Don’t give up!

Friday, August 6th, 2021

Job 5-6, 2 Corinthians 4

I live a short drive from the Blue Ridge mountains. The rolling hills of the piedmont area where I live slowly turn into mountains that tower over everything, rising up in the distance to dominate the landscape. Being so close means that hiking was a favorite pastime of mine growing up. The go-to hike in my area is called Table Rock. Just to the north of Greenville, there is a mountain that overlooks the rest of the upstate. At the very top, there is a bare rock outcropping that provides the perfect spot for a picnic. It can take anywhere from 2-4 hours to get to the top of the mountain and most of that time is spent going straight up. Still, I loved the feeling of anticipation of what the view would look like when we reached the stop and that anticipation kept me going even when I felt like my legs were about to give out. Towards the end of the hike, I was always red faced, gasping for breath, straining towards the next step up. But, that momentary struggle paled in comparison to the views at the top. 

We’ve all probably faced times where it feels like our physical body is just about to give out. If you’re like me, it may be running 5 or 10k, a hard workout, a game of ultimate frisbee (or your favorite sport), a day spent weeding the garden in 100 degree heat, mulching the yard (also in 100 degree heat), or maybe just a really long day at work. These are moments where it seems like you’ll never make it to the end and your main thought is how can you just stop what you are doing and sit down. Each of these things, even if it seems like the difficulty will never end (and I’ve pushed through them all), has a time stamp on it. The struggle will come to an end, and we will arrive at what we’ve been working towards. 

Paul knows about this. In 2 Corinthians 4:7-18, he writes, “7 Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. 8 We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; 9 we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. 10 We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus’ life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you. 13 And since we have the same spirit of faith in keeping with what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke, we also believe, and therefore speak. 14 We know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and present us with you. 15 Indeed, everything is for your benefit, so that grace, extended through more and more people, may cause thanksgiving to increase to God’s glory.”

The clay jars are us! We are fragile. We can be pressured, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, but through it all, we will overcome. We live knowing that God will save us and raise us with Jesus. So when we feel like we are at the end of our rope, we are reminded that we are overcomers. 

Paul goes on in verses 16-18, “16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

We are renewed day by day for an absolutely incomparable eternal hope in glory with Christ. We will be glorified in the kingdom, so we don’t need to worry about the present sufferings we may face here. Our momentary struggle pales in comparison to what we are promised at the end. Don’t stop striving! Don’t give up! We have an eternal promise that is greater than everything we face now!

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 5-6 and 2 Corinthians 4 .

We Will Win the War!

Monday, August 2nd, 2021

Esther 7-8, 1 Corinthians 16

Esther took a chance and invited the King to dinner again. By this point, she knew that she had to act fast, but you can tell that she was nervous. If the king was angry at her request, she could have been sent away like Vashti – or worse. The king asked her again what she desired and she spoke out against Haman, letting the king know that Haman was planning destruction for her, Mordecai, and her whole people. Furious, the king sentences Haman to be hung on the gallows that he had built for Mordecai. Mordecai was then given Haman’s estate and role as advisor to the king. 

A happy ending for Esther and Mordecai, but there was still a dark day planned for the Jews. After the king gave the edict Haman advised him to give, he signed it with his signet ring. An order from the king was not able to be revoked; the day Haman had planned for the Jews would still happen. In order to prevent total destruction of the Jews, Mordecai planned another day where the Jews would be able to face anyone in battle who was hostile to them. Because of this order, there was rejoicing. The Jews could defend themselves, and consequently, they would not be destroyed. They knew they faced a battle, but ultimately, they had already won the war. The king was on their side. They would have victory. 

Most of us will not face a battle like this in our lifetime. We don’t need to worry about anyone destroying our communities, families, or – for the most part – even our property. We may not face physical battles, but we will face spiritual battles. Jesus promised in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We know that we will have trouble in this world, but we can be encouraged that Jesus has the victory. We may have battles, but we know that we will win the war! 

Paul encouraged the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, “13 Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. 14 Your every action must be done with love.” We need this encouragement too. Whenever we face difficult trials and temptations, we can stand firm in the faith. We can be strong. And, we know that we can overcome. We pray – as Paul did – ‘Lord Jesus come’ and then we face our battles head on, because we know that we will win the war! 

