A Messenger Reveals The End

Daniel 10-12

We’re now in the 3rd year of the Persian king Cyrus’s reign, after he has allowed the exiled in Babylon to go home. But it’s not clear if Daniel is hanging around to work in the Persian court somewhere or if he has gone home too. Maybe, he figures, what’s the use of going home if the restoration of his people is going to take 7 times longer than anyone thought. If I were him, I’d also be struggling to find some hope if angels keep dropping by in my dreams and giving me mostly horrible news about the future.

This is likely weighing heavily on Daniel’s tired heart as he is mourning and doing extended fasting. You don’t normally hear about people today fasting to hear a word from God, but it’s one of those ancient tried and true methods to use when you really mean business and something has to give. 

It works well for Daniel here because he receives another vision. He’s by the river and sees an angel that is described with language stolen right from Ezekiel. And the Bible is weird, because it sounds like this angel (Gabriel?) has been in an ongoing battle with a prince (angelic representative?) of Persia. And the angel Michael is there fighting in Gabriel’s place so he could come tell Daniel something very important. If I am understanding this correctly, this means angels engage in extended tag team octagon fighting on behalf of the kingdoms they represent, as if the balance of history depends on it in some way.

What follows in chapter 11 is an insanely detailed prophecy given to Daniel about the Persians and Greeks, leading up to our old friend, Antiochus IV, and his typical shenanigans. It is basically a much more detailed version of chapter 8 (remember the ram, goat, and the horns?), and we have the theme from chapters 2 and 7 about the sequence of kingdoms knitted into it. Not being an expert in history, and not wanting to overload too badly, I’ll keep this very high-level. 

I mentioned Alexander yesterday, who is our “warrior king” in 11:3, or the Greeks taking over the Persians. Alexander dies and his kingdom is split up among four generals. We eventually end up with the Ptolemies of the south (Egypt) and Seleucids of the north (Syria/Mesopotamia), who plague each other with failed alliances, invasions, deception, betrayal, assassinations, and the like. By verse 21, Antiochus (of the north) is on the scene, and by verse 30 we see him start his persecution of Jerusalem and desecration of the temple. By the end of chapter 11, we see his end.

Again, we are interested in patterns more than precise timelines. The north and south had been going back and forth with their conflicts but keeping each other in check. Antiochus comes on the scene and breaks the mold, crosses the line, and does what nobody before him does. And once he upsets the balance and asserts himself as a god, the true God brings an end to him. It’s the arrogant made humble again, like we’ve seen several times before in the book of Daniel.

But what of hope? What’s the point of this endless political drama and transfer of power? The messenger explains that at that point of deep anguish brought in by the king of the north, the people of God will be delivered. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” And the wise are said to have some kind of special reward. If we believe in a God of justice and restoration, the end game has to be that God, being the faithful God that he is, will make all things right, even by raising his “sleeping” faithful to life.

Surely the original audience of Daniel would be familiar with the dry bones of Ezekiel coming alive and how it symbolized the return from exile, since the ideas of exile and death in the Jewish mind are interlocked. But technically, when this new revelation is being given to Daniel, the people have already gone home, although their full restoration has yet to be seen. So is Daniel 12 metaphorically about the coming restoration of God’s people, or about an actual bodily resurrection? I think both are in play. This isn’t the New Testament yet, so nobody is really talking about resurrection as we know it. The Old Testament hints at something like resurrection maybe a few times before Daniel. This passage goes further than others in the Old Testament; it’s hard to deny or explain away the element of bodily resurrection. Still, by the time of Jesus, not all the Jews are sold on it. The Pharisees believe in a resurrection, but the Sadducees do not.

A quick word about verses 5-12, which seem to break the flow a little. It prompts us to remember 8:13 when one angel asks the other how long the “transgression that makes desolate” will be. In scope is the last of the 70 weeks described in chapter 9, but now we have another “How long” question: “How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?” To summarize, it cryptically lays out two periods of 3½ years, before and after the people are essentially banned from worshiping. Interpreters struggle with making much sense of the differing numbers in verses 11-12, and I am happy to join them.

I’ve been suggesting how some of these prophecies have had a fulfillment in historical events moving up into the second century B.C. because I think it fits well, but hopefully I have also left the door open for you to envision other ways these patterns have been fulfilled, and even how they are yet to be fulfilled. Part of the joy of the book of Daniel is that it keeps inviting you to interpret. Sometimes it will hand you the interpretation, and sometimes you’ll have to chew on it. Making sense of the book of Daniel (and the rest of scripture) became an important pastime for God’s people, and it is no wonder why. It can provide us wisdom, encouragement, and hope while surviving in our Babylons, or enduring very tough times that never seem to end.

We are in a strange time in our world where I think all of us are asking every day, “How long is this mess going to keep going? When can things be back to normal?” It will probably take much longer than we had wanted or expected. And whether it is good or bad, we’ll probably never go back to what we thought of as normal. But the wise and faithful can enjoy the hope of a time of restoration and resurrection, in a kingdom that has no end, under the rulership of the true God who has finally set everything right.

Thank you so much for studying Daniel with me. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 10-12

Tomorrow we will begin the book of Ezra (chapters 1-3) as we continue on our journey through God’s Word using the

Decaceratops, Is That You?

