The Daniel Challenge: “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark” – Daniel 1-3

dark-girl in fieldOur generation has been granted by God a unique opportunity – to lead in a culture that is dark, drifting and largely directionless. It is in that state because it has severed its moorings from the dock of absolute truth, and embraced moral relativism and a story of origins wrapped in Godless naturalism. We can lament that it has done so, and some tears may be warranted, but that won’t change where we are… and we CAN change where we are! There are many ways we can have a direct impact on the future of our country – some want to do it through political process. Others want education reform. All that is well and good, but the Bible posits that none of those will have their due impact if they do not also include doing so with a deep and personal walk with God. Commitment to a cause will eventually tire, but commitment to the relationship with a Living Savior will be renewed and energized as we meet with Him, focus on His voice and follow His bidding. We need personal transformation before we can push a cultural reformation. To do that, we cannot curse the darkness, nor fear it – we must challenge it with light…starting one candle at a time.

A great example of this idea is found in the writings of Daniel the prophet. The prophet and his three friends – Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah – offer us a good look at believers successfully negotiating life and rising to a position of influence over their own people and others – even after being forcibly plunged into a spiritually dark world against their own choosing.

Our lesson today encompasses three stories from Daniel 1-3 that are quite well known. Each is important, even if we only touch them lightly.

Let’s set the whole book, then the three stories. Daniel can easily be divided into two parts: the first six chapters concerning Daniel and his friends lighting up a spiritually dark place, and the last six chapters speaking about specifics of prophecy concerning God’s people, Israel. The book is built on a premise, and that will be our central truth for this lesson:

Key Principle: Either darkness will be a debilitating problem for you, or an opportunity for you to serve God and stand out.

The first three chapters tell three very familiar stories that feed information on how to stand with courage in darkness, and make a difference when the world around desperately needs what you have, but doesn’t know it.

• The first story explained how Daniel navigated holding to purity in diet, when the king assigned the menu of the boys of Judah.

• The second story recalled how God gave the king a dream, and how He used Daniel to make clear both the dream and interpretation – which elevated Daniel in the eyes of the king.

• The third story recounted the king setting up a statue to himself and his expectation of being worshiped by all – with a lion’s den penalty for dissenters.

Each story is familiar, but each offers a strand in a strong cord that reminds us that our commitment precedes our usefulness – and our commitment will be tested.

Chapter One

The first story makes clear that it isn’t circumstance that makes you successful in a walk with God – it is your choice to focus on intimacy with God and show it to people around you who need to meet God.

The storyline is simple to recall. Men of Judah were plucked from home and placed in Pagan U with a diet of un-kosher food. They had to find a way to walk with God in an undefiled way and yet have an influence on the lost people around them… Look at chapter one for a moment. There are a few observations that I believe will effectively explain what to look at to keep from sliding into the darkness around us:

Daniel 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 The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.

First, look at how clearly Daniel demonstrated that he knew he was in God’s hand! His focus was in God’s control, even amidst evil’s victory. Note: “The Lord gave Jehoiakim…” (1:1-2). He recognized when his king was taken into captivity, God was at work (1:2). You don’t hear resignation, but rather recognition. The simple fact is that life is out of our control, but never out of God’s control. That is the beginning of finding a firm footing in dark places.

Second, don’t miss that Daniel focused on building positive relationships with those around him, both believers and non-believers. He didn’t find the problems with his fellows, nor did he fight the circumstances and disrespect the pagans around him. He tried to discern what God wanted him to do, step by step, and how he could build ties to people. Daniel 1:3-5 explained how the king ordered a certain “Ashpenaz” to select some of the best of the sons of Israel, and teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king provisioned a daily menu for the students as they prepared to enter the king’s personal service. These young men listened and learned the ropes, making respectful relationships in the system rather than fighting in unending protest. If we focus on making relationships in spite of the changes, we will have more opportunities to live a testimony.

Third, the young men learned to walk with God without depending on the public symbols they once had. Daniel 1:6-7 tell us that at the beginning of the training, the boys – Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah had their names changed: Daniel to Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego.

When Judah’s king had fallen and the Temple’s God appeared to be defeated by a pagan deity, the natural symbols of power and prestige were taken from their hands…and yet the men kept focus to navigate without compromising truth. It is critical to remember in times like these that our identity as children of God isn’t found in your outward public symbols but rather an intimate relationship with the Lord – and they cannot take that away! Note verse six:

Daniel 1:6 “Among these were some from Judah: Daniel – (name meaning ‘God is my judge’, Hananiah, (the Lord has been gracious), Mishael, (The one who comes form God), and Azariah (The Lord is my helper). The chief official gave them Babylonian names: to Daniel, Belteshazzar (the secret of their God Bel), to Hananiah, Shadrach (“the inspiration of the sun god”) To Mishael, Meshach (he who belongs to the goddess Sheshach.) and to Azariah, Abednego (servant of Nebo – the morning star).

Their names were changed – an outward thing – but not their hearts! Why is that important? To have a testimony, the men didn’t focus on the outward symbols but rather inward faithfulness.

Fourth, if you took the time to read Daniel 1:8-16, you would recognize how Daniel focused on what was negotiable and what was NOT. Look at 1:8:

Daniel 1:8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.

Daniel’s personal choice was to stand before God in purity and that was a non-negotiable. That was the platform God used in his life. Yet, the second half of the verse showed the “HOW” is not the same as the “WHAT”. You can stand in purity, but find a way to meet people half-way without personally violating yourself. It takes work. It takes patience. It takes listening to the man on the other side of the desk with respect. Daniel was able to be sympathetic to Ashpenaz without giving in on his truth commitment. (1:10). He was able to meet the man half way and be a testimony without being a protestor (1:11-16).

Fifth, Daniel focused on being used of God where God led him – and staying with that task. He chose time with positive people and doing positive “God things”. People that are engaged in growth and life are invigorating and get better opportunities to be used of God (1:17-19). He worked out his gifted-ness and stayed at his post for God (1:20-21). Though he was taken to Babylon in 606 BCE, but stayed in the work until 537 BCE – nearly 70 years later!

I hate dieting, and yet it seems this is something I will need to continuously address in my life. It is probably unrealistic, but I imagine that every time I walk past a dessert buffet and choose discipline, it seems like I should instantaneously lose a pound. That seems fair to me… but life doesn’t work that way. The only way I can have a healthy and fit body is doing right over the LONG HAUL.

Daniel got that. He didn’t expect an instant positive because of an instant commitment. He worked for many years. We read a few chapters of what God did in his life, but do not read of the decades of doing right in between. Don’t be misled… a testimony is a long term build.

Chapter Two

The second story introduced the place where a testimony shines brilliantly – in times of trouble. The curtain opened with a king’s insomnia, and a cranky cynicism exposing his previously secret beliefs about his untrustworthy advisors. He commanded the men to BOTH tell him his dream, and interpret its meaning. It is as though God awakened the man to bring a problem that would show the underlying system of the Empire was built on false ideas and people.

Chapter two teaches that it isn’t in problem free living that a successful walk develops best. Some problems can be God’s way of uncovering deception and clearly revealing the place of truth. What looks like LIFE driving forces isn’t just a series of coincidental events – it is the work of a Providential God! In this case, it was a dream that left the king grumpy (2:1).

Look at the progression of the testimony in the chapter:

First, the king was forced to use the system he created without God (2:2). His payroll was loaded with “helpers” called the “magicians” (khar-tome’: a horoscope reader who typically believed “the universe knows”. If they couldn’t help, there were the “conjurers” (ash-shawf’: necromancers or exorcists). These claimed to breach at will the veil between the physical and spiritual world and speak to the dead. Still without direction? There were also the “sorcerers” (Hebrew “mekhashphim”: literally mutterers) who could whisper a spell of witchcraft. If nothing else worked, there were the “Chaldeans” (kas-dee’: inhabitants of Chaldea), the imported experts from think tanks with interesting pedigrees. Sadly, none of them could both tell the king his dream and interpret the meaning reliably.

Second, the problems revealed the hopeless cynicism that lurked beneath the surface of the unbelieving world (2:3-9). The king looked for help in the systems he built, but didn’t really even trust them. The intractable problem highlighted the need for power beyond MAN. Look carefully at verse ten. Isn’t that a great set up for God to work among men? Complex problems often reveal the limits of life without the Creator God

Daniel 2:10 The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king, inasmuch as no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean.

Third, the problems offered a platform for the clear presentation of God’s ability to fix life (2:12-16). Daniel heard about the problem (2:12-15). In response, Daniel shared with the lost king that God COULD fill the need, and asked for time to see if God WOULD fill it (2:16).

Fourth, Daniel let the problem be an opportunity to believers together and into worship and seek God (2:17-23)! He gathered praying friends to seek God (2:17-18). God answered the request (2:19) and Daniel worshiped and praised (2:20-23).

Finally, the entire second half of chapter two unfolded the story of how God revealed the future to Daniel, and he, in turn, explained it to the king. Look at the king’s response:

Daniel 2:46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and did homage to Daniel, and gave orders to present to him an offering and fragrant incense. 47 The king answered Daniel and said, “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.” 48 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 And Daniel made request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego over the administration of the province of Babylon, while Daniel was at the king’s court.

The chapter left us with this: our problems can be our best opportunities to become the showcase of God’s power. Now the final story…

Chapter Three

The third chapter opened with two recognizable problems.

• The king had selective hearing from the vision Daniel explained. He got more caught up on the BIG STATUE of the dream and lost the significance of the meanings of each part of it. So often, people hear what they want to hear.

• Daniel’s elevation made the other advisers jealous. The whole academy of men in chapter two retained both heads and positions, but weren’t grateful to God or to Daniel.

Let’s break the “fiery furnace” story into three parts.

• First, the great statue and command for people to bow and worship it at the appointed musical prompting (Daniel 3:1-7).

• Second, jealous Chaldeans accuse the Judean boys to attempt to eliminate them (3:8-18).

• Third, the three men were cast into a fiery furnace, and had a meeting with their Savior (3:19-30).

Daniel isn’t relating his own experience, but rather the experience of three contemporary friends in Babylon.

Don’t forget – the passage isn’t about the problem – it NEVER is. It is about the POWER of God and the platform rising problems afford us to show His power!

Chapter three ties together the lessons of the first two chapters into one overriding idea: the greatest problem most of us have is the way we VIEW our problems. Drop into the story of this ancient king who has been reading the mail of sycophants and flatterers and decided on a building project that he thought was a suitable self-tribute:

Daniel 3:1 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which [was] sixty cubits (ninety feet tall) [and] its width six cubits (nine feet wide); he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

First, note the Set up: The enemy of God used a familiar cocktail recipe:

He misdirected a man of power and influence –Satan’s most effective work begins with the soft blowing of subtle influence pushing along a fragile ego. Nebuchadnezzar was the undisputed king of perhaps the world’s most elegant city and most powerful government – and yet his most pressing issue wasn’t health care, not education, not immigration, not civil rights – he concluded his biggest problem that needed the most serious investment – was his image sculpting and legacy.

The enemy confused the king with religious symbolism – from the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from chapter two, the king got the idea to build a likeness of himself. As always, bad theology leads to bad action, but is most often driven by good impulse. How many times has a social program been started by a leader who wanted to help – but their solution actually added many unintended consequences that hurt more than were aided.

Godless people in social causes often create a brand of enforced paganism… but that doesn’t change the people of God and their mission…

Note the words in Daniel 3:2 “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent [word] … to come to the dedication of the image …3 Then … they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed: “To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and [men of every] language, 5 that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. 6 “But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.”

Don’t stop reading at the details of the gathering – or you are left with only the problem. That is what the NEWS MEDIA does. It leads you to the intractable issues of our day, and offers the blur of contradictory opinions of pundits from opposite sides of the aisle.

God’s Word isn’t about the problem – He is about the platform the problem affords the believer to shine a light that pierces the darkness.

Break down the verses, and three ideas emerge.

• First, there was a command (3:2-3): Someone takes the lead in sponsoring darkness. In this case, word was spread and the powerful came to dedication. False ideas when presented with the power and symbolism of official channels often gains traction quickly.

• Second, there were conditions (3:4-6): The announcement set clear expectation. A surge like this asserts MIND CONTROL. The king didn’t want allegiance – he wanted worship. He wanted surrender to his will. Evil men cannot tolerate opposition, despite their claim that they are the tolerant ones among us. They don’t want pagan ideas merely installed in our education system – they want unqualified control of our society’s world view. We resist because we know what they want. It isn’t the freedom to live the way they choose – it is the right to force me to agree with them or be removed from the public square. We must seek to be peaceable and kind, but never passive in defense of truth.

• Third, there was almost uniform conformity: People fell down in obedience with practically no resistance (3:7). We must remember that the moral system of most people allows them to compromise anything to get ahead with those in power. Believers don’t have that luxury, because we serve the King above the king. That truth is not a reason for despair – it is a reason for us to live with CLARITY the principles of our Father in Heaven. Consider how profound it will look to have a deeply committed and happy marriage (as defined in the Bible) in the average workplace. These dark days offer us real OPPORTUNITY!

As you keep looking, you will notice how believers got squeezed by the rising tide (3:8-12): Anger and rage will be vented on any who question the rising evil.

The enemy quickly seized the opportunity to use the dark days to wipe out God’s message and messengers (3:8-12). He may even use those who were respectful and helpful just a short time before.

• The believers were not trying to be in the way, but they attracted the jealousy of the Chaldeans (3:8). They hadn’t done anything wrong. God wasn’t punishing them. Yet, they spent no time trying to discern who was to blame – that wasn’t the issue.

• Notice how the unbelieving leaders set up persecution as cloaked but necessary nationalism and public good. (3:9-12). You are going to see that one again in the coming days. They framed the intent of the believers as hostile to the power of the state. (3:12). Rather than be appalled, we need to both be prepared to stand up to false worship, as well as be prepared to address positively why we do what we do.

The king had the offenders dragged in to stand face to face before him in Daniel 3:13-15. They faced a choice from which there was clearly no escape – and the faith of three men became crystal clear to anyone watching. Here was the point of the problem – God wanted to show something to the king, and he chose to do it through the lives of these three men by allowing the enemy to create a problem for the believers.

These men faced the same challenge we all do – put God above self so that God can tell His story. (3:13-15).

Look at the king’s question! But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

He had no idea there is an affirmative answer to the idea that there was a God that could save them from his authority… and he was completely WRONG! Believer, don’t confuse confident assertion with certain truth. The king may have believed he was in charge of all things, but that only lasted until the truth came out in the FIRE of a difficult circumstance.

God may decide to offer YOU or ME – our lives – to win another to Himself. Ask our missionaries if that is easy – if they are honest they will tell you it is not. God has the right, and God knows the plan. Is it not a deep privilege to be used by the Creator to bring salvation to others? The contest is within the believer, but the conditions that make it clear are often in the world around him or her.

I love the confidence of these young men in Daniel 3:16-18: They didn’t need to rethink the issue because they knew the king’s King!

Don’t forget: The enemy has every interest in dragging out and dramatizing his power – the power over your body. It is a temporal power, but it is all that he has to work with! The king offered another opportunity for the men to “bail” – a dragging out of the decision process, but the men would have no part in that. Daniel 3:16 “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 “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. 18″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.

Can you pick out the confidence in these men? When we truly encounter God, we aren’t nearly as impressed with human power, accomplishment and ability! Temporal power pales before eternal. That is why a Biblical world view is so critical… it will provide a foundation under the choices of our lives. If God is really in control, the enemy has a limitation on him. Whatever passes into my life passes the approval of God’s hand before it arrives to me.

Consider this: A submarine has enormous pressure on the hull as it sinks deeply in the ocean. It is only the inner counter pressure of the air that stops the outer pressure from collapsing the vessel into itself. By the same token – The world is trying to shape you into its image … shape you into its mold. We aren’t to be shaped by OUTSIDE forces … BUT … by the INSIDE strength and domination of the Holy Spirit. When you surrender to God’s power and allow the work of the Spirit to take over within, you protect against collapse to the outer pressure to conform!

You know the end. The three men were hurled into a fiery furnace, but One was already in the fire waiting for them to arrive. The powerful men of the world stood outside in awe, while the King of the Ages had a little “pep talk” time with His faithful friends. In time, the men walked out of that furnace and showed the power of the God they served. All this happened because they completely understood, and lived out one essential truth: Their lives were not their own. Their troubles were nothing less than God’s platform to use each of them to speak to others. Every believer must face that difficult lesson… We aren’t always going to be protected from troubles, but we do get two opportunities.

• We can fuss about the menu offered us while we compromise private purity – or we can match our public protest with a consistent to love and follow God and His Word.

• We can see each government move against us as a threat and respond in fear, or we can seek God and use the darkness as a backdrop to light a candle of testimony.

• We can feel continuously victimized by evil’s approach, or we can recognize troubles are often the great platform of God to show men He is there and He is not impotent, but patient.

These three lessons remind us of one truth necessary to face our time…

Either darkness will be a problem for us, or an opportunity for us to serve God and stand out. The difference is in our choices, not in our environment.

Shine the Light: “Sock Puppets” – Daniel 10

puppet2I have always been fascinated by puppets. I love marionettes in particular, as they were a staple of entertainment for nearly two thousand years in villages and towns of the western world. If you ever get the opportunity to travel to Palermo in Sicily, one of the oldest marionette puppet museums can be found in the “Opera dei Pupi” that opened in the thirteenth century, and still maintains some of the traditional shows and themes. The detail of each marionette, particularly that of the soldiers and courtiers is stunning.

I don’t believe that I could operate something that complicated, but I do understand the principle of pulling strings, and manipulating the movements of the puppet. My level of puppet operation lends itself better to “sock puppets”, however. If that were the level of skill required, I believe I could attain real accolades as a champion… but my dreams are probably misplaced. At any rate, isn’t it incredible how quickly we can transfer living character to something as simple as a sock or piece of paper-mâché? We can watch a puppet “move”, and listen to it “talk” as though it had its own personality. We KNOW that within it there is a puppet master’s hand – but we seem to easily forget that when we are watching. Anyone who grew up on a diet of “The Muppets” will quickly agree…We seem mesmerized and quickly tricked into believing that controlled devices are “self-driven” beings – and that is a lesson we should not shake off too easily… In fact, our enemy counts on that trick in daily life to discourage us. Let me explain.

There is a verse in 2 Corinthians that I have come to believe was ABSOLUTELY TRUE when the Apostle Paul wrote it, but I am almost certain is NOT TRUE if he were walking through life with believers that inhabit the planet now. I don’t believe Paul would write this if he knew the church and her people today… He was writing on the subject of forgiveness to one who was disciplined by the church and he made this passing comment in 2:11 “…so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” Really? Paul said that people who served Jesus and traveled with him were able to see how the enemy was at work in the world – they could peer through the breach between the physical world and the spiritual world and spot the “puppeteer that was pulling many strings” behind events in their world… I find that amazing. In fact, if you look even deeper, you will find the ability to recognize the agenda of the hidden world was a key factor in his ability to stay encouraged when things weren’t going well in his life and ministry.

Key Principle: We gain courage and proper perspective when we recognize the physical world is not the only world, and in fact, not the REAL world. What we see, feel and experience is often caused by something we cannot see from a spiritual world well hidden.

Paul knew he was primarily a spiritual being. He recognized and taught that the eternal and spiritual world is the real (or lasting) world, while the temporal world is the shadow we are passing through in our “earth time”. That knowledge gave him strength and endurance – and it will do the same for us as well. On our way to Daniel 10, let’s thing about that truth and its implications for a moment….

beaten-with-rodsSay what you want about the Apostle Paul… but the guy knew how to “take a punch” and stay on his feet until the final bell rang. In 2 Corinthians 11:24 he offered a “quick trip down memory lane” of battles fought during his thirty one years of ministry on earth from the time he received Christ in 36 CE up to the time of his third mission journey that ended in 58 CE (during which he wrote the account in 2 Corinthians). What an unbelievable twenty-two years! He wrote about the events…:

11:24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine [lashes]. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 [I have been] on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from [my] countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 [I have been] in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

Wow! That sounds like a mission brochure bound to get new recruits to sign up, don’t you think?

