Tag Archives: Daniel

God’s People, part 101: Zeal x 3

Read Daniel 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew‬ ‭16:25-26‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

img_1084Part 101: Zeal x 3. Have you ever heard the story of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? If not, these were friends of God’s servant Daniel and were among the aristocracy that had been exiled into Babylon. In Babylon, they had almost been put to death when none of the astrologers, magicians, or wise men of Babylon could tell the king what his dream was.

As a result, King Nebuchadnezzar II ordered that all of the wise men in Babylon (including Daniel and his friends) be put to death. Upon hearing this decree, Daniel met with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and begged them to pray for God to reveal to them the King’s dream so that they could avoid being put to death. That very night, Daniel was told in a dream what the king had dreamt of.

The next morning, Daniel told the king his dream and also revealed to the king its meaning. The king was so impressed that he fell down and worshipped Daniel. What’s more, he promoted Daniel to a high position his court and, at Daniel’s request, he also promoted Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The three friends became known by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach and Adednego, and Daniel became known as Belteshazzar. With that said, they had not eluded danger for long.

The narrative goes on to tell us that the Babylonian king decided to build a giant golden statue (possibly of himself) and demanded that all of his subjects bow down and worship the statue in order to show loyalty and respect to the king. I can only imagine how scared the Jewish people must have been. It was against God’s holy law to bow down to foreign objects but, with that said, they were now exiled in Babylon with God seemingly nowhere in sight.

I am sure that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among the Jews who were afraid of what would happen. I can imagine each of them racing through their minds and searching their own hearts for what to do next. Should they bow to the king and live to see another day, or defy the king and refuse to bow? The latter would most definitely get them killed.

The three friends, in that moment, became filled with zeal for their God and refused to bow. Zeal can be defined as a great energy or enthusiasm for God and for their faith. Rather than cower to the king, they refused to bow. Even when the king demanded they bow or be killed, they told the king that even if he threw them into the fiery furnace, their God would rescue them.

Well, that claim certainly got tested and the three, along with their zeal, were thrown in to the fiery furnace. They could have died; however, the angel of the Lord (who was visible to the king, and other onlookers, as a fourth person in the flames) protected Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah from the flames and they ended up coming out of the furnace alive.

This event brough great glory to God, and the king of Babylon decreed that no one could utter a word against them or their great God or such people would be torn limb by limb. Because of their devotion and their zeal for God, because of their unwavering faith in the heat of the moment, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah witnessed to the power of the true and living God. They, and Daniel, were witnesses to the reality of Immanuel…God with us.

While not all martyrs live to tell the tale of their martyrdom, like Daniel and his friends did, all believers in God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) are called to be martyrs (aka witnesses). Don’t misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that we are all called to DIE for our faith, but that we are all called to witness to our faith and to the love of our God regardless of the cost for doing so. When we witness to God’s truth in this wicked world, there is no doubt that persecution is sure to follow.

When God’s people stand up for what is right, the world tells them to keep their opinions to themselves. When God’s people oppose unjust laws and wicked government leaders, the world tells them that they should not mix religious morality with politics and that they should simply preach sterile messages of false hope and “happiness”. When God’s people seek to help the “least of these”, the greatest among us in the world seek to undermine and destroy any and all efforts, as well as those carrying them out. The challenge for us, as it was for Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, is to swallow our fears and allow our zeal for our Lord and Savior and God to give us the strength to resist.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

When we choose our lives over what is righteous, we invite death into our souls. When we choose Christ over our lives, our souls become filled with true and eternal life.

PRAYER

Lord, give me the strength, in Jesus Christ, to be a mighty and powerful witness for your glory. Amen.

God’s People, part 100: Daniel

Read Daniel 7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Jesus said, ‘I AM. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” (Mark‬ ‭14:62‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 
 Part 100: Daniel. Wow! We’ve just hit the 100 devotion mark in this devotion series. It’s hard to believe how quickly that time flew. With that said, I can think of no better prophet to discuss in the 100th devotion than Daniel. While the book of Daniel is technically not considered a “prophetic text” like Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc., Daniel himself was a prophet who started life as an aristocrat and grew up in Jerusalem; however, when Jerusalem fell to Babylon, Daniel was among those who were taken back to Babylon to live in exile.

The book of Daniel is an apocalyptic narrative, written sometime after the Babylonian Exile, that tells of Daniel’s time in Babylon. Let me unpack that sentence a bit. First, an apocalypse is the announcing of a revelation or revealing of knowledge. Thus, an apocalyptic narrative is a written account of the revelation or revealing of knowledge. In the case of Daniel, it is the revealing of Israel’s redemption from exile and the establishment of God’s rule on earth as it is in heaven.

Again, Daniel was not considered to be a prophet by ancient Jews; however, there is no doubt that the eponymous book is prophetic. While in Babylon, Daniel and his friends (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) were chosen for their intellect to serve in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar II. While they did show loyalty to the king, Daniel and his three friends also displayed tremendous zeal for their God. For instance, they refused to eat any meats because the animals were sacrificed to the Babylonian gods and to the king. To eat such meat would defile them and be a sin against God Almighty.

