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God’s People, part 103: Belshazzar

Read Daniel 5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but Me.” (Exodus 20:2-3 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.

Rembrandt_-_Belshazzar's_Feast_-_WGA19123Part 103: Belshazzar. In our last devotion, we discussed King Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign and how pride got the best of him. He had great potential. He was a brilliant tactician, a leader with vision, and a ruler that all of the surrounding nations feared. He was, indeed, the “first king” in his dream of a great statue. He was the golden head, the first and the greatest of the kings that the statue represented.

Yet, Nebuchadnezzar had a huge ego and allowed it to get the best of him. He believed that it was HIS power and authority that was to be feared and made the people worship the very ground he walked on. Thus, God allowed him to be humbled and reminded of who was the TRUE AUTHORITY over heaven and earth. Once the king was humbled and came to that realization and place of repentance, he was restored back to his place of authority.

Belshazzar was not of the same ilk as Nebuchadnezzar. He ruled in place of his father, Nabonidus, during his father’s prolonged abscense from the city. While he was technically king in his father’s absence, he never assumed the titles or ritual functions of kingship. Still, while his father was  not around, the crown prince Belshazzar acted as regent and in charge of domestic matters. One of the things he tried to do in his father’s absence was overseeing temple estates and renting out temple land, as well as working to restore the top position of the Babylonian god Marduk of which his father had demoted in favor of the Babylonian moon goddess.

This insight helps us to understand Belshazzar’s actions against the Jews in Babylon. The Bible tells us that the crown prince (the author of Daniel refers to him as “king”) had the plundered cups and plates of the Jewish Temple used for one of his parties. Such an act, according to Jewish law, would defile the sacred cups of the Temple. Belshazzar did not heed that warning and a message was inscribed on the wall by a ghostly, disembodied finger. It read: “Mene, mene, tekel, and Parsin”, which loosely translated to mean that the king had been judged by God, that he  was found wanting, and that his days were numbered and his kingdom would be divided.

That very night, per the Bible, Belshazzar was killed by Darius the Mede who was conquering the city on behalf of King Cyrus of Persia. Whether these events are exactly historical is beside the point; rather, what is important is the point the narrative is conveying to us. The author of Daniel wants us to know that putting other things before the LORD is a defilement of God and will lead to our destruction.

This may sound harsh; however, there is much truth in it. It is not that God is harsh or cruel, but that when we put ourselves above God we do things that end up harming others. Such actions bear unnatural consequences that ultimately come back to bring us down in the end. In our world today, there are plenty of Christians who have made an idol out of their government and its leaders. These Christians have not only put Christ second to these human leaders, but they have distorted Christ and the Gospel message to make the Gospel conform to their worldly ideologies. Woe to such people who use God as a means to their own wicked end. Let us be challenged to subject our ideologies to God’s measure, rather than subject God to the measure of our ideologies.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The art of government is the [organization] of idolatry.” – George Bernard Shaw

PRAYER
Lord, help me to lay my idols to rest. You are LORD of lords and KING OF kings, and you in you alone do I place my trust and my allegiance. Amen.

God’s People, part 102: Nebuchadnezzar II

Read Daniel 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I, the Lord, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty.” (Isaiah‬ ‭13:11‬ ‭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 102: Nebuchadnezzar II. If you know your history, or payed close attention to the past devotions as of late, you are probably wondering why there would be a devotion on Nebuchadnezzar II, the fierce and mighty king of Babylon. Up until this point, I have covered the major Biblical characters (and some minor ones) who were a part of the Hebrew People. I have addressed kings, for sure, but they were Hebrew kings from either the northern Kingdom of Israel or the southern kingdom of Judah.

So, why now am I choosing to focus on a Gentile king, a king who was not born under the Torah (aka the Covenantal Law of God)? I didn’t write about Pharaoh or the king of Philistia or any other Gentile king; so, why now write about Nebuchadnezzar II? He wasn’t one of God’s people, right?

Well, if by “God’s people” one means a descendent of one of the tribes of Israel, then he or she would be correct in saying that Nebuchadnezzar II was not one of “God’s People”; however, he was one of God’s people in that he is a part of the human species, created by God in God’s holy image, just as we all are. What’s more, Daniel reveals that Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled God’s plan whether he realized it or not. While God would have never chosen for Judah to be conquered and exiled, God worked through their sinfulness a plan for redemption and reconciliation. Nebuchadnezzar was a part of that plan.

