dylan Kleebold walked up to her, and asked her, as he reloaded his gun, “Do you BELIEVE in God?”

Imagine that was you. What would you say?

I’d like to THINK I’d say, “Yes.”

Would you risk your life to stand up for God?

Today we read two different stories about people forced to take a tough stand for God. A decision that really WAS a matter of life and death.

Nebuchadnezzar and the furnace

First up, in Daniel Ch 3, we read about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

In the previous chapter Nebuchadnezzar had his dream about a big statue. In THIS chapter, he actually decides to BUILD it. But instead of only the HEAD being gold, he makes THE WHOLE THING gold.

It’s 90 ft high and 9 feet wide. Which certainly sounds impressive. Until you THINK about it. Ten times taller than wide. That’s like a 30cm ruler. Pretty tall and skinny, really. Probably pretty unsteady, and easily toppled.

Nebuchadnezzar assembles all the government officials for the dedication ceremony. People from all sorts of nations and languages. His plan is to get them all to pledge their allegiance. That way he’ll strengthen the unity of his new empire.

As soon as the music sounds, they’re all to fall down and worship the image of gold Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Anyone who DOESN’T is to be thrown into a blazing furnace.

We don’t actually know what it was an image OF. It doesn’t SAY it was of the king. Best guess it was the god Nabu.

WHATEVER it was, Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was that it REPRESENTED HIS AUTHORITY and KINGDOM. To REFUSE was equivalent to TREASON.

So, all the public servants assemble. Including Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They’re standing there while the speeches and announcements drag on.

Then the band starts up. The three young men look at each other.

Everyone around them, no matter how noble, well-dressed and wealthy, drops to their knees and worships the gold statue.

They’re in a strange country. False gods and temples everywhere. The EASY thing would be just to join in. After all, does it really matter? They don’t have to MEAN it. They could just go through the motions.

They look at each other, they look around at everyone else on their faces. And they remain on their feet.

They risk their life to stand up for God.

But their refusal doesn’t go unnoticed. Some astrologers dob them in to the king (from v8). “O king, you’ve issued a decree. But there’s some Jews who pay no attention to you. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image you set up.”

Nebuchadnezzar’s FURIOUS. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are brought before him, he gives them one more chance (v15).

If you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

It’s almost A CHALLENGE to God. What god can possibly do anything about A BLAZING FURNACE?

The three reply (v16). Their lives are at risk, but their trust in God is solid.

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Notice what their faith looks like. Not that God will certainly save them from the fire. But that God is ABLE to save them. They’re not going to change their minds even if they DO die in the furnace.

I reckon we forget that bit. That they don’t know the end of the story. We know how it turns out, so their decision doesn’t seem such a brave one to us.

But I’m thinking they’re EXPECTING to die. And they’re EXPRESSING their trust in God by refusing to back down DESPITE death. Their faith is not in a particular outcome, but in the God who DECIDES the outcome.

Which isn’t the way SOME people understand prayer. They see that if you prayed for something and didn’t get it. It must be because you didn’t have enough faith. You didn’t CLAIM it. “Didn’t get healed? Didn’t get that job? Your kids haven’t become Christians? It must be because you don’t have enough faith.”

But that’s not the way the Bible describes it. Faith when you pray isn’t believing REALLY, REALLY HARD that you’ll get a certain answer. That’s MAGIC, or SUPERSTITION.

Faith in prayer is confident reliance on the GOD of prayer. Yes, he’s a God who CAN do anything. But who might NOT. He’s not a genie in a bottle who’s bound to do what WE want, as long as we use the right formula.

He’s the infinitely wise, infinitely LOVING heavenly Father, who only gives us what’s GOOD for us. And who knows better than WE do.

He doesn’t expect us to know the end of every beginning. Just to TRUST him as we live through it.

Which is what the three young Israelites do. As Nebuchadnezzar fires up at their response. He orders HIS FURNACE to be fired up. Seven times hotter. As if a NORMAL furnace isn’t hot enough to kill them.

His strongest soldiers bind them, lead them to the top of the furnace. And are, themselves, burned alive.

V23, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego fall into the blazing furnace. They wouldn’t fall down before the statue. So instead they fall into the furnace.

Darius and the lions

That’s story one. Next we jump forward more than fifty years. And over to Ch 6. Nebuchadnezzar’s gone. In fact, his whole kingdom’s been taken over by the Medes and the Persians. And King Darius is ruling instead. But Daniel’s still around.

It’s a different situation. With a different character, and a different king. But there’s lots of similarities with Ch 3. Once again, it’s a story of DEFIANCE. Of risking your life to stand up for God.

