Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 24, Son Of Man

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 24
Son Of Man

We learned yesterday that Daniel had a prophetic dream during the reign of King Belshazzar of Babylon. This dream involved the great kingdoms of the ancient world: the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Grecian Empire, and the Roman Empire. A remnant of the Roman Empire will somehow revive in the last days, and the beast with the iron teeth in Daniel's dream represents both ancient Rome and the final kingdom on earth before the reign of Christ begins. Many scholars have attempted to explain what a revived Roman Empire might consist of, but the truth is we simply don't know. Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue with ten toes made of iron and clay, and Daniel's dream of the empire with ten crowns, seem to correspond with the beast of Revelation 13 who has ten horns and a crown on each horn. In Revelation 17 we learn that this symbolizes ten kings (heads of nations) who join with the Antichrist in the last days. I think it's possible that these ten nations come from territories that were originally conquered by the ancient Roman Empire, but I also think it's possible that their identities will not be revealed until the end times. We could spend a lot of time speculating but that could cause us to lose sight of the most important part of Daniel's dream: the eternal and righteous reign of the King of kings.

Daniel concluded yesterday by telling us he saw a fearsome beast with iron teeth that had ten horns. While puzzling over this sight, the image changed. "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. The horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully." (Daniel 7:8) This is the rise of the Antichrist. This is the one whom the Apostle Paul called "the man of lawlessness" who will "oppose and 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." (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) This horn starts out small but uproots three of the ten horns before it (taking over or absorbing their power) and thinks so much of himself he dares to boast against the living God. When the Apostle John saw him, he said, "The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander His name and His dwelling place and those who live in heaven." (Revelation 13:5-6) The identity of the Antichrist is another matter over which we could puzzle for many hours. I believe we can conclude he will be a Gentile because in John's vision the beast comes out of the sea, and in the Bible the sea tends to symbolize "the nations", not the Jews. Other than that I have a feeling his identity will not be revealed until the time is at hand. We need not be overly concerned about this because, as the church, we are not to be looking for Antichrist but for Christ. 

"As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat." (Daniel 7:9a) Sinclair Ferguson, in his book Daniel: The Preacher's Commentary, says of this scene, "In contrast to the hectic and often demoniacally inspired activity of the earthly kingdoms, God sits on the universal throne. The little kingdoms have their day; however, God is 'the Ancient of Days'. The kingdoms rise and fall, but Daniel sees a God whose ways are everlasting. His plans stretch into eternity whereas the plans of a Nebuchadnezzar or an Alexander or a Caesar are ephemeral." Following the rise of the little horn of Daniel's vision, we see no panic in heaven. Heaven's inhabitants go about their duties in an orderly fashion and God reigns supreme from His throne, perfectly in control of all things. God has always been sovereign over every kingdom on earth. They rise at His command and they fall at His command. One day they will bow at the feet of His Son, to whom the Father will give the kingdom of the earth.

"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. 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." (Daniel 7:9b-10) A garment of white in the Bible is used to symbolize holiness and righteousness. God has never stained His garments or dirtied His hands, because every judgment He has made has been right. His holy character has always been and always will be the same. His hair is white as befits an aged one, one whose origins are of eternity past and will continue into eternity future. King Solomon said of the one who attains old age, "Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness." (Proverbs 16:31) And, "gray hair is the splendor of the old". (Proverbs 20:29b) In ancient times the thrones of kings and of gods were often depicted in artwork as having wheels. Indeed, the false idols of the pagan nations had to be carried about on wheeled carts because they had no power in themselves. The wheels may also represent the ability of God to be everywhere at once, to see all the activity of mankind, and to be qualified as an eye-witness to judge the deeds of mankind. Fire usually indicates judgment and so we see God, in all His holiness and righteousness, seated on a throne from which He will judge the Antichrist and the wicked of the earth.

Even as the court is seated, the little horn keeps boasting against Almighty God. Its pride is unbelievable, unmeasurable. Even when the Judge enters the chamber and takes His seat, this little horn continues its blasphemy against the Holy One. Daniel cannot believe his eyes. "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. (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)" (Daniel 7:11-12) The Apostle John saw the beast, (the little horn, the Antichrist), thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 19:20. The demise of Antichrist's followers came after. We see the same chronology in Daniel's vision: the little horn perishes first and then later the other beasts (nations or kings) who conspired with him against the King of kings. 

Some critics of end times prophecy have attempted to equate the little horn of Daniel's vision with the exceedingly wicked Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes. The Jews endured severe persecution under him and he even desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar. Antiochus may represent the spirit of Antichrist, the spirit that boasts itself against God, but he cannot be the little horn who is judged in Daniel's dream, for the kingdom of Christ follows immediately after this judgment. As you and I know, we are not yet living in the kingdom of Christ with our Lord and Savior ruling the world. Antiochus was an evil man who hated God's people, but I think his sinfulness will pale in comparison to that of the "man of lawlessness". Antiochus was one of the most vicious and anti-Semitic leaders of the ancient world because he lived under the influence of Satan. How much more profane and atrocious will be the acts of the Antichrist who is possessed by Satan himself?

"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven." (Daniel 7:13a) The identity of Antichrist may be a mystery to us, but the identity of this One is not. The Lord Jesus applied this verse to Himself in Mark 14:62 and Matthew 26:64. Jesus' listeners knew He was quoting from the book of Daniel and understood that He was calling Himself the Messiah and King. His enemies had no doubts about who He claimed to be. This is why Jesus was brought up on charges of blasphemy and was crucified with "King Of The Jews" written above His head. His enemies knew what He was saying, but they didn't believe Him.

"He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. 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 7:13b-14) There is much unrest in the world today. Wars and rumors of wars abound. Revolutions break out. Kingdoms rise and fall. But a kingdom is coming that will never end and our Redeemer and Friend will rule over it in perfect righteousness. Even at its best, the rule of man is flawed because mankind is flawed. Even the most godly leaders are capable of error. But when the King of kings comes, the world will at last be all that it was meant to be, and we will be all we were meant to be, and the face of the One who loved us and gave Himself for us will shine on us forever. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 23, Daniel Has A Dream

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 23
Daniel Has A Dream

Up til now we have been told that Daniel is an interpreter of dreams for kings, but we hadn't been told he has prophetic dreams of his own. In Chapter 7 Daniel takes us back in time to reveal to us a dream he had during the reign of King Belshazzar. We have, for the most part, concluded the autobiographical portion of the book of Daniel and are now moving on into the prophetic portion. 

"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." (Daniel 7:1) Daniel recognized the importance of the dream and wrote it down.

"Daniel said: 'In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea." (Daniel 7:2-3) Scholars believe he is referring to the Mediterranean Sea because the nations he will mention today bordered it. Daniel's vision goes along with the dream King Nebuchadnezzar had about the statue. The nations involved are the same. 

