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.

 

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.