By this stage, Daniel’s been promoted all the way to one of the top three positions in the kingdom. Only the king is higher. And he’s even in line for ANOTHER promotion. Darius is about to make him second in charge of the whole empire.

Which makes the OTHER administrators jealous. They reckon THEY deserve the promotion. So they look for a chance to stab him in the back. Sounds just like a MODERN workplace. But, v4, they can’t find any dirt on him. No skeletons in the closet.

They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

Their only hope is something to do with the law of his God. They’ll use his reliability AGAINST him. They go to the King. V7. Their plan’s a cunning one.

“O King Darius, live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have ALL agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.

We’ve ALL agreed. All except DANIEL, that is!

They’re pretty certain Daniel’s so reliable, he’ll still pray REGARDLESS. Which is just what he does. V10

10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.

Once again, just like his three friends so long ago. Daniel refuses to compromise. He could have closed the windows. He could have prayed in his closet. But, even though he knew it would probably cost him his life, he prayed as normal.

And the officials are watching. And they rush off to dob him in (v15). And the King is forced to act. Daniel’s thrown into the lion’s den, but with the king’s blessing,

“May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”

And all that night the king can’t sleep a wink. Because he really LIKES Daniel.

Allegiance to God makes a difference

Let’s just hit the pause button for a moment. And think about our two stories. We’ve got the three friends falling down into a blast furnace. And we’ve got Daniel being sized up as dinner by a pack of lions. Most of you know how the stories turn out. That God DOES save them. MIRACULOUSLY.

But that’s not the point to emphasise. Because God doesn’t promise that our stand for him will always turn out like that. Chances are when you make a tough stand for God, you’re going to cop it in some way.

And THAT’S the point I want to make. Allegiance to God makes a difference. By that I mean that standing up for God shows you to be different from those around you. And sometimes that can be COSTLY. Sometimes, depending where you live, it can cost you YOUR LIFE.

But with US, our salvation is EVEN GREATER than from lions, or from fire. Our salvation from judgment and eternal separation from God. Is worth EVERYTHING it costs us NOW. No question!

Allegiance to God makes a DIFFERENCE. For Daniel and his three friends, being faithful to God in a foreign country meant being DIFFERENT. Different from the Babylonians around them.

Being faithful to God meant keeping his LAW. His law, where God said

3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an IDOL in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not BOW DOWN TO THEM OR WORSHIP THEM; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God

And the whole reason they’re in Babylon in the FIRST place is because Israel INSISTED on BREAKING these laws. Insisted on worshipping the gods of the nations. Insisted on NOT being different.

And that’s just what they were being pressured to do. To bow down and worship. To pray to someone else other than God. To just BLEND IN.

And Daniel and his friends aren’t going to have any part of it. God’s called them to follow him ONLY. And that’s what they’re going to do. WHATEVER the consequences.

Even if it means turning LEFT when everyone else goes RIGHT. Or choosing WHITE when everyone else chooses BLACK.

The reality is peer pressure isn’t something you grow out of. Everyone likes to fit in. Everyone likes to be liked. I don’t like disappointing people, or disagreeing with them, or not having people LIKE me.

But the question Daniel and his friends call for us to consider is this: “Who’s opinion of you matters MORE – God, or the people around you?”

You know, it’s interesting that in Ch 6, when Daniel prays, he doesn’t just sit in a comfy chair wherever it’s convenient. He went to the room where his window faced JERUSALEM. Why?

Because that’s where he BELONGED.

By this time, Jerusalem was nothing more than a pile of rubble. But Daniel knows it’s more his home than Babylon will EVER be. It’s Jerusalem that defines his identity, not Babylon.

The decisions he makes, the choices he takes, need to be based on HIS IDENTITY.

And I think that’s something we sometimes FORGET. For Daniel and his friends, the clash of cultures was OBVIOUS. They were reminded of it every day.

And it’s no different for us. Except that we often FORGET it. We get COMFORTABLE. We make ourselves at HOME. And we forget where our TRUE identity lies.

We’re not primarily male or female, single or married. We’re not primarily consumers, or Australians. We’re not primarily employees, or parents, or voters. We’re not gardeners, or teachers, or cyclists.

When we start thinking like that, we start losing the DISTINCTIVENESS we’re called to have. We start to blur into the culture around us. We let IT change US, rather than US change IT.

Black and white moral choices become shades of grey.

Lying becomes just creative advertising.

Ripping people off becomes just competitive business practices

Gossip becomes just sharing prayer points.

Backstabbing and character assassination becomes just joining in with the conversation.

Jealousy and dissatisfaction become just ambition and a desire to succeed.

Laziness at work becomes just keeping a good life balance

And in the end we don’t look much different from everyone else.