Daniel 7-9

Welcome to the second half of Daniel, where if you thought it was a strange book before, now you’ve been proven correct. Long gone are the days of easily followable narratives. We’ve had warm-up sessions in parts of earlier chapters, but now it seems that Daniel has gone full apocalyptic on us.

When we think about the word apocalypse, usually we think of the end of the world and fire and brimstone, because that is the cultural meaning it has taken on. But biblically speaking, an apocalypse is an unveiling or revealing of something. And yes, sometimes that can mean something dramatic is being revealed about the end of the world as we know it. But that is not the default mode of an apocalypse. An apocalypse, probably more often than not, sheds light on what is happening now (as in, then, for the original writers and audience) and what is immediately on the horizon, often with the purpose of encouraging the people of God to hang on. Today we can look at an ancient, yet inspired apocalypse and find patterns and truths that mean just as much (and more) as they did so long ago.

Think back to Daniel chapter two. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a statue with its different parts representing a succession of four kingdoms, and then a fifth, everlasting kingdom. This was an apocalypse, revealing to Nebuchadnezzar how temporary his kingdom is and how sovereign God is. But this also was a way of revealing to Daniel the encouraging truth that restoration for the people of God was something in the works.

Daniel’s dream in chapter seven presents the same pattern with very different imagery, and expands on it with some new information. Instead of different parts of a statue, we have four devouring beasts coming out of the sea. The first is a lion-eagle type thing, the second is a bear, the third is a leopard-bird thing, and the fourth is maybe something like an elephant with ten horns. Coming out of it is another little horn that is arrogant. These beasts are four kingdoms, and I’ll again run with them representing Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece (probably more the Seleucid kingdom in this case). 

I need to take a pause and tell you that I recognize that there are several different ways to make sense of the book of Daniel. It is not an easy book, and there are a lot of things left open to interpretation (which I would argue is by design). I can barely begin to understand the nuances. But I can at least share the path I’m taking through it, and hope that it is useful to you somehow, even though I am sure it is not entirely correct.

Daniel’s dream jumps from the beasts to a court scene, or divine council, with the very fiery and white-haired Ancient One, or Ancient of Days (God) presiding over the court. The fourth beast is judged and put to death, while the other three beasts have to transfer their dominion, but are allowed to live.

To what or whom is this dominion transferred? Now approaching God on the clouds of heaven is a humanlike figure, or one “like a son of man.” Verse 14 tells us, “To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”

Who is the humanlike figure? There are a couple options. One option is that the humanlike figure is an angel who is a heavenly representative of Israel. Option two is similar, where it would be a literary stand-in kind of figure in the vision that symbolizes the collective Israel. Either way, it is a representation of Israel approaching Judge God, being vindicated, and receiving dominion.

There is a very tempting and obvious third option, which is to identify the humanlike figure with the Messiah. Jesus’s most used title for himself is the son of man, and he makes references to the son of man coming on the clouds. There is certainly a connection to be made here, but direction is important. In Daniel 7, I don’t believe there is any intention of referring forward to a messianic figure. However, when Jesus comes on the scene, he does well to call back the symbolism in Daniel 7 to say something significant about himself: He embodies and represents Israel before God. As an aside, “son of man” means “human.” Jesus unabashedly embraces his full humanity every time he utters the phrase. As another aside, when Jesus talks about the son of man coming on the clouds, we should import Daniel 7 context and imagery as a starting point for understanding what he is talking about, because that seems to be what he is asking us to do.

Daniel is very concerned about this fourth beast that seems to be much worse than the other beasts, and what is going on with the ten horns (Now 11 though. This one goes to 11). This fourth beast probably symbolizes the hellenistic kingdom of Alexander the Great. And the 11th (little) horn probably symbolizes Antiochus IV Epihanes, one of the hellenistic kings of the Seleucid dynasty (from 175 to 164 BC), who intensely persecuted the Jews. Since the book of Daniel was likely not in its final form until the first half of the 2nd century BC, the persecution from Antiochus was either on the horizon or already a very serious reality being wrestled with.

This little horn tries to mess with the sacred seasons (Antiochus actually prohibited observing Sabbath and some feasts), persecutes, and sets himself up as sovereign for a period of time (usually interpreted as 3½ years). But after the time is up, his dominion is handed over to the people of God.

Again I want to suggest that the specifics are less important than the pattern. We can look at history and find the fulfillment of passages like these. But the bigger pattern is that earthly kings and kingdoms come and go. Some of them are decent, and some of them are truly terrible, but none of them are God. So we look forward to when dominion is in the right place, to a truly good kingdom that is eternal, with God as its king. Until then, we know there can be trouble, and we hang on.

Chapter 8 expands on chapter 7 by presenting Daniel’s vision of a ram and a goat. The ram is powerful and has two horns. A goat with a horn between its eyes shows up and takes out the ram. But eventually the goat loses the horn and 4 more replace it. Out of one of these horns comes a little horn that becomes very powerful and arrogant. He interferes with the sacrificial system and wreaks general havoc and headache. A couple of angels speak among themselves and ask how long this will go on. A prediction of 2,300 evenings and mornings is given, which could be meant to be 2,300 days or 1,150 days. If it is the latter, that roughly approximates a 3½ year period, which will come up again.