"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." (Daniel 7:4) The winged lion was an ancient symbol used by the Babylonians. The prophet Jeremiah compared the kingdom of Babylon to both a lion and an eagle in his prophecy against Edom in Jeremiah 49. The first beast in Daniel's dream corresponds with the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar's dream: it is the combination of the Babylonian Empire at the the height of its power and its greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar.

"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!'" (Daniel 7:5) The vast majority of reputable scholars believe the bear represents the Medo-Persian Empire. This beast would correspond with the chest and arms of silver in Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue. It was the kingdom to come after his, the kingdom that was inferior to his. The bear being on its side may represent the unequal balance of power between the Medes and the Persians, with the Persians having the preeminence. The bear still has three ribs in his mouth from a previous meal but he is still hungry. The Medo-Persian Empire conquered the great world powers of Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon, but it was hungry for more. 

"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." (Daniel 7:6) The leopard is the Greek Empire, which followed the Medo-Persian Empire. This is the same empire represented in Nebuchadnezzar's dream by the belly and thighs of brass on the statue. The leopard is swift; this empire conquers with great speed because it has four wings on its back instead of two. As well-respected scholar of prophecy John F. Walvoord points out, "With the swiftness of a leopard, Alexander the Great conquered most of the civilized world all the way from Macedonia to Africa and eastward to India. The lightning character of his conquests is without precedent in the ancient world, and this is fully in keeping with the image of speed embodied in the leopard itself and the four wings on its back." (from Daniel: The Key To Prophetic Revelation, pg 157) Alexander the Great died at a young age and his empire was divided into four parts with four heads over these four territories (symbolized by the four heads on the leopard) and these men were Casander, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy. Casander controlled Macedonia and Greece; Lysimachus was over Thrace and Bithynia; Seleucus was head of Syria, Babylon, and territories stretching to India; Ptolemy was in charge of Egypt, Palestine, and Arabia. 

"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." (Daniel 7:7) This is the Roman Empire. Nebuchadnezzar foresaw it on his statue, depicted by the lower legs made of iron and the ten toes made of iron and baked clay. This is a twofold prophecy, representing a literal world kingdom of history (Rome) and a future world kingdom of the end times. We will be taking a more in-depth look at this final kingdom in tomorrow's study because there is too much material involved to include it with today's passage. We will also be referencing the book of Revelation quite a bit during the remainder of our study of the book of Daniel, for both books are intended to be studied and understood together.

The main thing we will be able to take away from Daniel's dream, and the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, is that a kingdom is coming which shall never end. The kingdom of Christ will put an end to all worldly kingdoms and He will reign forever in righteousness. The One who created all things, to whom all things belong, will take His rightful place on the throne of the world, being crowned with many crowns, and we will forever look upon the face of our Redeemer. In the meantime kingdoms will rise and fall and there will be wars and rumors of wars, but we have a hope ahead of us that no one can ever take away. We have a future and it is beautiful. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 22, The Lions' Den

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 22
The Lions' Den

Darius has labored feverishly all day to find some way to keep from throwing Daniel in the lions' den. The king foolishly listened to his officials when they suggested he deserved to be worshiped as a god for thirty days, and that anyone who prayed to a god or human being other than Darius during those thirty days should be thrown into the lions' den. This was a plot hatched by jealous men to rid themselves of Daniel because they knew he would keep on praying to his God the same as always. Now Darius is caught in his own trap and Daniel is caught with him.

The day is almost done and the officials lose patience with the king. "Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, 'Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.'" (Daniel 6:15) When an execution order was passed in ancient times, it was to be carried out the same day. Darius has run out of daylight and these men aren't going to wait any longer. They remind him he will be breaking the laws of his own government if he fails to carry through.

When Daniel heard of the decree he simply went about his life as normal. He didn't run to the king in a panic and beg for pardon or for a second chance. He didn't flee to the desert. He just kept on doing what he had been faithfully doing for many years: praying to God three times a day. He didn't stop praying to God in order to obey the king's decree. When his enemies found him in his room on his knees, the Bible tells us he was "asking God for help". As David said in his prayers for help in Psalm 60 and Psalm 108, human help is worthless. Daniel knew the law as well or better than anyone; he realized Darius couldn't save him. He knew no help was forthcoming from the citizens of Babylon; they hated him because of his success. Daniel's only help was the living God and it was to Him he turned.

"So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den. The king said to Daniel, 'May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!'" (Daniel 6:16) Darius appears to be a better man than King Nebuchadnezzar was before his conversion. Before throwing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace Nebuchadnezzar asked them, "What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?" He soon found out there was a God able to rescue, mighty to save. Darius, despite his desire to be worshiped for a month in order to unify the people and gain their allegiance, lacks the gigantic ego of Nebuchadnezzar. Instead of boasting that no god can rescue anyone from him, he expresses the hope that the God of Israel will rescue Daniel. If God overrules the execution order, no one can argue against Darius setting Daniel free. This king is willing to recognize the authority of a higher power and he hopes that higher power has mercy on Daniel. In granting mercy to Daniel, God will also be granting mercy to Darius for his foolishness.

God doesn't keep Daniel out of the lions' den, yet we never doubt that God loves Daniel dearly. Sometimes when God doesn't keep me out of the lions' den I find myself asking Him why not. If He loves me, why doesn't He let me skip the lions' den altogether? This past week has been extremely upsetting for me. Someone I'd hoped would be healed went on to be with the Lord. A prayer about something in my own life, something I hoped to avoid, wasn't answered in the way I wanted. My household has been going through a tough time for a couple of months now and I've been battling depression. Life gets me down sometimes and I wouldn't want you to think that God so graciously allows me to write this daily blog because I'm somebody who has it all together. I don't have it all together. Nobody does. Neither did Daniel because, godly man though he was, I believe he was afraid while he was on his knees asking God for help. Of course he was afraid. His life hung in the balance. He didn't know if God would keep him out of the lions' den altogether. He didn't know if God would let Darius throw him in. He didn't know if the lions would eat him or if God would come through with a miracle. 

Daniel was afraid. Daniel may have had the same kind of doubts you and I have when faced with terrible troubles. He knew he had served and loved the Lord as best he knew how, but he didn't know whether God would bring him out unharmed or if he would be taken out of the world that same day. Daniel was willing to keep serving God either way, but I believe Daniel was scared and I think in his fear and distress he did the same thing you and I do when in fear and distress: he asked God why this was happening to him. We are going to find out why God didn't keep Daniel out of the lions' den. That would have been an impressive feat but God intends to perform such a stunning miracle that Daniel's faith will be strengthened like never before, a pagan king will give glory to the God of Israel, and the citizens of Babylon will be confronted with the reality of such a mighty God. These things would not have happened if God had kept Daniel out of the lions' den. What great miracles does God intend to work in our own circumstances? In what ways will He strengthen our faith by allowing us to go into the lions' den? In what ways will He proclaim to the world, through us, that He is the living God and the only God? We never doubt that God loved Daniel; why do we doubt that He loves us? Trouble doesn't indicate a lack of love. In the life of a believer, perhaps trouble indicates that God is on the move, about to do something big. Today's passage of Scripture speaks to me in my current circumstances and I hope it speaks to you too. Sometimes we don't have it all together and we don't have to. Our God has it together. His strength is made perfect in weakness, as He told the Apostle Paul. Our weakness serves to show us, and the world, that the power is of God and not of us. When we are weak, He is strong. 

