Wicked Nightmare

What a wickedly vivid nightmare! Four fantastical beasts, each one, in some ways, more terrifying than the one before. A lion with the wings of an eagle. A bear leaning to one side with three ribs in its mouth. A four-headed leopard with four wings. A horrific beast with iron teeth and bronze claws, having a number of horns, that bites and tears and devours. But then a radiant throne and the Ancient of Days sitting in judgment. And finally one like a Son of Man riding a cloud and coming up to the Ancient of Days to receive authority and a kingdom. Such was Daniel’s dream. And it deeply troubled him.

Daniel 7. When Daniel asked for the interpretation, he was told that the four beasts represented four successive kingdoms…much like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. Like the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, the lion with the wings of an eagle represented Babylon. That much Daniel could be sure of. But at the time of the dream, he was still living in the time of Babylon’s rule so the identity of the remaining kingdoms would have been a mystery. From world history, we know that the kingdoms that followed Babylon were Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. But the curious thing is…Rome never actually fell to another world power. For sure the city was sacked by the Visigoths and the Vandals from the north in the fourth century AD, but the kingdom itself faded into the background and became the European states that we know today.

The interesting thing for us in this vision is the fact that the final kingdom falls to the “One like a Son of Man” by whom the little horn that speaks out blasphemies against the Most High is cast into burning fire. This hasn’t happened yet. The little horn is also predicted to make war with the saints and overpower them – probably what terrifies Daniel…evil winning and good guys loosing. This we may think we have seen, but not to this extent. And so we wait. While it looks like following God is losing, we wait. While persecution intensifies, we wait. While our physical lives are seemingly thrown away like so much garbage, we wait. We wait for the eternal kingdom. But we also seek to engage the cultural now. We fight back the darkness and make it harder to go to hell. The Judge is coming, and when He arrives it will be too late for those who are His enemies. So we wait and we work and we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Until next time…stay salty.

 

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Round Two

Sixty some-odd years ago Daniel arrived in Babylon as one of the captive exiles from Jerusalem. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar sat at the helm of the mighty Babylonian empire. Daniel distinguished himself early on in his career as a man of integrity and an uncompromising worshiper of the true God; and he enjoyed favor with both God and Nebuchadnezzar, rising to dizzying heights within the governmental administration.

Decades later, Daniel found himself in a similar role, a rising star, but in a different kingdom. The Medo-Persians had stepped on the world stage as the new conquering kingdom. Daniel was one of three high government officials, and Darius planned on making him the number two guy in the kingdom. Not good news for Daniel’s competitors. Not that Daniel had it out for them at all, but they did not like the idea of this Hebrew ruling over them. So they devised a plot. I’m not sure what it says about government officials today, but at that time these guys thought for sure they would be able to find some “dirt” on Daniel, political or otherwise. But he was above reproach. Eighty + years old and they could find nothing against him. What a testimony to his character. Their only shot was to try to entrap him in regards to the worship of his God. His reputation as a God-follower must have been well-know. They hatched the plot, Darius signed the decree, and worship of God (any god) was forbidden for thirty days. Once the decree was signed, they had Daniel. They knew that he would not compromise, and Darius would therefore be forced to carry out the death sentence – one-way trip to the lions’ den to be mauled by lions. Things seemed to go according to plan, except the king was unusually worried about Daniel’s welfare, and then the unthinkable…Daniel survived the ordeal! That did not bode well for the conspirators, and their lives were forfeited for their treachery. The story ends in much the same way that Daniel and his three friends other encounters with the king end…with the king acknowledging the greatness of God.