The Babylonian king was a fierce and ruthless man, full of power, authority, and ego. He conquered lands and removed the ruling classes into exile, destroyed their religious institutions, and left only the insignificant and poor behind. This was done so that there would be no resistance to his rule, because the only ones who were left behind were the ones who were in no position to resist his rule.

If you recall, Nebuchadnezzar beseiged Jerusalem after the Jewish king double-crossed him. The seige lasted for 18-30 months and was most brutal. He eventually took the city, captured King Zedekiah and had the king’s children murdered before him prior to gouging his eyes out and taking him back to Babylon to live in a dungeon until he died. Also, among the people he exiled to Babylon were Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (aka Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).

Nebuchadnezzar was a prideful, egotistical ruler. It is this king that spared Daniel because he proved to be a useful interpreter; yet, on the other hand, he condemned Daniel’s friends to burn alive in a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down and worship the king. He also ignored Daniel’s warning to humble himself and submit to the will and authority of God most High. As a result, he brought the judgment of God down upon himself.

This king, this powerful and mighty warrior, found himself in a very humbling set of circumstances. He became mentally ill and delusional, wandering the wilderness within Babylon like a wild animal, and grazed on grass while groveling in the dirt and dust. This mental illness lasted for seven long years, until the moment where Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself and acknowledged the power and authority of the one True God. Upon doing so, his kingdom was restored back under his control.

What is important to understand about Nebuchadnezzar is this, all authority in heaven and on earth exists in God almighty. There is no human, no matter how powerful, that deserves credit for what they have done. When our leaders and our rulers credit themselves for what they have done to make their nations and this world better, they are puffing themselves up above God and making idols of themselves. Worse still, they are leading countless others into idolatry, into giving the leaders the credit and the worship as opposed to God. This should be challenging to us all in that it should remind us that no human, whether leader or not and whether it be ourselves or not, should receive the credit and prasie that is due our God. Let us take that warning to heart and adjust our hearts if need be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Jesus Christ is Lord of all and nothing can, nor will, trump Christ’s authority. Follow Christ, not the current world order.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, help me to put You first in all that I do so that I may steer clear of idolatry. Amen.

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.

God’s People, part 99: Ezekiel

Read Ezekiel 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy‬ ‭4:3‬ ‭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_1078Part 99: Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel is one of the most influential prophets in the Old Testament, especially in Christian Theology. All that we know about the prophet comes from what what was written of himself in his eponymous book of prophecy, which records six of his prophetic visions.The prophet in the book is identified as Ezekiel, son of Buzi, a priest. Thus, Ezekiel was born into a priestly lineage. His visions began when he was 30 years old.

In his visions, Ezekiel is referred to as “son of man” and he is in direct dialog with God, who “appeared like a man” and was seated on a throne. Recognizing it was the LORD, Ezekiel fell prostrate, face down to the floor. Then the voice of the LORD spoke out to him and told him that he was to go to the people of Israel and warn them of all that God was going to show him. The reason he had to “go” to the people of Israel was because he was the first wave of exiles that were taken when Babylon deposed Jehoiachin as king and replaced by Zedekiah. Thus, at the time of his visions, Ezekiel was living in exile in Babylon on the bank of the Kebar River.

In his visions, he is shown the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of God’s Holy Temple. He is shown many of the inhabitants of the city and surrounding area being destroyed by a foreign invader. There was much bloodshed and much horror throughout the city. On top of that, Ezekiel also prophesied that the surrounding nations that had tormented Israel throughout the centuries would also be destroyed. Those nations included the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Philistines, the Phoenecian cities of Tyre and Sidon, as well as Egypt.

Of course, Ezekiel’s prophecy also had a promise of redemption as well. God was allowing these things to happen to a wicked people who had long forgot their God, evidenced by their corruption, oppressive regimes, and execution of injustice. God promised that, one day, Jerusalem and the Temple would be rebuilt and the glory of the LORD would return to be with God’s people forever.