Here is my question…How did a guy passing through these kinds of tough persecutions keep an un-jaded perspective, and press forward toward honoring Jesus with his life regardless of the circumstances? He had some secret many of us don’t seem to have – and yet both Paul and Daniel long before him shared it. Listen again as Paul wrote to Corinth to explain his encouraged heart in spite of his physical circumstance.

2 Corinthians 3:15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away…18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 4:1 Therefore … we do not lose heart…7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 [we are] afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh….16 …we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Did you catch the secret to his encouragement? He focused, along with his companions, on the world NOT SEEN, because he knew it was the REAL WORLD. It would last eons after the physical world was nothing but a distant memory…In fact… he wasn’t the only believer that got COURAGE and REINFORCEMENT from the other side of the veil – from the eternal and “spiritual” world. Great men and women of God know this secret – they recognize the NEED TO LOOK BEYOND the physical world to find the TRUTH about events. Daniel did it as well… in fact he was a great example of this idea…and that story is captured at the end of Daniel’s writings.

Daniel 10

Let’s take a few minutes and finish our studies in the book of Daniel by going to the chapter that should be LAST if the account were collected chronologically. It is organized thematically, therefore chapter 10 is not at the end – but in TIME and ORDER of events it SHOULD BE LAST chapter of the book – so we are looking at is to end our series..

Mourning Prayer (10:1-4).

Yet another story opened with the practice of Daniel to seek God’s direction and understanding of life as he prayed. This time he also fasted, and was deeply struggling with a message from God. It wasn’t that the message didn’t make sense – it was simply a hard message to stomach. He wrote:

Daniel 10:1 In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a message was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar; and the message was true and [one of] great conflict, but he understood the message and had an understanding of the vision. 2 In those days, I, Daniel, had been mourning for three entire weeks. 3 I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, nor did I use any ointment at all until the entire three weeks were completed. 4 On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, while I was by the bank of the great river, that is, the Tigris…

There are three specifics Daniel offered about the time he spent seeking God:

First, he reminded us of the period of time (10:1a):

The year was 536 BCE, some sixty-nine years after Daniel was taken captive into Babylon. He was in his eighties, and near the end of his life. The time block was a full three weeks of mourning, fasting and praying to gain understanding of God’s message. Note that Daniel took his query to God on his knees, and remained there. He sought and sought God’s clarification and response. Need we ask why he was so very strong in his witness for so long, and under such extraordinary experiences?

Second, Daniel made clear the pains of trouble (10:1b-2):

Sometimes we feel uncertain because we don’t KNOW what God wants us to do about something. In Dan’s case that wasn’t it! Daniel understood a vision from God, but suffered because he was troubled about how God was going to work. Have you ever been deeply troubled by God’s Word? There are wonderful parts of the Word that relate to Heaven, blessing and God’s powerful saving and transforming work in me –and I cherish those passages! Yet, there are also other places, where God speaks very specifically about those who reject Him – even those among people I love deeply – and those parts are hard to read when I have my friend or loved one in mind. If saved is a reality, then so is lost. If acceptance of Jesus and His work at Calvary changed my destiny, then I must also understand the direction I was already headed when it was changed, and acknowledge that many in my life are still on that path!

Third, Daniel specified the practice of seeking (10:3):

Daniel set aside the good food that God provided him, and even the daily bathing and normal hygiene of his life. He didn’t go out among people, and he waited on God. Proverbs 27:9 offers these words: “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” Daniel set aside the delights of this world to focus on the message from the other world. He took his spiritual life, and the Words of God about reality to heart – and God used him powerfully.

Magnificent Person (10:5-13).

Not only did Dan’s journal tell us about his prayer, it also related the story of a “magnificent person” that visited him from the eternal world to help him grasp what God revealed, and allow it to inform him without wounding him further. Daniel described the visitor, detailed his response to the appearing one, and then offered us an opportunity to glimpse into the spiritual world of which he was a part.

First, look at the description of the visitor (10:5-6):

Daniel 10:5 I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with [a belt of] pure gold of Uphaz. 6 His body also [was] like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult.

Bible students immediately catch the similarity to the vision of the Risen Christ found in Revelation 1, as John the Apostle met Jesus on Patmos. Many descriptions are so similar, that some students conclude this is the same person, but I don’t think so. I believe this is an angelic servant that served in Heaven’s Tabernacle and bore a resemblance in dress because of that function. The visitor was:

• Clothed in linen. (As in Rev. 1:13, where the description is “one who looked as a man with a robe that reached His feet.”)
• Girded with a golden sash as a priest was supposed to be in Lev. 16:4 and as Jesus was in Rev. 1:13b.
• Though he appeared as a man, his color was clearly different than Daniel – with descriptions of his body “like beryl gemstone” (Tarsheesh: yellow gemstone as chrysolite; the color of the wheels of God’s moving platform from Ezekiel’s vision of chapter 1:16; as well as the color of part of the garb of Lucifer before his fall from Heaven– Ezekiel 28:13. That color seems to be an indicator of Heaven and beings from that place. Note that some of the foundation stones of the heavenly city were beryl –cp. Revelation 21:20).
• The face of the visitor shone as lightning. The description is not clear: was the visitor bright? Were they white in color as in Revelation 1:14?
• The visitor’s eyes blazed with fire, just as we see in the description of Jesus in Revelation 1:14. This may denote a holder of God’s revelation of truth, but clearly had something to do with the knowledge and understanding of the individual.
• The visitor’s arms and feet appeared to be made of polished brass, and matches the description of Revelation 1:15 as Jesus’ appearance.
• The visitor brought God’s voice, as is indicated by the multi-voiced sound of the words of Jesus in Revelation 1:15.

Clearly, Daniel knew this wasn’t a distant relative from his homeland – but a Heavenly messenger – a revered visitor that required his complete attention.

Second, Daniel noted his response as a servant of God (10:7-11).

Daniel 10:7 Now I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, while the men who were with me did not see the vision; nevertheless, a great dread fell on them, and they ran away to hide themselves. 8 So I was left alone and saw this great vision; yet no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength. 9 But I heard the sound of his words; and as soon as I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground. 10 Then behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said to me, “O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling.

• Daniel made clear that he alone saw the visitor, but others experienced a dread that caused them to flee – and he was left alone with his Heavenly friend (10:7).
• He had been fasting, but just as John before Jesus, he experienced such a drain on his energy that he was totally without strength (10:8).

Don’t miss this detail – because it is terribly important. Strength in THIS WORLD doesn’t denote strength in the other world. Standing before a visitor of Heaven, men are drained of their physical might – for that might has little effect on the eternal world. Those who are mighty here must not anticipate that might to be great there. The kind of strength one exhibits in Heaven comes from a different source, and is manifested differently.

• Daniel notes that he had a discolored face. The blood drained from his coloring, as he collapsed into a deep sleep.
• Slumping down as if he fainted or fell into a sleep – he was face down (10:9) until set up on “all fours” (10:10) by the touch of the visitor.
• He stood when instructed to do so, but found himself trembling, without the ability to stop (10:11).

Finally, Daniel included the revelation brought by the visitor (10:12-13)

The visitor arrived with purpose, and in response to Daniel’s prayer. Listen to the account of the beginning of the conversation:

Daniel 10:12 Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding [this] and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. 13 “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.

There are two important details found in those words:

• First, Daniel’s prayer was IMMEDIATELY heard (10:12) in Heaven. Though a battle exists in Heavenly places during this time, the lone voice of one man in a room crying out to God reaches Heaven. Don’t ever forget that!
• Second, the delay in the response was not in any way related to Daniel’s piety, some lack in his person or prayer – but explained SOLELY by spiritual warfare in Heavenly places. The Archangel “Michael” is the noted one who (with much help) cast out Satan to the earth in Revelation 12:1-9 as the war eventually will take a turn in the future.

When Daniel mentions these “princes,” we are left to wonder who they are and what role do they seem to play in the events which take place on earth? We have only shadows from God’s revealed word, but it appears as though they are not human rulers, but angelic powers. In the case of Michael, he serves as Israel’s “prince,” in the Word, and is a faithful servant of God. The princes of Persia (10:13) and Greece (10:20) appear to be fallen angels, whose dominion is restricted to a particular geographical and political nation. This follows the pattern of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, where the descriptions of Satan are begun as odes to political rulers, and then the Satanic power behind their moves is revealed in metaphoric terms. Don’t forget, when demons encountered Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, they begged Him not to cast them from “their country” (Mark 5).

If you continue reading, it becomes clear that there was a purpose for the arrival of the visitor that was declared (10:14):

Daniel 10:14 “Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet [future].”

Daniel had deep respect for the spiritual world, and his strength was sapped from him. His paralysis and anguish was expressed, as it was clear that he needed angelic help to bear up in this circumstance (10:15-18):

Daniel 10:15 When he had spoken to me according to these words, I turned my face toward the ground and became speechless. 16 And behold, one who resembled a human being was touching my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke and said to him who was standing before me, “O my lord, as a result of the vision anguish has come upon me, and I have retained no strength. 17 “For how can such a servant of my lord talk with such as my lord? As for me, there remains just now no strength in me, nor has any breath been left in me.” 18 Then [this] one with human appearance touched me again and strengthened me.

The account continued, as the prophet gained strength and encouragement from the visitor, and Daniel requested the visitor deliver his message (10:19):

Daniel 10:19 He said, “O man of high esteem, do not be afraid. Peace be with you; take courage and be courageous!” Now as soon as he spoke to me, I received strength and said, “May my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”

The visitor offered an important and unusual glimpse into the spiritual world before he departed (10:20-21):

Daniel 10:20 Then he said, “Do you understand why I came to you? But I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come. 21 “However, I will tell you what is inscribed in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these [forces] except Michael your prince.

Obviously the account in truncated, and we don’t have everything that passed between the two – prophet and visitor. What we do have is incredible. We have one of the most clear glimpses through the veil over the spiritual world that we will see in the Word, as it relates to the active battle in that world.

Go back to the beginning of the whole account. It started with Daniel becoming aware, by God’s power and revelation, of a GREAT CONFLICT. Something was brewing in Heavenly places, and Daniel was made aware of it. It put him on his knees, kept him from his bath, and left him weak and hungry. The demonic world was at work pressing Cyrus the ruler and the angel came to tell Daniel that mortal men of God could be knowledgeable and helpful in the conflict.

The passage does not reveal any specific VISION of future events, nor words of direction for the Jewish people. This story wasn’t about the FUTURE, but about the PERSPECTIVE and RECOGNITION that the other world that is engaged in the fight right now. It is about grasping that MORE IS GOING ON THAN MEETS THE EYE. It is about knowing that our physical world is not the REAL WORLD, but merely exhibits the symptoms of a deeper world – a spiritual world. We gain courage and proper perspective when we recognize the physical world is not the REAL world. What we see, feel and experience is often caused by something we cannot see from the REAL WORLD.

That is why we cannot simply fight politically and expect to win back territories with truth – the battle isn’t always being fought where you think it is. Prayerful engagement is a threat to those we battle against, while prayer-less political action is ineffective.

Listen thoughtfully and reflectively to the words of Paul to the Ephesian church. Don’t recite the words in your mind. LISTEN to their message:

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places]. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. … 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…

Do you want the church to stand firm in the faith against the tsunami of moral compromise of our day? Spiritually, we must “armor up”! We must see the battle in Heavenly places, and drop to our knees. We must pray for ourselves and other believers – that God’s church will persevere and fight in spiritual ways! We must ask God to give the churches strength, the believers, endurance, and power to stand against the pressure to buckle to the world’s mold.

We gain courage and proper perspective when we recognize the physical world is not the REAL world. What we see, feel and experience is often caused by something we cannot see from the REAL WORLD.

Sometimes the warfare looks like opposition to someone hearing about Jesus and salvation. Paul warned in 2 Corinthians 4:4: “The God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers”. You try to share the Gospel, but feel like you hit a wall – because you did.

Sometimes you just feel incredibly guilty and condemned by things long forgiven by God. You can’t see it, but like Joshua the High Priest of Zechariah 3, Satan islobbing mud at you in the spiritual world – that is why they call him “Accuser”.

You hear about a tragedy or experience intense pain and even after many years of following Jesus, you find yourself suddenly doubting God’s goodness. You start muttering: “I don’t know why I’m the only one who has this constant financial challenge!” or “I don’t know why I should have kids who didn’t follow what I told them.” The deceiver may well be at work discouraging you.

One day you get so angry at someone that you just want to walk away for good. You don’t think about what you can accomplish together for God – just your personal peace (as if distance will fix everything). You forget the Bible revealed, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are angry, and don’t give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27).

Men and women, the other world is at war, and we are seeing symptoms. It isn’t “spooky” and we shouldn’t be embarrassed to admit the truth. We must look with knowledge and understanding. We must pierce through prayerfully. Not everything adds up here, because it didn’t all happen here. The war ends when God declares it will, but the whole story is not yet told. Don’t miss the truth by focusing only on this world – that isn’t where the secret is.

Shine the Light: “Peering into the Darkness” (Daniel 9-12)

bats in cave2I don’t like caves, and I have never been partial to bats… in fact they really creep me out. During my archaeological training, a group of young students in Jerusalem – my roommates and I – decided to go exploring in some caves in Wadi Tekoa – a site in the Judean Wilderness near the ancient home of the Prophet Amos. The caves were not excavated, and still retained all their antiquities, most of which were buried as much as twenty feet below the surface of the current cave floor. What I didn’t know at the time was that much the floor was nothing more than bat dung… several feet of bat dung… old bat dung from hundreds of years of bat relief! The word “disgusting doesn’t ‘scratch the surface’ – if you will forgive the obvious pun!

Worse than the condition of the floor were the residents on the ceiling, lined with an innumerable scene of winged, hanging, hairy rodents. The bats were thick in the cave, and the cave was as dark at pitch, even though outside the cave it was midday and the burning desert sun was relentless. The only thing about the cave experience that was pleasant was the cool air… a very slight breeze that eased out of the cave from deep inside the darkness. What I found most unsettling was that I could not see as we crawled forward. If we used a flashlight, it stirred the bats, and they would pelt us and the light. If we didn’t – there was only a very eerie darkness, and no way to perceive the depth of the cave, nor where we were in relationship to the opening… it was a scary experience I will do my best never to repeat. I have come to realize that I treasure my sight. I love color and visual beauty. I can sit in a gallery and look at a famous Monet for an hour and not realize the time was passing… I hate the thought of not being able to see. My cave experience cemented that fear within…

What is true of physical sight is also true in most of us when we think of the future. We cannot really see where the story that God is crafting is headed on our own. Our nation has made such dramatic changes in our life time, most of us confess we cannot begin to reckon the course of the coming years. We simply cannot peer into the darkness… but we who know God know a secret – there is nothing too dark for His eye. He can see it all. He is weaving the tapestry of history, and He knows where it goes and what story it will reveal when all the threads are in place. Sometimes He decides to share it with a believer, and even better, lets that follower share it with us. The prophecies of an ancient Jew in captivity in Babylon are a record of just those very truths – God shining a light forward in the dark cave of the future of His people…

Key Principle: History is “His” story – and God is never surprised by it. The path of the future is as the path of the past in His eyes – secure, known and unwavering from the Master craftsman’s hand.

Today we glimpse directly into the cave, in a set of prophecies given hundreds of years before Christ, that all but spell out His name before He was born. That peering ahead includes much detail that to Daniel was prophecy, but to us it is history. To God, the past and the future are the same – finished in His mind…. Let’s take a look at the course of the future of the Jewish people as exposed from the shrouded darkness to Daniel.

There are seven parts to the prophecies Daniel received during the first year of Darius the Mede recorded in the book:

Unfortunately, they have been divided into separated chapters in Daniel 9, and then rejoined in Daniel 11 and 12. We will look at the whole picture together, though we cannot tell if Daniel received the whole picture at one time, or over the course of that first year.

Part One: The “big frame” of the future of God’s chosen people was offered. This vision included an overview from rebuilding Jerusalem, Messiah’s coming and departure, and a Period of Great Tribulation (9:24-27).

Part Two: Starting “now”: the immediate future of the Media Kingdom (11:1) was revealed to encourage the Persian ruler.

Part Three: “Buck Goat” rising: the coming rise of the Hellenic Kingdom (Alexander and the Diadoche – 11:2-4) was predicted:

Part Four: Divisions and Strife: the battles of Hellenic Monarchies (Seleucids and Ptolemies) are revealed (11:5-20)

Part Five: Template: a Seleucid ruler shows the pattern of hatred toward God’s people (Antiochus IV-11:21-35).

Part Six: Destroyer: a future ruler – the hateful Antichrist was described (Daniel 11:36-45)

Part Seven: Free at Last: the restoration of the Jewish people was made clear (Daniel 12).

Of this detailed list, we will choose two prophecies to look at with greater intensity – because they are the ones most relevant to the present and future story of God’s move through and in His people… We will examine “Part One” and “Part Six” – the vision of the coming Christ (9:24-27) and the vision of the coming Anti-Christ (11:36-45) with only a quick nod to the stories of the other prophecies.

Look closely at Part One, and watch the entrance and exit of Messiah…

Part One: The “big frame” of the future of God’s chosen people was offered. This vision included an overview from rebuilding Jerusalem, Messiah’s coming and departure, and a Period of Great Tribulation (9:24-27).

Daniel 9:24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your 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. 25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty- two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 Then after the sixty- two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.

Look closely as this incredibly detailed prophecy was disclosed:

Remember it came through desperate prayer (9:20-21) by a prophet that was holding God to a literal fulfillment of His Word. It was delivered by an angelic messenger (9:22-23). He opened a “decree” from Heaven (9:24-27), and it was about a period of time – some “Seventy Weeks”. The description is VERY SPECIFIC:

• The full extended time was decreed specifically for the Jewish people and Jerusalem (9:24a). God placed a limit on how long everything in their future would continue and closed the plan’s end.

• The end of the time would leave a fully atoned Jewish people, a permanent disposal of all their unrighteousness, an end to all prophecy, and a pure place of worship in the holiest place of the Temple (9:24b). This was not a mere statement that the atonement would be PROVIDED, but rather that the atonement would be EFFECTIVE. Interpreters that reckon this to be a reference to the COMING of Messiah, fail to grasp this prophecy is not only about the availability of the ultimate solution to sin – but the actual resolution of the disobedient people and their defiled worship center!

• The announced time clock commenced with the human decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem – which could have been one of four such times Jerusalem was
“restarted” (9:25):

(1) Cyrus II and the original decree (538/537 BCE).
(2) Darius or Cyaxeres (c. 519 BCE).
(3) Artaxerxes to Ezra (c 458 BCE).
(4) Artaxerxes to Nehemiah (445 BCE, Neh. 1).

The last one appears to be the correct one – because it fits the whole of the narrative’s detail. This is the only decree that is explicit to include the defenses of the city. The walls and gates were still broken down when this decree was given. This decree was given in March of 445 BCE (cp. Neh. 2:1-8). If that is correct, the clock started at that point, and explains the essential nature of why God provided the record of Nehemiah (beyond the fact that it is a great story!).

• The unfolding of time is told in SABBATICAL YEARS–in groups of seven years – just as the people had neglected the celebration of those over a long period of 490 years and now were in captivity for seventy years to correct this specific desecration of the land. 2 Chron. 36:21 says, “The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.” (a reference to Jeremiah 25:11). After 69 blocks of seven years (9:25), Messiah the Prince would come. That left us with a MATH PROBLEM if the sixty nine sevens were consecutive and unbroken – which was not certain in the prophecy. In that case, commencing with decree to restore Jerusalem (plaza and moat) until Messiah the Prince comes was to be 69 x 7, reckoned as 483 years. If we count the time between the decree given in March of 445 BCE (cp. Neh. 2:1-8) in 69 sets of Sabbatical years (seven year blocks), using the 360 day year common to the time, we move forward 173,880 days, ending on or about 32-33 CE with Messiah the Prince. That appears to be in the reference of Jesus’ announcement in Luke 19 at Palm Sunday.