So why does Daniel include this story, especially since it highlights many of the same lessons that we’ve already seen in the book (i.e., God’s sovereignty, God’s protection, Daniel, et al. ‘s faithfulness/integrity, etc.)? I believe it has something to do with this being the second of the kingdoms (round two, if you will) that God revealed would rule over the Jews. Babylon was the first. The Persians were the second. God protected a remnant in the first kingdom, and now He’s protecting that same remnant in the second kingdom. For the Jews reading the story, it would be a strong encouragement that God would look out for them in the ensuing kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles until He sets up His eternal kingdom. The same encouragement is there for us today as God-followers. Even though following God looks many times like losing rather than winning, we can be assured that the kingdoms of this world are temporary and that their power comes only at God’s discretion. He is still sovereign, and He still continues to work in history to bring about His divine purposes. He will establish His kingdom.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

A Backward Glance

Twenty years. Joseph had been separated from his family for twenty years. And after a masterfully played round of psychological terrorism (see prior post), he was now ready to reveal himself to his brothers. What would their reaction be? Clearly they had evidenced remorse over their prior treatment of him, but would they rejoice with him now that they were reunited? Or would they be driven to make excuses and pass the blame?

Genesis 45-46. Understandably, the brothers first response on hearing Joseph’s surprise unveiling was stunned silence, followed quickly by visible dismay. Having succumbed to Joseph’s mental attack, they were surely ready to face his retribution for their crime; but surprisingly it didn’t come. Instead Joseph received them warmly, falling on them and weeping on their necks. Joseph was truly glad to see them…but how? After all that they had put him through – murderous threats, throwing him into a pit, selling him to slave traders, which resulted in slavery, false accusations, prison, forgotten assistance…and then, ascendancy to the top spot in Pharaoh’s cabinet, marriage and two sons, deliverance for not only the Egyptians but also for the surrounding lands through the famine. Joseph’s declaration to his brothers gives us the “how”. He said, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God…”

Joseph was able to look back on the events of his life and interpret them in light of the dreams that God had revealed to him twenty years earlier as a teenage boy. At any point along the path, it would have been difficult if not impossible for Joseph to predict exactly how the story would end. No doubt he trusted God to work out the details, but there would have been questions along the way… It’s only in the rearview mirror, the backward glance, that Joseph was able to see God’s hand at work so clearly. The same is true for us. It is hard at times to believe that God has a plan for us…the details of everyday life and tough circumstances have a way of clouding our vision. But when we take time to look back over the landscape of our lives, the path seems less arbitrary and more defined as God has been working to get us to this point and will continue to lead us to the destiny He has for us. He only asks that we remain faithful with what he’s laid in our path today and follow where He leads.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Belshazzar’s Fatal Mistake

Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man on the planet. His kingdom was one of the wonders of the ancient world. His word was law, and he decided the fate of many a people. But Nebuchadnezzar also learned a lesson that radically changed the trajectory of his life…the God of the Hebrews was God, the eternal God who was Most High over the kingdoms of the earth. He proclaimed, “For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” And Nebuchadnezzar became a believer in the one true God.

Daniel 5. Several years later, a new king sat on the throne of Babylon…well maybe more of a co-regent since his father was still technically king. His name was Belshazzar. The fall of Babylon was imminent. The Medes and Persians were literally right outside the gates. And young Belshazzar decided to throw a feast, likely in honor of the constellation of The Scales (today known as Libra). During the feast, he commanded a curious thing: that his servants “bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.” Subsequently a hand appeared and wrote a mysterious message on the wall. All of the king’s wise men were called in, but none could interpret the message. Finally Daniel was summoned, and after giving a brief history lesson, he gave the interpretation. “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’ This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it.  ‘TEKEL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient [ironic in view of the festival they were celebrating]. ‘PERES’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.” That night Belshazzar died.

What was Belshazzar’s sin? And how was it different than Nebuchadnezzar’s? Didn’t Nebuchadnezzar worship idols and force others to do the same? Wasn’t he also proud? So why was one spared (Nebuchadnezzar) and the other destroyed (Belshazzar)? No doubt before his conversion Nebuchadnezzar was proud and idolatrous, and God patiently pursued him. But we have to remember that before Daniel’s arrival, the God of the Hebrews was the local deity of yet another kingdom Nebuchadnezzar had conquered. The fact that he defeated the Jews in battle proved that his gods were greater than theirs. And so God introduced Himself to Nebuchadnezzar, and he responded. In each instance, Nebuchadnezzar recognized God’s power and ultimately recognized His sovereignty. And Daniel told Belshazzar, “Yet you, his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven.” Belshazzar knew who God was, but chose to dishonor Him all the same. Belshazzar had sinned with a high hand…open rebellion against both God and Nebuchadnezzar who worshiped Him. And God brought swift judgment.