Luckily, Gabriel is able to help us with some of this. He identifies the ram’s horns as the kings of Media and Persia. The goat is Greece, with the first horn being its first king. And the four horns are four kingdoms that rise up to take over when the first king is gone. Then another very powerful and troublesome king comes after them. But Gabriel assures Daniel, “he shall be broken, and not by human hands.”

To fill in a couple more blanks, it seems reasonable to say the goat’s horn is Alexander the Great, who rapidly defeated the Persian empire. After he is broken (his sudden death in 323 BC), his kingdom is divided between his generals (the Diadochi). The four horns refer to the four most important of these kingdoms. Our beloved friend Antiochus comes out of one of these.

Antiochus in a way declares war on Judaism, and by extension, on God. He ushers in the “Antiochene Crisis” in 167 BC in response to a civil war in Jerusalem. With an iron fist, he brings massacres, enslavement, military presence, a rededication of the temple to Zeus Olympios, a replacement of normal sacrifices with pagan sacrifices, and destruction of copies of the Torah. This defiling of the temple and sacrificial system is likely referred to by the “transgression that makes desolate.” Antiochus is basically making worship of the true God illegal if not impossible.

The tyrannical little horn is allowed to do his thing for a time, but God will be the one to put an end to him. Again we have a pattern where an arrogant king sets himself up as God, is allowed to live in that delusion for a time, but is eventually made low by God. And hope waits for the deliverance and restoration that follows.

Chapter 9 reminds us that Daniel has been waiting for this restoration. He recalls that the prophet Jeremiah said that the exile would last for 70 years. This launches him into a prayer of repentance on behalf of his people. Israel had screwed up so badly and put themselves into this situation, but Daniel, as far as we can tell, doesn’t have much of anything to apologize for. Yet, he groups himself in with Israel and confesses their collective sin. Daniel cries out to God to restore the temple, the people, and Jerusalem, not for their own sake, but for God’s. Because now God’s people, who carry his name, have become a laughingstock. 

But Gabriel now adds another layer of interpretation on Jeremiah, and informs Daniel that it will take 70 weeks for everything to be restored to some kind of normal for Jerusalem and the people of God. What do we make of this? Usually it is taken to mean 70 weeks of years, so 70 times 7, or 490. But 490 years from when? Does it start from when they went into exile, or from when Daniel had the conversation with Gabriel, or from when Jeremiah first spoke the prophecy, or from some other point? And do the biblical authors really intend these numbers to be used as precise timetables? Whichever way it is, 490 years is much longer than 70, and this has to come as devastating news to Daniel, who by now has waited most of his life for the exile to end and for things to be put right again.

Gabriel informs us that these 70 weeks are divided into periods of 7 + 62 + 1. The first 7 weeks is 49 years, or in biblical tradition, a Jubilee, when slaves are set free and debts are forgiven (see Lev 25). As it turns out, that is the amount of time from the start of the exile until their return after Cyrus’s decree. The anointed prince after the 7 weeks could be a reference to the high priest Joshua, or possibly Cyrus. During the 62 weeks, Jerusalem is being rebuilt into a real city again. After the 62 weeks there is an anointed one who is cut off, which is probably a reference to the murdered high priest, Onias III. Then it mentions a prince to come who destroys the city and temple. This “prince” is likely Antiochus, assaulting the city through his official, Apollonius. And in the last week, we have some kind of agreement between Antiochus and the hellenizing Jews, followed by his ban on worship, and replacement of YHWH worship with pagan worship, basically as punishment for a rebellion. To get more backstory on this line of interpretation, you can look at the Jewish writings of 1 and 2 Maccabees. Whatever interpretation you take, and whoever this prince is, his end will come at the end of these 70 weeks.

If your head is spinning, join the club. Part of the fun of reading Daniel is that we’re continually invited to interpret. Don’t get too lost on the details and timelines. It has been helpful for me to zoom out and try to catch the big picture themes and patterns.

We’re not immune to trouble. Regrettably, sometimes the people who have been placed in authority over us don’t have our best interests in mind. This can make a huge mess of things for a while, but God is always on the move to restore his people, even if it takes 7 times longer than we had hoped.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 7-9

Tomorrow we finish the book of Daniel (chapters 10-12) as we continue on our

The Weights of Kings

Daniel 4-6

As the narrative in the book of Daniel has progressed, it seems like the focus has been stolen away from Daniel and put on Nebuchadnezzar. Could there really be redemption for the tyrant who besieged Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and scattered the people of God into exile? The story up until now has given us the crazy idea that yes, redemption seems possible, although the pathway there for the king hasn’t been linear.

Nebuchadnezzar has now again been plagued by bad dreams, has again called his sages to interpret, and has again been disappointed by their inability to deliver. The man for the job is Daniel, clearly. So he tells Daniel of his dream of a big important tree that gets chopped down to the stump. Daniel helps us fill in some blanks. The tree is a representation of the highly powerful and influential king. But he is going to be driven away from society, go live with the animals, and be bathed by the dew until he learns a lesson. And when he learns that lesson, recognizing that God is sovereign, he can be re-established as king, extending again from the stump and roots that were left.