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

Sunday – May 23, 2021

2 Samuel 21-22, Acts 20

In today’s Old Testament reading, 2 Samuel 21-22, we see David, a victorious king and man broken by sin, dealing with the legacies of previous leaders of Israel and the political unrest they left behind. In addition to this, we see fall out with the Canaanite peoples, who had remained in the promised land for a thousand years after Joshua and the Israelites were told to conquer it. The last few chapters of 2 Samuel function as an appendix; they list stories that occurred during David’s reign, in non-chronological order. 

In 2 Samuel 21, we find a brutal story that involves betrayal, sacrifice, and tragedy.  Earlier in David’s reign, there was a famine that lasted 3 years. David responds to this famine, recognizing it as discipline from God, by going to God in prayer. The reason God gave for the famine is because of Saul’s, the previous king, slaying of the Gibeonites – a people the Israelites had made a treaty with (Josh. 9:15-20). David goes to rectify the situation, and so the Gibeonites ask for seven of Saul’s male descendents to punish for Saul’s decisions. 

The seven descendents were handed over and killed. Heartbreakingly, Rizpah, the mother of two of the sons, goes to the place where her sons were killed and protected their bodies from the elements and birds from April to October. four months of a day-in-day-out vigil, through heat, cold, rain, and sun. Finally, David heard about what Rizpah had done, her love and dedication to her sons, and because of her actions, he decided to honor the memories of Saul and Jonathan – and Rizpah’s sons – by burying them in their family’s tomb. After all of this, the famine stops in the land. 

This story is hard to read, but it shows an important truth: Our legacy is determined by the small, everyday actions of our lives. Those small everyday actions build up into something that can make a profound impact on the lives of those that come after us. 

Because of Saul’s actions and his failure to consistently follow the law, he devastated the lives of both the Gibeonites and his own family. His legacy left a ripple effect of destruction that led to a famine in the entire land of Israel. That legacy of destruction was only stopped when another woman consistently showed love instead of violence, for both her sons and for God. Because of her actions, God answered the prayer for the land. 

What type of legacy are you building? How are you daily and consistently building up a legacy that honors God and provides hope and help to those around you?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

Numbers 23-24, Luke 2

We’ve seen Israel’s unfaithfulness to God because of their lack of ability to trust God over the previous chapters. Even so, God still provides for the Israelites. He still shows up for them and helps them to overcome their obstacles, the battles that they face. In Numbers 21, Israel faces the Amorites, one of the desert peoples who tried to stand up against them. They defeated them and the surrounding peoples and dwelt in their cities with the help of God. 

After living in the land of the Amorites, they left that area and traveled to Moab, whose king was Balak. Balak was terrified of the Israelites, because of their previous victories and phoned help in the form of Balaam, a diviner from a land 400 miles away from Moab. Balak the Moabite wanted Balaam the diviner to put a curse on the Israelite people, and so Balaam traveled to meet Balak (despite God’s repeated warnings). Numbers 23-24 details the oracles that Balaam gives about the Israelite people. In each oracle, Balaam speaks exactly what God wants him to. Even though Balak asked for a curse, Balaam is not able to give one. Instead, he speaks truth, blessings, and good promises about the Israelites based on God’s faithfulness to them.  In fact, Balak gets so fed up with Balaam’s oracles that he summons him in Numbers 24:10-11 and tells him to go home without a reward! Balaam responds by saying, “Didn’t I tell you? If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go against the Lord’s command, to do anything good or bad of my own will? I will say what the Lord says” (Numb. 24:13). The Spirit of God allowed Balaam to proclaim God’s truth. He proclaimed the good deeds God had done for the Israelites, and he proclaimed words that spoke blessings for the people. 

Interestingly, in Luke 2, we also read of proclamations and oracles. However, these proclamations are given by a very different kind of being on a very different occasion. In Luke 2, we read about the birth of Jesus. This account includes the shepherds greeted by the heavenly host who praised God after they sent the shepherds on the way to baby Jesus. These angels proclaim “good news of great joy that will be for all people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David” (Luke 2:10-11). The angels proclaimed the greatness of God. And, they proclaimed the good things that God was going to bring to his people, the Christ. 