While God was punishing His people for their infidelity, He would still protect the faithful during this time of judgment. We are still living during these “Times of the Gentiles”, so it’s imperative for us to remember that God is sovereign over the nations and kingdoms of the world. He establishes kings and pulls down kings. He sets the times and the epochs. And He will judge, but He will also deliver those who have trusted in Him. We can rest in that.

Until next time…stay salty.

Surprising Plot Twist

I love a good mystery. Something about the twists and turns in the plot and the surprise of the final “who-dun-it” gets me every time. The great mystery stories are always unpredictable, much like life. And Genesis is like that. In the Genesis story, the focus has been on Joseph now for several chapters. In fact his episode accounts for more real estate than any of the other patriarchs, and more than both his father (Jacob) and grandfather’s (Isaac) narratives combined. Joseph was given dreams that indicated he would rule over his brothers and even his entire family. His experience in Egypt had borne this out, as he was promoted to the highest possible position, number 2 behind Pharaoh. As we’ve been looking for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the Woman, Joseph seems like the most likely candidate to carry on the line that began with Adam and went through folks like Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…but then a sleeper candidate appeared on the scene.

In our first encounter with Judah, he appeared as the ring-leader of his siblings with a plan for making a quick shekel, while at the same time ridding both he and his other brothers of their none-too-loved younger brother, Joseph, by selling him into slavery.

Our next encounter found Judah marrying a Canaanite woman, and having three sons, two of whom are killed by the LORD for their wickedness…probably not a good decision on Judah’s part to intermarry (ala Genesis 6). The third son was seemingly spared the fate of his older brothers, but because of Judah’s unwillingness to fulfill the promise he had made to his daughter-in-law, she tricked him into fathering two more sons who ended up being both his sons and grandsons…talk about a twisted plot. But then we come to our next two encounters with Judah.

Genesis 43-44. In order to return to Egypt to buy more grain, Judah pledged before his father, Jacob, to be surety for his youngest brother, Benjamin. Surprising because Benjamin, like Joseph, was not only the son of Jacob’s favored wife, Rachel, he, along with Joseph, were clearly loved by their father more than any of their other siblings. Judah and company made the trip to Egypt, had a seemingly pleasant dinner with Joseph, and started back to Canaan. Then as Joseph’s final act of psychological terrorism reached its climax with Benjamin being falsely accused of stealing Joseph’s divining cup and facing a life sentence as a slave [Joseph creates a near perfect replica of the circumstances of his own demise at the hands of his brothers through deception, preferential treatment and false accusation. What would they do this time? Had they learned their lesson?] Judah reappears once again. This time instead of being the one to sell his brother into slavery, he begged permission to take his place, even though he might very well have believed that Benjamin was guilty. And so innocent (relatively) Judah was willing to take the place of guilty (apparently) Benjamin. Sound familiar? Genesis 3.15. So while Joseph would deliver his family (burgeoning nation of Israel) through the famine, Judah’s willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of another wins him the top spot. And so, as we will see later, the line of the Seed will pass through Judah (not Joseph).

The encouraging thing about this particular story is that Judah would never have been picked for his role if it were up to us…up to me. But I guess neither would Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. And if we fast forward to Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, we see a host of characters that would not have made the list…murderers, prostitutes, adulterers, idolaters, etc., etc., etc. That gives me hope that God can use me as well. He can use you, too. And that, my friends, is the most surprising plot twist of all.

Until next time…stay salty.

Trading up

Nebuchadnezzar seemed to have it all. He had defeated every army he faced. He had envisioned and supervised a number of impressive building projects in the city of Babylon, including the famous “hanging gardens”, one of the wonders of the ancient world. He had wealth beyond compare, and he was the ruler over the vast Babylonian empire, which was considered the world power of his day. He commanded the respect of his subordinates and his peers. He was the most powerful man in the world. But one thing he lacked…and that was what Daniel and his three friends had. Daniel 4.