"A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel's situation might not be changed. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep." (Daniel 6:17-18) The king and his officials sign the death warrant. No human being had the power to change it. But God, who created life, has the power to change it.

"At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, 'Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?'" (Daniel 6:19-20) I picture Darius flinging the covers off and jumping out of the bed in which he spent a miserable and sleepless night, running on shaking legs to the lions' den, hoping with everything that is in him that Daniel's God has come through. Then I picture him nearly collapsing in relief when this happens, "Daniel answered, 'May the king live forever! My God sent His angel, and He shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in His sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.'" (Daniel 6:21-22)

Something new occurred to me this morning when reading our passage and I was not able to really find any clear references or opinions on it in any of my commentaries or online sources, but I wonder if God's "angel" in the lions' den was Christ. He was the fourth man in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He is often called "the angel of the Lord" when He makes pre-incarnate Old Testament appearances. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that this was a Christophany, (an Old Testament appearance of the Lord), and that He Himself touched the mouth of each lion in the den and commanded it to stay closed. If the Lord stood in the fire with Daniel's friends and held the flames back from them, I can easily picture Him standing with Daniel in the lions' den all through that dark night. Sometimes in our troubles we cry out, "Lord, where are You?", when all along He is standing right there with us. He's in the midst of the fire with us. He's in the lions' den with us. He is never any closer to us than when we are in trouble. David, while in terrible trouble and on the run for his life, said in Psalm 34 that the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, that His ears are attentive to their cries, that He hears and delivers the righteous, and that He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A guest preacher at my church interpreted Psalm 34 in an unusual way a few Sundays ago but I believe his doctrine is sound. His message was titled "God Plays Favorites" and he said that, when we are brokenhearted and crushed in spirit, that's when God is closest to us. That's when, in a sense, each of us is God's favorite. We are the child who most needs His attention and He is there to give it. I think he makes a beautiful point and it got me to thinking. Say, for example, we are out in the yard with our children and they are happily running and playing. But one of them falls down and skins his knee and starts crying. Wouldn't we immediately run to that child? Wouldn't we be, in that moment, physically closer to the hurt child than to the others? Isn't that what God, in His role as loving Father, also does? So that means God has been especially close to me this past week, even when I doubted Him, and that means He is especially close to you in your troubles. 

"The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. At the king's command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions' den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones." (Daniel 6:23-24) Ancient customs were very harsh. Entire families suffered the wrath of kings. It hurts us to think of it but we have to draw our comfort in knowing these innocent children entered the presence of the Lord that day. We don't know what their fate would have been had they grown up in a pagan culture, bowing down to useless idols. Hard as it is for us to contemplate them going into the lions' den, perhaps it saved them from a worse fate. The prophet Isaiah once said that the righteous are sometimes taken from this world in order to spare them from evil. (Isaiah 57:1) The same could be said of the innocent. We are heartbroken when someone is taken from this world in their youth or in the prime of life, but Isaiah says there are cases in which this is the mercy of God.

"Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth: 'May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For He is the living God and He endures forever; His kingdom will not be destroyed, His dominion will never end. He rescues and He saves; He performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.' So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian." (Daniel 6:25-28)

If God had never allowed Daniel to go into the lions' den an entire chapter would be missing from our Bibles. It's been a chapter of hope and comfort to many. It's been a chapter of hope and comfort to me today. Right now you may feel like you're in the lions' den and you may be wondering why God put you in it. I wondered the same thing all last week. But now I know He's right here in the lions' den with me. He's with you too. And He's going to do big things.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 21, The Decree Of Darius

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 21
The Decree Of Darius

We begin Chapter 6 today and learn of a plot against Daniel. His enemies will persuade Darius to issue a decree that they hope will get Daniel killed.

"It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom." (Daniel 6:1-3) The dictionary defines a satrap as "a governor of a province under the ancient Persian monarchy". This was a fairly high position and Daniel was in an even higher position: that of one of the three administrators over 120 men. If the satraps were divided evenly among the three administrators this would mean Daniel supervised forty governors in the land. They would have reported directly to him and he would have reported directly to Darius. And now, because his honesty and trustworthiness exceeds that of all the other officials, Darius is thinking of giving Daniel a position which would make him second in command of the kingdom. 

There are always going to be those who envy the success of others. Sometimes it seems like they are more envious when they realize the success was gained simply by doing old-fashioned honest work. If we slept our way to the top, or if we were granted promotions by engaging in criminal business practices, enemies could dismiss our success by saying, "Well, if I did those things I could be successful too." But it's hard to say anything against honest work and it makes the native Babylonian men angry against Daniel. Even if his work is better than theirs, how dare anyone think of promoting this captive from Judah? They are insulted, in an anti-Semitic spirit, at the thought of this foreigner being in charge of them. It goes against their pride to report to a man who will now be almost a king himself. When Pharaoh made Joseph second in command of Egypt, he said to him, "Without your word no one will lift a hand or foot in all Egypt." (Genesis 41:44b) The Babylonian satraps and administrators know it won't be long until Darius says to Daniel, "Without your word no one will life a hand or foot in all Babylon."

A murderous conspiracy begins to emerge. "At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent." (Daniel 6:4) These men believe if they try hard enough they will find some skeletons in Daniel's closet. Being dishonest themselves, it's hard for them to imagine Daniel hasn't done something shady. They think his reports to Darius have been so impressive because he has done some cooking of the books. I picture the 120 satraps and the two other administrators huddled together in a secret meeting, agreeing among themselves that there has to be something they can charge him with. But they come up empty. All his numbers add up. He has embezzled nothing and he's squeaky clean.

"Finally these men said, 'We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.'" (Daniel 6:5) Amen! What finer thing can be said of any of us, by a corrupt system or by wicked enemies, that they will never find anything to charge us with except that we have faithfully served our God? 

Nebuchadnezzar never forbade Daniel to serve his own God. Neither did any of the kings after him. Even Belshazzar, blasphemous as he was toward the God of Israel, evidently never hindered Daniel or any of the Jewish captives from practicing their religion, since Belshazzar had never even met Daniel until the night Babylon fell. Cyrus of Persia, who conquered Babylon, was a believer in religious freedom and he would not have commanded Daniel to denounce his God. But this man Darius the Mede, whom Cyrus evidently set up as a vassal king over the newly conquered territory of Babylon, is going to be easily persuaded to pass a decree forbidding the people to worship anyone but himself. He has a weakness of character that Daniel's enemies are able to appeal to. When they come to him and suggest he is like a god and should be worshiped, something in him is immediately drawn to the idea. I believe we can safely conclude it never occurred to Darius what effect this decree might have on Daniel and on godly people like him. (As we will see, Darius is panic-stricken when he later realizes what he has done.) But right now, to Darius one god is probably the same as another. After all, he had helped Cyrus conquer many lands, and none of the gods of those lands had been able to stop the advance of the Medo-Persian Empire. Babylon was filled with people from the many nations Nebuchadnezzar had conquered and they represented a number of different religions and customs. Darius likely saw his decree as a way to unite the people and secure their allegiance. He either does not know or does not care that Nebuchadnezzar once attempted the same thing with a ninety-foot statue and failed.