We may not have a diviner proclaiming God’s promises to us. We may not have a heavenly host appear to us. But, we do have God’s word. In his word, we have proclamation after proclamation of the good things that God is giving us. We have promise after promise of what a life as a believer will lead to. When you are facing difficult times, where the end seems unclear and your feet feel unsteady, trust in the proclamations of God. What is he proclaiming over you today?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

Numbers 21-22, Luke 1

The Israelites’ wilderness wanderings continue in Numbers 21-22. Even though they had chosen not to enter the Promised Land because of their perceived battles, the battles came to them in the wilderness. They faced the kingdoms of Edom, Arad, Amorites, and Ammonites. In all of these battles, the outcome of the standoff was based not in the strength of the Israelite people, but in the amount of trust they had in God. 

The Israelites were a stubborn people though. They had a tendency to forget the lessons they had just learned. In Numbers 21, they had just shown their trust in God when they defeated the king of Arad. But, in verse 4, they began to grumble and complain against God, asking why they had come out of Egypt to the wilderness. This is a recurring pattern with the Israelites. When they face difficult circumstances, they begin to complain. God always responds strongly to their complaints – sometimes strikingly so. It makes him incredibly angry each and every time they begin to act in this way. In this instance, he sent poisonous snakes among the people. At other times, he sent plagues, fire, or disease – anything to show his displeasure. 

We know that this action – the complaining and grumbling against God’s ordained path – causes God anger. But, as I am reading through the book of Numbers, it’s hard for me to really rectify the description of this wrathful, vengeful God and the God of the New Testament who sent his son to wipe away all sins. Why did it make God this angry? Is it really that bad to complain? 

To answer this question, we can turn to the other passage that we were looking at today: Luke 1. This is the story of the pregnancy announcements of both John the Baptist and Jesus – both of which happened before they got pregnant! John the Baptist parents were Zechariah and Elizabeth, another Levite from the line of Aaron. Zechariah was chosen to serve in the temple, a once in a lifetime opportunity for him, when an angel of the Lord appeared and told him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. There will be joy and delight for you” (Luke 1:13-14). After this, I would imagine that Zechariah would be jumping for joy – the desires of his heart, his deepest prayer, had been answered! But, that’s not the picture that we get. Zechariah responds, “How can I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18). Zechariah’s prayers were answered, but he wanted proof. He wanted God to prove himself to Zechariah. It seemed like an angel of the Lord appearing to Zechariah just wasn’t enough for him. 

In both the Israelites’ and Zechariah’s situation (as well as the situation with Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22), they wanted God to prove himself to be God. The previous faithfulness God had shown them wasn’t enough; they wanted God to prove himself to be big enough and powerful enough in that moment for them to trust him. But – I don’t think, for any of these people, anything that God could have done in that moment would truly have caused them to trust him more. It wasn’t on God to prove himself to them. For the Israelites, he caused the plagues in Egypt, split the Red Sea, routed whole armies. For Zechariah, he sent a messenger to talk to him face to face and tell him that his greatest desire was answered. They had already received their signs. It was the people’s responsibility to soften their hearts enough to trust in God. They needed to believe that God was who he said he was and would do what he said he would do. 

We are required to trust in the same way. God has done tremendously more than we have ever deserved. He is currently doing more in our lives than we could ever hope for. It is our responsibility to trust him to be God. We just have to follow in obedience to him.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

Daily reading: Philippians 1-4

What’s that series of movies called? Mission difficult? Mission easy-peasy?

Ahhh…Mission Impossible.

Not possible. Can’t be done.

But somehow Tom Cruise always manages to complete the mission, doesn’t he? Somehow, with his resume of spy skills and his team to support him, he always gets the win.

Philippians gives us a few ‘Missions Impossible’… are you ready? Here they are:

-Consider others above yourself.

-Consider loss what you used to consider gain.

-Rejoice always.

-Don’t be anxious.