A year after having this dream, Nebuchadnezzar goes to his roof and delights in how powerful and great he is for creating such a beautiful Babylon. This is the perfect moment for God to come in and knock him off his high horse. If I may paraphrase God, he says, “I warned you this would happen.” And it seems like our creaturely ignorance requires him to say this a lot.

Just as he was warned, Nebuchadnezzar wanders off into the wilderness and lives like an animal, eating grass, getting all wet in the dew, growing his hair out scarily long and tangled, and letting his fingernails become like that of small velociraptor claws. But don’t worry, he is unable to open doors. I like to imagine that during this time, he also became the vocalist of a local metal band, but they had to let him go because of creative differences. It was like someone flipped his beast mode switch.

And then one day Nebuchadnezzar suddenly snaps out of this terrible phase, acknowledges the sovereignty of God, and has all his former glory restored to him. I love what he says to close out chapter four: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride.”

Amen to that. But the last part can sometimes be a hard reality to swallow. We’ve all heard that pride comes before the fall, and we’ve seen here one more example of how that pans out as a true proverb. Having healthy levels of self-esteem and confidence is a good thing. The kind of pride we saw in Nebuchadnezzar seems to be an amped-up and unbalanced version of this that made him believe he was all that. And when you prop up that delusion long enough, painful and humbling reality has to come out eventually.

So now we can add big bad Nebuchadnezzar to the long list of unlikely redemptions. I’m on the list, and so are you. Praise God that he seems to like orchestrating these all the time.

With Nebuchadnezzar ending his appearances on a high note, he has left a legacy in the air. He is an answer to the question of what can happen when God gets through to someone and they yield to him, however painfully. Enter Belshazzar. He is an answer to a contrasting question: What can painfully happen when you not only don’t yield, but also add a large amount of idolatry and blasphemy to the equation?

Belshazzar is in the middle of throwing a very well-attended and sexy drinkathon when he comes up with a great idea. He asks for the vessels of gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar looted from the temple in Jerusalem, because he thinks it would be extra classy to drink wine from them. So that is what they do, along with worshiping gods of various metals and materials.

What happens next is what any reasonable person would expect. Of course, a disembodied hand writes on the wall. The terrified and probably self-wetted Belshazzar calls for his experts, but they are unable to figure out what the writing means. The queen knows just the man for the job.

Daniel agrees to help and even indicates he doesn’t want the rich rewards. But first he recounts the story of Nebuchadnezzar and how he humbled himself after his prideful fall. Belshazzar knows this story well, yet he has not followed his example and humbled himself before God. Daniel tells Belshazzar that “the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored.”

The writing is on the wall. That’s right, the phrase we utter in the face of impending doom comes from this very story. If you are like me, you have read Daniel’s interpretation of “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin” many times and not really understood how he got there. Somehow it means that the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom are numbered, that he’s been weighed and found wanting, and his kingdom is going to be divided and given to the Medes and Persians. At least the Medes and Persians part seems to groove with the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmare about the gold headed statue. But did Daniel skip a step on the board?

This is the kind of thing that would have been a little more obvious to the original audience, but gets totally lost in translation for us. To compound the confusion, Daniel maintains its reputation for being a weird book by being written partly in Aramaic (from the middle of 2:4 to the end of chapter 7). So you thought knowing Hebrew would get you out of this pickle? Think again. I know only English. This is where commentaries or the internet come in handy.

As it turns out, the words are all measures of weight: a mina (or 60 sheqels), a sheqel, and two half-minas. So the first layer of this is that you can take the succession of kings and plug them in according to their weight or legacy. Nebuchadnezzar, the king who humbled himself, is worth more, so he is the mina. Belshazzar is a joke, so he is like 1/60th of Nebuchadnezzar, or a sheqel. Then the two half-minas would be the decently presented Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian. But in this schema, they are each only half the man Nebuchadnezzar was.

Okay, this will work, but it isn’t the angle Daniel is taking. There is wordplay that hopelessly eludes us. Mene is interpreted as a similar word mena, a verb that refers to something like counting or reckoning. Teqel is interpreted as a verb meaning “to be weighed” but also it is interpreted as tiqqal (to be light). Belshazzar? Nothing to him. Daniel is clever and says Peres, which is the singular of Parsin (half-minas). Peres gets us to more wordplay since peras means assessed or divided. But to top it off, paras means Persia. Like I said, this all hopelessly eludes us as English speakers separated from the writing by more than two thousand years. The Bible is full of wordplay and puns like that, but sadly, we miss most of them. My apologies go to anyone who is actually familiar with Aramaic, as I’m sure my Jedi-waving over the vocabulary probably wasn’t adequate.

Belshazzar richly rewards Daniel for the interpretation and makes him third in rank in the kingdom. That night, Belshazzar is killed, and his kingdom is handed off to Darius the Mede. After all, the writing was on the wall.

Darius retains a very high rank for Daniel, which makes the satraps extremely jealous. They are unable to find any dirt on Daniel, because he lives with integrity. But they know Daniel prays, so they come up with a conspiracy to make it illegal to pray to anyone except the king for thirty days. The penalty is being demoted to Temporary Cat Sustenance Technician. This is always a demotion.