To be clear, I didn’t discover this problem. It was long ago documented by Sir Robert Anderson, who developed the chronology based on March 14, 445 BCE. That date was later corrected by scholars as 444 BCE. The dates of the end of this period have also been carefully studied and debated, as there are a few variables – leap years, the year “0” etc, and the point is that it brings all scholars to a date between 30 CE and 33 CE – the time of Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem.

• After Messiah entered the scene, according to the prophecy, He will be somehow reduced to “having nothing” in the wake of a Wicked Prince and his people that will destroy the Temple and the City. This appears to be a reference to the Crucifixion, followed by the destruction of the upper city of Jerusalem and her Temple that occurred in 70 CE (9:26).

• A sustained period that includes unending wars and desolations in the region of the Near East (9:26) is detailed, until a political entity appears that can settle the strife with a pleasing treaty that appears to uphold all parties for a period of time (9:27a). The key player in making this treaty will also be the one who violates it after three and one half years (9:27b) as war revives. By the end of that conflict, the treaty maker (and breacher) is slain (9:27b).

The overall frame, then was this:

1) Decree and return from Babylon.
2) Coming of Messiah.
3) Cutting off of Messiah.
4) Destruction of Jerusalem.
5) Near East Wars and Strife.
6) An Eventual Peace Treaty.
7) The Violation of the Treaty by its creator.
8) A time of destruction and warfare.
9) The death of the violator.

Wow, that is clear. Can we prove that Daniel was written as predictive prophecy BEFORE the events it detailed? Sure we can! Cave four of the eleven caves found near Qumran (of the so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls”), seems to indicate that Daniel was a treasured by that community – because so many fragments of that work were found. The “Yahad” community of Qumran lived during a very anxious period and may have thought the end prophecies were being fulfilled in their day. Though it is true that the fragments of 4QDanc, published in November 1989, do not include but a few words from Daniel 9 (scraps from Cave 4 contain “five tiny fragments, all from the prayer in chapter 9 but none with more than one complete word”), and 12 – these have not been yet discerned from the fragments as yet – the rest of the writing was dated to the C2 BCE – allowing us to demonstrate chapter 11 comments of the Hellenistic period of wars as clear, detailed, predictive prophecy! This also forces the date of the original writing back before that time, as copies were clearly being made by the C2 BCE for distribution of a document that internally dates itself to the C6 BCE. (*The most extensively preserved scroll of the book of Daniel from Qumran is 4QDana, which contains large portions of Daniel. Preserved are parts of Daniel 1:16–20; 2:9–11, 19–49; 3:1, 2; 4:29, 30; 5:5–7, 12–14, 16–19; 7:5–7, 25–28; 8:1–5; 10:16–20; 11:13–16. Scroll 4QDanb contains Daniel 5:10–12, 14–16, 19–22; 6:8–22, 27–29; 7:1–6, 11(?), 26–28; 8:1–8, 13–16; and 4QDanc has Daniel 10:5–9, 11–16, 21; 11:1, 2, 13–17, 25–29 (Ulrich 1987:18).

The lesson here is unmistakable. God isn’t “making up the plan” in response to men’s ideas and strategies, nor is He flexing based on the work of His enemy. God has the plan – and God is working it. Men can reject God’s right to do so – but that won’t change anything. The enemy can lie and tell us that God has lost control – but that doesn’t make it so. When God set the plan of human history in place, that was the plan.

When Job asked God about WHY terrible things happened, God answered without any sense of defensiveness and merely replied:

Job 38:2 “Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge?

That doesn’t seem like much of an answer – but the very question implies something that is NOT at all true – that we have the standing to question the Creator. I am not His peer, nor am I able to think on His level. That is the simple fact, regardless of how I feel about it. Professional ball players don’t need tips from amateurs, nor do they truly benefit from the shouted insights of angry fans. The Creator isn’t a Heavenly parent that is desperate to make me happy at the expense of the truth. It may sound harsh, but when I express an arrogant attitude of equality – truth is the right prescription to set me straight.

Part Two: Starting “now”: the immediate future of the Media Kingdom (11:1) was revealed to encourage the Persian ruler.

God not only opened the door to the whole future of the people of Israel, He opened the immediate future of the Median Achaemenid Empire – and explained how it would create its own collapse in the future.

Daniel 11:1 “In the first year of Darius the Mede, I arose to be an encouragement and a protection for him. And now I will tell you the truth. Behold, three more kings are going to arise in Persia. Then a fourth will gain far more riches than all of them; as soon as he becomes strong through his riches.

Daniel offered encouragement to the King Cyaxeres (Darius) about the immediate future of his kingdom, perhaps at some time when Darius thought it was being usurped. The encouragement was this: there shall stand up yet three kings – (Gabriel already spoke of Cyrus) who was now co-reigning; and after him three others should arise. Though not as familiar to many in our day, the Achaemenid Persian Empire (550–330 BC) was the largest kingdom the ancient world had seen to that time, extending from Anatolia and Egypt across western Asia to northern India and Central Asia. The rulers referred to are: 559-530 – Cyrus II the Great, 529-522 – Cambyses (son) who reigned seven years and five months; 521-486 – Darius I, the Great and 485-465 – Xerxes I (son). He was the fourth king that was prophesied to be “far richer” and that was demonstrated in his extended party in Esther 1 (where he was called Ahashverosh). The prophecy that he would “stir up against Grecia” was realized in battle after battle – and loss after loss by the Persians. Money couldn’t buy him victory.

The historian Herodotus, recorded that his army amounted to five million, two hundred and eighty-three thousand, two hundred and twenty men. Three years were invested preparing for the expedition against the Greeks, and Daniel foretold it all…Eight more rulers would follow in the Median Empire, but they would never best Greece, and were eventually overtaken by it… but that is no surprise, because Daniel foretold that as well!

What does this prophecy teach us? There are times a kingdom is not undone by others, but is destroyed by the ambitions of its own rulers. The richest and largest still hungered for more, and their insatiable desire for “just a little more” destroyed them. Greed is a killer force.

Part Three: “Buck Goat” rising: the coming rise of the Hellenic Kingdom (Alexander and the Diadoche – 11:2-4) was predicted:

The details of the Median Kingdom are matched by the prophecy of the rise and fall of Alexander the Great, as the Hellenic Kingdom swallows up the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.

11:2 “…he will arouse the whole empire against the realm of Greece. 3 And a mighty king will arise, and he will rule with great authority and do as he pleases. 4 But as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom will be broken up and parceled out toward the four points of the compass, though not to his own descendants, nor according to his authority which he wielded, for his sovereignty will be uprooted and given to others besides them.

Swift in conquest, the Greeks swept the world, but their kingdom was quickly divided after the death of Alexander the Great. Don’t miss the lesson here…

The lesson: Even powerful and successful men can be cut down in short order. A lifetime of accomplishment can be washed away as swiftly as a sand castle at the incoming tide. We cannot put trust in accomplishments, awards, fame and power – they are all temporal and fleeting.

Part Four: Divisions and Strife: the battles of Hellenic Monarchies (Seleucids and Ptolemies) are revealed (11:5-20)

A large section of Daniel 11, from 11:5-20 details a long litany of battles and conflicts between two Greek ruling households – one located in Egypt, the other is Syria. One is the noted “king of the south”, the other “king of the north”.

The historical detail can seem overwhelming in the text, but there are a number of insights that are worth considering when looking through this chapter:

The prophecy of Daniel 11 is both LONG and SIMPLE. It reveals the most detailed prophecy in the book and one of the longest in all of the Hebrew Scriptures, yet it is without symbolism.

Daniel 11 is EARTH BOUND. The text presents physical war, peace and treaties– not heavenly conflict.

Daniel 11 is CONFIRMED in history as written before the events:

• The historian Josephus Flavius (a younger contemporary to the Apostle Paul and other Apostles, died c. 100 CE) recorded that Alexander the Great read a copy of Daniel at the time of his annexation of Jerusalem in 332 BCE (Antiquities of the Jews XI, chapter viii, paragraphs 3-5).

• Furthermore, two ancient historical sources record that Ptolemy Philadelphos (308-246 BCE) commissioned the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (called the Septuagint or LXX) in the 3rd century BCE, and Daniel was included in the LXX collection.

• Finally, Daniel is also included among the Dead Sea Scrolls (1Q and 4Q) which date from about C 2nd BCE (the oldest manuscript is 4Q114, dating from the late 2nd Century BCE).

The simple lesson: God will offer just enough evidence to commend believers as He allows us to “uncover” the truth. Don’t ask for PROOF, but don’t think there is NO EVIDENCE either.

Fifth, the Template: a Seleucid ruler shows the pattern of hatred toward God’s people (Antiochus IV-11:21-35).

Daniel 11:21 “In his place a despicable person will arise, on whom the honor of kingship has not been conferred, but he will come in a time of tranquility and seize the kingdom by intrigue. 22 “The overflowing forces will be flooded away before him and shattered, and also the prince of the covenant. 23 “After an alliance is made with him he will practice deception, and he will go up and gain power with a small [force of] people. … 35 “Some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge and make them pure until the end time; because [it is] still [to come] at the appointed time.

Daniel 11:21-35 sets up a TYPE that is later mimicked by an end time villain. Mentioned because of their rabid hatred of the Jewish people, two kings rise up in Israel’s future that will apply pressure on the Jews. The first, Antiochus IV Epiphanes demonstrates an important lesson to God’s people (11:21-35). A second “willful king” (Antichrist, 11:36-45) is exposed for his special cruelty and troubles for the Jewish people.

The lesson: The enemy hates God, and hates anyone God makes promises to. He wants to show that God cannot do what He claimed, and doesn’t deserve the position He holds. He does this in grand scale – but he also does the same in my life. Satan tries to make me think that God doesn’t lead well – and pushes me to show my independence from God. In my arrogance, I can even come to believe I know better than God about y future, my plans and my best path.

Sixth, the Destroyer: a future ruler – the hateful Antichrist was described (Daniel 11:36-45)

1,600 years ago, the Bible scholar Jerome, who translated the Vulgate, wrote: “Those of our persuasion believe all these things are spoken prophetically of the Antichrist who is to arise in the end time.” (Jerome, Romans, p. 129).

This passage offers our first deep glance at four specifics regarding the Antichrist and his system. We know:

1. His time (36): He will be active during “the time of wrath.” As Jesus made clear in Matthew 24. “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ [that can’t refer to Antiochus because that happened 200 years before Jesus spoke these words] spoken of through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand–For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again.” Jesus says the Antichrist will be active during this time of great distress.

2. His temperament (37-39): He will be a charismatic, ambitious, egotistical, arrogant politician– that really narrows it down, doesn’t it? Verse 37 says, “He will show no regard for the gods of his fathers.” That means he will reject his spiritual heritage and worship another kind of god: power, money, and military might. He may begin as a man of peace, but he becomes a vicious and cruel warrior.

The Apostle Paul wrote about the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “He will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” We should recognize the essence of sin is not atheism; it is self-worship. Basically, he man is a man of violence, a man of war and will be responsible for a renewal of war between parties in the Middle East.

3. His territory (40-44)

Daniel 11:40 suggests he will war in the Near East…in 41 “He will also enter the Beautiful Land, and many [countries] will fall; but these will be rescued out of his hand: Edom, Moab and the foremost of the sons of Ammon. Skip down to verse 45. “He will pitch his royal tents between the seas [the Mediterranean and the Dead Seas] at the beautiful holy mountain [Jerusalem]...” He will ultimately set up his throne affirm some kind of peace treaty between Israel and her neighbors. In order to maintain this “peace” he will set up a residence in Jerusalem.

4. His termination (45)

Daniel 11:45 “…yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.

During the seven years of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will be the lead dog in the pack. Listen to how John describes this devastating defeat of this demonic demagogue in Revelation 19:20: “But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”

Here is the truth: God is going to allow some wicked men and women to take advantage of His people – both Jews in the future and believers today. Evil isn’t winning, it is fulfilling its assigned role – and it will end when and how God says it will.

Seventh, Free at Last: the restoration of the Jewish people was made clear (Daniel 12).

We’ll be back here. It is worth noting the story doesn’t end in the rise and fall of evil – but in the promise of God to fulfill His promises to His people… that is the essence of the reason for the glimpse ahead in the first place.

Israel’s future is about His promises. Our lives are about His promises.

  • Do not despair when evil gains – God is in control of the story. His patience is a benefit to my lost friend – not an inability of His strong arm.
  • Do not complain when darkness rises – God will used the dark threads in His needlework just as He uses the bright colors – to show Himself on the tapestry of human history.

Look into the dark cave with confidence. The story is His. The glory is His. The victory is His. The promise is ours… and we celebrate it!

An Enduring Legacy: “Who’s on First?” – Nehemiah 9:38-10:39

abbott-and-costelloBack in the 1930’s and 40’s the comedic team of Abbott and Costello were “all the rage”. They moved vaudeville and burlesque humor from the “live stage” over to the climbing number of radio audiences listeners as they brought laughter coast to coast in the US. Pre-WWII radio was quickly becoming filled with drama and news, and Abbott and Costello were perfect for “lightening the mood” of growing worry that characterized the times. The country was still quite rural, and the advent of radio was “tying the country together” in ways it had never experienced. Entertainment left the city and entered the home through radio waves and hot, glowing tubes.

One of the more famous ”routine skits” played out by the duo was a little bit called, “Who’s on first?” The premise of the sketch was Abbott explaining a baseball game staffed by mythical players with names and nicknames that were interpreted as non-responsive answers to Costello’s questions. For example, because the first baseman was named “Who”; the question “Who’s on first?” simply got a reply of “Yes”! The names of the players at each position were: First Base: Who, Second Base: What, Third Base: I Don’t Know, Left field: Why, Center field: Because, Pitcher: Tomorrow, Catcher: Today, Shortstop: I Don’t Care. If you ever heard the skit, you remember it, because it was a classic exercise in miscommunication.

I mention that skit because the poignant question is more than a simple comic title. It is a serious question about the priorities and director(s) of your life? Obviously for a believer and follower of Jesus, I WOULD LIKE to say that Jesus is “on first” in my life. I would like to say He has pre-eminence over my choices and decisions. Some days that is true. Others, sadly, that is not true at all. The question I want to address today, as a direct result of the study of our text, is this:

“If my Lord is first in my life, how will I be able to tell?”

In other words, what are the priorities of the believer that, if firmly grasped, will show up in the daily choices of my life? Nehemiah 10 has some excellent words for us that will lead us to a firm set of expressible priorities. This isn’t a lofty message with deep theoretical principles – quite the opposite. It is a painfully practical set of priorities expressed clearly in the ancient journal of a wine steward made “construction project manager” that will guide us. From the beginning, we will see an important underlying truth…

Key Principle: My faith is best expressed in my priorities. If you cannot see what I believe from how I live, I may not be living honestly.

We open our story not at the beginning of a chapter, but at the end of chapter nine, to remind us that we are dropping in on a drama already in progress. We have returned after an intermission – the story is well underway. Look at the words of Nehemiah 9:38 and you get the sense that all we are about to see is completely connected with what has been going on before it:

Nehemiah 9:38 “Now because of all this, we are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document [are the names of] our leaders, our Levites [and] our priests.”

At the outset, Nehemiah made the connection in a simple phrase “because of all this”… forcing us to look back and ask WHAT preceded our reading that caused the scene that is unfolding. The people were about to outline written priorities to PUBLICLY PROCLAIM THE LORD because of what they had been through since the wall was erected. They were changed:

Because they had the Word of God read carefully and explained to them – they were confronted with their sinfulness (Nehemiah 8:1-9). The pure Word of the Lord lit up the darkness of their hearts, and they responded with weeping over their sin.

Because they experienced the message of God’s grace – they heard from the Levites that they should NOT weep over the past, but begin to celebrate God’s renewal (Nehemiah 8:10-12). The Levites sent them to FEAST because this was the right time to celebrate!

Because the heads of families and leaders among the people sought God more deeply than ever before – the men were instructed in the way of keeping Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) and they did as they were instructed (Nehemiah 8:13-18).

Because the people separated all foreigners from them, and gathered for an extensive time of confession and repentance to God (Nehemiah 9:1-4).

Because the leaders called for the people to join together in praise and rejoicing, along with prayerful confession to God (Nehemiah 9:5-38). The Levites led in a solemn prayer of confession and history that made clear that God was just, but the people were prone to wander.

Because the men gathered to draw up a covenant to follow God that could be sworn, signed and checked. They placed themselves in the position of objective accountability: That was the point of the record in the first twenty-nine verses of Nehemiah 10. The opening of the chapter is a series of names of those present for the record:

Nehemiah 10:1 Now on the sealed document [were the names of]: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah, 2 Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, 3 Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, 4Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, 5 Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, 6 Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, 7 Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, 8Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah. These [were] the priests. 9 And the Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; 10 also their brothers Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, 11Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, 12 Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, 13 Hodiah, Bani, Beninu. 14 The leaders of the people: Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, 15 Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, 16 Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, 17 Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, 18 Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, 19 Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, 20Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, 21 Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, 22 Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, 23 Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, 24 Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, 25 Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, 26 Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, 27 Malluch, Harim, Baanah.

The rest of the passage in Nehemiah 10:28-29 makes clear what they were doing. These men were accountable to the covenant they were about to publicly declare. The passage says:

Nehemiah 10:28 Now the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the law of God, their wives, their sons and their daughters, all those who had knowledge and understanding, 29 are joining with their kinsmen, their nobles, and are taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given through Moses, God’s servant, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of GOD our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes;

Let’s not be unduly complicated. What preceded the message of clear priorities? What changed the people?

The passage clearly states that seven things preceded the revealing of a clear path of priorities for the people:

• Surrender to the clear message of the Word of God.
• Serious recognition of sin, both past and present.
• Careful notice of God’s incredible grace to accept them.
• Separation in worship “for the family only” as they sought God.
• A time of worship and praise.
• A season of confessional prayer and thanksgiving for God.
• Public agreement to be accountable to follow God.

Now a group of surrendered, challenged, repentant men stood to take an oath before God and men that their lives would show the world they belonged to, and voluntarily served Yahweh. Here was their declaration of new priorities:

The Seven Top Priorities:

The rest of the passage is dedicated to the priorities the people grasped in their walk with God. These were the priorities of renewal. These were the path forward to a people who agreed they were sinful and needed to be placed back on track by God. These were not simply theories – they were a public, specific and measurable commitment before God. The verses contain powerful transformational values:

Nehemiah 10:30 and that we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons. 31 As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego [the crops] the seventh year and the exaction of every debt. 32 We also placed ourselves under obligation to contribute yearly one third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the showbread, for the continual grain offering, for the continual burnt offering, the sabbaths, the new moon, for the appointed times, for the holy things and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God. 34 Likewise we cast lots for the supply of wood [among] the priests, the Levites and the people so that they might bring it to the house of our God, according to our fathers’ households, at fixed times annually, to burn on the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the law; 35 and that they might bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all the fruit of every tree to the house of the LORD annually, 36 and bring to the house of our God the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks as it is written in the law, for the priests who are ministering in the house of our God. 37 We will also bring the first of our dough, our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the new wine and the oil to the priests at the chambers of the house of our God, and the tithe of our ground to the Levites, for the Levites are they who receive the tithes in all the rural towns. 38 The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse. 39 For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers. Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.

1. Relationships: No intermarriage (10:30)

The beginning place for a change in the people’s walk with God was a change in the surrender of their so-called “rights” when it came to relationships…

Nehemiah 10:30 and that we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.