In the end perhaps we need to ask the question whether our allegiance to God is really making much of a difference.

Daniel looked towards Jerusalem. Because that’s where his identity was found. That was who his allegiance belonged to.

Let’s take our eyes off Babylon. And fix our eyes on who WE belong to. Listen to what God says

Where do you LIVE? Hebrew 12:22-24

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant,

Where do we BELONG? Who do we belong TO? Eph 2:4-7

4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and SEATED US WITH HIM IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS IN CHRIST JESUS,

Where is our citizenship? Phil 3:20-21

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

What does that mean for our attitude TODAY? Col 3:1-4

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

So, who are we? 1 Peter 2:9-12

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  11 Dear friends, I urge you, AS ALIENS AND STRANGERS IN THE WORLD, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 LIVE SUCH GOOD LIVES AMONG THE PAGANS that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

That’s who you are. Is that a description of your life? Is your allegiance to God making a difference LIKE THAT? Are you willing to stand up like that even if it means SUFFERING?

God’s saved you from something much worse than lions and fire. And it’s cost him FAR MORE than he’ll ever ask of you. Will you risk your life to stand up for HIM? Will you risk your life to MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

Maybe you can say “Amen” to this quote from Bob Moorehead’s book “Words Aptly Spoken.”

I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made–I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure.

I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colourless dreams, tame visions, worldly-talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean in His presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer and I labour with power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed.

I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go until He returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until he comes.

And when He comes to get His own, He’ll have no problem recognizing me. My colours will be clear.

From “Words Aptly Spoken”, By Bob Moorehead.

Daniel 2,7: Lord of the Kings

The British singer Adele is a fantastic performer, with a knock-out voice, and a magnetic stage presence. She’s sold millions of CD’s. But she gets so nervous before she performs, she throws up.

 

Russell Brand, the comedian and actor, married to Katy Perry, is the life of the party, and a notorious womaniser. But he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a number of years ago.

 

Mike Tyson was one of the most feared and ferocious heavy weight boxers in the world. But he also loves breeding and racing pigeons.

 

Things aren’t always what they seem. The confident and powerful are often feeling something DIFFERENT on the inside. Sometimes THE APPEARANCE is very different from THE REALITY.

 

And that’s the big idea of these chapters. Israel’s been defeated by Babylon. Her best and brightest carried off to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. The Jewish temple vessels now sit in the temple of Babylon’s gods.

 

Everything points towards God being defeated. That He’s dead. And it’s Babylon that rules the world. But the reality is very different from the appearance. God is very MUCH on the throne. He’s alive and powerful and active. He’s the Lord of kings.

 

A king’s dream (2:1-23)

And on a SMALLER scale, things aren’t always what they seem either. The confident and powerful are often feeling something DIFFERENT on the inside.

 

Like with King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. ON THE SURFACE he looked like he had it all. The greatest king of the greatest empire of the century. An architect, a conqueror, a builder. Cities, riches, even foreign nations like Israel, in the palm of his hand. The envy of everyone.

 

And yet, when he drifted off to sleep. When he let go of the control of his mind, his dreams were DISTURBING. They betrayed his insecurities. Fuelled his fears. And he wanted to know what they all meant.

 

But he doesn’t trust his advisors. Perhaps they’re plotting against him. They’ll just tell him what he WANTS to hear. The only way to get to the truth is if he can find someone who can tell him THE DREAM / AS WELL AS what it means. That will weed out the impostors and traitors from the TRUE advisors.

 

But that’s an impossible order for ANY PERSON. There in v10 the wise men protest.

“There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. 11 What the king asks is too difficult. NO ONE CAN REVEAL IT TO THE KING EXCEPT THE GODS, and they do not live among men.”

 

They’ve spoken TRUE ENOUGH. But their answer just makes the irrational Nebuchadnezzar even CRAZIER. He orders the execution of all the wise men in Babylon.

 

Which somehow includes Daniel and his friends as well (v13). Even though they’re still only halfway through their apprenticeship.

 

When Daniel finds out the news, he sends a message to the king. And gets some time to find out about the dream. Daniel and his mates get together for a prayer meeting straight away. V18, they plead for mercy from God about the dream. So they won’t be executed.

 

They hit the sack that night without any answer. But during the night God sends Daniel a dream, and reveals the mystery to him.

 

And from v20 we read Daniel’s prayer of thanksgiving. And it really sums up all we learn about God in these chapters. Probably even sums up THE WHOLE BOOK. Look there from v20.