Daniel knows this, yet continues to faithfully pray, neither concealing nor broadcasting what he is doing. According to the satraps’ scheme, he is caught, and the king has no choice but to follow through with the punishment, since he signed the law, although he does not want to harm Daniel.

Here is another friendly reminder that doing the right thing doesn’t guarantee you anything. Maybe you will reap benefits. Maybe you will be granted protection. Maybe you will upset people very close to you. Maybe you will be hated and persecuted. Maybe you will be physically injured or even killed. Especially when faced with extreme situations like Daniel’s, the idea of doing the right thing might sound like it is not an option. But there is an option. It could be that the only thing you are guaranteed by doing the right thing is never having to wish that you had done the right thing. And that’s the right place to be, wherever it takes you.

In this case, where it takes Daniel is a miraculous deliverance much like his friends had just a few chapters ago in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. They have almost identical stories of faithfulness to God, resulting in peaceful noncompliance with the authorities, and ending with the miraculous skirting of the death penalty. Most of the time, you can be faithful to God and honor the authority of your Babylon without a conflict (Matt. 22:21, Rom 13:1), and even when faced with a conflict, for most of us in this modern world, the consequence for being faithful to God instead of the state doesn’t result in death. But sadly, persecution, violence, and martyrdom are still the fate of many of our brothers and sisters.

This next part is probably not mentioned or illustrated in the toddler bedtime bible, although kudos go to anyone with the audacity. Darius doesn’t let the satraps get away with their act of deception, so he orders them, their children, and their wives to be thrown in the pit. The lions tear them all to pieces before they even hit the ground. Barbaric and chilling? Absolutely. This is one of many examples that would earn the Bible an R rating for its content, if not worse. Anyone who thinks of the Bible as just a bunch of nice bedtime stories hasn’t read it. If you run across these types, it is probably best not to correct them, because if they knew what was in there, they might be offended and launch a campaign to have it banned. I kid, but only halfway.

Overlooking his feeding of the lions with women and children, Darius seems to be a decent king and understands how it works, without the same kind of power struggle and roller coaster that Nebuchadnezzar had. He orders that all the people tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, “For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” 

Darius gets it. Way to be, Darius.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 4-6

Tomorrow we will read Daniel 7-9 as we continue on our

Keep Calm and Babylon

Daniel 1-3

The book of Daniel is a fun and strange ride, and there is kind of a lot going on. But it’s totally worth it. I’m glad you’re here. Today we are reading chapters 1-3.

Babylon has been around since its debut as the Tower of Babel, and all along has maintained its poor reputation for being the quintessential oppressive and arrogant empire. It is such a powerful symbol that it is recycled to apply to pretty much any oppressive empire in the Bible. Big, bad Egypt is not actual Babylon, but it’s Babylon. Much later in the book of Revelation, those references to Babylon are about Rome, but they are meant to point you back at all the other Babylons and trigger your imagination.

The symbol of Babylon is flexible enough it has a way of representing basically any human governed kingdom, which possess varying degrees of terribleness. I have to admit I don’t mind my Babylon much. All things considered, the U.S.A. isn’t a bad place to be. I can’t think of any place I would rather be. Sure, this place, like all other places, provides me with plenty of things to gripe about if I want to, but I’ll keep my greener grass wishes in check, because somewhere else could be truly terrible. I wish my Babylon well, and I’ll work toward making it a better place how I can. I’ll enjoy relative peace and security while it’s a reality.

As great as my Babylon is, it’s still Babylon. It’s often claimed that we live in a Christian nation, but I don’t buy that. If it was ever true, it is certainly not now. My best case scenario is if Babylon allows me to practice my faith without interfering, meddling, or controlling. My hope rests in God and in Christ, not in party politics, culture wars, economic growth, particular governmental systems, or military strength. If the state of all those other things happens to be firing on all cylinders, that is just icing on the cake, but I’m not counting on it.

In the book of Daniel, things get rolling very quickly with Babylon living up to its name by besieging Jerusalem. The temple vessels are looted and placed in a treasury of a Babylonian god, and Daniel is among the royalty and nobility carted off to Babylon. 

Daniel and his friends are integrated into the culture, receiving Babylonian names, learning the language, wearing the clothes, being trained in all the knowledge and wisdom, and eventually receiving government jobs. All of this is okay, but what they are facing is the challenge of deciding where to draw lines. How can they maintain their identity as Israelites while in many ways embracing this new Babylonian culture? 

The first place Daniel decides to draw a line is that he doesn’t want to be defiled by eating the royal rations. After Daniel voices his concern, the palace master is terrified he’ll lose his head if he doesn’t feed them the rations and they start looking unhealthy as a result. Daniel’s wise strategy is to suggest a trial period of 10 days with a diet of vegetables (or seeds) and water. The result is that their new diet has caused them to look better than the other guys who were getting the king’s rations. So they are allowed to continue with their special diet, and claim back a small part of their identity. The best part is that nobody had to lose their head in the process.

Now Daniel is set apart in another way: He has earned the reputation of being able to interpret dreams. The king calls upon his magicians and enchanters and sorcerers because he has been having terrible dreams. Being the reasonable man that he is, what he requires of them is that they tell him not only the interpretation of the dream, but also tell him what his dream was. The penalty for not being able to do this is death. They reasoned with the king that this is too hard and “no one can reveal it to the king except the gods,” but he just raged and ordered that they all be dead.

