Sunday, January 8, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 1, Introduction

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 1

Welcome to our new Bible study on the book of Daniel! This book has only twelve chapters but they are packed full of suspenseful action and end times prophecy. 

Chapters 1-6 involve events in the life of the young Hebrew captive Daniel and his three godly friends: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Out of all the young Hebrew men of the royal and noble families of Jerusalem whom King Nebuchadnezzar ordered to be brought into his service, these four are the only ones we find living lives of purpose in a foreign land and in the court of a pagan king. From the very beginning of what will be lifelong exile from their homeland, these four determined in their hearts not to sin against God. Living in a wicked culture, these four were committed not to be conformed to the ways of the world, but to transform the world around them by being examples of faith, even if this faith should lead to their martyrdom. 

Chapters 7-12 are apocalyptic in nature, revealing to us the events of the end times and the arrival of Christ's kingdom on earth. This type of Biblical literature is also known as "eschatology", from the Greek eschalon, which means "end". We took a look at several passages from the book of Daniel during our study of the book of Revelation and now we will be studying them in depth. The Messiah is presented to us in the last half of the book of Daniel, a verse of which the Lord Jesus quoted in reference to Himself in Matthew 24:30, Mark 14:62, and Luke 21:27,when preaching of the end times. After foretelling the fall of Jerusalem and the temple which would take place in 70 AD, Jesus likened this time of travail to the time of the Great Tribulation, after which the people of the earth would see the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. His listeners understood He was claiming to be the Messiah of Daniel 7, the One into whose hands the Ancient of Days (God) delivers all the kingdoms of the world, over which He will rule forever. The Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, and teachers of the law hated Jesus all the more when He boldly called Himself the Son of Man of the book of Daniel. As we learned when we studied the book of Luke, Jesus very clearly and purposefully claimed to be the Son of God, which makes Him equal with God, and without a doubt He presented Himself to the people as their Messiah and King. Those who have attempted to prove Jesus never claimed to be God are wrong. The Son of Man from the book of Daniel goes into the very presence of God, right up to the throne, and God Himself hands Him all authority over the world. In ascribing this verse to Himself, Jesus knew exactly what He was saying. And His listeners knew exactly what He was saying.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon launched three separate campaigns against Jerusalem before he razed the city and the temple to the ground. These campaigns took place in 605 BC, 597 BC, and 587 BC. It is believed that Daniel and his friends were taken captive somewhere near or right after the time of the first campaign in 605 BC. At that time a great upheaval was taking place. A new world power was rising. The Assyrians had long dominated the region but were losing their foothold as Babylon, allied with the Medes and Scythians, attacked the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in 612 BC, causing the city to fall. The Assyrians moved their capital to Harran, which fell to Babylon and her allies in 609 BC. Next the Assyrians moved their capital to Carchemish and Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt, an ally and vassal of Assyria, set out with his army to help the Assyrians hold the city against the Babylonians. You may recall from our study of the kings that King Josiah of Judah, Judah's final godly king, delayed Pharaoh in the Valley of Megiddo. Josiah took offense that Pharaoh and his army dared to cross his territory without the courtesy of asking his permission or advising him of their approach. Likely Josiah considered it a matter of national security and his duty as king to challenge such an action. Josiah would not listen to the explanation of Pharaoh but engaged him in battle, losing his life in the process, but hindering Pharaoh's arrival at Carchemish long enough that the battle there was in full swing when he arrived. The combined forces of Assyria and Egypt were not able to defeat Babylon and her allies. Carchemish fell, for all intents and purposes ending Assyria's reign as a sovereign nation. Pharaoh was decisively defeated at Carchemish, suffering heavy losses, and he retreated back to Egypt. 

Upon the death of Josiah in his battle with Pharaoh, his son Jehoahaz was made king in his place, but this wicked king reigned only three months. He was not next in line for the throne but was either the chosen heir of his father or the chosen heir of the people. Pharaoh Necho objected to him as king and, because Judah in her final years was under the oppression of Egypt, he deposed Jehoahaz and set his older brother, Eliakim, on the throne. Pharaoh changed Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim. Both names have a similar meaning, something like "God will establish" or "God will set up", but the changing of the name by Pharaoh indicated his power over this king and over Judah. In addition, Pharaoh demanded that Judah pay him nearly four tons of silver and seventy-five pounds of gold. Jehoiakim had to levy heavy taxes on his people in order to pay such a high tribute. Jehoiakim reigned over Judah eleven years, during which time King Nebuchadnezzar invaded the land as Babylon began to take over all the territories that were vassals of Egypt. Jehoiakim had to transfer his allegiance from Egypt to Babylon, but he rebelled after three years, causing Nebuchadnezzar to stomp down hard on the nation. Jehoiakim's death is not described to us in the Bible except to say in Jeremiah 22:18 that his body was thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem. It is thought perhaps he died during the years of siege before his son Jehoiachin, who reigned only three months, surrendered to the Babylonian army. At this time Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin and his family as prisoners, seizing the treasures of the temple and the palace, and taking about 10,000 citizens of Judah captive back to Babylon. 

But Daniel was already in Babylon at this time, for he will tell us in his opening paragraph that he was taken captive in the first siege, when Jehoiakim was still on the throne. Daniel and his companions must have been taken in an earlier and smaller raid that is not described to us in the Bible except in the book of Daniel. This event appears to coincide with Jehoiakim rebelling against Babylon. He rebelled in his third year as king and Daniel was taken captive in Jehoiakim's third year as king. At that time Nebuchadnezzar ordered the chief of his court officials to take captive young men of the royal and noble families of Judah and bring them to Babylon to serve him. Four of these young men were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 

These men could not help being forcibly taken to a pagan nation and indoctrinated into the culture of a wicked king, but they could help how they lived once they got to Babylon. We will be told that "Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine" and that his companions will declare to the king, under threat of death, "we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up". These young men were in a wicked nation but were not of a wicked nation, just as the Lord Jesus Christ says anyone who follows Him is in the world but not of the world. Daniel and his friends intended to live lives of purpose wherever they were, whether living freely in their native land or held captive in an idolatrous nation. They intended to live for the Lord no matter what came their way. Like Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, our lives will never be devoid of purpose if we are living for the Lord, regardless of what circumstances we find ourselves in. 

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