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 HE CHANGES TIMES AND SEASONS; HE SETS UP KINGS AND DEPOSES THEM. HE GIVES WISDOM TO THE WISE AND KNOWLEDGE TO THE DISCERNING. 22 HE REVEALS DEEP AND HIDDEN THINGS; HE KNOWS WHAT LIES IN DARKNESS, AND LIGHT DWELLS WITH HIM. 23 I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given ME wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

 

A dream’s meaning

So, next morning, armed with God’s gift, he heads up to the palace. And when the king asks him whether he knows the dream and its meaning, Daniel replies (v27)

“No wise MAN, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but THERE IS A GOD IN HEAVEN who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.

 

And then he explains the dream and its meaning. From v31. A statue made up of four parts. The head of gold. Shoulders and arms of silver. Belly and thighs of bronze. And, finally, legs of iron, with feet a mixture of iron and clay.

 

But then a rock was cut out that smashed into the feet of iron and clay. The whole statue crumbled, turned to dust, and the wind blew it away.

 

But the smashing rock (v35) became a huge mountain that filled the whole earth.

 

That’s the vision. No wonder Nebuchadnezzar was paranoid. And then from v37, Daniel explains to Nebuchadnezzar what it means.

37 You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; 38 in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.

 

And after Nebuchadnezzar, there’ll be three OTHER kingdoms that rise up. Each one inferior to the one before it.

 

And then from v44, we see what the smashing rock is about.

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.

 

That’s the dream, and its meaning. As impressive as the statue is. As powerful as human kingdoms LOOK. The reality is DIFFERENT. God will tear them down. Nothing will be left. And he’ll establish HIS kingdom to replace them all.

 

And the end result is that Nebuchadnezzar’s pretty relieved. Sure, God’s the One who’s set him up with all his power. And God’s the one who’ll eventually destroy all the human kingdoms. But at least it won’t happen in Nebuchadnezzar’s time. He’s not going to be betrayed by one of his wise men. And he says in v47

“Surely your God is the God of gods and THE LORD OF KINGS and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”

 

The wise men got it right about God. No MAN can reveal dreams and what they mean. DANIEL got it right. God changes times, sets up kings, and reveals hidden things. And now, Nebuchadnezzar gets it right. God is the LORD of kings, and revealer of mysteries.

 

That was NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S dream. We’ll find out more about his reign in coming weeks. But if we jump forward about 50 years, and through the book to Ch 7, we read about ANOTHER dream. One Daniel HIMSELF had.

 

And it’s got the same basic message, but with a whole lot more DETAIL thrown in. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream didn’t give us any idea about the TYPE of reign these kings had. Nor about WHY God brought them to an end.

 

And because it was a dream for a foreigner, there’s also no mention of how God’s PEOPLE fit in. For how all this history affects Daniel and his countrymen. Which is really where the rubber hits the road for us readers.

 

But Daniel’s dream fills in all those details. So flip over to Ch 7 with me for a few moments.

 

It’s a DIFFERENT dream to Nebuchadnezzar’s. But, in lots of ways, it’s the SAME. It’s describing the same events. There are four successive kingdoms, and they’re all ESTABLISHED by God, and then DESTROYED by God.

 

But instead of being parts of a statue that does nothing, these kingdoms are violent, scary animals. They’re powerful and active and blood-thirsty.

 

Nebuchadnezzar was scared by HIS dream. Imagine if he’d seen DANIEL’S dream!

 

It’s a dream that fits into a type of writing called APOCALYPTIC. The book of Revelation is ANOTHER example of a dream that fits this style of writing.

 

It’s a style about TWO SIDES. Dark and light. Good and evil. About imagery and numbers. About heavenly beings, and other realities.

 

And the general rule for reading this type of literature is that everything is SYMBOLIC. It REPRESENTS something else. But if we’re meant to know WHAT the symbols represent, we’re normally TOLD. So, it’s best not to GUESS. Just stick to the BIG PICTURE.

 

So, from v4 of Ch 7, we’ve got four great beasts. The first one is LIKE a lion, but with wings. Then the wings are torn off and it’s made to stand on its feet like a man, and a man’s heart is given to it.

 

Then there’s a beast that looks like A BEAR. It’s raised up on one side, with three ribs in its mouth.

 

Then there’s something that looks like a leopard. It’s got wings as well. As well as four heads. And it’s given authority to rule.

 

The FOURTH beast, v7, is the scariest of all. Large iron teeth. And it crushed its victims, and trod the scraps into the ground. It had ten horns, plus another one that grew up, uprooting three of the others. This little horn had eyes like a man, and spoke boastfully.

 

Who can stand in his way? Who will bring him to account?

 

But then, just like in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, God destroys not just the boastful horn, but ALL the kingdoms.