As is usually the case, the people were too outraged at Ezekiel’s message despite the hopeful message. God warned him of this, “You must give them my messages whether they listen or not. But they won’t listen, for they are completely rebellious!” (Ezekiel‬ ‭2:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬) Indeed, God was right, the did not listen. Ezekiel spent his prophetic career incessantly prophesying and acting out the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple; however, the rulers and leaders ignored his warning and opposed him for speaking out.

The truth is that people in power don’t like to be told that what they are doing is wrong. Instead of listening to God’s prophets and messengers, they tend to put forth their own prophets and messengers who falsely counter the truth in order to maintain the status quo. To people in power, the truth of God’s Kingdom is inconvenient because it means that they no longer get to be on top. In the Kingdom of God, all people will be on equal footing and a level playing field, for all people were created equally and are loved equally by God.

We see this resistance to truth in our own day and age. Just recently, the United States of America’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, used the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13:1 to justify the enactment and enforcement of the evil, cruel, and harmful policy of separating children from their parents. These people are not only immigrants crossing our borders illegally; rather, many of them have legal asylum status. With the Church (e.g. Roman Catholics, United Methodists, Presbyterians (PCUSA), Southern Baptists, and even the Rev. Franklin Graham) rising up against this policy, Sessions misused Scripture to justify what he and the adminstration are doing. This not the first time politicians have wrongly quoted that Scripture to justify their evil, for it was that Scripture and others that long kepts black people enslaved.

Let us, right now, remember that God sends prophets for a reason. The prophets’ words may be harsh sounding, they may pierce like daggers and feel ungracious; however, they are absolutely words of grace meant to give us pause and guide us to repentance when we are wrong. If we humble ourselves and heed the warnings given to us, we will avert many of the destructive consequences of our sins; however, if we don’t repent and give our lives over to God through Jesus Christ our Savior, we are destined to face an eternal God who knows our hearts and knows the vastness of our sins. Let us, in the name of Jesus Christ, repent and stand up for justice so that all may know the glory of the LORD.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be humble and honest about my sins. Forgive me, in Jesus name, and strengthen me to stand up for righteousness and justice. Amen.

God’s People, part 98: Exiled

Read Lamentations 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine became so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land.” (2 Kings 25:3 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.

Circle_of_Juan_de_la_Corte_-_The_Burning_of_Jerusalem_by_Nebuchadnezzar_s_ArmyPart 98: Exiled. I always love when people say that they can’t read the Bible because it is “boring” and it “puts them to sleep.” It makes me laugh because it couldn’t be further from the truth. The Bible is comprised of 66 books, within which we find genres such as history, poetry, philosophy, action, adventure, mystery, drama, romance, suspense, and certainly horror. Don’t believe me on the last one? Then let us look at the events that led to exile.

As you know, from when we discussed King Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar II besieged Jerusalem because Zedekiah had double crossed him and allied himself with Egypt. It is easy, if we are not absorbing what we are reading, to gloss over this event as if it happened in a flash and was no big deal. If we are not intentional we can read it like we read a paragraph in an American History textbook summarizing the Battle of Gettysburg.

So, if you didn’t already, I want you to read 2 Kings 25:1-21 and Lamentations 4. Read them slowly and carefully and you will, no doubt, find your skin growing cold and your blood curdle in your veins. What happened during the siege of Jerusalem is nothing short of gory horror. The terror of the people of Judah can still be felt, their screams still echoing in the collective memory we find in etched in the Bible.

Flavius Josephus (b. 37 AD – d. 100 AD), a Jewish historian who was working for the Romans, recorded that the siege lasted 18 long months. On the other hand, the author of 2 Kings tells us that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, allowing nothing to enter nor to leave, on January 15th of the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign. That siege didn’t end until July 18th of the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign according to the New Living Translation of the Bible. If you do the math, that means that the siege lasted somewhere between 18 and 30 months.

As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for people to starve. Lamentations paint the grisly scene in elaborate detail. If you are squeemish, you might want to skip past the next part:

The wailing of hungry children endlessly filled the air. People were begging and crawling through the garbage dumps to find anything they could to eat. The wealthy were as ragged as the poor, their faces blackened with dirt and soot. Once fattened by their wealth, they were now nothing more than walking skeletons.