When Daniel and his friends were brought to Babylon, they respectfully declined to eat the king’s choice food because it violated the worship of their God. When Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, Daniel was the only one who was able to give both the dream and its interpretation with the help of his God. When Nebuchadnezzar later set up a golden image for all his leaders to worship, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach) and Azariah (Abed-nego) were willing to go to a fiery death rather than bow to the image. And after both the dream and God’s deliverance of the three boys, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the power of the Hebrew God. Each instance was important, but the Hebrew God only seems to have been added to Nebuchadnezzar’s list of gods.

Then God gives Nebuchadnezzar a second dream. And in the dream (tree that is cut down), Nebuchadnezzar was warned that he would be humbled due to his pride. In fact, he would be given the mind of an animal until he acknowledged that God was Most High over the kingdoms of the earth. When Daniel was called in to explain the meaning of the dream, he was disturbed. But why? Could be any number of reasons…fear of the king’s anger on receiving bad news, self promotion, the good of the kingdom…but based on Daniel’s character thus far in the story, the most likely answer was that he genuinely cared for the king. He even told Nebuchadnezzar how to avoid the coming judgment…repent. But Nebuchadnezzar refused to listen, so God humbled him.

The amazing thing about this chapter is Nebuchadnezzar’s statements at both the beginning and end. He got it. You see, I believe Nebuchadnezzar traded up. He was missing a relationship with God, and he gained not only that, but also more prominence within his kingdom. God went to extraordinary links to reach this pagan king: raising his to power, two incredible dreams concerning the future, both far and near and rescuing three boys from a fiery furnace. But probably the most significant instrument that God used was Daniel himself. He gave him favor with the king, and Daniel took seriously his responsibility to serve and the relationship that followed. And through Daniel’s consistency and faithfulness, God brought the most powerful man in the world into His kingdom.

Many of us find ourselves in relationships with those who don’t have a relationship with God. Maybe they’re seeking, and maybe not. They could be your boss, your co-worker, your employee, your teacher, your student, your neighbor, your family member, etc. Do you live out a consistent testimony before them? May God find us so faithful.

Until next time…stay salty.

Exiled in Egypt

It’s been twenty years. Over half his life spent hundreds of miles away from home. And now the folks responsible for his exile are within his grasp, standing before him, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. What will he do? What would you do? Genesis 41-42.

Joseph had two incredible dreams that defined his destiny. One foreshadowed the then current famine in Egypt, and both pictured Joseph in a position of power within his family. Sharing the dreams with his brothers proved to be a mistake, but his dad considered what these things might mean. Thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment, and what seemed like a lifetime later, the full meaning of the dreams began to take shape when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and was promoted to the second highest office in the land, second only to Pharaoh. It hints at the importance that the interpretation of dreams played in ancient Egypt when a prisoner and one time slave is promoted to such high standing. And not only that, his marriage to Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On would showcase his new-found status.

With Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and his seeming success at every turn, it would be easy to see him as totally content and even better off in Egypt. But when he names his two sons, we get a peek at the heretofore unpublicized anguish of Joseph. We’re told he named his firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” He named his second son Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” It shows his faithfulness during this time to be all the more outstanding…he never seemed to waver in unbelief or to doubt God’s hand at work directing him towards his destiny. Even in some extremely difficult circumstances.

Now his brothers, who were the catalyst of the pain Joseph had endured the past twenty years when they sold him into slavery, were standing before him requesting help. He had the power to end them. And at first, it seems that he might be looking for a little revenge when he accused them of being spies and had them thrown into prison; but upon further reflection it appears that he was testing them in some way. In order for his dream to be fulfilled, Joseph not only had to be in a position of authority, he needed to be in a position of authority over his family which meant that they needed to be in Egypt. In order for Joseph to deliver/save his family, they would have to leave Canaan and come to him. And so began the process of seeing whether or not their character had changed and of bringing them down to Egypt.

This section of Joseph’s story is challenging. We get our first glimpse behind the curtain to his emotions and the incredible pain he’s suffered that we could only guess at before. His steadfastness of faith and willingness to fully engage in the “little things”, giving his all to the task at hand especially during this time is all the more impressive and encouraging. I pray that God would find us as faithful.

Until next time…stay salty.