This was not simply a kind statement that each family would not allow social contracts, it was a costly step, because it would cause the neighbors to look on the Israelites with deep suspicion. Add to that the fact that some of the people sent home unlawfully married wives and children, and there is NO QUESTION that such a decision would have impact on both their personal safety and their economic livelihood.

Imagine you lived out west 100 years ago. Certain areas of the frontier were still controlled by local tribes of Native Americans. Some journeys were not safe without military escort. Some homesteads were in danger and needed to always be on guard for a flying arrow. Now imagine that you had the opportunity to forge a bond between your clan and the tribe of Native Americans near you. Wouldn’t you want to do it? It would make you safer and increase your trade in the local community. Whatever you made, if it was universally useful, would have many more clients to whom you could offer your wares. The same was true with ancient Israel. Snubbing the locals is no way to stay safe or get popular – but snub they did – because God COMMANDED them to do so.

By the time of the Christian Scriptures, the message of the Gospel was growing in the streets of Roman cities, and Gentiles were coming to Jesus in significant numbers. The early Jewish community that followed Christ had to come together to face the fact that Gentiles were coming into the faith but were not separated from the relational practices of paganism. When the first council of the church met (as recorded in Acts 15) the elders of the church passed to the Gentile congregations and followers only a few simple requirements. Look at Acts 15 and you will see the result of the council’s decision:

Acts 15:22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas– Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23 and they sent this letter by them,

“The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. 24 “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with [their] words, unsettling your souls, 25 it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 “Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word [of mouth]. 28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”

Look closely at the end of the letter. Four specific commands were passed to the Gentiles from the council:

• First, the people needed to abstain from idolatry and its practices.

• Second, the people must not ingest blood.

• Third, the people must withdraw from ceremonies and their resultant meats that were killed by ceremonial strangulation.

• Finally, the people must abstain from the use of the brothels and not be sexually impure.

The point of recalling that letter is that Gentiles could not be a part of the people of God if they didn’t surrender to God in the specific area of relationships as well. Like the people of ancient Jerusalem under Nehemiah, the withdrawal from pagans and their festivals would hurt the follower of God economically, as well as socially. Indeed, had such restrictions not been given, it is possible the persecutions of the early church would have been quite a bit less prolonged and dramatic.

The point is simple. God is in charge of my relationships and my personal economy. I am to choose to follow Him no matter the cost. He is my safety against the enemy’s arrows, and my security against the loss of trading partners. He defines the circle of my relationships, and the use of my body. I AM NOT MY OWN, and the first place that should be easy to observe is in the purity of my relationships both sexually and contractually (see 1 Corinthians 6:19).

2. Time: Honor Sabbath (10:31a)

In addition to my relationships, God is in charge of my time, and how I use it to further my own ends…

Nehemiah 10:31 As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or a holy day…

It was always a temptation to try to take advantage of any time possible to make a little extra money, but a believer needs to make a priority out of obedience, and surrender the desire for greater success. It was no easier to follow God in antiquity than it is today.

Let me ask you something: Is worship REALLY a priority to you, or is it more a habit? Do you WANT to take time with God, learn about Him, and seek His face with other believers? If you said in your heart “NO!” then I would only say this: Thanks for coming today. Thanks for doing this, whether you did it to make your parents, your boyfriend or girlfriend, or someone else in your life happy – thanks. I am glad you came. We don’t want you to feel condemned for your feelings. We know we aren’t as exciting as watching your favorite sports team, and we might do you less good than sleeping in – if you choose to block out what God wants to say to you. At the same time, if you will give the Scriptures a listen, I think you will find what you have been searching for. God IS interested in your life, and you CAN know Him.

For every believer, we must remember that it is impossible for the world to see our love for Jesus if we don’t want to be with other believers, and we don’t want to know His Word. Just imagine if you went to work tomorrow and told the people there that you LOVE a certain young man or woman – and they see you turning down every opportunity to be with the so-called “object of your affection.” No one will believe you love them, because you don’t show it. Gathering to worship and study, as they did on Sabbaths beginning about the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, were a certain sign of a man or woman’s faith. Jews kept Sabbath, because God told them to do so. They did it because they needed the together time in worship and instruction. Though we may not be under a DAY COMMAND – we still need those same things! A believer knows that alone time with God is essential, and corporate worship is also absolutely necessary. That is why the early Messianic believers were warned about “forsaking the assembling together” times (see Hebrews 10:25). God is in charge of my relationships, and He is Lord over my time. I will never be what He wants me to be without intentionally and consciously choosing to consistently give these over to Him.

3. Advancement: Observe sabbatical year (10:31b)

Another demonstration of surrender to God in the area of time was allowing the ground to go fallow every seventh year in keeping with God’s commands (Lev. 25). This law had been summarily neglected during kingdom period prior to the exile, and God charged the length of the captivity to punish the people for that specific neglect (2 Chronicles 36:21). Shockingly, it appears by this time that Sabbath was already being disobeyed yet again! The people pledged:

Nehemiah 10:31b “…and we will forego [the crops] the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.

The temptation to “get ahead” was always one of the sacred cows that needed a temple sacrifice. God wanted then, and wants now, His people to depend upon Him. Though we may not need to let the land fallow, for the agreement of the Torah was not made with us – yet God does call men and women of God to forego many an opportunity to follow Him. Some believers are giving up double overtime to be in a church service on Sunday.

As a Christian leader, I am increasingly uncomfortable by the ease with which people dismiss God from their choices when it comes to something as simple as what JOB one should take. If God could command our older brother Israel to forego every seventh year’s crops, what can God ask YOU OR I to forego in our economic life? Can He command you to drop your pursuit of money and make your way to a mission field? Would you be willing to go?

I was thinking this past week in my class about William Borden. His story always touched me. Perhaps you heard it? “In 1904 William Borden, heir to the Borden Dairy Estate, graduated from a Chicago high school a millionaire. His parents gave him a trip around the world. Traveling through Asia, the Middle East and Europe gave Borden a burden for the world’s hurting people. Writing home, he said, ‘I’m going to give my life to prepare for the mission field.’ When he made this decision, he wrote in the back of his Bible two words: No Reserves. Turning down high paying job offers after graduation from Yale University, he entered two more words in his Bible: No Retreats. Completing studies at Princeton Seminary, Borden sailed for China to work with Muslims, stopping first at Egypt for some preparation. While there he was stricken with cerebral meningitis and died within a month. A waste, you say! Not in God’s plan. In his Bible underneath the words No Reserves and No Retreats, he had written the words No Regrets. (Daily Bread, December 31, 1988.)

4. Money: (Before God) Temple tax (10:32-33)

The issue of giving to God was also addressed:

Nehemiah 10:32 We also placed ourselves under obligation to contribute yearly one third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: Nehemiah 10:33 for the showbread, for the continual grain offering, for the continual burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moon, for the appointed times, for the holy things and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God.

This wasn’t the tithe assessed based on your increase, it was a “FLAT TAX” for the operation of the Temple and its sacrificial system. This was an assessed giving plan based on the needed budget. The people did not likely find themselves emotionally attached to this. They were not moved by the sunset at the end of a missionary slide presentation – they were ASSESSED A TAX. How did covenanting together to do that help them? The simple answer is that it showed where their hearts were.

In the Summer Games of 2012, Kim Rhode again won the gold medal in “skeet shooting” as she became the first American to win five Olympic medals in five consecutive Olympics – spanning the period from 1996 to 2012. If you are impressed with that, you should recall that her score was also incredible. She hit ninety-nine of one hundred and set the new and current Olympic record for the event. In an interview with a reporter from the New York Times, Rhode explained how she got so good at her sport. She told the reporter that she shoots an average of between 500 and 1,000 rounds every day of the week, 365 days a year – more than 3,000,000 shots annually. If you divide that out, it comes to about 600,000 rounds per medal received. Think of that amount of investment to gain a gold metal! Let me ask a question: Do you think ANYONE would dare ask what she was passionate about?Where our treasure is, there is our heart also.” (Mt. 6:21).

What kind of testimony do you think it was to the Persian governors to see the people collect sacrificially to offer sacrifice to their God? Giving is more than meeting the needs of a ministry – it is a specific form of declaration of passion and care, and it is a testimony before others. If we claim we love God but give only what is left to Him, are we being genuine?

5. Work Life: Sacrifice (10:34)

The people got together for more than learning. They came to the Temple to deal with sin in a sacrifice that was costly for them, both in time and treasure. Nehemiah reminds:

Nehemiah 10:34 Likewise we cast lots for the supply of wood [among] the priests, the Levites and the people so that they might bring it to the house of our God, according to our fathers’ households, at fixed times annually, to burn on the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the law;

If you lived in the cold and damp winters in Jerusalem, you would understand the value of a good wood pile. There are not many trees in Jerusalem – NOTHING like an average North American town could supply. To get a large wood pile, one harvested everything from bushes to old grape vines and olive trees that no longer produced well. Olive wood burns hot because of its oils, but leaves a residue on the chimney that must be regularly cleaned. Over the years of living in Judea, I found my only relief was a hot bath and evenings beside the wood stove.

Can you imagine working SO HARD to build up a wood pile and then having the LOT fall on you? You would have to give what was required to the house of the Lord, and you would LOSE all that hard work? Why would God drop on your shoulders such a heavy burden?

Think about a little story you know from the apocraphal surroundings of modern Christmas, and the opportunity becomes clearer… “The Little Drummer Boy” (originally “Carol of the Drum”) is a song written by composer Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941. It was recorded in 1955 by the Trapp Family Singers and further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale. In the lyrics the singer relates how, as a poor young boy, he was summoned by the Magi to the nativity where, without a gift for the infant Jesus, he played his drum with the Virgin Mary’s approval, remembering “I played my best for Him” and “He smiled at me.”

The use of your wood represented the work of your hands, and the hours of your life. God wasn’t TAKING something from them – He was GIVING AN OPPORTUNITY to them – because He offered the privilege of serving the King of the Ages with the small pile of wood. Love is easiest shown by sacrifice of things that are hardest to gain. David’s cup of water from the well of Bethlehem wasn’t for drinking – it was for worshiping! Love without sacrifice is a cheap plastic version of the real deal.

Let me ask you: Can people tell that you love Jesus by what you are willing to give in time, talent and treasure to Him?

6. In all things giving the first fruits! Tithing our lives (10:35-39a)

The idea of first fruits was that of the “best of the best”. It was the “extra virgin” olive oil – the highest quality from the first press, etc. Nehemiah shared the covenant about giving the best:

Nehemiah 10:35 and that they might bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all the fruit of every tree to the house of the LORD annually, 36 and bring to the house of our God the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks as it is written in the law, for the priests who are ministering in the house of our God. 37 We will also bring the first of our dough, our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the new wine and the oil to the priests at the chambers of the house of our God, and the tithe of our ground to the Levites, for the Levites are they who receive the tithes in all the rural towns…

Malachi the prophet made clear a bit after this time that God considered left-overs a rip-off. He considered “seconds” not worthy of the Most High. It seems that even AFTER this commitment, the Israelites were tempted to slack off giving God the from first and the best of what He gave them.

Is it really different with us? How many a Sunday School teacher slid by last weekend with poor preparation for teaching? How many pulpits were subject to “wing it” affairs? In days like these, do we not need GREATER PREPARATION, GREATER PRAYER and GREATER STUDY? I SIMPLY ASK, How many followers of Jesus got big paychecks but wrote no offering checks back to God for what He provided? The church need not answer to the Pastor for such things, and the questions were merely rhetorical. At the same time, we need to be assured that God pays attention to such things. The people of Israel saw the result of cheating God, and when they were sensitive, they covenanted to stop the practice.

7. Commitment to the public testimony: Not forsaking God’s house (10:39b)

There is little more to say, but what is summarized in the end of the verses:

Nehemiah 10:39b: “…Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.

Remember, they were talking about the Temple of God at Jerusalem in the text. We know that in our time, God’s house is within the believer. YOU are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not neglect keeping your heart clean and inviting to that Spirit. At the same time, the Temple was the place of gathering for believers in a corporate body. Don’t neglect that either.

Beloved, the day may come, not too many years from now, when a gathering like this will no longer be free. Our African brothers are already facing that day, as are many of our Arab brothers. Don’t neglect the opportunity while it is freely available to you. You will wish you made more of the time if the door is closed.

History knows them as the forty martyrs of Sebaste (now Sivas, northern Turkey). They were soldiers in the famed Twelfth Legion of Rome’s imperial army (Fulminata), around 320 CE. One day the captain informed his troops that Emperor Licinius had sent down an edict commanding all soldiers to offer a sacrifice to his pagan god. Forty of the soldiers were followers of Christ, and they refused. ‘You can have our armor and even our bodies, but our hearts’ allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ,’ they said. “The emperor decided to make an example of the soldiers, so in the middle of winter he marched them onto a frozen lake and stripped them of their clothes. ‘Renounce your God and you will be spared from death,’ he told them. Not one man came forward. So he left them there, huddled together to contemplate his offer. Throughout the night the man stayed together, singing their song of victory: Forty Martyrs for Christ. When morning came, thirty-nine of the men had frozen to death. The one survivor finally relented and crawled to safety, recanting his confession of faith in order to live. The officer in charge that night had been so moved by the scene that during his watch he’d come to Jesus, so he broke rank and walked out onto the ice. Stripping his clothes he openly confessed his faith in Christ. The furious emperor demanded that he renounce Jesus, but he refused. When the ordeal was over, the Roman soldiers carried forty frozen men off of the ice.” (Ref: Lahaye, Tim, Jerry B. Jenkins and Frank M. Martin ed., Embracing Eternity, Living Each Day With a Heart Toward Heaven: The Persecuted, Matthew 5:10- February 15. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004.)

Do you really think your LIFE and your CHOICES aren’t a testimony?

My faith is best expressed in my priorities. If you cannot see what I believe from how I live, I may not be living honestly.

Shine the Light: “Off the Bench” – Daniel 9 (Part One)

glass blowerI have to admit that one of my favorite things to do is watch someone who is excellent in their craft do their work. I am that guy who ends up standing there for an hour to watch a lady make art out of blown glass in a mall. I have come to realize that someone is truly great at their work when they make something that is very difficult look simple. That’s why I love to watch Yo Yo Ma play a cello, because the instrument seems like an extension of his personality! Have you ever stopped to watch two world class ice skaters on television move around a skating arena and perform their fluid motions that would leave you in traction if you tried them? Unless you are very unusual, you never thought to yourself, “You know, I could do that if I had a good pair of skates!” You looked with awe and real respect at what these fine athletes were able to complete after literally thousands of hours of practice. To do something well, it often takes enormous effort. If you get really good at it, it won’t look like it took much effort at all.

The truth is that no one got to the level of success in their craft without regularly practicing some disciplines of mind and body. They spent hours learning techniques, all in anticipation of finding reward in doing what they do well. I think we all accept that most successful musicians practice long hours and even that athletes that compete spend vast periods of time in practice. Yet, there is a group that has captured my attention that also has had to study, practice and hone their craft that you may never have thought of – servants. If you have ever boon in a fine dining establishment, or on a five-star cruise ship, you have seen them at work. It takes much more than a stiff costume and a white pair of gloves to be a fine servant or steward. It’s funny how we KNOW things take work, but we somehow think servants just KNOW what we need and how to get it in front of us. The fact is that even good table service requires excellent training.

While it is true that few of us harbor within the hopes of becoming world class athletes, excellent and highly paid cellists, or even “food server to the stars” – we DO have a goal to become great servants of God. We have been given, as instructors, some excellent examples… and the prophet Daniel from ancient Babylon was certainly among the best for both LIVING with and for God as well as LEAVING BEHIND an example to follow. His life revealed two secrets to becoming a strong and loving follower of God: the secret discipline of daily connection and the secret to joyful living in God’s promises. By reading his journal, it will become clear…

Key Principle: At the heart of our walk with God, there are DISCIPLINES of our walk to be practiced and PROMISES from our God to be trusted. Living in BOTH will help us to walk boldly and with strength through times of trouble.

Admittedly, Daniel can be quite confusing.

First, it is not organized in chronological order. For those of us who like linear organization, we wish the book followed IN ORDER the four kings in the book and their chapters. Technically the first and the last of the list are kings, and the two middle rulers were regents or governors appointed by an absent king. If you place all four in their order, the book would look more like this:

• Nebuchadnezzar – King of Babylon (605–562 BCE)

Nebuchadnezzar was the king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire that defeated the rival armies to his west in the Spring and Summer of the year 605 at the battle of Carchemish. He was the king in whose name Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were brought to Babylon later that year. Under his reign, the first four chapters of Daniel reveal stories like the flourishing of the kosher kids in Daniel 1, the vision of the big statue in Daniel 2, the “fiery furnace” set up against Daniel’s three companions in Daniel 3 and the vision of the tree in Daniel 4. That last vision set Nebuchadnezzar in a field for a period of time, prophesying that he would lose his mind and then have it restored when he humbled himself before God. You get the impression in the first four chapters that the theme of the time under Nebuchadnezzar was “God wants you to know Him, O king!”

After Nebuchadnezzar, the record of Daniel skips a number of rulers. Several men in the family competed for throne after the great king’s death, including his son Evil-Merodach who ruled for two years (562-560 BCE) and was murdered by Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law Neriglissar (Nergal Sharezar). He, in turn, only lasted four years from 560-556 BCE and died. His son Labasi-Marduk replaced him for two short months in 556 BCE and was assassinated by Nabonidus, father of Belshazzar, who became a longer reigning king. After three years, he installed his son in office and left for a spiritual pilgrimage. The story in Daniel picks up after Belshazzar has been seated in the throne as a regent for his dad.

• Belshazzar –Co-Regent of Babylon with his father Nabonidus (553-539 BCE)

Belshazzar was a grandson of Nebuchadnezzar by one of the great king’s daughters. He wasn’t near the top of the list of rulers, but the others all got “bumped off” by relatives, and he and his dad rose in the line each time. Nabonidus was king, but Daniel didn’t hardly see him, because Daniel stayed in Babylon with his son to advise him during the dad’s pilgrimage years. It was during that time that three important prophetic stories unfolded:

Chapter 7 – Four Beasts, Little Horn, Ancient of Days, 553 BCE – 1st year of Belshazzar. Like the four kingdoms shared with Nebuchadnezzar years before, God wanted the Gentile regent of the world’s largest empire to know about the progression of kings yet to come.

Chapter 8 – Ram and the Buck Goat, 551 BCE – 3rd year of Belshazzar. God was intent that Daniel would have even more insight into the political and prophetic coming of Medo-Persian kings, because he would live to see them rule. Further, he would see all the way through to their end and the rise of Greece under Alexander and the four generals (Diadoche) that would eventually replace him.

Chapter 5 – Writing on the Wall, 539 BCE – the night Belshazzar died. Nabonidus was outside Babylon defeated by Cyrus the Mede, as the kingdom that would replace Babylon was about to take the city. Inside the city, Belshazzar was hosting a great feast when God interrupted and let him know that his days of rule were over by writing on a wall with His own hand.

• Darius – King of Babylon (~559 – 530 BCE)

Cyrus took over the city of Babylon (in the name of his uncle Cyaxeres, who was apparently also called by the title Darius) on the death of Belshazzar and conquered the city, replacing the Great Babylonian Empire with that of the Empire of the Medes and Persians. Cuneiform inscriptions at Persepolis, cite “Darheush” or  simpy “Lord-King,” as a title applied to a number of the Medo-Persian kings, such as: Darius Hystaspes, 521 BCE (Ezr 4:5; Hag 1:1); Darius Codomanus, 336 BCE, whom Alexander the Great dethroned, called “the Persian” (Ne 12:22).  It is during his “reign” that God spoke dramatically about the coming days of kings and kingdoms in three stories:

Chapter 9 – Seventy Weeks, 539 BCE – 1st year of Darius. Daniel saw the time drawing near the captivity of the Jewish people should have been ending, and he became anxious, as he saw little movement to end their plight. He sought God, and Gabriel was dispatched to tell him what was going to happen all the way to the Kingdom of Righteousness – at the time of the very end.