The luckiest among the citizens of Jerusalem were killed by the sword or in some other violent fashion; yet, many were not so lucky. The living wasted away to nothing, slowly starving to death. Things got so desperate that the starving mothers began to cook their babies, eating the meat off of their little bones in order to survive. The Lamenter does not let us know whether the babies were alive or dead when they were cooked, but the horror of it is not something you can not easily shake off.

Boring, right? The kind of history lesson that just puts you right to sleep. Sarcasm aside, this was a horror that Jewish people still have in their collective psyche to this very day. From that point on, the Jews lost and never really gained their sovereignty back as a kingdom, minus a short century or so under the Hasmonean Dynasty. While Israel did become a nation again in 1948, the nation of Israel now bears little resemblance to the Kingdom it once was.

The city fell, Zedekiah tried to escape but he and his sons were captured. He was forced to watch his sons be slaughtered in front of his eyes, which were then gouged out of his head. He, and many of the Jewish aristocracy were exiled from their city, taken in captivity back to Babylon. The golden age of this great kingdom, the kingdom that David forged centuries earlier, was no more. The Lamenter gives us a clue as to why: “Our king—the LORD’s anointed, the very life of our nation—was caught in their snares. We had thought that His shadow would protect us against any nation on earth” (Lamentations 4:20 NLT)!

From Saul onward the Israelites placed their hopes in a human king to protect them, rather than relying on, trusting in, and obeying God. The question I would like us to reflect on is this, are we any different? Do we place our trust in God? Do we? Do we trust God enough to obey what God teaches us, or do we save the Bible for church, but place our trust in our nations’ leaders to protect and save us? In my observation, the latter seems to be the case by and large. If you are someone who places your trust in human leaders, presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, or dictators, I would like to challenge you to reflect on the Siege of Jerusalem and the exile of God’s people.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is only one Lord and Savior: Jesus Christ. All others will fall extremely short every time.

PRAYER
Lord, steer me away from putting my trust in human leaders and help me to place my trust solely in you. Amen.

God’s People, part 97: Obadiah

Read Obadiah 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5:20 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.

obadiah_tissot_640x425Part 97: Obadiah. You may be scratching your head right now and thinking, “Wait a minute, didn’t he already write about Obadiah?” Indeed, I have written about Obadiah; however, that Obadiah is not to be confused with this one. The first person with that name that I wrote about in part 70, if you remember, was a majordomo (aka someone who spoke on behalf of the king and was in charge of his affairs). He was, in that role, employed by the wicked King Ahab and sent by the king to speak on his behalf to the prophet Elijah; however, we also learned that this majordomo was a devout follower of the LORD and he was helping to save the prophets from being captured and executed by the king.

This Obadiah, however, was not the same person. This one was a prophet in Judah during the war with Babylon and the exile that followed it. His prophecy was written sometime after the exile and was directed not against the Kingdom of Judah; rather, it was against the Kingdom of Edom. In order to understand the reason for this prophecy, we need to understand who the Edomites were. This is where all of the lineage in the Bible becomes important to understand.

If you recall, Isaac, of whom I wrote about all the way back in part 9 of this series, had two sons: Esau and Jacob. Jacob had stolen Esau’s birthright and, thus, became the heir to his father’s lineage and estate. Esau, resentful toward his brother, hunted Jacob down for years and years hoping to kill him. While the two brothers did reconcile, Jacob went on to become the successor and Esau did not. Instead, Esau went on to become the ancestor of the Edomites, a related but lesser “cousin” to the Israelites who descended from Israel (aka Jacob).

Thus, the Edom was related to Judah (named after one of the 12 sons of Jacob). Yet, when the Babylonians besieged and entered Jerusalem to conquer it, the Edomites joined forces with King Nebuchadnezzar II and helped him loot the city. They rejoiced at the destruction of Jerusalem and they helped the Babylonians intercept and kill anyone who was trying to escape. Thus, Obadiah cried out, “Because of the violence you did to your close relatives in Israel, you will be filled with shame and destroyed forever.” (Obadiah 1:10)

This, for us, should be a reminder that our actions and attitudes do not end with us; rather, the carry on and on for generations and generations. Jacob wrongly stole the birthright from his brother Esau, who resented him for it. Regardless, the Israelites become the prominent people and the Edomites (descendants of Esau) became their subjects. During the reign of the kings of Judah, Edom was their vassal state. Thus, just as Esau became subject to his baby brother Jacob, so did the Edomites become subject to the Kingdom of Judah.