 

It’s not a rock that strikes a statue this time. But God on his judgment throne, v9. The Ancient of Days, who stands outside of time. On the throne of his reigning power. Clothed in pure white holiness. Flaming fire of judgment. Blazing wheels of omnipresence.

 

The court was seated, the evidence presented, and the wicked horn destroyed. The OTHER beasts are stripped of their authority, and given suspended sentences. And justice is served.

 

It’s a picture of God’s final judgment. He won’t let these beastly authorities go on forever. Their time is limited. Injustice and evil might be winning the day at the moment. But God’s got them all on a short leash.

 

It’s a picture of hope for God’s people. Everything has a use by date. Like your fridge. Fried rice might last a few days, milk might last a week. Cheese might last a month. But even those pickles right up the back. The ones you’ve forgotten about. Eventually THEY’LL pass their use by date. And they’ll go off. And they’ll be tossed.

 

Same with all the EARTHLY kingdoms. Some will last a few months, or a year. Others will last for decades. But eventually they’ll all be called to account. And God will destroy them all. And establish his ETERNAL, CREATION –WIDE kingdom. Where justice and peace and rest RULE instead of chaos and evil.

 

Lord of the kings

But there’s one final detail of God’s eternal kingdom. And we can’t understand the kingdom until we understand the figure that’s at the centre of it all.

 

He’s introduced in v13. And he’s the one who corresponds to the rock that destroys the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Ch 2. He’s the one who grows into a gigantic mountain that fills the whole earth. I’ll let Daniel take up the story. (v13)

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

 

This son of man / is the one who’s given the keys for the kingdom of God.

 

And notice he doesn’t come out of the churning chaotic waters of the sea. But verse 13 – he comes from the clouds of heaven. And he’s not some distorted, sick perversion of God’s creation – some beast. He’s perfect and right and ordered.

 

He’ll rule forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed. And all peoples and nations will worship Him. He’s LORD of the kings.

 

God was Lord of the kings in Ch 2. But he’s SHARING that reign with ANOTHER.

 

You know, before I said we got to be careful in thinking we should pin down each element of this dream to individual rulers or kingdoms. But when it comes to ‘the son of man’ we CAN pin it out. We’re TOLD who it refers to. Not in Daniel mind you. But when we get to the New Testament. When we get to the person of Jesus.

 

Listen to what Jesus said about himself when he talked about judgment day. Mark 7:37

Jesus said “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in the adulterous and sinful generation, THE SON OF MAN will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” [Mark 7:37-38]

 

And jump forward to the time of Acts. Jesus has returned to heaven. And Stephen, one of the disciples who’s witnessing about him, is being stoned to death. And listen to what he says, as the rocks are raining down on his head.

Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” [Acts 2:54-55

 

Stephen recognizes Jesus as the Son of Man. He’s LORD of the kings. The Jesus who reigns over every kingdom NOW. And who’ll, one day, deliver judgment over them all. Who’ll be ashamed of SOME, and PROUD of others.

 

A king’s people

Which brings us to the FINAL part of Daniel’s dream. To the king’s PEOPLE. Those who belong to the Ancient of Days, and to the Son of Man. Those like Daniel and his friends. And US, TOO.

 

Up to v15 they don’t get a mention in Daniel’s dream. But then, as Daniel troubled, and asks one of the heavenly beings what’s going on in his dream, he’s told (v18). The four beasts are four kingdoms that will rise up.

18 But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever-yes, forever and ever.’

 

We haven’t heard about them before, but as we jump down a few verses, Daniel fills in the details of what he saw before. The fourth beast had been crushing VICTIMS. But down in v21 we find out they’re SAINTS – God’s people.

21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.

 

Or down in v25. The little horn

will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time. 

 

These beastly, human kingdoms are vicious and brutal. And they’re out to get God’s people.

 

It doesn’t matter who or when they were. They were doing it in Daniel’s time, and in Jesus’ time, and in every time until NOW. And they’ll KEEP doing it until God returns to judge them.

 

The FIRST point is God’s appointed them. He’s set them up. He’s given them their power. But he’s also got them on a short leash. He’s controlling the damage they can do. That’s the point, I think, of the “times, time, and half a time.” A period of 3 ½ “somethings”. It’s half of seven. Half of what God COULD allow, but he shortens it.

 

The SECOND point to do with the saints. Is that at the end of this shortened period of persecution, God will VINDICATE them. Declare them innocent, and set them up victorious. V26.

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

 

And that’s what we’re LONGING for. It’s our HOPE. The goal of our faith. It’s what the Christian life is about NOW. Recognising that God IS on the throne. That Jesus IS the one who has received all honour and power and glory. But not seeing the FULL IMPLICATIONS of that yet.