Thus, Daniel and his friends ate a strictly vegan diet. Concerned that they would get weak and die, the king ordered that they eat all the food and wine that was given to them and not just the vegetables. They refused and told the guard that if their diet made them weak after 10 days they would eat the meat. Of course, after 10 days Daniel and his friends were not only surviving, but were thriving. Being a vegan myself, I can attest to that.

Daniel also became known as an interpreter of the king’s dreams. Nebuchadnezzar II had a series of bad dreams and none of his Babylonian prophets could tell him what they meant. Yet Daniel, a Jew, was able to tell the king not only what he dreamed, but what the dreams meant. The dreams were of a giant statue that is smashed by a stone from heaven and of a great tree of which a heavenly figure declares will be destroyed. Both dreams, according to Daniel, show Babylon as the current world power that will be destroyed by other world powers yet to come; however, in the end God’s kingdom will conquer them all.

Eventually, the first part of that prophecy came to pass and Babylon was conquered by the Medes and Persians. Darius the Mede becomes the ruler and grew fond of Daniel. This, of course, sparked bitter envy in the hearts of some of Darius’ officials, who tricked the king into making a royal decree that no one may pray to anyone, divine or human, for a month. The only one who could be prayed to was King Darius himself. They told the king this was to test his subjects for their loyalty.

Filled with zeal for his God, Daniel prayed anyway. When he was caught, he was thrown into the lion’s den. The king was troubled by this for he loved and admired Daniel; however, he could not go against his own royal decree. Once morning came and Daniel was seen to be unharmed by the lions, the king had the advisors thrown in and they were subsequently eaten by the lions.

Daniel did continue to have apocalyptic visions of a time when God’s Messiah would come and set up heaven, God’s kingdom, on earth. This heavenly ruler was identified as “one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13). This prophetic dream contained a horrific beast, but the beast was conquered by the heavenly warrior that was to come and establish God’s kingdom. Both visions were symbolic of God’s conquering of the wicked nations that had tried to conquer God’s people. In other words, while nations put themsevles above God, the fail to thwart God’s plan of redemption in the world.

One day, the “One like a Son of Man” would show up on the scene and bring God’s redemption to a world that, once again, would try to stop God. Jesus Christ would not be stopped. There is much for us to learn from Daniel. In a time where where the wickedness of the world, its empires, and its leaders is at an all-time high, we are being called to stand up and speak out against the dreams and visions of this world. God desires for us to be God’s mouthpiece, speaking truth to power and making straight the pathway of the Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Christ is Lord of all and should never take the backseat to our world leaders or their politics.

PRAYER

Lord, spark in me the desire to speak truth to power and represent your Truth in all I say or do. Amen.

Crooked Paths

Read Isaiah 42:12-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Seek [God’s] will in all you do, and [God] will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:6, NLT)

crooked-pathA couple of months back I was watching a televangelist who just happened to be on at the time I turned the TV. I cannot remember which televangelist it was; however, I distinctly remember his message. He was utilizing Proverbs 3:6 and proclaiming that those who submit to God, those who know God and have a relationship with God, those who faithfully acknowledge God will find that God makes their paths straight (NRSV) for them. In other words, bumpy, crooked, twisted, and labyrinth-like roads are OUR doing. The implication is, of course, that if life is hard, if things aren’t going smoothly, if we feel that our path is an obstacle course, then that means we are NOT submitting to, knowing, or faithfully acknowledging God and God’s direction for our lives.

I vehemently reject that notion! Too often I hear people questioning their faith, as well as God’s love for them, because their road is hard and things aren’t going well. Too often the sick are guilted to think they didn’t faith enough or they didn’t pray hard enough when they aren’t healed. Too often the abused think that God is punishing them, or allowing the abuse to happen, because they haven’t been acknowledging God enough in their lives. Too often the oppressed stay in oppressive situations because they feel that God has placed that on them as “their cross”, only to find out that the cross is never, ever removed.

While I do not deny that there is truth to the Proverb, I think that it has been hijacked by those who want to say what it doesn’t. When we look at the Bible, we do simply DO NOT see a God who ALWAYS gives the faithful a straight path. Let’s look at the Exodus. They submitted to God, went out on a limb and followed the seemingly nutty prophet Moses straight out of Egypt with the hopes they would arrive safely, and relatively quickly, to the land of promise. Instead of God taking them the direct route (approx. 372 miles or about a week’s journey, give or take), God led them on a 40 year journey zig-zagging, backtracking, and back again through the wilderness. Yes, the people fell in and out of faith during that journey, but it started off crazy. They cross the depths of a sea instead of going a few miles North to go through shallow water. They go South, through mountainous terrain instead of North, which was the direction of the Promised Land. So, yeah, they were a little frustrated when an entire generation of people died off before they reached what should have been only a week away.