It is important for us to realize that our attitudes toward others, and the way we treat them, don’t die with us. We teach our children to think and act that way and we pass our biases and our sins right down to them. Their actions and attitudes eventually get passed to their children and so on and so forth.

What’s more, it is important for us to realize that apart from the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, there is nothing we can do to change the effects of sin on our lives and the lives of those we influence. With that said, if we just turn our hearts and our minds to Jesus, if we let Jesus take over and become Lord of our lives, then we can overcome the sin and begin to reverse the effects of it in our lives, in our children’s lives, and in the lives of people living in the world around us. In Jesus Christ, we can overturn the kingdom of sin and become ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” – Rev. John Wesley

PRAYER Lord, I forgive me of my sins and navigate me toward your righteousness. Amen.

God’s People, part 96: Zephaniah

Read Zephaniah 3:1-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans‬ ‭3:23‬ ‭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 96: Zephaniah. In order to talk about Zephaniah, we need to travel back to King Josiah. It was under the great reformer king that Zephaniah was a prophet. Again, we know very little about Zephaniah himself, other than what is revealed of him in the eponymous short book in the Hebrew Testament. Here’s what we know of him for sure. Zephaniah was the son of Cushi, who “was the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah” (1:1b). If you follow the generations, Zephaniah was the great-grandson of King Hezekiah.

The first part of verse 1 states that Zephaniah was a prophet under the rule of King Josiah. Given the fact that Josiah, himself, is known to be a great reformer, it seems that Zephaniah was his greatest advocate. He, no doubt, spoke up against the critics that would have risen up against the reforms that Josiah was pushing to have put in place.

Zephaniah’s prophecy spoke against idolatry, pride, corruption, and those who “remain complacent in their sins”. His prophecy also pointed fingers at the surrounding nations and/or kingdoms that have defiled Judah with their idols, their religious practices, and their bloodshed against God’s people. Finally, Zephaniah held Jerusalem, the seat of power in the Kingdom of Judah, accountable. He called the city “rebellious and polluted…the city of violence and crime.” He charged the city with haughty arrogance, a city that refuses correction and that refuses to put its trust in God. He proclaims that its leaders are like roaring lions who hunt their victims.

‭‭He also brought charges against Jerusalem’s judges, which he said were “like ravenous wolves at evening time, who by dawn have left no trace of their prey.” The prophets, he proclaimed, were arrogant liars who are merely seeking their own gain; the priests defile the Temple by disobeying God’s instructions. It is easy to get hung up on the “wrathful God” language used in Zephaniah and other prophetic texts; however, when one understands the abuses of power and corruption that the prophets are crying out against, one can understand why God would be angry. ‬‬‬‬

Such corruption, arrogance, unfaithfulness and injustice brings about consequences and justice will have its day. Zephaniah does not leave us with a wrathful ending, either. God is just. God is merciful. God is looking for people to return into a right relationship with God. Forgiveness is available to the people who will humble themselves, admit where they have gone wrong, and change. In fact, that is all that God is asking for. The warning, itself, is a plea for people to repent and change.

Each of us have not been as faithful to God as we ought to be. Each one of us falls short of God’s glorious standard. God does not want destruction to fall upon us, but wants us to live life and live it abundantly; however, our arrogance, pride, unfaithfulness bears fruit that is counter to what God wants for us and the consequences are on us, not God. This isn’t just true individually but on us as a national people. Corruption, injustice, oppression, arrogance, deceitfulness and idolatry are everywhere in our nation and we, as a people, are being called to repent and to turn back to God. In Christ, through whom all things are possible, we can begin to reflect the honesty, justice, liberty, humility and right worship of God.gh

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“A man’s conscience, like a warning line on the highway, tells him what he shouldn’t do – but it does not keep him from doing it.” —Frank A. Clark

PRAYER

Lord, help me to humble myself so that I may see where I have strayed. I repent of such times and ask you to, in Christ, lead me back to you. Amen.