"So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: 'May King Darius live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions' den. Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered---in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed. So King Darius put the decree in writing." (Daniel 6:6-9) What a shameful group this is, coming together against an honest and godly man, pretending that anybody who is anybody in the kingdom has unanimously voted to make Darius a god for thirty days. The shortness of the proposed time period was part of their strategy. Darius knows the people might revolt if he declared himself a god from now on, but it seems fairly harmless to him to require such worship for only thirty days. At the end of that time, the people can go back to their various gods. The king signs the bill into law. Daniel is not present at this meeting but Darius evidently believes the statement that all the officials are in agreement. Since Daniel has such a strong work ethic, Darius may have thought he was so busy he couldn't come to the palace.

When Daniel hears the news, he knows immediately that a conspiracy is against him and that he was left out and not represented at the meeting, but he does the same thing he always does. "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." (Daniel 6:10) Daniel was such a faithful administrator during the reigns of several kings because he was such a faithful servant of God. This was the secret to his success. Kings found him worthy of responsibility and promotion because he did his best to keep from sinning against God. Daniel wasn't a perfect man, because no man has ever been perfect except the Lord Jesus Christ, but he constantly strove to do the best he could. A man who deeply desires to never sin against God is a man who can be trusted not to sin against his superiors. 

I don't know whether his enemies burst into the room or whether they climbed up to peer into his window like a bunch of creepy peeping Toms, but they caught him praying to his God. "Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: 'Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions' den?' The king answered, 'The decree stands---in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.' Then they said to the king, 'Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.' When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him." (Daniel 6:11-14)

The trap snaps shut and Darius is caught in it along with Daniel. The plot is suddenly clear to him and he knows he fell straight into it. He works until sundown to find some loophole in the law that will allow him to pardon Daniel. Daniel is the best man in the entire kingdom. If Darius wanted to go out of the city on vacation or even leave the country for a time, he could safely place everything in the hands of Daniel. The king now knows none of the other officials can be trusted. They have betrayed a good man and in the process they have played Darius for a fool. I believe he called in every lawyer in the kingdom and that they pored over the books non-stop, while the king anxiously walked the floor, until they ran out of time to save Daniel from the lions' den.

But it's not God's will to save Daniel from the lions' den or to save Darius from the consequences of his mistake. If Darius found a loophole that allowed him to pardon Daniel, he would congratulate himself for being so clever and Daniel would owe all his thanks to the king. But by placing Daniel in the lions' den and by giving Darius an agonizing and sleepless night, God is going to pull off a miracle that pardons Daniel and causes the king to recognize that the God Daniel serves is real and is mighty to save.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 20, Darius The Mede

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 20
Darius The Mede

Yesterday Daniel concluded by telling us that on the same night he interpreted the writing on the wall, Darius the Mede took over the kingdom at the age of sixty-two. The identity of this man is not known outside the Bible. Many critics of the Bible have attempted to claim the book of Daniel was written much later, after the reign of Darius I Hystaspes (Darius The Great), and that the author of Daniel became confused with the order in which the Persian kings reigned. The same critics once claimed no such man as Belshazzar from the book of Daniel ever existed, and as we learned earlier in our study, his existence and his co-reign with his father Nabonidus are now confirmed facts and established by archaeology. 

Darius I Hystaspes, who reigned later than Cyrus of Persia, was not a Mede and his father was not Xerxes, as Daniel states in Daniel 9:1. So he cannot be the same man as Darius the Mede who was the first governor, or king, when Babylon was conquered by Cyrus and the Medo-Persian Empire. It's quite possible that the title of Darius in Daniel's day was a throne name taken by the man Cyrus placed to govern the territory of Babylon. The Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III, when he ruled over Babylon, was know by the throne name of Pulu there. The Assyrian king Shalmanezer V was known as Ululaia in Babylon. And the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal is apparently the same person known in Babylon as Kandalanu. If he followed the same tradition, the man known to Daniel as Darius the Mede would have been called something completely different in his own land. 

Some historians have attempted to identify Darius with Cyrus, and although Cyrus had some Median ancestry, Daniel makes it clear that these are two different men. He tells us that he prospered "during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian". (Daniel 6:28) There is also the problem that the father of Cyrus was Cambyses I and not Xerxes whom Daniel says was the father of Darius. 

The same problem occurs in trying to identify Darius with the son of Cyrus. His name was Cambyses II, he was a Persian, and of course his father was Cyrus and not a man named Xerxes "of Median descent". (Daniel 9:1) Daniel also tells us that Darius was a man who "was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom", indicating that someone of greater power placed him in charge of the province. 

The best candidate for Darius, of the known historical figures of the time, was Cyrus' general Gubaru. Two men named Gubaru are found in the chronicles of King Cyrus, which makes things even more confusing, but the second man named Gubaru does not appear to have held a position as king or governor, while the former is the man credited with capturing the city of Babylon on the night the people were celebrating a feast. Considering that Cyrus did not take for himself the title "King of Babylon" for the first fourteen months, this would line up with having placed a vassal king in charge. After all, Cyrus had conquered many lands and could only be in one place at a time. When a king conquered other nations he had to place officials to oversee them. Daniel only mentions the first and second reignal years of Darius and by that we can assume he either died or was replaced sometime during his second year. The general Gubaru was originally believed to have died three months after taking Babylon because of the dating system used in the chronicles of King Nabonidus of Babylon, but some scholars now believe there are some textual problems and that Gubaru lived one year and three months after taking Babylon. This would give him a first year and a partial second year as king if he is the man Cyrus placed in charge. It would explain why he suddenly disappears from the book of Daniel and why Cyrus began to call himself King of Babylon fourteen months after conquering it. In addition, this could be why Daniel tells us Darius was sixty-two when placed in charge of Babylon. That was quite a senior age for a battle-scarred army man to achieve in those days and it wouldn't have been unusual for a man to be considered elderly in his sixties in ancient times, or to die in his sixties. 

There remains the possibility that Darius is not a man named anywhere in history and if so, unless archaeological evidence is found, we may never know any more about him. But as in the case of Belshazzar, we would be wrong to doubt he ever existed. Those who once claimed Belshazzar was a fictional character have had to eat their words. 