 

The sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms WILL be handed over to us. As long as we continue faithfully with our eyes fixed on the Jesus, the Son of Man who DESERVES our worship and allegiance.

 

But for the moment, the Christian life, across the world, is every bit as brutal as Daniel’s dream. It’s a life of Christian men, women and children being persecuted, and brutalised, and discriminated against, and martyred.

 

Just ask the Egpytian Coptic Christians who’ve had their homes and churches burned to the ground, and even lost their lives. Or the Christian women throughout Africa raped by Muslim militia. Or the Nth Korean or Chinese Christians imprisoned for years at a time.

 

And you just have to ask Daniel and his friends. Faithfully following God despite being far from home, ruled by a brutal tyrant. At risk of death.

 

And, on a smaller, lighter scale, it’s the reason WE suffer in a fallen world. Why, even though we’re faithfully following Jesus, our lives are littered with sickness and death and broken relationships and misunderstanding and tragedy.

 

God IS on his throne. He’s setting up rulers and bringing them down. All according to his plans and his timeframe. One day, Jesus WILL be revealed as the Judge and King of all. And all will worship him. And we’ll receive the kingdom in all its glory. A kingdom that will replace every OTHER kingdom.

 

And that’s worth LONGING for, and LIVING for.

 

 

 

 

Daniel 1: Who’s in charge?

whos-in-charge-960x311Donald Trump has been sworn in as president of the United States. And he’s begun a whole series of changes to make America great again. And he might just do it. But who’s REALLY in charge?

Great Britain has voted to exit the European Union, and that’s going to affect all sorts of things from an individual level right up to how countries interact with each other. And there’s a new Prime Minister whose job will be to bring a smooth transition. But who’s REALLY in charge?

Mike Baird has resigned as NSW premier, And Gladys Berijiklian takes over. But who’s REALLY in charge?

There’s not enough money to pay the bills. The doctors have no answer to your illness. Your kids have lost their way, and they won’t listen to you. But who’s REALLY in charge?

Who’s really in charge? That’s the question lots of Jews were asking in 586 BC. When Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army crashed into Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple.

God had brought Israel out of Egypt, and into the Promised Land. He’d PROMISED it to them. And then he’d DELIVERED it. And he’d promised to always be faithful to them. He was their God, and they were his people. Under God’s rule, in God’s land.

But then the warnings of prophets came TRUE. Despite their sin, God had given them chance after chance after chance. But they refused to listen. They refused to follow him. To live his way.

And finally God’s patience ran out. He kept his word. And Israel was defeated, and the city destroyed. And then, to add insult to injury, many of them were carried off into exile.

And as they were led off in chains to a foreign city. They would have been asking these sorts of questions: “Where was God when the temple was destroyed? What’s he doing? Has he abandoned us? Does he care? Or perhaps he’s not strong enough to win. IS GOD DEAD?”

And it’s a question that’s been asked plenty of times SINCE by people in the midst of suffering. Perhaps even by YOU. Whether it’s earthquakes, tsunamis, floods or drought. Whether it’s warfare or deadly disease killing thousands. Or whether it’s evil of child abuse or the tragedy of cancer. When you’re a witness to suffering, it can make you doubt God. Doubt his POWER. Or doubt his GOODNESS. Or even doubt he EXISTS AT ALL!

And with destruction of Jerusalem, the pillaging of the temple, people dragged off to Babylon – the Israelites would be asking just those questions.

And as we turn to the book of Daniel, they’re the questions it ANSWERS again and again. You see, the book’s title is “Daniel”. But he’s not the main character. This is a story about GOD. About the God who’s NOT dead. Who controls kings and countries. Who achieves victories. Who raises up and brings low. Who protects and destroys.

And as we turn to chapter 1, for all the political upheavals. For all the military victories. And large scale plans of governments and kings. There’s three little phrases I want you to notice. If you’ve got your own Bible, circle them or underline them.

Firstly, in v2. And THE LORD DELIVERED. Secondly, down in 9. Now GOD HAD CAUSED. And THIRDLY, down in v17. God GAVE knowledge and understanding. GOD’S AT WORK. Even when it seems he’s dead.

  1. God gives victory (on the battlefield) (2)

That’s how the story of Daniel BEGINS. Right there from the first couple of verses.

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

ON THE SURFACE time is measured in relation to kings. ON THE SURFACE, it looks like God’s weak and the gods of Babylon are strong. On the surface it looks like kings are marching in war. But the reality it’s GOD’S timing. And GOD’S the one who’s handed Judah over to Nebuchadnezzar.