Chapter 11-12 – Coming Conflicts North and South, 539 BCE – 1st year of Darius. With even greater detail concerning the Jewish people and their subjection under Hellenistic powers from Greece, God detailed to Daniel the plight of the Jews under western domination until the end times.

Chapter 6 – Lion’s Den, c.538-534 BCE under Darius, not dated. At some point in Daniel’s tenure as an older counselor he got other counselors upset. It was likely early in Darius’ “reign”, because the advisors were able to trick him into signing a decree that eventually backfired, but the “Lion’s Den” story of Daniel is set under Darius as well.

• Cyrus – King of Persia (559 – 530 BCE)

Though Cyrus took Babylon, he did so in the name and by the authority of Cyaxares or Darius; the actual sovereign. He was a governor or general. Cyrus had been on the scene of Daniel since he took Babylon from Belshazzar, but in Chapter 10 – The “Vision of Delayed Angelic Help” – 536 BCE – 3rd year of Cyrus – all the visions of the period were ascribed to the time of the King Darius. In chapter 10, it doesn’t mention Darius, but dates the message between God and Daniel to the third year of Cyrus, or 536 BCE. This is the last of the visions of the book that is given, and can rightly be placed under Darius as well because he was governor – yet he is not mentioned.

The book dances around the timeline to organize the materials under THEMES instead of keeping a strict timeline. Add to that the fact that the writer uses the term “king” loosely, since that is the way he referred to the men on the throne in person, and the whole of the twelve chapters can seem jumbled.

There is a second reason the book can be confusing. The book is laced with wild scenes that were prophecies of coming kingdoms. The major components of those scenes were difficult and are often interpreted inside the narrative with words like: “The beasts that you saw were kingdoms.” That isn’t the tough part. The difficulty comes when you are trying to understand the specifics of what we are to learn about these kingdoms, based solely on these descriptions. Commentators don’t have problems with the general frame, but seem to find the details difficult to nail down with certainty. Some people have a terrible time when EVERYTHING doesn’t line up clearly for them, and they “shut down” because they “don’t get it.”

Yet a third and final reason Daniel’s writing can be confusing is this: The prophesies are accompanied by highlights of how Daniel and his friends were able to be a reliable witness for all four using disciplines of walk – and these can be easily obscured by all the fantastic details of each prophecy. It is easy to think there are SERIOUS SECTIONS of the book – like prophetic utterances of future days – that belong to the ADULT BIBLE FELLOWSHIP, while the other parts of the book are just cute little stories for the CHILDREN’S DEPARTMENT. Sometimes we miss the connection between the PROPHECIES and the VESSELS God used to speak His Word. This is what I want to focus on in this lesson. We want to drop into the scene of Daniel’s personal Bible study and prayer life that became the setting of the exciting promises God made known to him.

Let me be clear: the disciplines of Daniel gave rise to the blessings and insights of Daniel – and they will to you as well. God will speak into your life with clarity when you learn to surrender that life to Him.

Don’t be afraid that applying the word “discipline” to your walk with God will make you a Pharisee. In the loose living Christianity of our day, some of us have wrongly come to see GRACE as a “get out of Hell free card”, and any words that sound like we must work at our relationship with God sound like a “work’s based salvation”. That isn’t what I am talking about at all.

I am simply saying that godliness is never accidental.

A relationship with God comes by God’s favor through seeing His Word as truth – as God reaches into our lives and energizes a new life within. Yet, following God is marked by surrender to His Word resulting in becoming more like the character of our Savior. That comes by adopting specific disciplines of heart, mind and body. Jesus didn’t preach against disciplines – He spoke against being a “show off” in your walk with God. It wasn’t PRAYER that Jesus was speaking against, but loud trumpets blasting the prayer of the Pharisee in the streets. It wasn’t RIGHTEOUSNESS Jesus was against, it was the display “to be seen of men” that He abhorred.

Let me drive the truth of Daniel 9 home once more, and then we will walk through five key character traits that showed through in Daniel’s life…

Key Principle: At the heart of our walk with God, there are DISCIPLINES of our walk and PROMISES of our God. Living in BOTH will help us to walk boldly and with strength through times of trouble.

Daniel 9 offers five character traits that God honored and highlighted in Daniel:

The first “discipline” or “character trait” was what I will simply call “Perception”:

The whole revelation of the truth of the end times came to Daniel when the man took God’s Word seriously, studied it thoroughly, and believed it literally. When a believer forms their life and perceives truth based on God’s Word – that is the life of FAITH. Look at the first two verses of Daniel 9, because they reveal both the TIMING of the revelation, and the TENSION that brought the revelation about:

Daniel 9:1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans—2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was [revealed as] the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, [namely], seventy years.

This is a great passage. A man of God is reading the Word of God and takes it seriously, but cannot relate the apparent promise of the passage to what he sees around him. He was reding places like Jeremiah 29:10 “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.” The problem is that that was said at the BEGINNING of the binding of the Gentiles which was about sixty-seven years before. Did Daniel misunderstand what Jeremiah said? After all, the FINAL AND COMPLETE CAPTIVITY didn’t occur until Zedekiah’s children were slaughtered and his eyes were put out, and that was twenty years later. Was THAT date the beginning of the clock? Daniel didn’t know. He THOUGHT the return was coming soon, and he was getting nervous when the authorities around him didn’t seem to be signaling that return.

Don’t skip over the fact that Daniel answered what appeared to be POLITICAL issues with prayer and the study of the Word of God. The simple fact is that Daniel was more concerned with the words of Jeremiah the Prophet that the words of the Babylonian Daily Chronicle. Is that true of us? Do we spend more energy in extracting truth from Scripture that in trying to figure out truth from the editorially laden news shows of our day?

I think one of the blessings of the record of Daniel nine was that the prophet was simply concerned with a promise of seventy years of captivity, when Gabriel made it clear the real issue would not be resolved for seventy blocks of seven years!

It occurs to me that we tend to see things in much smaller ways than God wants to show to us. We don’t think in eons, but in election cycles. God is working the whole plan – and we would be unwise to think that we can truly gain much understanding of our times up close. It may take one thousand years to see how what is happening in our world today will be resolved by the Prince of Peace.

Let me dig further… We need to handle even our own life history with humility. You may have met the most important person in God’s plan for you in a waiting room on a Tuesday afternoon. You may share Jesus with someone at a bus stop that will lead to a national change and an international revival. We think too small and see to little to really grasp what God is doing in and through us.

Daniel had the PERCEPTION that truth came from God’s Word, and that is where he invested his energy. It paid off – it always does.

The second “discipline” or “character trait” that we see in Daniel was a focused purpose:

Look very closely at the passage and you can pick out where Daniel sought peace and clarity. It wasn’t simply from the Word – though that set the stage as we said already…The clarity came, not simply by study of the Word- but by deeply emotional, extensive times of seeking God. Daniel didn’t just seek ANSWERS, he SOUGHT GOD.

Daniel 9:3 So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek [Him by] prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said…

One who seeks answers from the past is an historian. One who seeks answers from humanity and culture is an anthropologist. One who seeks answers from a Bible is a theologian. One who seeks answers from God is a believer… Don’t think I am suggesting the other disciplines are unnecessary or optional for a complete understanding of truth – that is NOT what I am saying. I am repeating the words of Jesus. He said: “”You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.” (John 5:39). The answer isn’t found simply by UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT. The answers are found by SEEKING THE LORD. Daniel knew this, and sought God with prayer and humble confession.

I think it is a bit humorous and also encouraging that God’s answering messenger came almost as a startling interruption – because He was seeking to settle in God’s arms, not get an answer to every question! Gabriel showed up, and it was the record of one of those moments like when Peter came to the door of a prayer meeting praying for his release from prison and was left standing outside in Acts 12. It seems that often God’s answer takes us completely off guard, even though we have been deliberately ASKING HIM A QUESTION. Why am I still surprised after all these years of following God that He still answers us? He doesn’t always do it right away, but when He does, I must remember to take time to celebrate His answers – and not simply move on in my list of needs and questions…

John Owen, a Puritan writer, reminded: “What an individual is in secret on his knees before God, that’s who he really is, and no more.”

Daniel’s FOCUS wasn’t simply on the problem of the seventy years coming to an end, but on KNOWING GOD better – and that became his life purpose.

When he sought to know God – the Lord answered him by meeting the other needs of his life. As Jesus said (recorded in Mt. 6:33): “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Just remember, that FOCUS on God is most hindered by FOCUS ON SELF. Pride kills godliness.

The story is told of two ducks and a frog who lived happily together in a farm pond. They were great friends and enjoyed playing together. When the hot days of summer came, however, the pond began to dry up. They soon realized that they had to move. This was no problem for the ducks because they could just fly to another pond. But the frog was stuck. So they decided to put a stick in the bill of each duck that the frog could hang onto with his mouth as they flew to another pond. The plan worked well ¬ so well, in fact, that as they were flying along a farmer looked up in admiration and said, “Well, isn’t that a clever idea! I wonder who thought of that?” To which the frog said, “I did…” Be careful of pride ¬ it can cause you to fall!

The third “discipline” or “character trait” that Daniel exhibited was Personalization:

Daniel’s prayers didn’t DISTANCE him from the responsibility of his situation, but drew him INTO the situation as one who personally felt the pain. God won’t reveal Himself to the armchair theologian and theoretical philosopher – He isn’t content with someone who is curious about truth. He comes to the HUNGRY and NEEDY of heart.

Look carefully at the prayer of Daniel to uncover his heart:

Daniel 9:4b “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and loving kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, 5 we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. 6 “Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land. 7 “Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day– to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. 8 “Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. 9 “To the Lord our God [belong] compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; 10 nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. 11 “Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. 12 “Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done [anything] like what was done to Jerusalem. 13 “As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. 14 “Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice. 15 “And now, O Lord our God, who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day– we have sinned, we have been wicked. 16 “O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people [have become] a reproach to all those around us. 17 “So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. 18 “O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. 19 “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”

Notice first the simplicity of the prayer:

• It began with a focus on the person and power of God – together with His faithful character (9:4).
• It clearly acknowledged responsibility of sin on him and his people and n ot on God’ poor oversight (9:5-10).
• It showed that he understood the captivity to be according to God’s Words (9:11-14).
• It recognized God’s past goodness and rescue (9:15-16).
• It made clear Daniel’s request to see the seventy years finished soon (9:17-19).

You cannot help but be struck with a sense that Daniel felt attached to his people and responsible for their sin. There is no hint of distance and individualism that would separate him from the fallen and broken people of the Jews.

Someone has written: “We are much better at making excuses than confessing sin. We live in a “no-fault” culture where you can get “no-fault” insurance, and a “no-fault” divorce. The mantra of our modern culture is, “Hey, it’s not my fault.” And we’ve come up with some pretty names to excuse our sin. We say, “I goofed” or “I blew it” or we talk about “mistakes” or “weaknesses.” What we call an “affair,” God calls “adultery.” What we call “a little weakness,” God calls “wickedness.” What we call “a mistake,” God calls “madness.” Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

In our day, we’re quick to point out other peoples’ mistakes, but we have a hard time admitting when we’ve blown it. Here are some actual excerpts from insurance companies where individuals who had accidents explained what went wrong:

Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree that I don’t own.
• The other guy was all over the road and I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.
• I had been driving my car for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.
• The telephone pole approached my car at a rapid speed, as I swerved to get out of its way, it hit me.
• I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and drove over the embankment.

Daniel PERSONALIZED the troubles and repented. He placed himself with the sinners, and not with the righteous “APART”. He knew that God would give grace to the humble and he was convinced he had no reason to think he was better than others.

The fourth “discipline” or “character trait” was what I will call “attentiveness”:

God poured out far more than Daniel asked – and that was totally unexpected by Daniel. God did the unexpected – because He can. Yet the end of verse 23 may offer the key as to why God offered such a broad and complete word to Daniel:

Daniel 9:22 He gave [me] instruction and talked with me and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. 23 “At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell [you], for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.

Jesus said that only the disciple who “takes heed” to His words will truly benefit by them. Near the close of the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 7, Jesus made the point: “24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and [yet] it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell– and great was its fall.”

It is not BEING IN THE VICINITY of the teaching of God’s Word that will help you, but heeding what you hear from God’s Word. Don’t be too proud to listen to truth when God delivers it. D.L. Moody put it this way: “Be humble or you’ll stumble.” The issue isn’t whether you MEMORIZED the Word, but do you FOLLOW the Word. It isn’t: Do you attend church often, but rather: Do you listen and change because of what God’s Word says. Jesus made it clear – storms come in life to both those who heed His Word and those who don’t – but only those who HEED have the foundation to stand.

Daniel practiced ATTENTIVENESS to God’s Word, and that made him a trustworthy target for God to open his eyes to the deepest of truths.

The final “discipline” or “character trait” exhibited by Daniel was patience:

Though God offered an answer right away, but wasn’t going to bring those truths about for generations. He is a PROCESS God. In the meantime, a believer was called to continue to live in the joy of the promises, trusting in His Word.

Daniel 9:20 Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, 21 while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in [my] extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. 24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your 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]…

Some are waiting for me to unravel the “seventy weeks” prophecy, and our next lesson will seek to do that –but first there is a timely question we must answer… ARE YOU READY? Are you ready for God to open up to you what He is doing now and in the future? Can He trust US with a message of PROMISES because they will carefully be handled by followers who walk in the DISCIPLINES of a believer?

Daniel knew that God understood what he could not, and he was content with God running the world. Are YOU?

Be very careful never to get to the place in your walk where you believe God OWES you an explanation for doing things in a different way than you think they ought to be done! Follow Jesus. Love Him sincerely. Put on the disciplines of a believer. Why? Because…

At the heart of our walk with God, there are DISCIPLINES of our walk to be practiced and PROMISES from our God to be trusted. Living in BOTH will help us to walk boldly and with strength through times of trouble.

Shine the Light: “Seeing with New Eyes” – Daniel 8

brown eyesI don’t often do this, but I want to begin on a very frank, but very negative note. Don’t get worried, I have a purpose in mind…Let’s be honest. It doesn’t take much observation of evil on the news to make a believer feel sick. We can so easily become indignant when we watch the movement of evil in our time – and we have had to face it many, many times. Most of us feel a sense of moral collapse in the society around us – and it makes us at least mad, and at worse physically ill. Did you ever look at the sickness of our world and really question Heaven? Have you ever thought: “God, why don’t you stop this? Why do You let these terrible things go on?”

No, I am not depressed, and I am not grumpy. The fact is that I am certain most of us have asked the question, and often we find ourselves not really grasping the answer – but that ISN’T BECAUSE GOD HASN’T GIVEN ONE. Here is the truth: God is often at work in ways we don’t recognize when evil seems to be collapsing the bulkheads of our society. He seems like He is “letting evil get away with things” when that isn’t really what is going on at all. That is what it APPEARS, but that is not WHAT IT IS. Heaven is more subtle than earth, and God more restrained in His work than most learn to see.

Let me show you an example of that truth from God’s Word. Go back in time to ancient Babylon, and join the Jews in captivity. God was on the move, and showed His selected Prime Ministerial prophet the future of evil domination and pagan revelry against God – but even the veteran believer named Daniel couldn’t really grasp it, and didn’t like what God was doing. Before you read the passage, look at the end of the chapter. It simply says:

Daniel 8:26 “The vision of the evenings and mornings which has been told is true; But keep the vision secret, For [it] pertains to many days [in the future].” 27 Then I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. Then I got up [again] and carried on the king’s business; but I was astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain [it].

Did you see the reactive words… “exhausted”… “sick for days”…”astounded” – is that the reaction you would THINK a prophet would get from God exposing the future of things to him? The vision we are about to see is from two years AFTER the one we looked in in the chapter before it (Daniel 7). I want to remind you of the end of that last vision to set the theme of our lesson today. Look at how that one ended:

Daniel 7:28 “At this point the revelation ended. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts were greatly alarming me and my face grew pale, but I kept the matter to myself.

Unless he was deliberately trying to get his heart rate up or lose some color in his cheeks – these prophecies don’t seem to be drawing Daniel into warm and fuzzy feelings about God and His work among men! Sometimes we think that if we UNDERSTOOD more of what was going to happen – if we could clearly see the prophetic truth of what lay ahead – we would be MORE CONTENT. That doesn’t seem to be true. Daniel saw ahead. God uncovered future truth to him – and it made him SICK. Why? It made him sick for the same reason that injustice viewed in today’s new MAKES US SICK!

Like us, Daniel was tempted to fight the wrong battle – the one that captures the culture of his day with moral behavior, rather than a work that excitedly shares the truth of the existence of the spiritual world and God at work. Daniel learned that not only did he not WANT to see God’s tolerance of evil in the world, but that God’s patience made him physically ill. Yet, Daniel couldn’t see what God saw…

Key Principle: The mature believer’s view of the world should not be fixated on the temporary dominance of darkness, but rather on God at work – moving history toward His purposes.

Before we jump into a complicated prophetic scheme – let me say it plainly. Even the most mature believers are too easily focused on the wrong things. We are distracted by the site of the march of pagans and immorality – and we don’t recognize what God is doing through the darkness of men to bring His eventual and certain victory. I don’t want to spoil the message by tipping my hand too soon, but consider that what Daniel saw was not what God was trying to say – and that is why he got sick.

Daniel’s visions of chapter two and chapter seven were about four pagan and powerful political systems – Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. Each had all the requisite characteristics of a government: inequity, inefficiency, graft and corruption, etc. In the first vision the four were revealed in a big statue that was made of different metals from head to toes. In the second vision, four beasts represented the four kingdoms. Stepping away from both, Daniel learned that GOD WAS GOING TO TOLERATE MUCH in the kingdoms of this world, and He even intended that damage be allowed against His own people in the process. That sickened Daniel, because he couldn’t see the REASONS BEHIND WHAT GOD WAS DOING. Let me crack that door open on just a few of the things God would do…

Daniel saw a Persian kingdom overthrowing the Babylonian Empire… but God was going to use a Persian king to finally rid the Hebrews of an ancient Amalekite enemy from the family of Agag by unfolding a plot by Haman as recorded in the book of Esther. God was going to fulfill a prophecy given to Moses, through a girl named Hadassah (Esther) under a Persian King named Xerxes.

• Daniel saw the despotism of Persian kings over the Jewish people… but God was going to elevate and educate the Jewish people through the terror and threat of a Persian edict. The threat against their lives became the landscape of learning to take God seriously.

Daniel saw the rise of a swift pagan ruler of Macedonia (Greece) infecting the west with pagan philosophy and immorality… but God was going to use the life of Alexander the Great to unify the Mediterranean world– giving a common bond of Greek to allow the Gospel to flow across the Mediterranean in due time.

Daniel saw a Greek dictator who exercised power relentlessly – even inserting himself into ancient cultures and building pagan cities… but God was going to use the academy of Alexandria, a city founded by Alexander the Great, to produce the LXX translation of the Hebrew Bible – allowing the truth of God to move out to the world. God was seeding the ground for the message of Jesus – but that was hard to see. God is often at work in ways we don’t recognize when evil seems to be collapsing the bulkheads of our society.

Step back in time with me, and let’s see if we can identify what Daniel learned from this, his third vision…

First, the text offers the timing of the vision from Daniel (8:1).

Daniel 8:1 In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the king a vision appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously.

Daniel is careful to point out that this vision is an expansion of a previous one (chapter 7) given two years before. Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus the King of Babylon, who ruled three years from that city before he left his throne to his son while as he devoted himself to the worship of the moon god Sin in a desert oasis – a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts. Belshazzar became co-regent in 553 BCE, and was supposed to attend to Babylon’s defense during his dad’s journey. The year of the vision of chapter eight of Daniel either corresponds to the leaving of Nabonidus for his spiritual journey, and the ascension to sole ruler of Babylon by Belshazzar in about 550 BCE, or three years later (meaning the third year he was alone on the throne). By 540 BCE, Nabonidus returned when he heard the Persians planned to take the city of Babylon from his son by force. Nabonidus marched to face Cyrus the Mede, but was defeated and on October 10, 539 BCE, when he surrendered to Cyrus. Two days later the Persian armies overthrew the haughty city of Babylon that was engaged in a drunken party as Daniel recorded in our earlier lesson on Daniel 5. In any case, it is likely that Belshazzar was “flying solo” by the time of this vision.