Beyond the Exodus, let’s look at Esther. Was her path straight? How about Jeremiah? How about Daniel? How about Job? Was Job’s path straight? How about Jesus? Look at his life. He invested himself in God and in the people he came to serve. Did that lead to a coronation, to adoration and a straight path to being revered? Nope. His path was anything but straight. It led to being second guessed by his family, misunderstood by his disciples, betrayed by one of his own, rejected by the people he had invested in, arrested by his enemies, and beaten, tortured, and killed by the world he came to save. That doesn’t sound like a straight, “easy peasy lemon squeezy” path to me. Should our theology imply that Moses, Esther, Jeremiah, Daniel, Job, John the Baptist, and Jesus didn’t submit, faithfully acknowledge or follow God well enough? Should we imply that they failed in their faith? Of course not!

Do not be seduced by such conveniently simple, and extremely dangerous, theologies. God never promised us easy, straight paths. What God did promise is that God would never abandon or forsake us on this bumpy journey. God would never forget us or leave us alone. Even if we aren’t always faithful, God always is!!! If we are faithful, then our faith will make us aware of God’s presence. The aforementioned proverb is pointing to that. If we acknowledge God, then our faith in God will show us the way God is leading us. It will make God’s way clear to us. Let us not be seduced by shortcutting around hard-earned understanding with bad theology, let us rather wrestle with God and grow in our faith. Then the path will be made known to us, whether it is easy or not.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

PRAYER

Lord, I have faith that you are with me and I trust that you are guiding me. Make your way clear to me and I will follow. Amen.

Daniel’s Apocalypse

Read Daniel 7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” (Matthew 13:37, NRSV)

daniel-10-vision-son-of-manThroughout the nearly twenty centuries in which Christianity has existed, many Christians have been raptured by the notion that the End Times are approaching, looking to the apocalyptic texts in the Bible to interpret the events happening in their world. Since the nineteenth century, there has been a renewed and somewhat reimagined End Times narrative that has since become the dominant perception in popular culture of what the Bible is saying in books such as Daniel, Ezekiel, 1 Thessalonians, and Revelation. This popular understanding has been propagated in Christian literature such as “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsey and the Left Behind series. It has been found in the secular world as well in films such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and other such horror films.

The word “apocalypse” means “unveiling” and in apocalyptic writings, the authors have been given a “revelation” or an “unveiling” of the things that are currently happen and/or are soon to pass in the future. Daniel 7 is such an apocalyptic text, and in modern popular culture, it has been interpreted in light of other apocalyptic texts such as Matthew 24, 1 Thessalonians 4, and Revelation. The problem with this is that these interpretations often do not take the apocalyptic author’s own historical and religious context into account, which leaves us with a heavily skewed understanding of what those texts are stating.

Daniel 7 talks about the winds stirring the sea, four beasts rising up, and ten horns found on the fourth beast (three of which are removed and replaced by another smaller horn covered with eyes and a boasting mouth. The sea is always symbolizes the primordial chaos that surrounds God’s ordered and good creation. Water is both life and death, and the chaotic seas in the ancient world (as well as in ours) are always threatening to destroy us. The winds that are stirring them are the “angels” of heaven, implying that there is a spiritual warfare going on in the cosmos, mirroring the ancient Semitic myth of the storm god (Baal in Canaanite mythology and Marduk in the Babylonian mythology). In the ancient world, beasts always represented Empires and/or Kingdoms. Thus, in Daniel’s apocalyptic dream, the first beast represented Babylon, the second represented the Medes, the third the Persians, and the fourth represented the Greek/Seleucid Empire.

It was under these Empires, one after the next, that the Hebrew people suffered great oppression under. But, in Daniel’s vision, these Empires wouldn’t have the final say. God was doing something significant, something that would overthrow the forces of evil in the world and would begin the establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth. He sees someone like the “Son of Man” coming on the clouds and ushering in that Kingdom. The apocalyptic author of Daniel was providing hope for people caught in what seemed like a hopeless situation. God would take authority away from the beast-like Kingdoms and return it to human-like Israel

It was this hope that, 160 years after the writing of this text, a Jewish prophet and teacher would proclaim he was the fulfillment of. That man, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth and he was claiming that he was that “Son of Man” and he proclaimed the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth. It was this “Son of Man” that was proclaiming a message that was counter to the powers of the world, one that preached of strength through humility, through meekness, through peace, through compassion, through self-sacrifice and through unconditional love. While Jesus does proclaim a post-ascension time when he would return, Daniel, according to Jesus, was not pointing to an event following the Christ; rather, Daniel was pointing to the Christ event itself. Let us who believe in Jesus as the Christ rejoice, for we have been chosen by him to continue the unveiling of the enduring Kingdom he ushered in! Our call is not to predict the future, but to serve God’s Kingdom today.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Matthew 19:21)

PRAYER Lord, thank you for revealing to me the Son of Man. Help me to do my part in serving your Kingdom on Earth. Amen.