It might seem unthinkable for God to bring about the defeat of his own people. Especially when it includes the destruction of God’s own TEMPLE. But that’s the REALITY. GOD gives victory. Humans are swinging the swords, and plotting the strategy. But it’s God who’s behind it all. Moving the pieces around like the master chess player. And that’s something that’s true not just in MILITARY BATTLES. It’s true for us today. In the events in our suburb, or our street, or our family. And we need to remember it ESPECIALLY when things don’t go according to OUR plans. And when we can’t see the good. We need to remember that things ALWAYS turn out according to GOD’S plans.

It’s hard to imagine how it COULD be God’s plan to bring defeat to his own people. Or the destruction of his temple, and the shame it brought his name. But the reality is that’s just what he PROMISED he’d do. Over in Ch 9 Daniel prays, and he recognises JUST THAT/ about all that’s happened. Just flip over there for a moment. Ch 9 v7. Daniel’s praying.

7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame-the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where YOU have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you.

Jump down to v10. 10 we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. “THEREFORE THE CURSES AND SWORN JUDGMENTS WRITTEN IN THE LAW OF MOSES, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 YOU HAVE FULFILLED THE WORDS SPOKEN AGAINST US and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem.

God PROMISED it, and then he DID it. It wasn’t the military skill or power of Nebuchadnezzar. It was God’s FAITHFULNESS TO HIS PROMISE. His own temple destroyed, its vessels carried off to Babylon’s temple. His own PEOPLE led off in chains. Including the best and brightest. From v3. The king orders his chief official to select the noblemen, (v4)

4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.

It was to be a three year training program, and then they’d enter the king’s service. But this was no kind-hearted sponsorship. No generous scholarship program. It’s a calculated political move. Designed to train the leaders of Jewish society. To turn their allegiance. To make them Nebuchadnezzar’s. And, at the same time, by REMOVING them. to make sure there aren’t any capable leaders left in Israel who can build a rebellion.

He gives them food and wine from his own table. They’re kept men. In Nebuchadnezzar’s debt. And he gives them new names. Not Jewish names that honour the TRUE God, but BABYLONIAN names that honour THEIR gods.

In v6 we meet four young Jewish men. Daniel (which means “God is my judge”) whose name is changed to Belteshazzar (which means “BEL protect his life”). Then there’s Hananiah (YHWH shows grace) who becomes Shadrach (which means “command of AKU.” Mishael (Who is like GOD?). His name’s changed to Meshach (Who is like AKU?). And finally Azariah (YAHWEH helps) who becomes Abednego (servant of NEBO). It’s like giving them a new uniform. A new identity. Every time they answer to their name, they’re reminded of the pressure to conform. The pressure to admit that God is dead, and that Babylon’s gods rule instead.

But the young men don’t give in too easily. V8. Daniel asks the chief steward for permission not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. Most likely, it’s not about food laws. About DIET. It’s more to do with not declaring his allegiance to the king. The bit that’s emphasised here isn’t the SORT of food. But that it’s from the KING’S OWN TABLE.

You see, taking his FOOD is taking his SIDE. Like accepting BRIBES from a gangster. You become INDEBTED. A kept man. If you lie down with dogs, you’ll wake up with fleas. There’s always a price to pay. And Daniel and his friends refuse to play the game. “Give us another option,” they say.

  1. God gives favour (in the government) (9)

Which COULD have resulted in immediate execution. After all – they were prisoners of war! But remember, God’s in control of it all. And so we see that not only does God give VICTORY. But God gives FAVOUR. Have a look at our SECOND important little phrase. V9.

9 Now God had caused the official to show favour and sympathy to Daniel,

He INFLUENCES the official to LIKE Daniel and his mates. To see THEIR side of things. Which doesn’t seem as powerful as him delivering a NATION into the hands of another. But it’s still pretty important in the story.

But, v10, the problem for the official is that if the young men don’t eat properly, they’ll get sick, or look scrawny. And it will be THE OFFICIAL who gets punished. But Daniel’s got an answer. His plan shows his TRUST that God’s in control. Just like his refusal to eat the king’s food. V12. They’ll do a scientific experiment. They’ll eat vegetables and water for ten days. And then the official can compare how they look with the REST. (The ones who’d been on the king’s diet.) See who looks HEALTHIEST.

The official agrees. And in v15, we see the result. Miraculously, they’re HEALTHIER and BETTER NOURISHED than the rest. And so, from then on, for the rest of the three years, they get to stick to their diet. And they keep their distance from the influence of the king.

Daniel RECOGNISED God’s control. But then he DID SOMETHING ABOUT IT. He put that trust into ACTION. I wonder if that’s where WE fall down. We know with our HEADS God’s in control of the world. But so often our decisions, and actions and attitudes say THE OPPOSITE.