Next, we are given the description of the vision by Daniel (8:2-14) along with the interpretation (which I have dropped in for simplicity sake from 8:15-24 after each part of the vision).

The record opens…Daniel 8:2 “I looked in the vision, and while I was looking I was in the citadel of Susa, which is in the province of Elam; and I looked in the vision and I myself was beside the Ulai Canal.” Apparently, Daniel was on a trip away from his normal dwelling, perhaps on some administrative duty. In any case, he was just living life, and God interrupted again – to help him see what the Most High was doing among men.

The vision he described had three main elements: A two-horned ram, a horned buck goat and a specific horn that caught Daniel’s attention. Right after explaining the three parts of the vision, Daniel shared HOW HE GOT THE INTERPRETATION, and then what each symbol meant. He wrote:

Daniel 8:15 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, standing before me was one who looked like a man. 16 And I heard the voice of a man between [the banks of] Ulai, and he called out and said, “Gabriel, give this [man] an understanding of the vision.” 17 So he came near to where I was standing, and when he came I was frightened and fell on my face; but he said to me, “Son of man, understand that the vision pertains to the time of the end.” 18 Now while he was talking with me, I sank into a deep sleep with my face to the ground; but he touched me and made me stand upright. 19 He said, “Behold, I am going to let you know what will occur at the final period of the indignation, for [it] pertains to the appointed time of the end.

This passage contained the first of the five passages in God’s Word where the angel Gabriel was named. The next is found in Daniel 9, with all the remaining found in the first part of Luke’s Gospel. Gabe explained that the vision wasn’t about something happening right away – but rather it extended into the time of TRIBULATION, and the time of the END. That detail helps us recognize the prophecy had implications for a time yet in our future – so this won’t simply be a “history lesson” for us.

In this lesson, we will add the interpretation to each part of the vision to make it clear and simple.

First, there was a ram with two horns (8:3-4).

Daniel 8:3 Then I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a ram which had two horns was standing in front of the canal. Now the two horns [were] long, but one [was] longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last. 4 I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward, and no [other] beasts could stand before him nor was there anyone to rescue from his power, but he did as he pleased and magnified [himself].

• Two horns
• One higher than another
• Pushing in three directions
• Unstoppable greatness for a time.

In the section on the interpretation, Daniel was told simply in Daniel 8:20 “The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.

This means the vision was NOT going to contain any focus on the Babylonian kingdom as the previous visions in Daniel 2:19-45 and Daniel 7 had done. This vision began with the Medo-Persian Kingdom – matching the breast and arms of silver in Daniel 2, and the lop-sided bear of Daniel 7. Every time Daniel saw a vision with Medo-Persia, the heavenly view saw two uneven powers joined together. Here, it was one ram, but two uneven horns. The beginning of this kingdom was dominated by Media, but fifty years later the same kingdom was dominated by the Persians. The Medo-Persian Empire was vast and powerful, as the descriptions of Esther chapter one attest under Ahaseuras (or Xerxes). Yet, for all its power, as it drew nearer to its end, it kept facing a much smaller force of hoplite Greek armies, and losing:

• It started when the Athenians, with their democratic ideas, helped the Ionian cities of western Turkey revolt Persian king Darius I (550-486 BCE) and the Persian king swore to have revenge on Athens when he found them. He crushed the Ionians (494 BCE), putting down the revolt near Miletus, but needed to withdraw his army and not move on at that time against Athens to conquer a new people.

• Four years later, the Battle of Marathon was set in the end of August and beginning of September of 490 BCE, as Darius sent a naval task force across the Aegean, to take the Cycladic Islands and then attack Athens. Taking many islands, the Persians sailed for Athens, landing in nearby Marathon. Athenians marched to Marathon to meet the Persian advance and blocked the two exits from the plain of Marathon. After a five day stalemate the Athenian hoplites attacked the Persians, devastating the Persian infantry. The Persian force retreated to Asia, showing the Greeks that the Persians could be beaten. Although dubious, the legend of a Greek messenger Pheidippi’des running from Marathon to Athens with news of victory – a distance of just over 26 miles – and collapsing following the announcement, which became the inspiration for the so named athletic event introduced at the 1896 Athens Olympics.

• Darius began raising a huge new army with which to return to Greece; but faced an Egyptian uprising in 486 BCE. He died the same year in October of 486 BCE.

His successor and son, Xerxes I (Ahaseurus of Esther) prepared a face saving second invasion of Greece. The preparations for that army were set at the party of Esther 1. By 483 BCE, more than one half of that year was spent on the massive and impressive party that staged the backdrop of the military planning sessions for the second invasion of Greece.

In the summer heat of 480 BCE, the Greek city states found themselves under attack again. Xerxes amassed a huge army and navy, and set out to conquer Greece and redeem his father’s defeat. The Athenian general Themistocles proposed that the Greeks block the advance of the Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae, while blocking the Persian navy at the Straits of Artemisium.

• The Greek force of approximately 7,000 men thus marched north to block the pass in the summer of 480 BCE against a Persian army, alleged to have numbered over one million.

• Though vastly outnumbered, the Greeks knew the terrain and held off the Persians for three assaults over a week long period. King Leonidas I of Sparta blocked the only road by which the massive Persian army could pass. After the second day of battle, a local resident named Ephialtes betrayed the Greeks by revealing a small path that led behind the Greek lines. Aware that his force was being outflanked, Leonidas dismissed the bulk of the Greek army, and remained to guard the rear with 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians, 400 Thebans and perhaps a few hundred others, the vast majority of whom were killed.

• After the defeat on land, the Greek navy at Artemisium evacuated Athens and withdrew to west of the island of Salamis, in the Saronic Gulf southwest of Athens. The Persians found an evacuated Athens, and followed the Greek ships – seeking decisive victory over them. The smaller and more maneuverable Greek fleet attacked the Persian warships, and decimated them at the Battle of Salamis in late 480 BCE. Xerxes was forced to withdraw with much of his army to Asia Minor. The following year (August, 479 BCE) the Persians were decisively defeated the Persians at the Battle of Plataea and Xerxes army returned home humbled.

• Since Esther was taken to Xerxes in December of 479 or January of 478 BCE according to Esther 2:16, the setting of Esther 2:1 and the “After these things” included the Greek wars and the news of the defeat of Xerxes army – along with the accompanying humiliation. The fought the inferior Greeks, and were defeated in the field. It was only a matter of time before the Greeks decided to fire back… and under a great leader they eventually did about 150 years later in 333-323 BCE.

Second, there was a buck goat (8:5-8) that was to follow Medo-Persia – the Hellenic Kingdom of the Greeks.

Daniel 8:5 “While I was observing, behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat [had] a conspicuous horn between his eyes. 6 He came up to the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and rushed at him in his mighty wrath. 7 I saw him come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power. 8 Then the male goat magnified [himself] exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous [horns] toward the four winds of heaven.

• From the West
• Notable single horn
• Victory of the Buck Goat (8:7)
• Breaking of Great horn- rise of four horns (N,S,E,W)

In the section on the interpretation, Daniel was told simply in Daniel 8:21 “The shaggy goat [represents] the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king. 22 “The broken [horn] and the four [horns that] arose in its place [represent] four kingdoms [which] will arise from [his] nation, although not with his power.

God’s revealed word here was no mystery – Greece would decisively destroy the Persian armies and take over when the time was right. Tracing the swift movement of Alexander the Great between 333-323 BCE is not difficult. Suffice it to say that at the end of one decade on the road, Al had subdued Egypt, the Holy Land, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, and was standing on the edge of the Indus River having conquered more land in faster time than any army in the history of the world. Yet, the focus of the last part of the vision appeared to be dedicated to a specific vision of four rulers from within the kingdom that broke up the power base, and finally one specific ruler who rose with certain designs on God’s people. That ruler became the third part of the vision…

Third, there was a little horn (8:9-15-4) that deserved specific attention.

Daniel 8:9 Out of one of them came forth a rather small horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful [Land]. 10 It grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down. 11 It even magnified [itself] to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. 12 And on account of transgression the host will be given over [to the horn] along with the regular sacrifice; and it will fling truth to the ground and perform [its will] and prosper. 13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to that particular one who was speaking, “How long will the vision [about] the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?” 14 He said to me, “For 2,300 evenings [and] mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.”

I suspect that what we are looking at is actually a dual description – first of the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV (cp. Daniel 11:21), and a future ruler in the world that has not yet been revealed – but who will show himself during the time of the Great Tribulation, as indicated in a literal reading of Daniel 8:19. If I am correct, we are reading about TWO MEN, each a type of the other.

• One came out of the four Diadoche Generals (Antiochus IV).
• He swept south and east and became great.
• He involved himself in the Holy Land’s affairs.

Those traits applied to Antiochus – but there were more traits listed – and those appear to be something greater than the violations of the second century BCE ruler… they appear to be of another FUTURE ruler. That one:

• Caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall (8:10). This could be a reference to some type of air war in which Daniel saw firepower that was unfamiliar to him – but I suspect it was a foray into explaining the DEMONIC POWER behind his rise.
• He stopped sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem and interrupted the lives of the observant Jewish people (8:11).
• Some of the host (army) of heaven was given to him (8:12) – probably a reference to his command of forces in the unseen world as well as his political power.
• His term of office was determined by God (8:13-14). Measuring the time based on a 360 day calendar of ancient Jewry – this one was in office for between six and seven years – but well short of the seven. The idea may have been to communicate that he would not make it to the end of the seven years of Tribulation.

If the entire description we just read was meant to poetically describe Antiochus – that is fine. Some of it looks like more to me, but I cannot be sure. What is clear is that by 8:23 Daniel’s record appears to be pointing to a time much later than the ancient Greek ruler. He wrote:

Daniel 8:23 “In the latter period of their rule, When the transgressors have run [their course], A king will arise, Insolent and skilled in intrigue. 24 “His power will be mighty, but not by his [own] power, And he will destroy to an extraordinary degree And prosper and perform [his will]; He will destroy mighty men and the holy people. 25 “And through his shrewdness He will cause deceit to succeed by his influence; And he will magnify [himself] in his heart, And he will destroy many while [they are] at ease. He will even oppose the Prince of princes, But he will be broken without human agency.

It is clear that the ruler is at a later period of time. It is clear that he attains the office with some trickery and underhanded tactic. It is also clear that his remarkable power will be backed by more than meets the eye. He will do fierce damage –even to some who were well known to be powerful. He will harm the Jewish people. He will be self-aggrandizing and self-reliant. He will also be on a leash of life that God will pull back when the Father decides he is finished his damaging work.

Finally, we see the troubles of Daniel (26-27). Daniel found himself overwhelmed with the vision and near exhaustion, needing inspiration and help.

Daniel 8:26 “The vision of the evenings and mornings which has been told is true; But keep the vision secret, For [it] pertains to many days [in the future].” 27 Then I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. Then I got up [again] and carried on the king’s business; but I was astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain [it].

Daniel became distracted by the site of the march of pagans and immorality – and lost the ability to recognize what God was about to do through the darkness of men to bring His eventual and certain victory. God answered a question Daniel held in his heart: “What is God going to do with His people if there are yet this many terrible pagan rulers and programs ahead?” Remember, the vision’s record is in the Hebrew language, which may mean that it was not for “public consumption” of the pagans, but focused on God’s dealings with His own people.

• We must remember that a spiritual battle rages behind what we are seeing in the headlines, and God hasn’t left the scene… He is weaving the tapestry of history to present His story to the cosmos. Even when politicians stab at God’s moral standards and defame God’s people – God is working out the story. He hasn’t lost control – He is DOING SOMETHING.

• We must also remember that the story has a SINGLE WINNER. In the end, God will settle all accounts. There is no power to match His. If you are standing with Him, you are already siding with the winner.

Enza was born into poverty, the product of an unknown father paying for minutes with her crack using mother. She was born in a flop house on an old mattress, and that would be some of the best of what she could expect from her early life. Unloved and unkempt, she struggled to gain basic nutrition and hygiene in her first years of life. Her mother was attentive one day, absent the next, guilty and weepy the third and on and on it went… Another young woman saw the struggling child and began to take a daily interest in seeing to it she was fed, clothed and clean. Life was hard, but Enza grew, watched and learned. By the time she was eight, she learned to hide from her mother when men came to visit, because her mother would have sold away her body for another hit of a drug. Even before puberty, this young girl learned about life, exchanges, and controlling men. By the time she was an adult, she was jaded with a darkness that draws a curtain over hope and lived the life of a struggler and hustler – believing that life was all about negotiating away what you have to get what you want. Enza met Jesus the first time in the eyes and heart of Carl, a young man that offered her his sandwich because he said she looked hungry, but didn’t ask for anything in return. This was a new experience in her adult life with men – kindness. Carl saw her a number of times, and always he smiled, helped, and was kind. He asked for nothing, and she concluded that he must not have wanted women – and left it at that. After a time, she asked him, “Why are you always nice to me?” He replied: “Well, two reasons. The first is because I like you. I think you are really wonderful person!” Feeling a bit stupid about receiving a compliment, she interrupted, “What’s the second reason?” He turned and looker her in the eye and said these simple words: “Because I have been where you are. I have lived through the hard life, and met a friend Who rescued me.” Carl shared Jesus with Enza, and she listened in half disbelief that One would come and die for her. Her disbelief wasn’t so much about His loving character, but more about His Sovereignty. “If there is a God like you say, where has He been in MY LIFE?” Carl smiled and said. “Bringing you to this bench, walking you to this minute, hurting for the abuses but knowing that today you would meet Him, and that would all change.” Enza began to tear up. Could it be true? She found out that it was – because Carl showed it first, and spoke it second. (RS: names changed).

Stop for a moment. What would have happened if Carl had decided that God was simply unfair in HIS LIFE? What would have happened if HE focused on the injustices rather than on God’s deliverance from his own rebellion? Carl would have become exactly what we become when we get angry and sickened by injustice of this world – he would have become ineffective as a witness. He would have missed out on a new life, and Enza would have missed out on his effective witness. Carl knew what Daniel was learning…

The mature believer’s view of the world should not be fixated on the temporary dominance of darkness, but rather on God at work – moving history toward His purposes.

Shine the Light: “Facing a Nightmare” – Daniel 7

nightmare1Did you ever feel like the COWARDLY LION? I had a nightmare the other morning, and it startled me. I was asked to speak at a new building that our church just somehow took over, but I lost my notes, my ironed shirt, my car keys, and the iPad I use for my Bible. I was running around the building and the people were not you – they were all different people, and NONE of them seemed to want to help me find my way to my things, and then to the pulpit of this labyrinth style church building. The rooms wound one into another, and I felt frustrated and hopelessly lost. .. I was unnerved, unsure, unprepared and about to become unglued. For me, that was a nightmare. I awoke and prayed the I would have not only my messages ready, but my heart as well, so that I might speak for the Lord with both His heart, and the tenor of His voice.

Did you ever have a terrible nightmare that came back to you even after you awoke? A nightmare can be so thoroughly engaging that you can be CONVINCED you are truly living it, or you may even be able to discern that it is not real, but rather a dream state (even while it is ongoing).

Web MD explains: Nightmares are vividly realistic; disturbing dreams that rattle you awake from a deep sleep. … Because periods of REM sleep become progressively longer as the night progresses, you may find you experience nightmares most often in the early morning hours.

Doctors aren’t completely sure what triggers them, but they offered these thoughts in the same source:

Nightmares in adults are often spontaneous. But they can also be caused by a variety of factors and underlying disorders. Some people have nightmares after having a late-night snack, which can increase metabolism and signal the brain to be more active. …

Hmm…. Now I am trying to recall what I ate before I went to bed the other night… Now as riveting as the story of my personal sleep disorders may be, I didn’t come to share my story today, but rather my Master’s story. Strangely enough, our lesson will be taken from an inspired nightmare. God delivered a message to the prophet Daniel through a nightmare – and it left him troubled and pale. Then God let him do something that was incredibly helpful… He wrote it down for us. He shared it for the generations that followed his ministry, and we have it today. God spoke to Daniel in a way that Daniel would understand – dreams. He had already established, years before under the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II that God worked through him in that way – so God used it in his later life personally.

Remember, when God wants to reveal something, He has many options, and all of them will seem invasive if we don’t know, love and trust him. Daniel DID know God – but even in that state, this was a powerfully difficult message to receive from God… a message about long centuries of godless rulers and powerful pagans that would follow their PASSION FOR POWER rather than an opportunity to PROMOTE THEIR CREATOR. The message scarred Daniel, but it wasn’t given to hurt him. Truth can hurt, but that isn’t its original intention much of the time. This painful truth became clear to Daniel…

Key Principle: The struggle for a righteous kingdom will continue until God establishes His kingdom on earth in place of the works of men.

God has a purpose for telling the story of Who He is in human history, but when injustice is allowed to run rampant in the streets, no believer in immune from feeling the swell of the question inside: “God, why don’t You DO something about this?” Habakkuk cried out his question to God in the face of injustice… it was unbearable. Daniel’s vision was simple: wicked king after wicked king would rule and do wrong – all as part of God’s unfolding drama of human history. It upset Daniel, and it upsets us. I HATE that evil men seem to prevail in so many world conflicts. It is hard not to be beat down by it all! If you have ever felt that, you understand the heart behind the record in chapter seven of Daniel.

It is worth noting that this vision (the second after the one recorded in chapter 2:19-45) was maintained in the ancient manuscript in Aramaic, not Hebrew – so it seems this lesson was for the world of Daniel’s day (and the rulers) to easily comprehend. God wasn’t embarrassed the evil would appear to prevail with such power and unchecked determination.

Sometimes people who are critical of God’s people and God’s Word like to use their seemingly enduring power as evidence of their supremacy, a sort of “might makes right” idea. God included in the text the truth that men who HATE God and His people will have their centuries to rule, but they would not ultimately last… God will end all things in righteousness, firmly held in His control. This is His plan and it was disturbing before he settled into God’s message. Take a look…

First, consider the situation (7:1).

7:1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, who ruled three years and then left his throne to his son while he devoted himself to the worship of the moon god Sin in a desert oasis – a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts. Belshazzar became co-regent in 553 BCE, and was supposed to attend to Babylon’s defense during his dad’s journey. A few years later, in about 540 BCE, Nabonidus returned when he heard the Persians planned to take the city of Babylon from his son. Nabonidus marched to face Cyrus the Mede, but was defeated and on October 10, 539 BCE, he surrendered to Cyrus. Two days later the Persian armies overthrew the haughty city of Babylon that was engaged in a drunken party as Daniel recorded in our earlier lesson on Daniel 5.

The point of this statement was to share that Belshazzar was a new prince. The young man was new at the job, and as we have seen in a previous lesson, his passions led him. He wasn’t a strong moral ruler, nor did he appear in historical record as a deeply spiritual or reflective man. I cannot prove it, but I have an idea that the prince’s actions in the throne room and banquet hall may have been part of what fed Daniel a nightmare. Daniel evidently wrote the dream to explain the matters within it. The “kept in my heart” reference of 7:28 may refer to his reactions only- It is unclear. What is clear is that the nightmare was painful to behold and scary to contemplate, and then he awoke to Prince “party animal the selfish”. These were days when Daniel really may have questioned what in the world he was doing on this divine assignment. Did you ever do that?