Enter Daniel, who says that he’ll be able to figure it out if he has some time. Have you ever over-promised? If I were him, I would be plotting my escape from Babylon right about now. But since Daniel is wiser than I am, he tells his friends about the problem and they all ask God to reveal the dream and interpretation to them. God reveals it to Daniel in a vision, and he prays a beautiful prayer acknowledging God as the source of all wisdom, knowledge, and power.

It’s time for Daniel to report back to Nebuchadnezzar, and the stakes are high on this one. If Nebuchadnezzar is not satisfied, a lot of people could die, including Daniel and his friends. This is another characteristic of Babylon: Human life is expendable in the hands of the powerful.

Daniel recounts the dream to Nebuchadnezzar. There is a giant statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet partly of iron and partly of clay. Then a stone is cut out, strikes the feet, and causes the whole statue to disintegrate and blow away in the wind. Then the stone becomes a mountain that fills the earth. 

The dream with the statue is revealing a pattern of the transfer of power from one king or kingdom to the next ones in line, in a degrading fashion, and lastly to the final one that lasts forever. Usually the kingdoms represented by the body parts going down are thought to be Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece (consisting of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties), but the specific kingdoms are less important than recognizing the big picture pattern. It can be observed in the original historical context of Daniel, but I think it is able to describe a recurring reality throughout history. It is just the way things work. Babylons get taken over by other Babylons, and earthly kingdoms are temporary. The transfer of power is presented as being more in the hands of God and less in the hands of earthly kings. 

The stone, or the last kingdom, could be said to be like the rulership of God manifested through a restored Israel. This is the hope and expectation of God’s people who are in exile. This idea of the reign of God is as central to believers now as it was in the distant past, but like other themes and patterns, it has taken up new, rich meanings as the story of God has progressed.

When Nebuchadnezzar heard the dream and its interpretation, it might have hit him like a little love letter from God, going something like this:

Dear Nebuchadnezzar,

Yeah, that terrible dream came from me, and I revealed it to Daniel. By the wisdom I gave him, he interpreted it. No need to kill your wise men or anyone. They were right, nobody can do what you asked.

The only reason you were able to take over my people and destroy my temple is because I let you. Yes, you are powerful, but the power you have really comes from me. There will be a day when others will come along and all your power will be given to them. And they will also have their day when their power will be taken from them. You see, I am the one who has power over the patterns of history, not you. And from me will come a kingdom that will crush all other kingdoms. It will never end and will never be taken over. It would be best if you accept this. I will contend with you for as long as it takes for it to sink in. There are things worse than bad dreams.

Best Wishes,

Revealer of Mysteries

It was never really a showdown between Daniel and the king. The real fun is watching the shoving match God and Nebuchadnezzar are having behind the scenes. Make no mistake about who is schooling who. God is trying to give Nebuchadnezzar a chance to understand the big picture. For now, the tyrannical Nebuchadnezzar is truly amazed and at least acknowledging God as “the God of gods and Lord of kings and revealer of mysteries,“ but don’t hold your breath. He still doesn’t get it.

The next thing we know, Nebuchadnezzar has built a giant golden statue as an image of his god and has commanded everyone to worship it. Really? Just a second ago you were calling Daniel’s God the “God of gods.” Worshiping Nebuchadnezzar’s god isn’t something our old pals, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are willing to do. Being Jews, they will not worship a Babylonian god, or any other god, but only YHWH. 

But there is a smear. We’re not sure if the giant statue is an image facilitating worship of a Babylonian god, Nebuchadnezzar, or Babylon itself. They seem to be blended together in some ambiguous combination. So there may be another kind of idolatry in play that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are not on board with: nationalism. This isn’t simply respecting your country or deriving part of your identity from it, it is a level above where the country or leaders are gods. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. The kingdoms of this world will come and go. It’s important to tie our identity to the one that lasts forever.

They knowingly risk their lives to draw a line and remain faithful to and hopeful in God rather than Babylon. I love what they say to the king:

“If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

Whether God could or would save them is irrelevant to them. It would be easy to always do the right thing if we knew God would always protect us, but that just isn’t how it works. For every story of amazing deliverance like this one, it seems like there are several others of pain or martyrdom. Our hope doesn’t hinge on safety! God be praised when he delivers us, and when he doesn’t.

Luckily for our friends in this story, God does deliver them in a mindblowingly impossible way. And now Nebuchadnezzar is convinced not just that God reveals mysteries, but also that he delivers in ways no god can. He is convinced of this so powerfully that he declares that anyone who blasphemes against this God will be torn to pieces.

It’s at least a step. Maybe there is hope for this king after all… we’ll see what happens.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 1-3

Tomorrow let’s read Daniel 4-6 as we continue Daniel’s story and our

Peace in Our Time

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Daniel 10-12

I am no expert on Biblical Prophecy, or on anything for that matter. So I’m not going to try to explain the prophecies in Daniel 10-12. Instead I want to share three things we can learn about God from Biblical Prophecy and three implications of those things for our own lives.