God’s in control – but we WORRY. We lose sleep over the unpaid bills, or the broken appliances, or the kids who don’t phone to let us know they’re safe. When the reality is God’s got it all in hand. God’s in control – but we’re slow to PRAY. Prayer is our LAST RESORT, rather than a FIRST. We try to fix our problems ourselves. To manipulate and manage, rather than hand it all over to HIM. We run around chaotically and endlessly, rather than present our requests consistently and calmly. God’s in control – but we’re NOT CONTENT. We wish we had just a little bit more money, or a bit less weight, or a few more new clothes, or a bigger house, or a smaller mortgage. Then life would be GREAT. When the reality is God’s put us EXACTLY WHERE HE WANTS US. And given us EXACTLY WHAT WE NEED. God’s in control – but we COMPLAIN and GRUMBLE. Instead of being THANKFUL, we think that if only WE were in control, things would be SO much better. We blame God, rather than being grateful for what we are, and what we have.

God’ s in control – but we live to please PEOPLE, rather than to please GOD. God’s our Lord – he’s the One we should live to please. But we try to manipulate situations and people, so they think well of us, or they do things OUR way. We take over control and talk people around to doing things OUR WAY. When we should just sit back and trust HIM. Or we’re afraid to stand up and speak for him, because we’re afraid people won’t LIKE us.

Daniel’s situation was precarious, but he TRUSTED God. And he sought to please HIM, rather than try to manipulate the situation by lowering his standards. Daniel RECOGNISED God was in control, and he did something about it. Let’s make sure we don’t just BELIEVE. But that this week, but we LIVE IT OUT. We give our faith HANDS AND FEET.

  1. God gives knowledge (in the classroom) (17)

The THIRD area we see God working/ is in DANIEL AND HIS FRIENDS. He’s working in HISTORY giving VICTORY. He’s working in their Babylonian CAPTORS giving FAVOUR. And he’s working in THEM giving KNOWLEDGE. Look at v17.

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

Not only were they good looking, and fit. They were the top of the class as well. And all from God. And when it comes to the FINAL ability on the list – understanding visions and dreams – that’s going to become important as the story develops. That’s an ability you CAN’T develop on your own. It can ONLY come from God.

Everything we HAVE ultimately comes from God. Sure, we have to work hard to MAXIMISE what he’s given us. We work IN PARTNERSHIP with God to achieve things. But it’s GOD who gives those qualities, and abilities and gifts. Even the opportunities we get. Which means we shouldn’t be PROUD. We shouldn’t LOOK DOWN on others.

We SHOW that God’s in control – that he’s the One who gives us everything – by walking HUMBLY before him. In GRATITUDE.

And so, with God so ACTIVE in the affairs of Daniel and his friends. When the three year training course finishes, the final results are hardly surprising. V18.

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

Ten times better. That’s a pretty impressive big number. Just shows that God doesn’t make rubbish. He’s active and in control. And he’s working in your life and mine.  But look at v21. ANOTHER impressive big number. Daniel remained in the king’s service until the first year of King Cyrus

That’s at least FOUR MORE KINGS on after Nebuchadnezzar! And more than 60 years! The insignificant young man, probably not much more than 17 or 18. Powerless, helpless, impressionable. At the mercy of powerful men. He SEEMED weak and fleeting. But in the end HE OUTLASTED THEM ALL! Because the God he SERVED was the truly living and powerful and active One. Who worked out HIS PURPOSES.

The message of Daniel is that your life is like a tapestry, perfectly designed and woven with a hundred different colours of thread. Each decision you make is like one thread in that tapestry.

On its own, you can’t see what it’s connected to. Or how it contributes to the overall design. To obey God might seem like nonsense, and purposeless. It’s just one thread. Just one colour.

But take a step back. See it is just a part of a big picture. See it with the eyes of faith, trusting the God who works EVERYTHING for the good of those who’ve been called according to his purpose. And the context of that one small decision begins to become clearer.

God IS at work in history. In the big scale events, and the small scale.

We see it in the events of DANIEL. And we see it even MORE clearly and significantly in the events around the death of Jesus. In Acts 2, Peter preaches at Pentecost, and he describes to his Jewish audience the huge events around Jesus’ death, a little over a month before. At the time it had seemed like such a failure. That human power had defeated God’s plans. But listen to what Peter learned. Acts 2:22.

22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

God was at work in the big and the small events for Daniel. He was at work in the suffering and death of Jesus. And God’s at work in YOU, TOO. JESUS is the proof of his POWER and his CONCERN. Will you TRUST him? And will you SHOW that in the choices you make?