Second, beyond the “situation” that was playing out, by his record Daniel allows us to consider the elements of the vision (7:2-8):

7:2 Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3 Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. 4 “The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. 5 “And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’ 6 “After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. 7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. 8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

Essentially, he saw four beasts (7:4-8). Each beast, according to verse 17 represent kings and their kingdoms:

bald-eaglePerhaps the dream sounds strange to you, picturing different kingdoms by specific animals. Yet, think about it… around the world we use symbols of our country relating to a bald eagle. Let’s see if there are any of the nations on the list of four above that make sense to us:

First, there was a kingdom that is pictured by a lion with wings.

Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian rulers all loved lions. Years before this prophecy King Ashurbanipal II (850’s BCE) had two 15 ton lions of war carved and placed at the entrance of the Temple adjacent to his palace in the Assyrian capital of his day. Each lion was 2.25 meters wide and 2.6 meters high! One was recovered, discovered by Henry Layard in 1849 and now located in the British Museum collection. Persians made royal lion hunts a part of their national pride symbolism. The king of the jungle is a natural for such symbolism. At the same time, none of us have seen lions with wings…unless we traveled to ancient Persia. Such representations are found in Babylon, and all of the Persian Gulf. A lion with wings could easily befit Babylon because she was so swift in conquest of other kingdoms (cp. Jer 49:22; Lam 4:19; Ezek 17:3; Hab 1:6, 8). Like in Daniel 2:19ff, the first kingdom is that of Babylon. It was formerly represented in the Daniel 2 vision as the head of gold.

Second, there was a kingdom pictured as a tilted bear with three ribs hanging from its mouth.

Like the arms and breast of silver from Daniel 2:32, the second kingdom seemed always to be a confederation of TWO THINGS. In the earlier vision it was two arms crossed on the chest, and in this one it is the lopsided bear. The Medes and Persians were such an Empire, unequal partners in confederation – and their king, Cyrus, gobbled up several important cities on their way to taking Babylon as their prize. It is worth noting that early on, it appears that Median influence dominated during the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses…but in time there appears to have been a drift more toward Persian dominance by the time of Xerxes fifty years later (some suggest that in the phrase from Esther 1:19, “the laws of the Persians and the Medes”).

Third, there was a kingdom pictured as leopard with four heads and four wings.

Greece followed Persia, and the detailed history of the exploits of Alexander the Great’s chasing of Darius III are well known to historians. The leopard corresponds to the “belly and…thighs of bronze” from Daniel 2:32 and 39 – this time the emphasis being placed on the swiftness of the conquests. The four heads, no doubt, refer to the four Diadoche – the generals that took over after the untimely death of Alexander. Donald Campbell adds that… “The expression “dominion was given to it” is most interesting and significant. Did Alexander imagine that it was his military genius alone that enabled him and his small army of 35,000 men to defeat the massive hordes of the Persians numbering, some believe, in the millions? It is true that Alexander was a great leader, but his victories and subsequent dominion over a great empire were his because God, in the execution of His plans, allowed it to happen. Will world rulers ever understand this important fact?” Daniel: God’s Man in a Secular Society by Donald K Campbell.

Fourth, there was a kingdom pictured as terrible monster with ten horns protruding from its head.

Before Daniel saw the last beast, the phrase “after that” may refer only to the sequence of the vision, but appears to suggest the order of the kingdoms themselves. Daniel had no way to make sense of this part of the vision from animal world. It was a beast beyond his experience. Like the hard to describe “iron kingdom” we encountered earlier in Daniel 2:40 – this “terrible beast” was a different kind of kingdom. It appeared to be a conglomerate of things – not one cohesive thing. Finding Rome in this place is not at all difficult, for the might of that Empire stretch from Scotland to Saudi Arabia and changed the face of the world for centuries. Their warfare and killing machinery was without parallel, and the vision made that clear.

Like the end of the Daniel 2 vision had ten toes, so the end of this vision had ten horns. They came out of the system of the fourth kingdom, but seemed to be an interesting separate detail from that system. Look back at the way Daniel was distracted by the horns:

7:7b “…It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. 8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

The “ten horns” as a specific designation can be seen nine times in Scripture – three in Daniel 7 and six in Revelation 13 and 17. In this passage, it is interesting to note the ten horns refers to a singular kingdom grammatically in Aramaic, which implies that it is a divided single confederation composed of ten rulers, or that there are ten rulers in sequence. The real distraction was the BIG MOUTH on the LITTLE HORN at the end of verse eight.

Now step back for a second, and look at what Daniel recorded. He saw four kingdoms, and the last one had a complicated ending to it – with a variety of rulers and one really boastful individual that couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

Babylon would give way to Persia, and Persia would succumb to Greece. The four Diadoche Kingdoms of Greece would be crushed by the iron treads of Rome. Rome would set a pattern that would build a coalition of ten kings, and a boastful and arrogant politician would arise on the world stage.

Prophecy students LOVE to get tied in the details, but that wasn’t the point of the story – not really.

The third section of the story drew in the movement in Heaven (7:9-14).

One of only a few glimpses the Scriptures give us into the throne room of heaven is found here. There are some striking similarities (as well as a few differences) from this description and the one found in Revelation 4 and 5! Hold on tight, because we are about to pull the curtain back to the very place where God dwells. The physical description represents an unfathomable spiritual world…

7:9 “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. 11 “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.) 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 nations and peoples 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.

Daniel’s eyes were moved from the boasting horn by a much more impressive vision… that of God’s throne room in Heaven. Think of what he saw! Many thrones were staged as the court of Heaven began to form before him. The Most High God sat down on the highest throne. His visage was beyond compare and his throne was like a moving chariot – with wheels beheld also by the prophet Ezekiel. Look at the God that you serve:

• He is seated on the throne as Judge of all things. Many have opinions, but none are His equal. He is uniquely qualified to discern all things.

• He is clothed in pure white, untainted, unstained, utterly distinct above all. None can compare to the shine of His purity. He is without spot, without blemish, without shadow of turning.

• The hair of His head is white as one with the vast wisdom of all the ages.

• The throne on which he sat was ablaze with a smelter’s fire – for no dross or impurity would ever touch His holy personage.

• His throne was not stationary, but moving and flexible – engaged and ever nimble.

• A flow of fire came from that throne – the heat of holiness combined with the light of truth.

• Thousands of thousands attended Him – all Heaven attentive to His moves and commands.

Don’t forget in all the familiarity of our day that God is not like us. He is not simply our Heavenly buddy or spiritual chum… He is King above all, Majestic and Holy, to be revered, worshiped and adored. There is none like Him!

Ah, this is the special blessing of this passage, but it is ALSO THE PROBLEM OF THE PASSAGE. Look at Daniel’s response in 7:15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me.

Why was Daniel troubled? Why didn’t the sight of Heaven COMFORT him? Because he could see the truth about what God was going to do…and the truth wasn’t pleasant to behold! Keep reading…

To understand, first look at the interpretation of the vision as it was explained first TO him, and then BY him for us:

7:16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this. “So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’ 19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. 20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom. 23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time. 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 all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

This isn’t difficult to grasp. Look at the sequence:

• There will be four kings and respective kingdoms.
• The last one will have a renewed confederation with ten kings.
• There will arise an especially boastful big mouth – what a shock that politicians could be described that way!
• The big mouth took on God’s people and really whipped them badly until God stepped in.
• Tuning in to the fourth kingdom – it would take over the planet and make a confederation of the world’s rulers for a time.

Look even closer into verses 24-26, because it described in detail a specific period toward the end of all human history:

• Ten kings confederate, and AFTER THEM one arises that knocks out three other leaders.
• His boasting includes defiant blasphemy against God.
• His acts are against God’s people, and he changes the order – redraws the calendar and changes the laws to conform with his own standards.
• He gets cut off. His power is taken away. Heaven acts.
• The Kingdom God replaces the boastful one’s rule with is the EVERLASTING KINGDOM.

Now, here is the statement of Daniel’s feeling, yet again…Daniel 7:28 “This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”

The point of the story…

We have walked through details of kingdoms, but I cannot shake that Daniel is upset. Kings and kingdoms will rise and fall. Armies will march one against another in succession. Bad men will sit atop the pinnacle of power, only to be unseated by other bad men. Evil will reign for generations. God’s people will suffer. Right will be trampled. Fair judgments will be overturned. Votes will be upended by a few who will force the rest of us into their twisted views of what they want. We will watch injustice, and we will feel powerless. We will want to give up. We will want to withdraw. We will feel like there is NO POINT…and we will be WRONG when we think that way. It won’t end in injustice. God isn’t abandoning mankind. It is true…

The struggle for a righteous kingdom will continue until God establishes His kingdom on earth in place of the works of men.

Should I flee to a monastery? Should I grouse at the Heavens? Should I look for hope in the next politician to save us? Should I weep and cry, and feel that God has left the scene? Not at all. I should follow him. I should follow Him where He leads and boldly proclaim WHAT He says. I don’t need to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. I need to be OBEDIENT. Let me close with a story that may help illustrate what I am saying…

Theodorot was a fourth century bishop from Syria, and he wrote a number of commentaries and stories. One of them was the incredible story of a monk named Telemachus…President Ronald Reagan told the story at a Prayer Breakfast in 1984, and since he was a better story teller than I will ever be, I will just quote his version:

[There was a] monk living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance – [his name was] Telemachus, [he lived] back in the fourth century. And then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome. And believing that he had heard, he set out. And weeks and weeks later, he arrived there, having traveled most of the way on foot. And it was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths. And he followed a crowd into the Colosseum, and then there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, “We who are about to die salute you.” And he realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. And he cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!” And his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Colosseum. And as the games began, he made his way down through the crowd and climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, “In the name of Christ, stop.” And they thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first they were amused. But then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry. And as he was pleading with the gladiators, “In the name of Christ, stop,” one of them plunged his sword into his body. And as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, “In the name of Christ, stop.” And suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Colosseum. And then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. And in the dead silence, everyone left the Colosseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. Never again did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd. One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult. “In the name of Christ, stop.”

You don’t know what your voice will do. You follow God. You don’t follow Him only when it is fair and things are going well. You follow Him and do His bidding in your office, in your shop, in your carpool, in your home. You follow, and He will bring the end in His time. Injustice may prevail for a time. Sin may rage in our streets, but Heaven isn’t slack concerning God’s promises. God isn’t impotent, He is patient. When it hurts, keep your eyes fixed on the eastern sky – your redemption draws near!

The struggle for a righteous kingdom will continue until God establishes His kingdom on earth in place of the works of men.

Shine the Light: “Revealing the Weakness” – Daniel 2:19-45

foot through ceilingIt all started with a weak spot in the floor in the attic. A buddy and I were working on adding extra flooring over the joists that were already in place. Someone placed boards on the floor, but they were not sufficiently thick to hold anyone over one hundred pounds. We discovered this truth, quite by accident, when one of my friends stuck a foot all the way through to the dining room making his way across in the dark, looking for something in the attic. If we were looking for weakness, we found the perfect way to test for it – walk across the floor and see where we would fall through!

I wish every weakness in life could so easily be spotted. It seems like the times we live in are filled with people who have a weak strategy to navigate the flooring of life. Some people try to navigate life with emotions, but that seems to burn people out. Others try to get through by positive thinking, but that only works if your life isn’t falling apart. Still others of our fellow citizens have decided the place to put their trust is in government to navigate the storms of life and care for their hopes and dreams of prosperity and stability. That may not be the best option, and it appears to be making many more dependent upon government services – at least according to some academic studies…Walter E. Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University, wrote a column this week about the growing ranks of those classified as “poor” by the US Government’s Census Bureau:

“…Here are a few facts about people whom the Census Bureau labels as “poor”. Dr. Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, in their study … report that 80 percent of “poor” households have air conditioning; nearly three-quarters have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more. Two-thirds have cable or satellite TV. Half have one or more computers. Forty-two percent own their homes. “Poor” Americans have more living space (square footage) than the typical non-poor person in Sweden, France or the U.K. He paused in the report to add these words… “What we have in our nation are dependency and poverty of the spirit, with people making unwise choices and leading pathological lives aided and abetted by the welfare state…He went on to explain some things I had not calculated: Since President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, the nation has spent about $18 trillion at the federal, state and local levels of government on programs justified by the “need” to deal with some aspect of poverty. In a column of mine in 1995, I pointed out that at that time, the nation had spent $5.4 trillion on the War on Poverty, and with that princely sum, “you could purchase every U.S. factory, all manufacturing equipment, and every office building. With what’s left over, one could buy every airline, trucking company and our commercial maritime fleet. If you’re still in the shopping mood, you could also buy every television, radio and power company, plus every retail and wholesale store in the entire nation” ( Today’s total of $18 trillion spent on poverty means you could purchase everything produced in our country each year and then some.

I am no expert, but if what the report cites is true, the war on poverty is being won by poverty hands down – and that cannot make anyone feel good. This isn’t a critique column on the poor, nor on the American government – it is a Bible lesson. Strangely, however, the theme of the verses we will study in this lesson are VERY MUCH about the weakness of trusting government, and several Biblical reasons why you must not place your hope in its ability long term to meet your needs. The principle the text demonstrates clearly is this…

Key Principle: God is working a plan through kings and kingdoms (governments) – but human government won’t ultimately fix what is broken – because it can’t.

Let’s go back into our study of Daniel… this time to look at the record of a specific prophecy. We studied the first six chapters in the book, but I deliberately side-stepped speaking on the passage at the end of chapter two, because the details of the prophecy fit better into the last part of the book, where we are going to detail each prophecy of the book and see if we can discern its interpretation based on what God gave us. Remember, the book is twelve chapters, with Daniel 1-6 a biographical and historical narrative (with the exception on 2:19-45), and Daniel 7-12 contains a series of prophetic records.

For teaching purposes, I would like to split the text into two parts, with the first part opening the door to our study of the prophetic portions of the whole book – by reminding us of seven truths about prophecy in Daniel 2:19-23.

Daniel 2:19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven; 20 Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. 21 “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. 22 “It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him. 23 “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.”

The seven truths are these:

First, God reveals what could not be known to man without His revelation of it – and that is a reason to PRAISE HIM. Daniel 2:19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.

Second, prophetic truth reminds us that God exists outside of TIME, and He is ABOVE AND BEYOND the plan of history. Daniel 2: 20a Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever…

Third, prophecy illustrates the GREATNESS of God’s mind, and His ABILITY to do what He promises. Daniel 2:20b: “… For wisdom and power belong to Him.”

Fourth, prophecy reminds us anew of God’s SOVEREIGNTY over the universe. Daniel 2: 21a “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings

Fifth, prophecy humbles us, because even when we grasp its truths, we reckon it was not because of our own ability. Daniel 2:21b “…He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.”

Sixth, it reminds us that what we cannot see is obvious to Him. Daniel 2: 22 “It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.”

Seventh, prophecy reminds us that understanding God’s truth can only be achieved by prayer and dependence upon God. Daniel 2: 23 “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.

Stepping back and thinking through the verses, we easily recognize that we are in for “quite a ride” when we get involved in the prophetic portions of the Word. First, we must acknowledge that GOD has to reveal truth – because we cannot fully grasp it without Him. Second, we must come to the conclusion that when TRUTH is REVEALED – it should lead us to PRAISE GOD!

With that short primer, off we go! The remaining verses in Daniel 2:24-45 contain THREE simple parts: the setting (Daniel 2:24-30), what the king saw (2:24-35) and what God meant by it (2:36-45). We will call the first part “the situation”, the second part “the vision” and the third part “the lesson”.

The Setting (Daniel 2:31-35)

The passage opens with a few verses of how Daniel got into the throne room to see the king. Normally, details like these would be at the edges of the narrative in terms of really helping us understand much about the prophecy – but there is a very important little lesson in the verses we dare not skip. Take a look:

Daniel 2:24 Therefore, Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon; he went and spoke to him as follows: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon! Take me into the king’s presence, and I will declare the interpretation to the king.” 25 Then Arioch hurriedly brought Daniel into the king’s presence and spoke to him as follows: “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can make the interpretation known to the king!” 26 The king said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen and its interpretation?” 27 Daniel answered before the king and said, “As for the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither wise men, conjurers, magicians [nor] diviners are able to declare [it] to the king. 28 “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind [while] on your bed. 29 “As for you, O king, [while] on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place. 30 “But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than [in] any [other] living man, but for the purpose of making the interpretation known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.

You can see three important facts are mentioned:

• First, Daniel and the other wise men faced death if the vision was not made plain (2:24-25).
• Second, Nebuchadnezzar was open to saving the men, but he wanted the vision made clear to him at all cost (2:26).
• Third, Daniel went to great length to make sure that it was ABSOLUTELY CLEAR that God could do what he could not do – and that God did not work BECAUSE of Daniel, but because of His Sovereign choice to reveal truth to men (2:27-30).

How significant it is for us to begin a study of prophetic portions BATHED in the humility that God chooses to reveal truth to men – not because of how GOOD they are, SMART they are, or even how WELL STUDIED they are. We should study hard – but that won’t guarantee truth’s revealing. God does what man cannot do. He speaks from the black darkness, where He can see every bit as clearly as if it were a place drenched in light. God is not blinded by time or circumstance. He alone knows all things, and He shares that which He chooses to share. We must not grow into arrogance from study of truth that He chooses to reveal – quite the opposite. We should feel smaller in His presence.

The Vision (Daniel 2:31-35)

As Daniel opened the imagery of the dream, he confirmed in the mind of the king that God was truly the speaker, for Daniel could not fake this detail. Daniel reported:

Daniel 2:31 “You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome. 32 “The head of that statue [was made] of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 “You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. 35 “Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

Daniel said the king’s vision had four parts:

• First, there was the image or statue of a man. The vast statue was in a human form and was considered “awesome” – perhaps a reference to its size (2:31). It was also clearly a made statue cast from different materials. Daniel scanned the view of the image from head to foot: The head was made of gold, the chest and arms were made of silver. The belly and mid-section were made of bronze, and the legs were made of iron. The feet were made of iron and hardened pottery (2:32-33).

• Second, the king had observed the formation of a ballista stone that was cut without human hands and hurled without aid at the statue (2:34). The ballista crushed the statue from the foot to the head, crushing the image quickly into dust (2:35a).

• Third, the refuse pile of the statue that now lay crushed to dust, was blown by a great wind – until the refuse disappeared (2:35b).

• Fourth, the ballista stone grew into a powerful mountain that covered the surface of the earth (2:35b).

It was essential for Daniel to move systematically through the vision to present the whole of the lesson, while confirming the details of the vision with the king. Yet, all this detail would not help the king, Daniel, or you and I – if it were not for the last part of the chapter… where Daniel was able to reveal the point of the revelation…

The Lesson (Daniel 2:36-45)

Daniel explained:

Daniel 2:36 “This [was] the dream; now we will tell its interpretation before the king. 37 “You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; 38 and wherever the sons of men dwell, [or] the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given [them] into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold.

Daniel made the simple point that Nebuchadnezzar was the gold head of the statue. He had what he had because God gave it to him – but he had MUCH. No question about it: the Babylonian king and his empire were the first part of the revelation… He continued:

39 “After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth. 40 “Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces.

The fact that Babylon wasn’t the LAST great kingdom was made clear. There would be another, then another, then another – each less valuable in their essence, but, in some ways, stronger in their power. Daniel didn’t dwell on that truth, but that was implied in the different materials of each kingdom. Gold is very expensive, but very malleable. Silver may be valued as less – but it is a stronger metal. Bronze is certainly stronger than silver or gold, and iron stronger than all. Yet NONE OF THE KINGDOMS will be strong enough to resist the ballista stone’s eventual crushing work. Before he fully explained the interpretation, Daniel got distracted by the feet. God wanted to say something about the FEET:

41 “In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. 42 “[As] the toes of the feet [were] partly of iron and partly of pottery, [so] some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. 43 “And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery.