The Babylonian record of the city's fall goes like this, "In the month of Tashritu, at the time when Cyrus battled the forces of Akkad in Opis on the Tigris River, the citizens of Akkad revolted against him, but Nabonidus scattered his opposition with a great slaughter. On the 14th day, Sippar was taken without a fight. Nabonidus then fled for his life. On the 16th day, Gubaru the leader of Gutium along with the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without any opposition. Later they arrested Nabonidus when he returned to Babylon. On the third day of the month Arashammu, Cyrus marched into Babylon, and they laid down green branches in front of him. The city was no longer at war, peace being restored. Cyrus then sent his best wishes to the residents living there. His governor, Gubaru, then installed leaders to govern over all Babylon." This lines up nicely with Daniel saying, "It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel." (Daniel 6:1-2a) 

Cyrus' own account of the taking of Babylon is that this occurred without a battle. The Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophan state that the city was besieged, but this does not mean a battle was ever fought. The purpose of a siege is to induce surrender, to make conditions inside a city so desperate that the king gives up or the citizens revolt against their king and come out with their hands up. There's no sense losing men in battle if you don't have to, so siege was a popular and effective means of conquering cities. Daniel tells us that Belshazzar died the same night the city fell but Cyrus makes no mention of anyone dying in battle. There is a legend (considered unreliable) that one of Belshazzar's own officers betrayed and killed him that night. The last we saw of him he was quaking in fear and, since he was a man given to the excesses of rich food and much wine, he could even have had a heart attack. If he perished of natural causes that may be why neither Cyrus nor Nabonidus describe his death. Belshazzar disappears from history at the same time Babylon fell and by this I think we can conclude he did die, but we may never know how he died.

The people of Babylon were unhappy with the co-reigning kings Nabonidus and Belshazzar. Nabonidus had more or less repudiated the chief god Marduk in favor of the moon god Sin and had abandoned the capital city. Belshazzar seems to have been a man given to carnal pleasures and wickedness. Cyrus viewed himself as a liberator and, if the account of the people placing green branches down for him is to be believed, the citizens of Babylon viewed him as a liberator. When the Lord foretold, through the prophet Isaiah, that a man named Cyrus would release the captives from Judah, He said He would "open doors before him so that gates will not be shut". (Isaiah 45:1) There are a couple of legendary accounts of the gates of Babylon being open. One states that they were "mysteriously" left open, as if there was a conspiracy against Belshazzar to allow the army in. Another account states that when Belshazzar heard a tumult outside the city he ordered that the gates be opened to see what was happening and the army of Cyrus rushed in.

We may never know the identity of Darius or the precise details of how the army of Cyrus captured the city. Today's study has not been especially spiritual but I felt we needed to get the best historical grasp of it that we could before we study Daniel's dealings with Darius. I believe the word of God is completely without error and if Daniel says a man named Darius the Mede ruled in Babylon, we can accept it as fact. Archaeology may yet give us the answers as it has in so many other cases. People and places mentioned in the Bible were once thought never to have existed, but as usual archaeology backs up the Bible. It does not refute it. Daniel, faithful servant of God, can be trusted to accurately tell us what happened in the Babylon of his day. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 19, Daniel Interprets The Writing

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 19
Daniel Interprets The Writing

In yesterday's study, King Belshazzar of Babylon promised Daniel a purple robe, a gold chain, and the position of third highest man in the kingdom. Daniel told the king he would interpret the writing on the wall without the incentive of these gifts. Belshazzar wasn't going to be in a position to bestow gifts for very long anyway; this was his last night to co-rule the kingdom with his father and it was his last night on earth.

"Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. Because of the high position He gave him, all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; those he wanted to humble, he humbled." (Daniel 5:18-19) Nebuchadnezzar was in a position of high authority, and with authority comes responsibility. Daniel is going to show us how poorly Nebuchadnezzar handled his responsibility and will point out that Belshazzar should have learned from his predecessor's mistakes.

Nebuchadnezzar was a much greater king than Belshazzar, though Belshazzar liked to call himself Nebuchadnezzar's son as if they were equals. Belshazzar's pride in himself is unfounded; he was not the man who made Babylon what it was. Nebuchadnezzar's own pride was unfounded, for he owed all the thanks for his vast kingdom to Almighty God who gave it to him. If Nebuchadnezzar had no right to boast, Belshazzar certainly doesn't. If Nebuchadnezzar's pride was sinful, Belshazzar's is even more so. Daniel describes how the Lord dealt with Nebuchadnezzar's pride. "But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes." (Daniel 5:20-21) 

Belshazzar has committed sins Nebuchadnezzar never considered. Though the greatest king of Babylon did take the vessels from the temple at Jerusalem and put them in the temple of his own gods, we are never told that Nebuchadnezzar mocked the name of God or desecrated the vessels or committed blasphemy as Belshazzar did in his drunken feast, drinking toasts to false gods from vessels consecrated to the one and only God. Nebuchadnezzar, even before he was humbled, recognized the existence of the God of Israel and forbade the citizens to speak a word against Him. Belshazzar's pride is so overwhelming that he feels superior to the God of Israel. He does not feel God's name is to be honored, as Nebuchadnezzar did even before his conversion, but instead dishonors the name of the very One who created him and put breath in his body. 

Daniel now accuses Belshazzar of his offenses against God and against the memory of his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar, "But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this." (Daniel 5:22) In the Bible we sometimes find the godly kings of Judah being called a "son of David", meaning they have the same heart for God that David had and that they are following in David's footsteps. A son should look something like his father. But Belshazzar, who loves to brag and refer to himself as a son of Nebuchadnezzar, doesn't resemble this man in the slightest. Even before Nebuchadnezzar's conversion, Daniel found things in the king's character he respected and the two of them appeared to enjoy a mutual friendship. We don't get the impression Daniel found anything in Belshazzar's character to respect or admire. Belshazzar knew the story of Nebuchadnezzar's pride and punishment and conversion, but he never took it to heart. In all these years, he has never once called for Daniel, the man who led his predecessor to the Lord, the man who gave wise counsel to the greatest king Babylon ever had. Belshazzar was not ignorant of the one true God. He will not stand in the judgment and make the defense that he didn't know any better. Daniel clearly points out that he knew enough about God to bow his knees to Him as Nebuchadnezzar did. He had all of Nebuchadnezzar's royal records and was aware of both the public and the personal details of Nebuchadnezzar's life. Yet he never once tried to be like the man he keeps referring to as his "father".

"Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from His temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in His hand your life and all your ways. Therefore He sent the hand that wrote the inscription." (Daniel 5:23-24) Belshazzar deliberately did something that desecrated items dedicated to God and he purposely mocked and blasphemed the name of God. Yet he owes the very breath in his lungs to this God. How puny and feeble mankind's rebellion must appear to our Creator! He could take our lives in a split second. He could speak one word and cause the universe to collapse in on itself. He could conclude that mankind isn't worth His efforts and put an immediate end to us. We are deserving of any sentence this righteous Judge decided to hand down to us, yet He chose to extend mercy to us. And He chose to extend mercy to Belshazzar for many years, giving him opportunities to repent, granting him the knowledge of Nebuchadnezzar's mistakes and repentance, but instead Belshazzar grew more and more wicked.