Before you turn the missions down because they are clearly impossible to accomplish, take a look at what’s in our arsenal:

I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

All of these missions, at their core, are a matter of perspective. And isn’t the best part of every spy movie the part where you go, “Ahhh! That’s what’s really been going on the whole time!”

That is what Paul is offering us here with this credo.

[Consider others above yourself.] Seeing ourselves through the lens of the one who gives us strength changes the way we see others and therefore can change the way we treat them.

[Consider loss what you used to consider gain.] Considering the value of what success really is from Christ’s perspective will likely equal a shift in our priorities.

[Rejoice always.] Viewing our everyday with the eyes of him who conquered the cross and is coming to reign can give us strength to find joy in the mundane and even a glimmer of hope in our pain.

[Don’t be anxious.] Looking in the eyes of the Prince of Peace as he takes our burdens and walks with us through our trials reminds us that we are not alone.

That is how we complete our mission. That is how we, like Paul, are able to do all things through him who gives us strength.

Tom Cruise may do all his own stunts, but Jesus can do all of everything…so, yeah…go ahead and take that mission. You’ve got a good team.

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Philippians 1-4

Tomorrow we will read 1 Timothy.

Matthew 20-21

Election day is only a few days away. Every election cycle seems more divisive as the sides pick and choose what truths they want to adhere to from news media and officials. When we see each side yelling at each other and calling the other names, it can seem like it’s hopeless. How can we piece back together mutual respect and trust – despite the fact that we believe differently? 

In our reading today, we read about Jesus’ triumphal entry, in addition to some parables. In Matthew 21, we get the story: 

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, a sign of suffering, humility, industry, and peace rather than a horse, a sign of war and wealth, to show how his kingdom would be different. The people are sure to welcome him into the city and even drape their coats on the ground so that the donkey’s feet would not touch the ground. Even though the people warmly welcomed Jesus and gave him the honor he deserved, the Pharisees saw this and were jealous. After the triumphal entry, they began plotting against Jesus to kill him. 

In the swirl of the election cycle, our focus can get hazy. As we’ve read this week, there is so much that can cloud our vision and cause us to stumble and fall in our pursuit of God. But, as we inch closer and closer to the day when our votes are counted for this country, we need to rest in the truth that this is not our home. We are a holy priesthood – a set-apart nation. We are the kingdom of God on earth, ambassadors of Christ. We are not waiting with bated breath for the winner of this election season to save us. 

Our King rode in on a donkey 2,000 years ago. He is who we are waiting on, who we are trusting in. He is the one who saved us.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 20-21.

Tomorrow, we will read Luke 18:15-19:48.

John 11

In today’s passage, we read a familiar story of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus has been preaching in the countryside, and he receives news that Lazarus is gravely ill and may not make it. Being close friends with the family, Jesus makes plans to go visit them, even though the people in Jerusalem were making threats against Jesus’ life. However, he doesn’t leave right away, and Lazarus passes away before he gets there. 

When Jesus arrives, everyone asks him the same question: ‘Why didn’t you get here earlier? Why did you try to hustle so that you could save Lazarus’ life?’ Jesus is deeply moved by the suffering, but the answer to these questions is that Lazaraus’ death was used to glorify God. Even more, Lazarus’ death shows still teaches us a profound truth that we can have comfort in today, 2,000 years later. 

While Jesus was walking into the town, Martha, the sister of Lazarus, comes out to meet him. She asks him the questions that I mentioned before, to which Jesus replied one of his 7 I AM statements found in the book of John. 

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

Jesus then goes and raises Lazarus from the dead, doing so so that the people would believe that he truly is the son of God (John 11:41-42). 

This story should give us comfort and hope as we face down our great enemy, death. By believing in Christ, we will take part in the resurrection. Not only this, we can live a ‘resurrected life’ now, being “dead to sin and alive in Christ” (Rom. 6:11). Jesus is the only resurrection and life. If we want to truly live life, we have to believe in the doctrinal truths that Martha tells Jesus: 

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

What do you believe? Do you believe in the resurrection and the life that comes from Christ?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 11.

Tomorrow we will read Luke 17:11-18:14.

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

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