Answered Prayer?

Sixty-six years. Daniel had been in captivity for sixty-six years. He had come to Babylon as a young man and now was quite old. Most of his friends were gone…they had died somewhere along the way. Yet Daniel was unwavering in his hope that God would restore the nation. Reading the prophet Jeremiah, he came across the passage where God had mentioned the Jews being in captivity in Babylon for 70 years before judgment came upon the Babylonians. And now the time was near, or so it seemed. So Daniel began to pray, confessing the sins of the nation and asking God to restore them just as Moses had instructed in Deuteronomy. And suddenly an angel appeared, Gabriel in fact. And Daniel’s prayer was answered in a most surprising way.

Daniel 9. First Daniel’s told that 70 7’s had been decreed for his people and the holy city, “to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.” It turns out that the 7’s are years, so 70 7’s would be 490 years. According to the following verse, 69 of those 7’s (483 years) would span the time from the rebuilding of the city (time of Nehemiah) to the appearance of the Messiah (Jesus’ triumphal entry). But then Messiah would be cut off by the same folks who would also destroy the city. In the final 7 (tribulation) there would be a covenant made and then broken by a mysterious figure, a prince of these folks, who would then be destroyed.

Good news for Daniel: the righteous rule of God would be established. Bad news: not anytime soon. We are still in the time between the 69th and 70th 7. We’re waiting for the end of transgression and sin, the entrance of everlasting righteousness and the sealing up of prophecy. In some ways these things have been accomplished…in Jesus who is the “Stone cut without hands” and the “Son of Man” who comes up to the Ancient of Days. In His first coming, He made atonement for sin and paved the way for everlasting righteousness for all who believe in Him. But still we wait. We wait for the final revelation of the Son as the White Horse Rider and the ultimate end of sin, death, pain, sorrow, etc. And as we wait, like Daniel, may God find us just as faithful to impact our culture and point others to Him.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

It’s getting hot in here

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah all sought to remain true to God even in the midst of dire circumstances and a culture that sought to conform them to its image. When they first arrived in Babylon (exiled from Jerusalem because of the nation’s idolatry and disobedience), it started with a name-change. The names of all four boys reflected the God whom they worshiped and served. The first move of cultural re-education was to give them names that reflected the Babylonian pantheon of gods. So Daniel became Belshazzar, Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach, and Azariah became Abed-nego.In addition to new names, the boys were immersed in Babylonian customs and learning. The food that they were told to eat violated what their consciences dictated, so they asked for a pass, and God was merciful. Their decision to follow Him was rewarded.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. No one seemed to be able to interpret it for him, so he pronounced a death sentence on all his wise men (which included Daniel and his three friends). When Daniel and crew were made aware of the king’s edict, they asked for time, and God was merciful once again and granted Daniel insight and wisdom to know the dream and its interpretation. Daniel was promoted and secured high offices for his three friends. Up to this point, God seemed to be prospering Daniel and his friends in captivity. Following Him had been relatively easy.

Daniel 3. Everything changes. After Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statute representing successive world kingdoms (aka The Times of the Gentiles) and the subsequent destruction of those kingdoms by God’s eternal kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar took to heart Daniel’s statement that he, Nebuchadnezzar, was the head of gold and king of kings. He set up a huge golden image to which he commanded all of his officials to bow down and worship (likely both political and religious significance). Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah all refused. Nebuchadnezzar was not happy and threatened certain death for the three boys unless they complied. And now their faith was on the line…what would they do? These guys made an amazing statement, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” But even if He does not… wow. What faith. Regardless of the outcome these young men were willing to remain true to God. For them, death was not the end. But God once again was merciful and spared their lives.

These three are a stark contrast to the nation. The nation went into captivity because they continually bowed down to idols, yet these three refuse idolatry even though their lives are on the line. And they become examples for believers going through this time of Gentile domination when doing the right thing seems to bring a negative consequence…the world system is vehemently opposed to the things of God. Jesus said, “If they hate you, know that they hated Me first…” Death is not the end, but just a transition. As the author of Hebrews says, we are looking for a better kingdom than what the world has to offer, an eternal kingdom that will never be shaken and will not fade away.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Sign of the Times

The king had a dream. A very disturbing, seemingly ominous dream. The dread that he felt upon awaking only confirmed the magnanimity of the omen. So he called in his wise men – astrologers, magicians, practioners of the arcane arts – seeking to discover the meaning of the dream. The assembly was brought together, and then a very peculiar request was made. “Tell me the dream and its interpretation,” demanded the king. The sages stood dumbfounded. Such a request had never been made before. Sure they had been asked to interpret dreams, but never to rehearse the dream itself before hearing it. But the king’s word was law, and his resolve was firm. Tell the dream and its interpretation or die! The wise men astutely answer that the giving of dreams and revealing of mysteries was beyond mortal man. Nevertheless the king pronounced the death sentence. Daniel 2

The first that Daniel heard of the king’s decree was at the moment that the guards show up for him. Apparently he wasn’t invited to participate with the others although we are told that he surpassed them all in wisdom and knowledge. Daniel asked for time from the king and asked his friends to pray that God would grant the interpretation. God graciously revealed the dream to Daniel. And then Daniel made a profound statement about God – “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him. To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, For You have given me wisdom and power; Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, For You have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Daniel reported to the king. In the dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a huge statue – head of gold, arms and chest of silver, trunk of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. He also saw a huge stone cut without hands that crushed the statue and filled the earth. “You are the head of gold,” Daniel told the king. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be followed by a series of successive kingdoms, each one inferior to the one before until the kingdom set up by God was established which would supersede them all. Nebuchadnezzar was ecstatic and gave gifts to Daniel and made this amazing statement: “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”

Both Daniel and, more importantly, Nebuchadnezzar recognized that God is sovereign…very significant considering that in chapter 1 the king’s actions symbolically show the defeat of the God of Israel by Marduk, the Babylonian god. The importance of this story for the Jews is two-fold. One, it sets expectations as the Times of the Gentiles formally begin. Israel should not look for a king on the throne until God sets up His kingdom…a kingdom which is very physical (“crushes” all the others). Two, those who follow God are to be faithful during this time. God has not forgotten His people even though following God may look like losing, especially from the world’s perspective. Hold the course. Keep the faith.

Until next time…stay salty.