"This is the inscription that was written: mene, mene, tekel, parsin. Here is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and have been found wanting. Parsin: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians." (Daniel 5:25-28) This fulfills part of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream about the statue. After his kingdom (the head of gold) would arise another inferior to his (the chest and arms of silver). This is the Medo-Persian Empire.

Belshazzar keeps his promise to reward Daniel, even though Daniel doesn't care anything about the reward and even though Daniel gave him bad news. "Then at Belshazzar's command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom." (Daniel 5:29) 

Daniel was third highest ruler for only a matter of hours. And Belshazzar continued to live for only a matter of hours. "That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two." (Daniel 5:30-31) Persian historical records tell us that it was King Cyrus who conquered the city. Darius was likely a man Cyrus placed to govern Babylon, but his identity outside the Bible is not known. So far history and archaeology have not given us any information at all about Darius the Mede, but as we continue our study this week we will look at the historical accounts of the fall of Babylon and we will explore the possible identity of Darius, the man who will throw Daniel into the lion's den. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 18, Belshazzar Calls For Daniel

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 18
Belshazzar Calls For Daniel

A hand appeared and wrote on the wall during Belshazzar's drunken feast. Belshazzar's celebratory mood turns to fear. The words are in Aramaic, which he apparently cannot read, and he needs to know what the words are and what they mean for him.

"The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, 'Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom." (Daniel 5:7) Nabodinidus was first in the kingdom, his son Belshazzar co-reigned with him as second in the kingdom, and the man who interprets the writing is to be made third in the kingdom.

"Then all the wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled. The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. 'May the king live forever!' she said. 'Don't be alarmed! Don't look so pale! There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means." (Daniel 5:8-12) Again we find Nebuchadnezzar being referred to as Belshazzar's father, but since there is archaeological proof that Belshazzar was the son of Nabodinidus, this is more a title of honor than of fact. There were some short-reigning kings in between Nebuchadnezzar and the co-regency of Nabodinius and Belshazzar, so naturally the queen would pass over those and compare her husband to the great Nebuchadnezzar. Some scholars believe this woman's identity is the queen-mother, that she is Belshazzar's mother and not his chief wife because we had been told his wives and concubines were already at the feast. The queen-mother would have been old enough to remember what Daniel had done for Nebuchadnezzar. Whatever her identity, she is the voice of reason and a comforting presence in the midst of the fear and confusion.

Daniel is a senior citizen by this time. The Babylonian captivity was predicted by the prophet Jeremiah to last seventy years and about fifty of these years have passed. Daniel was probably in his early teens when he was taken into captivity, so if we make a guess that he might have been thirteen when he came to Babylon, he would be about sixty-three now. He would be close to the age that United States citizens can sign up for Social Security and may have been semi-retired. Or it could be that in Belshazzar's administration he didn't hold the same position he held under King Nebuchadnezzar. Belshazzar doesn't seem to have ever met Daniel until now. "So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, 'Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah?" (Daniel 5:13)

The king explains why he has called for Daniel. "I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom." (Daniel 5:14-16)

The king assumes Daniel is as motivated by greed as the other wise men and will work harder on the problem if he knows there is a reward. Daniel wants the king to know he cannot be bribed to tell anything but the truth. The message says what it says. He won't make up pretty words in order to allay the king's fears. "Then Daniel answered the king, 'You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means." 

Daniel is going to do his duty. When we study what he says to the king in tomorrow's passage, we will get the impression that Daniel may not respect the profane and blasphemous Belshazzar as a man, but he does respect his position as king. He will respectfully but truthfully point out Belshazzar's wrongdoing and the fact that he did not learn anything from what happened to the prideful Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel is going to faithfully relate the message of the Lord to the king while the city, which Belshazzar thought so impregnable, is captured by an army.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 17, The Writing On The Wall

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 17
The Writing On The Wall

Daniel now skips over the remainder of Nebuchadnezzar's forty-three year reign and takes us to a scene in the palace of the final king of Babylon. This scene occurs on the same night that Cyrus of Persia captures the city. 

Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son Amel-Marduk (sometimes translated as Evil-Merodach in the Bible). Amel-Marduk reigned only two years because he was assassinated by his brother-in-law Neriglassar (also known as Nergal-Sharezer in the book of Jeremiah), but before Amel-Marduk lost his life he did a very important and vital thing to the continuance of the royal line of Judah: he set King Jehoiachin of Judah free after a thirty-seven year captivity. After his release Jehoiachin (also known as Jeconiah) "was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabelt the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud, Elihud the father of Eleazer, Eleazer the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah". (Matthew 1:12-16)

Neriglassar assumed the throne after assassinating Amel-Marduk and died of natural causes after four years. He was succeeded by his young son Labashi-Marduk (Laborosoarchod in some translations) but he was said to have been mentally handicapped, so a gang of conspirators considered him unfit to wear the crown and assassinated him, appointing one of their co-conspirators, Nabodinidus, as king. It is not known whether he was related to the royal line, but it is believed he was the son of a priestess of the moon god Sin. He did not devote himself to the chief Babylonian god Marduk as others did before him, probably causing the citizens of the capital city to view him with disfavor. He rejected the palace in the capital city and instead dwelt at Tayma for many years, leaving his son Belshazzar in charge at Babylon, thus establishing a co-regency. This is why Daniel refers to Belshazzar as the king in today's passage.

"King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them." (Daniel 5:1-2) There is no need for us to take literally the reference to Nebuchadnezzar as Belshazzar's father. Several of the godly kings of Judah are called "son of David" in the Scriptures. The Lord Jesus Christ is also called the "son of David". Daniel calls Nebuchadnezzar the father of Belshazzar likely because they ruled over the same kingdom, Belshazzar was a successor to the throne, and Belshazzar probably viewed himself as a great king like Nebuchadnezzar. When it comes to kingship, the use of the word "son" has more to do with a title than an actual relationship. Archaeology has given us a cylinder carved by Nabodinidus in which he refers to Belshazzar as his eldest son and crown prince. For many centuries there were critics who claimed no evidence existed outside the Bible for a man named Belshazzar as king, but as always, archaeology tends to back up the Scriptures, not refute them. 

Belshazzar decides to throw a great banquet even while the city is under siege by the army of Cyrus. It is said by the historian Herodotus that there were fifty-six miles of wall surrounding the city and that they were eighty feet thick, so wide that chariot races were sometimes held on top of them. Prior to Nebuchadnezzar's reign the city had a double wall around it and he added a third layer. The height of the wall has been debated throughout history but we can safely conclude that Belshazzar trusted that the walls were deep enough and tall enough to keep the Persians out. His feast may have been intended to show his people he was not afraid of the Persians, that it was safe for them to eat, drink, and be merry. 

Belshazzar gets so carried away with his celebrating and becomes so sloppily drunk that he calls for the vessels taken from the temple at Jerusalem so he can mock Israel's God by drinking toasts to his own gods. "So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone." (Daniel 5:3-4) It's bad enough they desecrate the vessels by drinking wine from them, but they are drinking wine to other gods, to idols that do not exist. Some commentators believe Belshazzar was making this type of statement to the people, "Our gods have conquered other lands and other gods! See, here are the vessels from the temple of the God of Judah. Why should we fear the Persians? Our gods will give us victory again."