(1) Biblical Prophecy illustrates that God is not in time. This means that God is not bound by the same time constraints as we are. You and I can only deal with the present. We may have memories of the past and fantasies of the future, but we can see what is really happening only while it is actually taking place. God is not like this. He can see all of history at a glance; this is how He could reveal to people like Daniel the goings-on of the future.

(2) Because God is not in time He is the greatest of planners. The people we think of as planners (people like my wife) tend to have a focus on the future. This is why they plan—to be prepared for what is coming in the future. Since God can see the future He is able to plan things out in such a way as to generate best possible result. And because God loves us, those plans promote our welfare.

(3) Not only does God make plans, but those plans happen just as He promises. There are hundreds of prophecies throughout the Bible, some of which have already been fulfilled. Many of the prophecies in the Old Testament predicted that a Messiah would come. They foretold of the place of his birth, the characteristics that would define him, and the ultimate sacrifice he would have to make. When Jesus came, he was the embodiment of these promises—although many didn’t recognize this. When God makes a promise, you can bet your bottom dollar that He will come through.

(4) Because of God’s track record in promises department, we can trust that the prophecies in the Bible that haven’t yet happened will eventually happen. While it is very easy to lose trust in the empty promises of politicians, we can rest assured that God won’t let us down.

(5) Our trust in the promises of God should give us hope for the future. While the Bible does prophesy that in “the end” difficult and trying times will come, after that there will be no more pain, no more tears, and we will be with our God in His perfect Kingdom.

(6) What all this really means is that right now, in the time we are constrained to, we can live at peace. Despite the craziness of the world around us, however terrible and unbearable it may become, our hope can anchor us so that we can stand firm and live in serenity. So look at the promises God has made, see that He keeps them and that they are good, and live in peace, with hopeful expectation for the culmination of all the prophecies in the Bible.

– Joel Fletcher

How Daniel Sustained His Devotion (And How You Can Too)

Daniel 7-9

The same word has beep popping up each day in our last few devotions: devotion.  The reason for this is simple. Daniel was a man devoted to God. Each story we’ve read this week has clearly demonstrated this. 

In yesterday’s devotion I said that our devotion to God must remain constant despite the ever-changing world in which we live—just as Daniel’s did. Today I want to tell you how Daniel was able to sustain his devotion and how you can, too.

The word pray (and its derivatives) is found twelve times in the first nine chapters of Daniel. He prayed three times everyday. He was arrested and thrown into a lion’s den because he continued praying even though it was declared illegal. One of the most powerful prayers in all of scripture is recorded in Daniel Chapter 9—Daniel is its author. It is obvious that prayer was central in the life of this godly man. This is what enabled him to stay devoted to his God in midst of constant trials and changes. And a prayerful life is the key for us to maintain a devoted life today.

There are several reasons why prayer helps sustain devotion. The first reason is that it keeps us connected to God. The more you talk to someone (especially if you like them), the better the connection. On the other hand, if you don’t communicate, there will be little to no connection. This is case with God as well. Prayer—heartfelt prayer—creates connection, which leads to greater devotion.

A second reason is that prayer helps us understand the will of God. Prayer allows us (as much as possible) to get our minds aligned with God’s. The more we pray, the better we understand what God wants. His will is good, pleasing, and perfect. So when we understand God’s will (in all its goodness) it generates more devotion in us. In other words, we get a greater sense of how great God truly is and He becomes more alluring to us.

The last reason I’ll mention for why prayer helps us stay devoted is that it keeps us focused on what really matters. Our minds are truly amazing things, but they tend to get overcrowded—especially in the Information Age. We all carry smart phones, have personal computers, and own TVs. We are constantly taking in information—sometimes good and sometimes bad. I believe there has never been a harder time for individuals to stay focused than today. It is difficult to remain devoted when there are so many distractions. This is where prayer can help. When we put away our computers and smart phones and take time to talk to God, it clears the fog in our minds that prevents us from focusing on the one to whom we should be devoted.

Being devoted is not an easy thing. That is what makes Daniel so impressive. Only because of his prayer life was he able sustain such devotion to God. If we want to resemble Daniel in his devotion, we must strive to have a life filled with prayer. So go ahead, say a prayer.

– Joel Fletcher

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Thrown to the Lions

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Daniel 5-6                                            

In Chapter 6 of Daniel something very devious and disturbing occurs. After being selected as one of three administrators over Babylon by its new king, Daniel found himself in the crosshairs of the other overseers of the kingdom. They were jealous of the favor Daniel was finding in the eyes of Darius and that the king wanted to set Daniel over the whole kingdom.  This jealousy led to a conspiracy to get rid of Daniel. But how could they entrap such an upright guy? 

The satraps and administrators devised a plan to use Daniel’s devotion to God against him. They convinced the king to enact a law that would prohibit prayer of any kind to any person or god, other than Darius for thirty days. The punishment would be certain death, in the form of being thrown into a pit with hungry lions.

Daniel, in response to the ridiculous edict, went home and did the same thing he did everyday: prayed. He prayed three times everyday, not to Darius, but to the God of the universe, Yahweh.  In the middle of his prayers, a group of satraps and administrators went to Daniel’s house and caught him in the unlawful act. They turned him in. Despite trying everything he could, the king had no choice but to order to have Daniel thrown into the Lion’s den. 