The feet seemed to be a REVIVAL of the legs in a slightly different form. The legs were NOT EXACTLY like the feet – because the feet were made from mixed materials. If each material represented a DIFFERENT KINGDOM – it is clear the fourth kingdom had both an iron phase, and a mixed phase that followed it. Since the kingdoms can be identified now with Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome – the feet seem to be a revival of Roman-like government that is made a bit differently. Let me suggest the clear difference is that the legs were ONE PEOPLE, while the feet were men and women from DIFFERENT NATIONS that joined in a Senate-like republic that drew men from many places. Let me further point out that it was not a “melting pot” – but rather a coalition of people that included both COMMON MEN and those of significance.

I don’t believe it would be a stretch to project the feet as a republic that dominated the world at the end time – before God steps in to end governments of men with a powerful blow from Heaven. It includes people who TRY TO STAY TOGETHER in a coalition – but they cannot. They are TOO DIFFERENT! Look at Daniels commentary as he continued:

Daniel 2:44 “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and [that] kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. 45 “Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

This was the point of the vision Nebuchadnezzar had in the first place. God will PUT AN END TO HUMAN GOVERNMENT. Men won’t end in chaos by their own choosing – God will crush government and take over direct control of the scene Himself. Later on, we will discover the Bible projects the coming of Messiah as a JUDGE. Jesus said it clearly:

Matthew 25:31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. …41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; … 46 “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The simple fact of the matter is that a judge is coming – but He is a perfect judge. He is coming to a world that is not prepared, and to believers that should be prepared. The Bible teaches that he is not going to offer eternal judgment to followers of Jesus because of their sin – for that was fully judged at the Cross and our trust in the work of Jesus alone covers us from any future penalty for our sin. The lamb paid for all of our sin. God has been clear. At the same time, the performance as a believer is going to be judged when the Savior comes– and I should walk every day with that coming review in mind. Let me show it to you in the context of the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:

Revelation 11:15 Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. 18 “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.

As I told you when we studied the details of Revelation 11: When I stand before Jesus – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years will evaporate into the smoke as the fire of His eyes burn through my life’s work. What is left after all the selfish, ego-driven, stubborn, hard-hearted, gossip-laden, flesh colored work is gone – is what Jesus can BEGIN to celebrate. Mature believers keep that day in their minds eye – and never lose sight of it. Brethren, some of us seem to be content wasting our only opportunity to please Him!

Yet, here is the point of our lesson: Government is a temporary tool from the Master’s tool box. Like bodily exercise, it profits SOME and for a TIME – but it is NOT THE ANSWER to humanity’s needs.

God is working a plan through kings and kingdoms (governments) – but human government won’t ultimately fix what is broken – because it can’t.

Nebuchadnezzar got the opportunity to see it clearly! Look at the end of the passage in Daniel 2:

Daniel 2:46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and did homage to Daniel, and gave orders to present to him an offering and fragrant incense. 47 The king answered Daniel and said, “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.” 48 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 And Daniel made request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego over the administration of the province of Babylon, while Daniel [was] at the king’s court.

The end of the passage was God using government to promote His men and His agenda. That is what it can do if God is revered. That is the BEST it can do – but it must be willing to follow Him!Look at the truths:

• God’s kingdom begins to rise while the other earthly kingdoms are still operating (2:44a).
• God does the work of bringing His kingdom to men (2:44b).
• God’s kingdom is NEVER destroyed, NEVER overthrown, NEVER bankrupt, NEVER mismanaged, NEVER vanquished, and NEVER ends. (2:44b).
• God’s kingdom CRUSHES all men’s efforts to build a lasting peace and prosperity through governments made by their own hands (2:44b).
• God brings about God’s government Himself – it is NOT a work of men (2:45).

At long last, we must remember the whole picture:

  • God will allow human government – until He is done with it.

  • God will invite men to unite and participate – but they will fail.

  • God will replace human government with a perfect King and peaceful kingdom.

Christ shall reign. He will not reign from WITHIN human government – He will CRUSH human government and reign in its place. It will be as David reigned – a Sovereign over a people. This is no reflection of a spiritual reign through a church in a world system tht does not love him, and countries that do not obey Him. Christ shall reign- forever and ever.

Are you ready to have Him as your king?

Shine the Light: "Five Critical Choices" – Daniel 6

waldorf-lobby1Have you ever encountered a worker that goes “above and beyond” to help you? I have had the privilege of meeting quite a number of them as I travel and speak, and enjoy a rich life in my work experiences. I have concluded from God’s Word something I want to share with you: If you know the Lord, and as a result you decide to be an honest, faithful, diligent employee, God will honor and bless you – perhaps in this life but surely the next. I want to tell you a true story that I think may encourage you… A number of years ago, an elderly man and his wife arrived by train in the city of Chicago. It was a stormy night and their train had been delayed. It was after midnight when they finally arrived at a downtown hotel they hoped had a vacancy. The young clerk on duty that night was named George Boldt and he explained that because there were three different conventions in town, their hotel was full, but he would be glad to call around and check with some other hotels. After several calls, it was clear that there were no empty rooms to be found. The young clerk said to the couple, “I can’t send a nice couple like you out into the rain on a night like this. Would you be willing to sleep in my room in the basement? It’s not large, but it’s clean and I don’t need it tonight because I’m on duty.” The couple gladly accepted his offer. The next morning the man tried to pay George personally, but the young clerk refused. Then the man said to George Boldt, “You’re the kind of man who ought to be the boss of the best hotel in America. Maybe one day I’ll build one for you.” The young clerk only smiled and said, “I was just glad to be of service. ”Several years later George Boldt received a letter with train ticket to New York City. The old gentleman took him to the corner of 5th Avenue and 54th Street in Manhattan and said, “This is the hotel I have built for you to manage.” George Boldt stared in awe and said, “Are you joking?” It was no joke. The old man’s name was William Waldorf Astor. And that’s how George Boldt became the first manager of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. If you go to New York City, there is George’s portrait hanging in the lobby, a tribute to a clerk who showed integrity and went the second mile.

Most of us know people who ‘go the extra mile’ in the job – and they are encouraging to us. In days when it seems like so many people show up on the job and consider us – the client – a MAJOR INCONVENIENCE to their day, the ‘extra mile’ worker is a refreshing change. Now since this isn’t a business seminar, nor a motivational speech about working hard – you may wonder WHY I began with this story. In the familiar pages of God’s Word, there is a story about God’s blessing to an obedient and positive hearted servant. The well-known story of “Daniel in the lion’s den” illustrates dramatically the idea that a positive view of life is about choices, not simply about life circumstances. Daniel knew that life dedicated and surrendered to God would not be EASY, but it would be a POSITIVE experience if he kept his commitment to God at the center of his life, and evaluated his experiences as something prescribed by his God.

Key Principle: Your ability to be positive has more to do with your life choices than your life circumstances!

Here is the truth: Life can be hard, but God is not hard-hearted. He loves you, and He knows you. If you know Him, and if you have made the choice to follow Him through the conditions carefully prescribed in His Word, you will find that a positive life is about living out that choice properly. Let’s look at this familiar story, and see if we can pick out the choices Daniel made to be POSITIVE about life, despite challenges deliberately placed in his path by enemies:

1. Daniel chose character over comfort – to do the most with the situations he was handed, rather than complain about the ones he wasn’t! (6:1-3).

Daniel 6:1 “It seemed good to Darius to appoint 120 satraps over the kingdom, that they would be in charge of the whole kingdom, 2 and over them three commissioners (of whom Daniel was one), that these satraps might be accountable to them, and that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Then this Daniel began distinguishing himself among the commissioners and satraps because he possessed an extraordinary spirit, and the king planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom.”

The fact is that Daniel wasn’t where he would naturally have been, had it not been for the sins of his fathers and the captivity they caused. He could have sat in the corner and decided that “life dealt him a bad hand” – and therefore he would pout and be soured. His heart would have made him unusable to God if that were the case.

Let me ask you something: Is that what you are doing? Have you felt that the card hand God dealt you was somehow lacking, and because of that you exempt yourself from looking at life in a positive way?

Daniel distinguished himself in a bad place, surrounded by some bad people. I know this because his marks of distinction brought out their jealousy a few verses later in this very story. What he remembered in life is an important lesson for all of us: any test we face is more complicated than we may be led to believe. When he faced challenges, they were NOT simply the test before him, but the test of what was INSIDE of him – what his walk with God in life truly was. Let me see if an illustration may shed light on this thought:

Dr. Madison Sarratt taught mathematics at Vanderbilt for many years. Before giving a test, he would put things in perspective for his students by admonishing his class with these words: “Today I am giving two examinations: one in trigonometry, and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. But, if you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who cannot pass trigonometry, but there are no good people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty.”

Many people seem to forget that external challenges have been approved by God to help us evaluate how true our walk is before Him. If we are not careful to be sensitive to obedience to God, we can easily learn in this life to ”settle” for some level of dishonesty. I am thinking of the man I heard about years ago who wrote to the IRS:

“Dear Sirs, Last year when I filed my income tax return, I deliberately misrepresented my income. Now I cannot sleep. Enclosed is a check for $150 for taxes. If I still can’t sleep, I will send the rest.”

Daniel chose character over comfort. He chose pushing himself instead of pouting about what he didn’t have. That distinguished him – and it will distinguish you in life as well.

2. Daniel chose discipline over disorder – he did what he should have done and refused what to do what he shouldn’t do. (6:4-9).

Daniel 6:4 Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.” 6 Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: “King Darius, live forever! 7 “All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den. 8 “Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction.

When I read this story, I was struck by the description of Daniel. I wondered how a group of enemies trying to trip me up would evaluate me. Go back to verse four and look carefully at what political reporters and party hacks found when they delved deeply into Daniel’s private life…nothing. The description of FAITHFULNESS was vivid: “no ground for accusation”, “no evidence of corruption”, “no negligence”…WOW! That description meant that Daniel wasn’t just NOT DOING WRONG, he was faithfully, diligently DOING RIGHT! Is that what my political opponents would say of me if I were in a government job as he was?

One of the things Daniel needed to bear in mind as he faced the simple tests of day to day living is that “someone is always watching”. Another lesson, equal to that one, helped him keep a positive attitude about life: challenges give me a platform to show my love and devotion to the Lord. They come into my life through the stamp of God’s approval, because they help TEST ME so that God can show me where I am lacking in my preparation for His use. I read somewhere years ago about eagles, and I confess I don’t know wildlife well enough to know if what the author wrote was factual, but it was illustrative. He wrote:

A female eagle has an interesting way of picking a mate. She will pick up a twig and fly high into the air and drop it. Male eagles will fly beneath her and try to catch the twig. She will do this until a male has caught the twig three times. The female is testing the male for his ability to catch young eagles as they are directed out of the nest for flight. When it’s time for the young eagle to fly on its own, the mother eagle pushes her young out of the nest. She carries the young eaglets on her back up high into the air and shakes them off. It is the responsibility of the father to swoop down and catch the young eaglets until they learn to fly on their own. Just as the female eagle is testing the male for his reliability, God will test a believer in his or her faithfulness and dependability. Similarly, in our walk with God we often run into difficult situations that require us to make decisions. These decisions are clear indications to the Father whether or not we can be trusted to move ahead to the next level of responsibility. As the female eagle tests the male with twigs to determine which one would be her choice for a mate, God is testing us through daily decisions to determine which ones He can rely on to be used to build His kingdom. — “Twigs” written by Chris Harken from Maple Grove, Minnesota USA

Daniel chose to respond to life with discipline and try to figure out how to best use his circumstances to honor God. When we do that, we will find that some of the tests open the doors to great opportunities…

Did you ever go walking through a field and get “stickers” poking you through your socks or your jeans? Did you ever get frustrated and think: “These must have come after the Fall of Man in the Garden!” There is no way that God would make these for man, is there? One man saw them differently, and these “stickers” poking his skin changed his life…

In 1948, a Swiss mountaineer named George de Mestral was walking through the woods and was very frustrated by the burs that clung to his clothes. While picking them off, he realized that it may be possible to use this principle to make a fastener to compete with the zipper. Velcro was inspired by the natural sticking properties of burrs. If you look at a velcro strip, you’ll notice that it has two parts to it: a strip that has a web of tiny hooks; and a strip that has a web of tiny interwoven hoops. These two strips are a match for each other and when you join them together the hooks “catch” the loops and they become meshed together in a very strong bond. What makes Velcro important is the reliability in the many small strands that predictably stick together! SOURCE: Darren Ethier in “The Velcro Effect” on Citation: The Useless Information Site, “ZIPPERS & VELCRO.”

Isn’t it TELLING that George saw what everyone saw, but looked at it with different eyes? That is EXACTLY what Daniel did. He looked at life and decided to face it with discipline and discernment. He didn’t just “look at the bright side of problems”, he worked through problems as PART of his walk with God. If we spend our time fussing and blaming, we use up the energy that could be spent working through the issue and gaining from it. It takes DISCIPLINE to shut off the emotional flow, and become productive in spite of the temptation to wallow in self-pity and moan injustice. Emotional discipline is essential to godliness.

3. Daniel chose love over life – he continued to follow hard after God and continue the prayers he normally made. (6:10-15).

Daniel 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. 12 Then they approached and spoke before the king about the king’s injunction, “Did you not sign an injunction that any man who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, is to be cast into the lions’ den?” The king replied, “The statement is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 13 Then they answered and spoke before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day.” 14 Then, as soon as the king heard this statement, he was deeply distressed and set his mind on delivering Daniel; and even until sunset he kept exerting himself to rescue him. 15 Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Recognize, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or statute which the king establishes may be changed.

I want you to look very closely at the age-old strategy of our spiritual enemy to shut off the influence of God’s people in society – because he is doing it again. You must see, not only the men who opposed Daniel of old, but the strategy of the enemy behind them – the puppeteer of darkness. When a believer walks uprightly, they are dangerous to the enemy. He assails them with temptation, and for many –that is enough to sideline them. If they succumb, they will waste energies fighting guilt that blocks them from truly experiencing God in daily life. When that DOESN’T WORK, the enemy may choose to drop into plan “B”, and try a different approach – like “redrawing lines”. What he often does is structures new law to put the believer on the outside of civil obedience – forcing a confrontation due to societal standards that are changed. Outlawing prayer in Daniel 6, five hundred years before Jesus, was a strategic form we see again emerging in a society that is trying to force believers to pay for abortions and to offer services to the abhorrence they call “same sex marriage”. The effort of the enemy of our souls is to redraw the lines of the law to move us outside of it – making the believer the “violator”. It is an old strategy for which Daniel faced a lion’s den. Believers need to be aware of the enemy’s strategic moves, because God uncovered them as such in His Word.

When Daniel knew the test was in place, his love for God drove him to continue praying! It wasn’t an OPTION for him – it was his LIFE CONNECTION TO GOD! Samuel Chadwick wrote, “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayer-less studies, prayer-less work and prayer-less religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.” Believers who look at prayer as a duty, don’t gaze at God in awe, nor desire time with Him out of LOVE.

It is essential that every believer recognize that love of the Lord must take precedence over love of things, and eventually of physical life itself: “Ken Walker writes in Christian Reader that in the 1995 college football season 6-foot-2-inch, 280-pound Clay Shiver, who played center for the Florida State Seminoles, was regarded as one of the best in the nation. In fact, one magazine wanted to name him to their preseason All-American football team. But that was a problem, because the magazine was Playboy, and Clay Shiver is a dedicated Christian.” “Shiver and the team chaplain suspected that Playboy would select him, and so he had time to prepare his response. Shiver knew well what a boon this could be for his career. Being chosen for this All-American team meant that sportswriters regarded him as the best in the nation at his position. Such publicity never hurts athletes who aspire to the pros and to multimillion dollar contracts.” “But Shiver had higher values and priorities. When informed that Playboy had made their selection, Clay Shiver simply said, ‘No thanks.’ That’s right, he flatly turned down the honor. ‘Clay didn’t want to embarrass his mother and grandmother by appearing in the magazine or giving old high school friends an excuse to buy that issue,’ writes Walker. Shiver further explained by quoting Luke 12:48: ‘To whom much is given, of him much is required.’” “I don’t want to let anyone down,” said Shiver, “and number one on that list is God (Larson, p. 53).

Let’s face it, Daniel knew what continuing prayer would cost him, but prayer wasn’t a RELIGIOUS activity, it was meeting with the God that he loved and lived for.

4. Daniel chose poise over panic – he knew his life was always preserved by God until the Lord was finished with him (6:16-23).

Daniel 6:16 Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.” 17 stone was brought and laid over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing would be changed in regard to Daniel.18 Then the king went off to his palace and spent the night fasting, and no entertainment was brought before him; and his sleep fled from him. 19 Then the king arose at dawn, at the break of day, and went in haste to the lions’ den. 20 When he had come near the den to Daniel, he cried out with a troubled voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Then Daniel spoke to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.” 23 Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den and no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

The ending phrase of Daniel 6:23 makes clear the reason behind Daniel’s choice – it wasn’t compulsion or duty – it was trust. He trusted God to do what God wanted done if he did what God instructed. That is the essence of a surrendered life. He held his head high and knew the truth: We are invincible until God says our life has completed its mission.

In his book, When God Whispers Your Name, Max Lucado tells the story of John Egglen, who had never preached a sermon in his life before the Sunday morning when it snowed and the pastor wasn’t able to make it to the church. In fact, he was the only deacon to show up. He was not a preacher, but he was faithful and that meant on that particular Sunday morning he preached. God rewarded his faithfulness, and at the end of his hesitant sermon, one young man invited God into his heart. No one there could appreciate the significance of what had taken place that morning. The young man who accepted Christ that snowy Sunday morning was none other than Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the man who has often been called, the “prince of preachers.” God blessed his preaching and when he was still less than 30 years old he became the pastor of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. His sermons were so powerful that although the building could hold 5000 people, the crowds who came to hear him were so thick that they would line up outside trying to hear his sermons. That amazing life of faith all started on a cold Sunday morning with the faithfulness of a deacon!

Trusting a God we cannot see is not easy when facing pain we can feel, and judgment we will physically discern. At the same time, if our faith means anything at all, it means the ability to be courageous with trust in the hands of a God Who is limitless in power!

5. Daniel chose rest over revenge – he did not celebrate, nor encourage any harm against those who trapped him. (6:24-28).

Daniel 6:24 The king then gave orders, and they brought those men who had maliciously accused Daniel, and they cast them, their children and their wives into the lions’ den; and they had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. 25 Then Darius the king wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land: “May your peace abound! 26 “I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; For He is the living God and enduring forever, And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, And His dominion will be forever. 27 “He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders In heaven and on earth, Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” 28 So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Nowhere in the text do you read of Daniel’s delight as his plotting, conniving enemies became burnt toast. He made a choice to focus on God, not his adversaries. He knew the truth: Resting in the Lord will build us up inside!

The story is told of a persecuted Christian under Emperor Diocletian who was being chased by some soldiers under orders to put him to death. He saw a cave and rushed in to hide there. The soldiers arrived some time later. As they started to go in they noticed a spider’s web across the cave. They reasoned that no one had gone into that cave because the spider’s web was there. Later on, the Christian came out and walked through the spider’s web. He realized why the soldiers had not come in and said, “With God a web is as a wall. But without God a wall is as a spider’s web.” (A-Z Sermon Illustrations).

Daniel didn’t know what he would experience in the lions’ den but he knew that God would be with him and he put his trust in God, and rested in His goodness. He knew that where God led Him, God would stand with him – and that gave him rest. I think of a story:

A grandfather was out walking with his grandson one day. “How far do you think we are from home?” he asked the grandson.
The boy said, “Grandpa, I don’t know.”
The grandfather asked, “Well, where are you?”
Again the boy said, “I don’t know.”
Then the grandfather chuckled and said, “Sounds to me as if you are lost.”
The young boy looked up at his grandfather and said, “I can’t be lost, I’m with you.

Daniel chose character over comfort. He chose discipline over disorder. He chose love for God over life without God. He chose poise in the face of trouble over panic. He chose rest over revenge. He made choices that led him to positive peace… because:

Your ability to be positive has more to do with your life choices than your life circumstances!