God has had enough. "Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking." (Daniel 5:5-6) When this disembodied hand appears, Belshazzar loses all his cool. As we will learn in tomorrow's passage, he can't even read the language in which the message is written, but he knows the writing is coming from the hand of a god. He does not yet know the writing is coming from Almighty God, the one and only God, but he knows enough to recognize he is receiving a supernatural communication. Only one man in all the kingdom will be able to tell him what this means. When Daniel arrives he will translate the message and will rebuke Belshazzar for not learning from Nebuchadnezzar's experiences with the living God. Daniel will make it clear that Belshazzar is well aware of how God humbled Nebuchadnezzar, but instead of taking it to heart Belshazzar in his idolatrous reveling has dishonored this same God who is now about to humble him. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 16, The Fulfillment Of The Dream

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 16
The Fulfillment Of The Dream

In our study yesterday Daniel urged King Nebuchadnezzar to repent so that the calamity foretold in the dream would not befall him. But Nebuchadnezzar doesn't take the advice to heart. The Bible doesn't tell us why, but when we look back on the lives we lived before we came to Christ, many of us could say that we continued living in sin for a long time even though we knew better. It wasn't until we made Christ the Lord of our lives that our ways began to change. When Daniel gave his advice to the king, the king did not at that time submit his life to the Lord. 

The king's reaction to Daniel's interpretation of the dream about the tree is markedly different from his reaction to Daniel's interpretation of the dream about the statue. No mention is made of the giving of rewards or promotions when Daniel ends this second interpretation with a call to repentance. Daniel is asking the king to do something he doesn't want to do, so he rejects this advice. Nebuchadnezzar thinks he didn't get where he is by being kind and merciful. He got there by being a brilliant army general, a powerful conqueror, and a tyrant. He probably fears losing his hold on the kingdom if he changes his ways, even though Daniel pointed out yesterday that it's God who sets kings up and it's God who takes kings down. Nebuchadnezzar's true security can only be found in the Lord but instead he trusts in power and wealth and the force of a mighty army. 

As a result of dismissing any thought of repentance, "All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, 'Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?'" (Daniel 4:28-30) We don't want to miss the fact that the Lord allowed him a whole year to consider the interpretation of his dream and to recognize his need to repent. But at the end of that year we find Nebuchadnezzar more full of pride than ever.

"Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, 'This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes.'" (Daniel 4:31-32) Abydenus, an ancient Greek historian and author who wrote A History Of The Chaldeans And Assyrians, relates a legend of the Chaldeans in which it is said that one day King Nebuchadnezzar went up on his palace roof and became possessed by a god and suddenly began to prophesy aloud about the coming downfall of Babylon, then he disappeared from sight. The Babylonians would naturally have assumed Nebuchadnezzar's power of prophecy came from one of their many gods, so we need not take this literally, nor do we need to assume he disappeared before their very eyes. It may have been at this point that he was "driven away from people". He was stricken with an anti-social compulsion that led him to shun human contact and caused him not to want to live indoors or be a part of society. We find similar conditions among some of the mentally ill in our own times. There are illnesses that can cause the sufferer to want to live on the streets and cut off all contact from family, in some cases essentially becoming missing persons by living entirely off the grid. A number of mentally ill persons are actually listed as missing persons because their families no longer know whether they are alive or dead. 

"Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird." (Daniel 4:33) The king lived in the outdoors, suffering from the delusion that he was a cow or an ox, an extremely rare condition known as "boanthropy". Because he thought he was an animal, he ate like an animal. He stopped taking care of any personal hygiene and his hair and nails went uncut for seven years. His delusion has been compared to the better known "lycanthropy" in which the sufferer believes he is a wolf, and this may be the basis for the werewolf legend. Lycanthropy is rare, like boanthropy, but has occurred slightly more often and has been better studied. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the sufferer can look at himself directly in the mirror and believe he is turning into a wolf, seeing things that are not there such as fangs instead of teeth. These delusions may be related to Body Dysmorphic Disorder ( a persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one's appearance). In other cases the delusion that a person is turning into an animal may occur alongside Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, or Psychotic Depression. We've already noticed that Nebuchadnezzar suffered from anxiety and insecurity. He tried to comfort himself by pridefully bragging about himself and his kingdom, but it's hard to say what neuroses lurked under the surface.

"At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored." (Daniel 4:34a) Nebuchadnezzar left behind no Babylonian records of his illness, but in the British Museum is a fifteen hundred pound bronze doorstep from Borsippa in Babylon, and on it is carved an inscription saying that it is a votive offering commemorating Nebuchadnezzar's recovery from sickness. In the Babylonian historical records of King Nebuchadnezzar's reign there is said to be a period of unexplained silence, several years when he evidently launched no building projects and passed no laws and made no military conquests.

"Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: 'What have you done?'" (Daniel 4:34b-35) Throughout the ages, it has been debated by Bible scholars and historians whether Nebuchadnezzar truly came to the Lord and was saved from his sins. Quite a few well-known and well-respected scholars believe he was. We won't know for certain until we ourselves go to be with the Lord, but I like to believe Nebuchadnezzar is in the Lord's presence right now. I like to believe his conversion was real and that it came about because Daniel, a man who witnessed to the king for a period of about forty years, led him to the knowledge of the Lord. If Nebuchadnezzar is in heaven right now, what grace is displayed by our God! He took a man who grew up in a pagan world of idolatry and built his empire by violence and oppression, and transformed him into a servant of the Lord. If God could use a man like this, He can use anyone. And if God could transform a man like this, there is hope for our lost family members and friends. 

"At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all His ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble." (Daniel 4:36-37) Nebuchadnezzar formerly feared that submitting to God would make him weak but, as always, submitting to God has the opposite effect by making the person strong. The Lord preserved his kingdom for him. The Lord blessed his repentance by blessing the remainder of his reign. And it's my opinion that the words of Nebuchadnezzar are the words of a changed man. He knows the Lord was right to afflict him as He did. He recognizes that he was deserving of judgment and that he needed to be humbled. We looked at a verse from psalm 119 the other day in relation to Nebuchadnezzar and I believe, following his affliction, the king was every bit as saved as the psalmist who said, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 15, The Interpretation Of The Dream

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 15
The Interpretation of The Dream

King Nebuchadnezzar has concluded his description of the dream which has upset him so. Now he waits for Daniel's interpretation. 

"Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, 'Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.'" (Daniel 4:19a) Daniel is visibly shaken. The dream foretells bad news for the king and he does not want to be the bearer of that bad news. The king is an ill-tempered and violent person, but Daniel's reluctance to relate the interpretation doesn't appear to stem from fears for his own life. He has taken to heart the instructions the Lord gave the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah regarding the Babylonian exile, "Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." (Jeremiah 29:7) Daniel does not want to see harm come to the king. Any threat to the king is a threat to his subjects. Anything that jeopardizes the security of the nation of Babylon jeopardizes the personal security of all who live there. 