The next morning Darius rushed to the den to see if Daniel was still alive. Not only was he alive, he didn’t have a scratch on him. God had spared him. He sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions. The king was overjoyed and had Daniel pulled out. And, in a clear case of poetic justice, the men who tried to entrap Daniel are thrown to the lions to meet the same fate they had planned for Daniel.

The big point I want to draw from this particular story, and in this book as a whole, is Daniel’s consistency despite the changes in the world around him. Daniel lived his whole life in a place that was not his home, lived under the reign of several different kings, and he had people who were jealous of him and wanted him dead. Despite these things that were out of his control, Daniel was steadfast in his devotion to God and unwavering in his commitment to living right. 

The world we live in is constantly changing. Every four to eight years, we have a new president. What is popular today will be forgotten tomorrow (silly bands anyone?). What was socially acceptable a decade ago, is now taboo. What was once taboo is now celebrated. Society is in flux. Our devotion to God must not be. We may never live in a time when it is illegal to pray, but we do live in one where it is unpopular and becoming more so ever year. Our foundation must not be the shifting sands of the culture, but the Rock that never changes. It may get you thrown to the lions, but you’ll be in the favor of the one who made those lions. 

– Joel Fletcher

Even If You Don’t

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Daniel 2-3 

There’s a new song from Mercy Me that’s been playing on the radio lately called Even If. 

The chorus goes:

I know You’re able and I know You can

Save through the fire with Your mighty hand

But even if You don’t

My hope is You alone

In Chapter two of Daniel king Nebuchadnezzar makes a tall statue of gold and calls for everyone to fall down and worship when the assigned music plays. If anyone refuses they are to be thrown into a furnace to meet a very unpleasant death.  For Daniel’s friends from Judah, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, this is unacceptable. They are Jews, and worshiping anyone or anything except Yahweh is contrary to their devotion to God. But if they refuse, they will surely suffer a horrible death.

They have a tough decision to make. 

Or do they.

When the music played, the three of them didn’t bow. Their devotion to God was so strong that the threat of death didn’t faze them. In fact, when confronted about their not worshiping the false idol, this is the response they give: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18) Their faith in God is admirable. And it infuriated the king. He ordered that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than normal.

If the story ended with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah perishing in the flames of the furnace, their faith and devotion would still be a great example for us. They were willing to die rather than bow to something other than Yahweh. They knew He could save them, but even if He didn’t they said they would not serve false gods or worship a golden idol. But God did save them. He rescued them from the fiery furnace and this amazed Nebuchadnezzar. He praised God and promoted the three of them in Babylon.

You and I may never be faced with a situation where choosing to follow God’s way could result in our deaths, but our devotion to God may lead to others mocking us, having to make sacrifices, or, God forbid, putting us in an uncomfortable situation. God doesn’t promise to rescue us from these things. Our trust in God shouldn’t be affected by whether things go the way we want them to or not. Even if they don’t, our hope should be in the God who CAN rescue us. He is a good God, a great God, and the only God who can save us from the flames.

– Joel Fletcher

The Resolution that Stuck

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Daniel 1-2 

The book of Daniel is probably my favorite of the books we call the Prophets. It is filled with exciting stories (like the fiery furnace and lion’s den), captivating prophecies, and one of the best biblical examples of a godly man.

In the first two chapters of Daniel we begin to learn a lot about his character. The first story in Daniel begins in 1:8, which says “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” Daniel was a part of a group chosen by king Nebuchadnezzar to be groomed to serve in his palace. Daniel, along with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were chosen from the tribe of Judah. The group was assigned to eat food that apparently was against the food laws outlined in law given to Moses. Instead of doing the easy and safe thing, Daniel made a resolution not to defile himself with the decadent, tasty food. After some reluctance, the official in charge of Daniel agreed to let him and his friends eat his own diet. 

At the beginning of every year, people make resolutions to start doing something good (like work out more or read Bible more) or give up something bad for them (like fried foods or too much TV). What seemly happens every year though, is that after a few weeks or, if you’ve done well, a few months, you give up on your resolution and start back on what you were doing before. Keeping resolutions is hard, but Daniel kept his. Not only that, but he and his friends looked better after ten days of vegetables and water than the other guys on the diet of choice foods and wine.

Daniel’s resolution stuck and for this he was rewarded. God gave he and his three friends knowledge and understanding and Daniel the ability to interpret visions and dreams. They found favor with the king and entered his service. This led to the second story in this great book, the interpretation of the king’s dream.

What will be a constant theme through the first half of this book is Daniel’s devotion to God. This is what led him to resolve himself not to eat the defiled food and, even when faced with opposition, to keep that resolution. This devotion will keep him praying even when it’s illegal.

Daniel was devoted to God above all us. We should be, too. It won’t be easy. We may face opposition. We may be thrown to the lions. But in end, it will be well worth the struggles. As the great songwriter Bob Dylan said, “you gotta serve somebody.” Why not let it be the God who will set up a kingdom that will never end? (Daniel 2:44) Resolve yourself to be devoted to the God who won’t let you down.

– Joel Fletcher