Daniel lived long before the Apostle Paul but he would have wholeheartedly agreed with Paul's instructions to his friend Timothy, "I urge then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people---for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4) We could learn a great deal from the attitudes of Daniel and Paul. Both men lived lives of purpose, being obedient to God, praying for those in authority over them so that perhaps these leaders would come to know Almighty God. We've just come out of a difficult election year and no matter who we voted for, and no matter whether we are happy or upset with the outcome, the holy and infallible word of God tells us to pray for our nation and its leaders. We can never go wrong by asking God to protect and preserve and bless the United States of America. If it prospers, we too will prosper. If America is enjoying peace and quiet, its citizens will enjoy peace and quiet. 

Daniel speaks now and in his words we see the anguish of heart he feels about the troubles foretold for the king, "Belteshazzar answered, 'My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning for your adversaries! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds---Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth." (Daniel 4:19b-22)

"Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, 'Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.'" (Daniel 4:23) What the king suspected is true: the dream is about him and it is not good news.

"This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules." (Daniel 4:24-26) King Nebuchadnezzar has gloried in his own intelligence, talents, and accomplishments as though he received these without the help of a Creator. Now God intends to take away the things in which the king has such abundant pride so that he will know he has nothing without the Lord. The Apostle Paul cautioned his listeners not to be puffed up with pride or to think more of themselves than they should, "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1 Corinthians 4:7) If we had created ourselves and endowed ourselves with brilliance and talent, then we would have the right to boast. But since we did not, we owe all our thanks to God. We owe Him the praise for being alive today with whatever gifts we possess, having eyes to see this page and having minds capable of understanding God's word. Without Him we wouldn't even exist.

Daniel now gives the best advice anyone can give another human being, and I believe he offers it to the king in all sincerity and compassion. "Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be then that your prosperity will continue." (Daniel 4:27) Daniel says, "Repent! You don't have to keep going down the wrong road. You can stop and turn around. You can know the Savior of mankind and receive His redemption. The fate that awaits you in your dream doesn't have to come to pass. The Lord offers you another way, a better way."

If Daniel had not purposed in his heart to remain obedient to God no matter what, he would never have been in a position to give such wise counsel to a pagan king. If Nebuchadnezzar had not found Daniel to be a man of integrity, he would never have stood for being called "wicked" or being urged to repent. But he respects this godly young man. He knows Daniel's motivations are pure and that he is sincere when he says he wants the prosperity of the king to continue. If we do not remain true to our convictions as Daniel did, we will never have any influence on unbelievers. They observe our manner of living to determine whether we are sincere. They will not be as quick to dismiss our advice if they see us practicing what we preach. Nebuchadnezzar will not at this time take Daniel's advice, but after the Lord humbles him with affliction, he will realize that Daniel was right. And he will acknowledge that Daniel's God is the God. If Daniel had never been taken captive to Babylon, and if he had not been a man of principles and conviction, and if he had not given his testimony about Almighty God, Nebuchadnezzar would never have known enough about the living God to praise His name.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 14, The King Describes His Dream

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 14
The King Describes His Dream

The king has called Daniel in to interpret the dream and now he describes the dream to Daniel, "Here is my dream; interpret it for me. These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed." (Daniel 4:9b-12) 

We will learn from Daniel's interpretation that this huge tree symbolizes Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom. There are other instances in the Bible where a king or kingdom or nation is compared to a tree or large plant. In Psalm 80:8-11 the psalmist Asaph compares the nation of Israel to a vine that fills the land, "You transplanted a vine from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. Its branches reached as far as the Sea, its shoots as far as the River."

The prophet Ezekiel compared the nation of Assyria, at the height of its glory, to a large tree. He spoke of its great size and beauty and of how it filled the land, "So it towered higher than all the trees of the field; its boughs increased and its branches grew long, spreading because of abundant waters. All the birds of the sky nestled in its boughs, all the animals of the wild gave birth under its branches; all the great nations lived in its shade." (Ezekiel 31:5-6)

The prophet Hosea confirmed the Lord's promise to revive Israel again by using the imagery of a great and mighty tree, "I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. People will dwell again in his shade; they will flourish like the grain, they will blossom like the vine---Israel's fame will be like the wine of Lebanon." (Hosea 14:5-7)

The Lord Jesus, in describing His own kingdom, compared it to a tiny mustard seed sown in the ground that later became a mighty tree. The Lord's kingdom, like the mustard seed, began in a small way: a little baby was born to a poor young couple in a stable on a dark night in Bethlehem. It began humbly: an obscure carpenter from the backwoods town of Nazareth suddenly launched a public ministry that astonished all who heard Him. It began in an unexpected manner: the King came not to be served but to serve others. But this gospel, this little mustard seed, grew and changed the world. "Then Jesus asked, 'That is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches." (Luke 13:18-19)

King Nebuchadnezzar probably found his dream so upsetting because he suspects the tree symbolizes himself and his mighty kingdom of Babylon. A sad fate awaits this tree. "In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: 'Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, the grass of the field." (Daniel 4:13-15a) An angel reveals to Nebuchadnezzar that this tree will be cut down to a stump. As a gardener might enclose a stump from which he hopes new shoots will grow, so that the stump is not removed from the ground, the Lord will enclose and protect the stump in Nebuchadnezzar's dream.

It is at this point that the imagery of the tree becomes more personal. It becomes symbolic of the one who rules over the kingdom. "Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, til seven times pass by for him." (Daniel 4:15b) This man will be afflicted by a mental malady for a period of seven years.

The angel concludes, "The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living might know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people." (Daniel 4:17) Nebuchadnezzar thinks of himself as a pretty big deal, but he owes everything he has accomplished to Almighty God. Had it not been God's will for him to conquer the lands he conquered, it would not have been possible. The one true God is sovereign over every king and kingdom on earth. He sets up kings and He removes kings. Should He so choose, He could depose Nebuchadnezzar and place the poorest, most humble and uneducated man on the throne of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar needs to acknowledge the fact that he himself is not a god and that there is a God to whom he must answer.

The king now places the matter of the interpretation of the dream into Daniel's hands by saying, "This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men of my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you." (Daniel 4:18) The king is still clinging to his own superstitious and pagan concept of many gods. He does not yet understand that Daniel serves only one God and that it is the Holy Spirit who dwells in this young man from Judah. But the king's life is about to be turned upside down. He's going to enter a time of trouble he could never have imagined himself in, but when he comes out the other side he will know the Most High God. As one of the psalmists testified to the Lord, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word." (Psalm 119:67) Affliction is sometimes the only way God can get our attention, especially in hard cases like that of a prideful and arrogant man such as King Nebuchadnezzar. God, in His love and mercy, will humble the king, but at the end of that time Nebuchadnezzar will say that he, "raised my eyes toward heaven...I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever."