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encouragement theology

To the Comfortable and Complacent

Amos 6

Under the reign of Jeroboam II, the nation of Israel had reached extraordinary wealth and success. They had peace from their enemies and expanded their borders.  A new class of wealthy citizens emerged who showed off their status through their possessions, including their gold and ivory mansions. But the people followed a religion of convenience and had no compassion for their less-fortunate neighbors. It was into this world that God sent the man Amos to preach His judgment. 

This is Amos’ fourth message to God’s people. The Lord had sent His warnings (Amos 3), and yet they had not listened. They minimized God as they built themselves up (Amos 4), yet he pleaded with them to seek the Lord (Amos 5). And now, this next message of judgment is directed to the complacent and comfortable Israelites. 

The message starts with two statements of sorrow (“woe”). The first sorrow is for the complacent, who were confident that God would never punish them! The people were filled with national pride, considering themselves the “first of the nations”. They were secure in the belief that God preferred them to their neighbors and would exempt them from His punishment. But they were no better than the great and mighty nations of Calneh, Hamath, and Gath — all who have met destruction at the Lord’s hand. They push away the warnings of judgment while they pull in their own violence and wickedness.

The second sorrow is for the comfortable, who lived their lives in luxury and leisure. They slept in lavish beds of comfort, eating the best of the flock, and passing their time in music, drinking wine, and the finest cosmetics. But while they rejoiced in their comfort, they had lost their compassion. Their neighbors are headed for disaster and they don’t care! They counted themselves first of the nations, yet they will be the first to exile. Their lives of comfort will be over as they are herded away into slavery.

But the core issue was their pride. They were consumed with themselves and their own accomplishments, and had forgotten that it was the Lord who saved them. They were caught up in their own greatness, yet the Lord swears them to punishment by the greatest thing possible — Himself! Their city will be taken and they will be totally destroyed. The people will fear to even call upon the Lord as their houses are demolished. 

Their pride has turned their justice into poison and their righteous acts only make the world more bitter! To expect justice or righteousness from them is as damaging as running a horse or driving a plow over slippery rocks! They take pride in their accomplishments, never realizing that they have accomplished nothing, and have no strength of their own!

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encouragement theology

Seek The Lord!

Amos 5

Chapter 5 is at the midpoint of Amos’ ministry. After an extended introduction, he has exposed the guilt of Israel’s neighbors, showing also that Israel herself is even more guilty! The Lord has sent His warning and shown His greatness, even when they refused to listen.

Amos next delivers four messages from the Lord. There is grief over Israel’s impending doom, the land will be decimated, yet in the midst of this terror is a call to repent. There is still a chance for rescue if you seek the Lord! And the final message is of judgment for those who don’t return to Him.

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encouragement theology

How Big Is Your God?

Amos 4

One of our greatest dangers is for us to become caught up in our comfortable worlds. We follow what we think is right, forming a routine that should make us a “good person”. We may worship and serve at church regularly, but are we truly listening to God? 

We can get so focused on ourselves that we fail to hear His voice. We no longer hear Him drawing us to the next step. We close our ears when we disobey God, wanting to wallow in our sin more than to come back to Him. 

The problem is not that God isn’t speaking, the problem is that we have stopped listening. Our view of God shrinks to something small, safe, and manageable. We have lost touch with the true God who created the universe.

How big is your God?

The message of Amos 4 is directly addressed to the wealthy and complacent women, who have trampled over the poor in their rise to riches, and whose husbands cater to their every craving. They are satisfied and content, secure in their wealth and their religious devotion.

Amos pictures these women as cows, being fattened up for the day of slaughter. They have trampled the poor and made demands on their husbands. Their religious practices are a show of piety, but they are nothing more than hypocrites, with their false worship drawing them further away from God’s true standards. They lived like animals, and will be driven away like common livestock.

Although Amos’ message begins with the indictment of the wealthy women of Samaria, it soon shifts to the entire nation. Their worship has been false and they have ignored God as He has repeatedly called them back to Him.

God promised in His law that He would send them disasters if they turned from Him. And so He sent to them famine, drought, crop failure, pandemics, wars, and natural catastrophes. Yet despite all of these disasters, the phrase is repeated five times: “yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord”.

God has been calling, but they have been ignoring Him. Therefore, the time to repent is past. Prepare for judgment! God is not a simple formula or ritual for them to perform and then ignore. He is the creator of the world! He is the commander of Heaven’s armies!

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encouragement theology

Will You Hear the Warning?

Amos 3

It is easy to become secure in our comfortable world around us. When life is good, we look back at our job, our money, our relationships, and say that we are successful. But how does God measure success? And more importantly, where do we base our security.

Almost 3,000 years ago, God sent the prophet Amos to speak to a successful, wealthy people. They were secure in their powerful country, their devout religions, and their wealthy lifestyles. Yet God looked on them and announced that they were ripe for punishment! They had forgotten God!

Amos 3:1-2
Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:
“You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities.

Amos opens the chapter with a summary of his message. These are the people whom the Lord had led out of slavery in Egypt, through the desert, and into the promised land. He has guided, protected, and forgiven them throughout their long history.a 

The Lord God had also chosen Israel to be His unique people. He chose pagan Abraham, his unlikely son Isaac, and his younger son, Jacob.5 These men fathered a nation that was unique to God and chosen by Him to be His special people. As the Lord reminded them in Deuteronomy, it was not because of their own goodness but because of His great mercy that He chose them. He chose to build a relationship with them!

But they rejected the God who led them. They received His laws and knew His commandments, yet refused to obey Him. Therefore, the Lord will come in punishment!

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encouragement theology

Close To Home

Amos 2:4-16

It’s so easy for us to point fingers! We can “armchair quarterback” everyone else’s problems around us, knowing that we would never do what they did! We sympathize when our neighbors have problems, but we often — if we are honest — also feel smug, thinking that “they must have had it coming”.

It’s bad enough to have these attitudes toward our friends and neighbors, but what about when our enemies have problems? We are so quick to judge! We forget our own problems as we applaud God’s judgment on those who “deserve it”!

Amos started out his message doing exactly that — he sounded out judgment against all of Israel’s evil neighbors. You can picture Amos’ Jewish audience nodding their heads and shouting “Amen!” to each failure and consequence that comes to each of their enemies! These enemies had been a problem for centuries, and they are now getting their payback!

But then the finger of condemnation comes closer to home. First to Judah, the neighbors to the south, then finally to Israel herself. Israel is even worse than her pagan neighbors, because they had God’s law, yet still rejected the Lord and His justice!

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encouragement theology

Judgment on the Neighbors

Amos 1:2-2-3

One of my favorite books has been The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. In the story, four British children are transported to a magical world of winter, which is under the power of a cruel witch. The central character is the lion, Aslan, who rules the world and has come to stop the witch’s tyranny, and one of the best descriptions of Aslan comes from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, as they tell the children about him:

“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.” 

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” 

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” 

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. 

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”8

Amos presents a view of God that is far from safe! We see God in His greatness and judgment. Like a roaring lion, His voice is going out over the earth. He strikes the fertile pastures and destroys the strongest refuges.a 

Amos 1:2
And he said:
“The LORD roars from Zion
and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
and the top of Carmel withers.”

The Book of Amos starts with an extended prologue, showing that all nations are guilty before Him. The pagan nations that surrounded Israel didn’t know God, yet they were still guilty in His sight. They didn’t have His laws, yet they failed to show human decency and compassion to their neighbors.

Amos also uses the repeated refrain, “for three transgressions, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment”. The Lord was not judging these nations for one-time failures, but for consistently rejecting His standards.b Therefore, God’s judgments are not only for the acts listed in these chapters, but for all of their wickedness and cruelty toward others.c

The surrounding nations are shown in this map here:

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encouragement theology

It Was Night

Thoughts from Matthew 26…

This study below is about the Last Supper, where the Lord identified the betrayer and allowed him to leave. Judas, who had sold his allegiance for the price of a slave, now leaves to get the soldiers to come and arrest Jesus. Jesus continues to teach His faithful eleven disciples and to prepare them for His upcoming death and resurrection.

Previous post: Dare to Waste!

Sapphire Sky

weather-768460_1280

It is an awesome responsibility to teach or to lead another person. Whether you are in the role of a parent, a teacher, or a mentor, it is a great privilege to teach another.

But what do we do when things go wrong? What do we do when a student turns away from what they have learned? When they reject the teacher? We can blame ourselves, but we cannot change another person’s decisions.

You could be a perfect teacher, and yet some would still turn away. The best teacher who ever walked on the earth had a student walk away from him.

That student did more than turn away from him. He turned him in to the authorities to be arrested, tortured, and then executed.

Jesus had intensely taught his disciples for three and a half years. They all saw him teach, work miracles, and raise the dead. Each of them were able to…

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encouragement theology

Dare to Waste!

Matthew takes time in the Passion Week narrative to reflect on an earlier event. Jesus had stayed in Bethany on the way to Jerusalem, and celebrated dinner with a cleansed leper named Simon. During the dinner, Mary scandalizes the crowd by breaking a costly bottle of perfume over the Lord’s head and His feet, and then wiping them with her hair. Judas led the disciples in criticizing her until Jesus rebuked him, shutting him up.

Now, three days later, an angry and bitter Judas comes to the chief priests, offering to deliver Jesus to them, away from the crowds.

Previous post: The Final Judgment

Sapphire Sky

waves-close-up-view-circle-drop-of-water

Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11), causing many to believe in him. But this also provoked the anger and jealousy of the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were all united in their plans to kill him (John 11:53).

Jesus had retreated to the town of Ephraim (John 11:54) and stayed there until it was time to come for the Passover. Within a couple weeks of the Passover, He had traveled north from Ephraim through the middle of Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11), and joined the bands of Galilean pilgrims as they traveled to Jerusalem [2].

As the crowds neared Jerusalem on Friday, Jesus had split from the group and spent the Sabbath in the nearby town of Bethany. It was there in Bethany that Simon, a healed leper, had hosted a feast for Jesus and his disciples on…

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encouragement theology

The Final Judgment

Thoughts from Matthew 25…

Are you ready for Jesus to return?

Shortly before He left the earth, Jesus told a story to His closest friends. A rich man went away on a journey, leaving part of his fortune with three of his stewards. The first steward was efficient, doubling his master’s return on his investment. The second steward was not as efficient, yet he still was able to bring his master a sizable return. But the third steward hated his master. Expecting the master to never return, he hid his share away, making plans to keep it for himself. 

But the master did return and asked for an accounting of his assets. He commended the first two stewards for their diligence and return on the investments given to them. But the final steward responded with hostility until he was stripped of all his belongings and sentenced to severe punishment.

Jesus then compared this message with the judgment on the world. After the final suffering of the world (see here), Jesus will come back to earth and divide all of the people who remain. His true followers will have demonstrated their faith by caring for the persecuted believers, including feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, clothing the destitute, and visiting the prisoners and infirmed. They will be blessed by God and welcomed into His kingdom.

By contrast, those who have refused Jesus Christ will have demonstrated their true hearts by their lack of compassion. Regardless of their words and their appearances, they never knew Jesus Christ. They will be cursed, and sent to eternal punishment.

These were Jesus’ final words about His return. How do these two scenes fit with the rest of Jesus’ words? How do they fit with the rest of Scripture?

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encouragement theology

Be Ready!

Thoughts from Matthew 24…

We are now past the midpoint of 2021, yet it is still good to reflect on the previous year. How many of us, in 2019, would have believed anyone who predicted what actually happened in 2020? We experienced a virus that shut down the world. Our country saw severe political and social unrest. Many of us went through job and workplace changes. None of us were prepared for 2020!

But it is hard to prepare for the unexpected. No one could have predicted these recent events, nor do we completely know what is going to happen over the next couple years. 

But if we can’t anticipate the unknown, how well do we do at preparing for events that we do know will happen? Are we ready for the future?

Jesus was talking with His disciples about their great temple when He gave them a disturbing promise: it would all be totally destroyed! But He had much more to tell them when they asked about the future. How would they know when He returned? What should they look for?

These same warnings and promises from Jesus Christ are as meaningful for us today as they were for His disciples two thousand years ago. There will be unrest and confusion. Believers will face persecutions and mistrust across the world, but don’t be led astray. Trust in the Holy Spirit (see here). There will be a time of trouble, greater than has ever happened before, but do not fear — God is still in control and He will return in power (see here). He will come and destroy those who oppose Him, and take away His own forever!

But Jesus had a specific point for teaching us about these events. He concluded by repeating the message four times — be ready! You don’t know when He is returning, but be ready! Be ready! Be ready!

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encouragement theology

The Coming Trouble

Thoughts from Matthew 24…

We can often become discouraged during times of crisis. Our current difficulties can weigh us down, but it is especially hard when we can’t see hope for the future. It is this discouragement and despair — when there is no hope — that can bring down even the strongest among us.

When we know Jesus Christ, we have a wonderful hope for a future with Him. But I wonder how much Jesus’ disciples could understand this hope on that Tuesday, as they were sitting with Him on the Mount of Olives. He had just finished a major confrontation with the religious leaders, and their expectations of His glorious kingdom were quickly fading away. The opposition had shown themselves to be determined to destroy him at all costs. The crowds who had been loudly praising him on Sunday were now, only two days later, strangely quiet. And finally, when they showed the Lord their great temple, He told them that it would be totally destroyed! 

But on that Tuesday, alone with his closest friends, the Lord Jesus Christ showed them what is to come. Things will not get better, instead they will get worse. As discussed in the previous study (Matthew 24:1-14), many will try to deceive them, but He warned them to not be led astray! His followers will face hatred and persecution from the world because of their belief in Jesus Christ, but do not be discouraged. The Good News of His Kingdom will reach the world and the Holy Spirit will lead them in what they should say.

But the remaining part of the Lord’s message tells of horrible events during the last days of this earth. Yet God is still in control and Jesus Christ will return with power and great glory!

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encouragement theology

When Will He Return?

Thoughts from Matthew 24…

We get so caught up in our personal possessions! Even in the church, we are captivated by our great buildings, our history, or our accomplishments. We spend so much time looking at our tangible assets that we often forget what is most important. We need to regularly step back and reevaluate our world based, not on what is important to us, but on what is important to God. The differences can be startling!

Jesus was passing through Jerusalem when His disciples pointed out the wonders of the great temple. They were confused by His latest statement, when he promised that Jerusalem would be left desolate. But if their city was to be deserted, what about the temple? King Herod had started the project to renovate the existing temple at about 20 B.C. It took over ten years and a vast fortune, but the end result was one of the greatest sights of the ancient world.a b For over 80 years, the Jerusalem temple stood as the center for Jewish identity and worship. Pilgrims would travel from the far reaches of the Roman Empire in order to reach this temple and offer their sacrifices to God.

It is important to remember that the temple was the epicenter for all religious activity in the Jewish culture. There were synagogues in every town for learning the Scriptures, but all sacrifices were brought to the temple in Jerusalem. There was evil and corruption at the temple, but there was also genuine worship. For example, both wicked Caiaphas and God-fearing Zechariah served in the temple. Jesus cleansed the temple twice during His ministry on earth and often used the temple grounds as the site of His teaching. The early church used the temple as a daily location for fellowship together.

But given the importance of the temple, the disciples wondered about its place in Jesus’ prediction. What will happen to this temple if the city is to be left desolate? What will happen to their center of worship when the Lord promised to leave, not to return until they were ready to receive Him as King? Didn’t God bless these wonderful buildings, with such an amazing arrangement of stone work?

The Lord’s reply was shocking — the city would indeed be desolate, and the temple would be totally destroyed!

It wasn’t until they were alone that His four closest friends voiced their questions.c When would these things happen? When would the temple be destroyed? When would He return to Jerusalem as a King?

The temple would be destroyed, and Jesus Christ would return as King. Although they asked about these two events together, they were separated by thousands of years.d In less than 40 years from their conversation (on A.D. 70), the Roman legions would conquer Jerusalem and destroy the temple. However, the primary focus of the Lord’s answer is related to His return. It has been almost two thousand years since Jesus Christ was on earth, and we are still waiting for Him. The remaining instructions in Matthew 24 and 25 are given to His disciples — and to believers throughout the centuries — for how to watch for His return.

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The Coming King

img_1350

“And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.”

Jesus spoke these words to his closest friends shortly before leaving earth (John 14:29).

Within hours, Jesus Christ would be arrested by the Jewish authorities, tried by an illegal court, and crucified like a lowly criminal.

He was the one sent by God to save His people. He was the chosen one, the “anointed one”, or as is said in Hebrew, he was the Messiah.

To the religious Jews of Jesus’ day, this was preposterous. This man could not be their Messiah. They were looking for a commanding king who would validate the true children of Abraham and lead them in victory over their Roman oppressors.

Instead, they found a country preacher. He didn’t revere their nationality. He didn’t obey their Sabbath traditions. He didn’t respect their temple hierarchy. He told them that they were wrong!

So they killed Him.

But these men knew their scriptures. They studied the law and the prophets as they looked for their Messiah king. How could they know that it was Jesus?

Almost 600 years earlier, one of their greatest prophets wrote about the Messiah. Daniel was one of the wisest men of his day. He was revered by counselors, wise men, kings, and emperors.

But Daniel was also a man of prayer. He prayed every day, even if it was against the law (see here). He prayed earnestly for his people, taking responsibility for their failures, and imploring God for forgiveness (see here).

God answered Daniel’s prayer in ways that no one else had ever seen. His answer was immediate and very specific. Daniel asked God about the seventy years when his people had been captive in Babylon. God’s answer was that there was yet another seventy times seven years for His people. God had reserved this time for the Jews to end their wickedness, pay for their sins, commission the perfect sanctuary, and to bring in the perfect kingdom.

During this seventy times seven years:

  • His people, the Jews, would return back to their native land. They would rebuild their city and the temple.

    There were (at least) four edicts by the Persian emperors, allowing the Jews to return to their homeland. The first edict would have happened shortly after Daniel’s prayer in 536 B.C., and the final culmination would have been the command to restore both the city and the temple in 444 B.C.

  • They would live in their city for 69 weeks (483 years), through times of trouble.

    The Jews returned to their homeland, but they were persecuted under both the Greek and the Roman rulers during the final four centuries B.C.

  • The Messiah, the anointed one, would come to his people at the end of the 483 years.

    Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in 33 A.D., exactly 483 years after the edict of 444 B.C. (see below).

  • After the 483 years, the Messiah would be executed like a criminal (see here and here).

    Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans within a week after His entry into Jerusalem, in 33 A.D.

  • Also after the 483 years, people would destroy the city and the temple.

    The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.

  • A future prince will make a treaty with the Jews for seven years, and then break his promises after three and a half years. This is still in the future.

Daniel was shown 70 “weeks” (groups of seven years). 69 of these weeks have already passed, and the 70th week is still to come.

We can fall in the same trap as the religious Jews of Jesus’ day. They knew their Bible, but they only looked for what they wanted to see. God came to earth, as He promised, and they completely missed Him!

John 5:39-40
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

The prophecy of the “seventy weeks” in Daniel 9 is very popular among theologians and religious speculators. There are countless predictions, interpretations, and speculations about what everything can possibly mean. False teachers have used Daniel 9 as a means to authenticate their own beliefs, leading to such sects and cults as the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Branch Davidian.

So how are we supposed to read this prophecy and not be caught up in some twisted teaching? Can we really understand it?

The answer is actually very simple. Like all of God’s word (scripture), we need to simply read it. Set aside our own preconceptions on how a prophecy should all fit together, and trust that the words mean what they say.

Above all, have the humility to admit that you won’t have it all figured out. Even the prophets themselves did not fully understand what they were writing:

1 Peter 1:10-11
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

See the section below for more detail about basic rules for understanding Scripture.

What is the main point of prophecy? Going back to Jesus’ words to His disciples, one of the most important points about future prophecy is to remind us that God is in control. He shows us what is happening before it takes place so that we can know that He is not surprised by these events.

 

Previous post: Do We Pray?

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encouragement theology

Do We Pray?

file-dec-26-10-57-24-pm

We live in a fallen, broken world that can overwhelm us. The pressures and the hurt that we see every day can often make us lose sight of our great and glorious God.

Many of us struggle to just make it through each day. Too many times, the people near us only make things worse.

Yet, through all of our struggles and our difficulties, we often forget how God tells us to respond. Indeed, this is one of the most neglected parts of our life: we need to be praying for each other!

The formal word is intercession. It is much more than simply coming to God with a list of requests. Intercession is coming to God on behalf of others. Jesus promises to be praying for us in the same way (Hebrews 7:25).

We do not pray for each other in order that their lives become better or more appealing to us. Instead, we need to be praying for each other until we understand God’s perspective toward them. In the words of Oswald Chambers, “Intercession means that we rouse ourselves up to get the mind of Christ about the one for whom we pray.”1

As we are given insight into another’s life, it is easy for us to use this insight as an opportunity to feel grateful, superior, compassionate, or simply to try to figure them out. Instead, we should take these opportunities to specifically pray for them. We need to pray that God will use these events to bring us closer to Himself, and that we may show God’s greatness.

I am challenged by the example of Daniel as he prayed for his people. Daniel records an event in his life when he saw that the time for his people’s punishment was almost over. He then records (in Daniel 9:1-19) his reaction and his prayer.

 

Daniel prepared for prayer

“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3)

Daniel approached God with fasting and mourning. We say that we are serious with God, yet how often do we put aside our personal comforts in order to seriously seek Him?

 

Daniel took personal responsibility for the people’s failures

Ezekiel 14 lists Daniel as one of the most righteous men in history, yet Daniel here takes personal responsibility for all of the failures of his people. He includes himself with all of their failures and wickedness:

I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession” (Daniel 9:4)

we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” (Daniel 9:5-6)

 

Daniel saw their failure in contrast to God’s greatness

God is faithful, but they have rebelled:

O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.” (Daniel 9:4-5)

God warned them, but they refused to listen:

“We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” (Daniel 9:6)

God is righteous, but they deserve public humiliation:

“To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.” (Daniel 9:7-8)

God is mercy and forgiveness, but they have rebelled and disobeyed Him:

“To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.” (Daniel 9:9-10)

 

Daniel agreed that they are receiving the punishment they deserve

They all knew that God’s law promised severe punishment for those who disobey, yet they refused to listen:

“All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.” (Daniel 9:11)

God is only fulfilling what He promised (in Deuteronomy 28):

He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity.” (Daniel 9:12)

 

Daniel confessed that they are still not listening, even when they are punished

Even after God punished them, they still refuse to come to God:

“As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth.” (Daniel 9:13)

 

Daniel pleads to God because of His greatness

There is nothing good from them, nor are they deserving of any favor from God. Yet because of God’s greatness, Daniel pleads for His favor and forgiveness.

Knowing God’s righteousness, Daniel asks Him to turn away His anger from Jerusalem:

O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us.“ (Daniel 9:16)

Because of God’s mercy, Daniel asks Him to show favor on His temple:

“Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.” (Daniel 9:17)

Because of God’s great mercy, Daniel asks Him to restore His city:

“O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.” (Daniel 9:18)

Because of God’s reputation (for the sake of His name), Daniel asks Him to hear and to forgive His people:

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Daniel 9:19)

 

How does this apply to us?

We are not in Daniel’s captive nation of Israel, yet we have all turned away from God’s perfect way. We often focus on how others have failed us, but we have all failed to obey God.

We all deserve a terrible punishment for turning away from God.  Even when God punishes us, we still refuse to listen to Him. It is only by His mercy that He has given us any favor (see Romans 5:6-8).

We need to pray for each other with this perspective. We need to seek the mind of Christ so that He would draw the others closer to Himself.

“We cannot dissociate ourselves from other Christians. We have to take our place with them, bow our heads in the presence of God, and own that we have sinned. If we could but remember this always, it would cure us of railing against the people of God who have less light than we have, or than we fancy that we have.” – H.A. Ironside6

“Are [circumstances] badgering us out of the presence of God and leaving us no time for worship? Then let us call a halt, and get into such living relationship with God that our relationship to others may be maintained on the line of intercession whereby God works His marvels.” – Oswald Chambers2

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
James 5:13-16

 

Previous post: The Ram and The Goat

Categories
encouragement theology

The Ram and The Goat

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We used to raise goats, and this passage reminded me of how difficult, stubborn, and hostile a male goat can be!

But to Daniel, the vision in chapter 8 was a terrifying preview of what was to come.

Daniel was working for the king during the declining times of the Babylonian empire when God gave him a vision of a great ram. The ram had two horns and stood on the banks of a canal, defeating anyone and anything that came against him.

Then, a large goat with a single horn between his eyes came out of the west after the ram. The goat attacked the ram, broke his horns, and trampled him.

Then the goat’s horn broke and was replaced by four smaller horns.

Then a fifth little horn grew out of the four horns. This little horn became great and dominated the Holy Land. It trampled some of the stars and considered itself to be as great as God himself. The little horn overthrew the sanctuary of God and stopped His offerings. This little horn would have power for just over three years.

The great and wise Daniel tried to understand this vision but it was beyond him. He saw the vision (8:2), he considered what he saw (8:5), and he sought to understand it (8:15). Finally, Daniel fainted when the angel Gabriel came to help him!

Gabriel woke Daniel and told him the explanation. The ram was the kings of Media and Persia. We know from history that Media and Persia form an alliance shortly after this time. In about ten years, the Median and Persian alliance would come and defeat Babylon (Daniel 5).

The goat was the king of Greece. We know from history that Alexander the Great came 200 years later, quickly conquering the Medio-Persian empire. Alexander would later die at the height of his power, leaving his great empire to four lesser leaders.

So far, this vision has been very close to what was shown in the previous vision (see here). Both visions predicted the rise of the Medio-Persian and the Greek empires, but this vision showed Daniel one of the greatest horrors that would befall his people.

A ruler would emerge from the Greek empire. He would grow his empire toward the Holy Land and dominate the Jewish people. He would kill many people and oppose God himself. He would stop the sacrifices and persecute God’s people for three years.

This prediction was fulfilled with the rule of Antiochus IV, who ruled the Seleucid empire from 175-163 B.C.3 Antiochus gave himself the title “Epiphanes”, meaning, “manifestation of God”. He was determined to force Greek culture (Hellenize) upon his Jewish subjects. This included Greek language and way of life, but also required the Jews to worship the Greek gods.

Antiochus returned from a humiliating defeat in Egypt in 168 B.C. and vented his frustration on the Jews, sending his troops to seize Jerusalem. The Jews were banned, under penalty of death, from offering sacrifices or performing Jewish rites. Antiochus went even further and desecrated the temple by placing an idol of Zeus in it and offering a pig on the altar. This became known to the Jews as the “Abomination of Desolation”.

But the vision also gave Daniel hope. The persecution of God’s people would only last for three years. After this period,the temple would be restored to its rightful state.

There was a faithful priest who lived during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. This priest, Mattathias, fled to the wilderness with his five sons and fought back against the Greek rulers. His son Judas led an uprising against the Greek rulers and was given the title, “Maccabaus”, or “the hammer”. Under Judas’ leadership, the Jews retook Jerusalem and restored the temple. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates this occasion when, on December 25, 165 B.C., the faithful Jews rededicated the newly cleansed temple. This was exactly three years after Antiochus desecrated the temple.

God also promised that this ruler would be destroyed without human hand. Historians recorded that Antiochus died suddenly of a mysterious illness (probably cancer), shortly after his defeat in Jerusalem, and the temple was restored.

But there was more to what God was telling to Daniel. Antiochus Epiphanes would be a cruel, wicked tyrant. He would kill and persecute many of the Jews, but Antiochus was only a preview of what is still to come. In terms of history, Antiochus was a petty Greek ruler, but there will come a ruler with the same evil and intrigue as Antiochus, yet with much more power. This ruler, also known as the Antichrist, will declare himself to be God and will destroy many people.  He will rise up against God and will have power for a limited time. Yet in the end, he will be destroyed by God Himself.

Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Daniel lists the characteristics that both Antiochus and the Antichrist will share:3

  • Both begin modestly but increase in power and influence.
  • Both blaspheme God with mouths that speak great things.
  • Both persecute the Jewish people.
  • Both claim to be gods and put images in the temple.
  • Both impose their own religion on the people.
  • Both are opposed by a believing remnant that knows God.
  • Both are energized by the devil and are great deceivers.
  • Both appear to succeed marvelously and seem to be invincible.
  • Both are finally defeated by the coming of a redeemer.

 

Remember!

What does this story have to do with a reader in the 21st century? We live thousands of years after Alexander and Antiochus. It is a compelling story of history, but God has a lot more to tell us!

First, remember that God may delay his judgement, but he does not forget. This final king will rise in the latter times when “transgressors have reached their limit” (Daniel 8:23). If you are running from God, He is waiting for you to come back. But don’t exhaust His limit! If you keep running from Him, judgement is coming!

Second, remember how little we are in God’s sight! Daniel was one of the greatest and wisest men of his day, but this vision left him completely undone! He could not understand the meaning of the vision, and he fainted in the presence of the angel. Gabriel gave Daniel the final explanation, and it left him sick for days!

Finally, remember that God is in control, even through the darkest times of history. It must have been a great comfort to the Jews under Antiochus, knowing that his time would be limited. We may not have a specific prophecy for our own struggles in life, but God has not forgotten about us! God knows the end of our struggles!

 

Previous post: The History of the World

Categories
encouragement theology

The History of the World

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History books intrigue me, especially the stories of kings and empires.

It is interesting to imagine yourself in another time, to try and picture life in those days.

Daniel lived in the 6th century B.C., yet he saw a view of the entire world history – especially the parts that had not happened yet!

Daniel’s first vision tells of the world empires. God had given the same message through pagan King Nebuchadnezzar over 50 years earlier (see here), but this time He sent His message directly to Daniel. While Nebuchadnezzar saw a beautiful statue composed of precious metals, Daniel saw four terrifying monsters.

The first monster was like a lion with eagles’ wings. The wings were plucked off, the monster stood up and was given the mind of a man. This was the same head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Babylonian empire.

The second monster was like a lopsided bear. This was the same silver arms and chest in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Medo-Persian empire.

The third monster was like a four-winged leopard with four heads. This was the same bronze belly and thighs of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Greek empire.

The fourth monster was beyond description. It had iron teeth and was “terrifying and dreadful”. This was the same iron legs and feet in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Roman empire.

Daniel may have recognized this series of empires from when he was a young man. If the vision ended there, it would have been an interesting lesson in future history.

But then things got weird.

The final monster had ten horns. Then an eleventh horn grew up, pushing out 3 of the older horns. This new horn had eyes and spoke. It spoke against God. The horn fought against the people of God and won. All this time the horn kept boasting great things about himself.

The scene shifted. Daniel was no longer looking at the terrifying monster with the weird horns. The little horn’s ranting and expletives faded to background noise, and Daniel was in the throne room of God the Father. Who cares about that little horn when you are in the presence of God!

“As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.

The little horn continued to curse until the Almighty God delivered the judgment. The monster was killed and its body destroyed.

But then, one is presented to God the Father. He is from mankind, yet he is eternal. He is given a kingdom that will never end!

“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

Over 450 years later, a teacher rose up among the Jews. No one knew what to do with this new teacher, and he spoke like no one else. He taught that he was bringing a kingdom. He required total submission from anyone who would follow him. Above all, he had one phrase that he would use to describe himself:

“The Son of Man”

I don’t know if Jesus had a favorite verse, but this was one of the scripture references he used the most. When He talked about Himself, He would start with Daniel 7.

The world produces rulers and great men who fight against God. But the greatest of them is nothing more than a little, noisy horn.

While the little horn prattles on, the Ancient of Days sits in judgment. There will come a time when He will come and destroy the little horn.

The Son of Man – Jesus Himself – will rule a kingdom that will never end!

 

Remember!

The message of Daniel always comes back to perspective. God is not shaken by world events!

Jesus Himself will return some day and bring in a kingdom that will never end! May we look forward to that day!

Are we focused on the little horn or the throne room? While people shake their fists at God, He is sitting on his throne of fire!

 

Previous post: Politics and Bad Coworkers

Categories
encouragement theology

Politics and Bad Coworkers

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Daniel chapter 6 closes the narrative of one of the most distinguished men in Old Testament scriptures. Daniel had the courage as a teen to stand up for God’s law, even when it could cost him his life (see here). Daniel had the wisdom as a young man to approach a furious king and interpret his dream, thereby saving his own life and the lives of the king’s wise men (see here). Daniel had the leadership as a middle-aged man to encourage his friends to bow only to God, regardless of the consequences (see here). Daniel had the kindness as an older man to counsel the king to turn from his pride (see here). Daniel had the boldness as an old man to rebuke a wicked king, telling him that his destruction was coming (see here).

Now, in the last chapter of his life, Daniel was once again pressed into service for the king. The new king, Darius, set up new leaders over the country with Daniel in charge. Instead of finishing his days in peace, Daniel faced the resentment and jealousy of colleagues who are angry that an outsider was promoted above them.

Don’t miss an important point in this chapter – very little of the action was by Daniel. There was no dramatic show of wisdom nor dream interpretation in Daniel 6. Daniel simply remained faithful to God through the chaos of his world.

This aspect about Daniel is what makes this passage especially encouraging. Daniel faced intrigue, politics, lies, and laws that challenged his fundamental beliefs. Yet through it all, he simply followed God. Constantly. Faithfully.

Daniel’s rivals scoured through his long history to find any “dirt” on him, yet his record was clean. They ended up resorting to a religious law which required everyone to pray only to the king for 30 days. The flattered king signed it into law, with no idea that he had just set the trap for Daniel.

Daniel responded to the anti-prayer law by going to prayer. Daniel would not allow his relationship with God to be blocked by the laws of men. This relationship was the basis for Daniel’s entire life.

Daniel’s prayer served as sufficient ammunition for his enemies, who had Daniel arrested at once. The penalty was to be eaten by hungry lions. The king himself tried to save Daniel, but the law was clear.

Note that Daniel did not speak in his own defense. He was ready to die.

The execution was carried out. Daniel was taken at sunset and put into the cave of hungry lions. The door was closed and sealed, and everyone went off to bed.

The king could not sleep that night and hurried to the cave in the morning. Daniel claimed to serve a very powerful God, but could this God save Daniel? The king was anxious to know if it was possible!

Somewhere, from inside the cave came the voice of an old man. God had sent an angel to stop the lions because Daniel was blameless. The king joyfully brought out Daniel and ordered his accusers to be executed in his place.

The passage concludes with an edict from the king. All people everywhere are to tremble in fear before the God of Daniel. He is the living God! His kingdom endures forever and he acts to save those who truly worship Him!

 

Remember!

God will save all who trust Him, although the rescue may not be as dramatic as Daniel.

God can send an angel to save us like he did for Daniel, or like he did for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (see here).

God may also save us through His providence, where He causes circumstances to come together for our rescue. This was the case of Joseph and his brothers, when God put Joseph in in Egypt during the famine (see Genesis 45:5-8). This was also Ezra’s belief when he refused the king’s protection for the return back to Jerusalem (see Ezra 8:21-23).

God may also save us through death. God’s plan is not always to rescue everyone at once; some will only be rescued when they see God face to face. This was the thought of the writer of Hebrews when he spoke of the martyrs for the faith in Hebrews 11:35-38. They are described as, “of whom the world was not worthy”.

 

Lessons from Daniel’s Example

  • Don’t compromise when it is under your control. (Daniel 1)
  • Be gracious to those over you, even in the face of hostility. (Daniel 1 and Daniel 2).
  • Take opportunities to use your gifts from God. (Daniel 2)
  • Don’t break God’s law – even when the consequences are terrible. (Daniel 3)
  • Answer with care and sensitivity. (Daniel 4)
  • Answer directly and truthfully. (Daniel 5)
  • Don’t compromise your walk with God, even under intense pressure. (Daniel 6)
  • You cannot control the attitudes are the actions of others, but you can remain faithful to the Most High God. (Daniel 1–6)
  • God is totally capable of defending himself. You don’t have to fight His battles!
  • Keep an attitude of thankfulness and prayer, regardless of the circumstances. (Daniel 6)
  • God can use you in all stages of your life. He used Daniel as a teen, a young man, in his middle age, and as an old man.
  • The Most High God transcends kings and kingdoms. He kept Daniel through all of the Babylonian kings and into the Persian empire.
  • Never lose focus on what is most important! (Daniel 1)
  • God’s law is more important than the laws of men. (Daniel 6)
  • True faith is when you commit to obeying God – even if he does not save you! (Daniel 3)

 

What Daniel teaches us about God

  • He honors those who are faithful to Him (Daniel 1)
  • He is greater than any kingdoms or empires of mankind. (Daniel 2)
  • His kingdom endures forever! (Daniel 2 and 6)
  • National disasters do not take God by surprise. (Daniel 2)
  • He sets up and takes down rulers of men. (Daniel 4 and Daniel 5)
  • All power of mankind, even the greatest of kings, is on loan from God. (Daniel 4 and Daniel 5)
  • Personal pride is abhorrent to the Most High God. (Daniel 4)
  • The Most High God holds our very breath in his hands! (Daniel 5)
  • He is to be respected and feared! (Daniel 6)
  • Nothing is impossible with God!

 

Previous post: The Final Party

Categories
encouragement theology

The Final Party

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Belshazzar’s Feast”, by Rembrandt (c. 1630)

What will be your final warning?

As I studied the account of the final king of Babylon, several words came to my mind. How would you describe this man?

Stubborn.

Reckless.

Careless.

Hedonist.

Self-indulgent.

Self-centered.

Self-confident.

Over-confident.

Proud.

Arrogant.

Refusing to listen.

Refusing to learn.

Sinful.

Foolish.

Stupid.

The part that scares me is how much these words also describe me.

It is easy to look down through history and criticize king Belshazzar. He was a classic fool and he paid dearly for it. He lost his kingdom, his empire, and his life.

But before we look more closely at Belshazzar’s final days, we need to be sure that we are not guilty of the same failures. At the core of it all, Belshazzar knew about God. He knew all about Him, yet he chose to reject God.

The Most High God holds our very breath in His hands, yet we do not honor Him!

“…the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.” – Daniel 5:23

The scene in Daniel 5 opens up to a great party. It has been over 30 years since Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the previous chapter (see here). Nebuchadnezzar has died and there is a new king in Babylon. Daniel is now an old man and has retired from serving the king.

There is also a new enemy outside the city gates. The Medio-Persian army has conquered every nation in its path and has come for Babylon. The king of Babylon fought against them and completely lost. He was captured and his army was destroyed.

The king’s son and co-regent, Belshazzar, was still in control of the city. Babylon was the greatest fortress in the world, and he knew that the Medes and the Persians could never get inside. They have plenty of water and enough food to last for 20 years! They can simply wait for the Persians to leave.

At the time of Belshazzar’s party, the Medio-Persian army has been camped outside the city of Babylon for four months!

Daniel’s God had given the king a message. He told the king three times that the kingdom of Babylon would end and that it would be replaced by the Medes and the Persians. The army outside the gates would win.

God had also given the same message through other prophets. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied that Babylon would fall to the Medes (see here and here). Isaiah’s prediction was over 200 years earlier!

Belshazzar knew what God had said, but he felt safe inside his city walls. In a final act of defiance, he threw a great party. As he began to get drunk, he called for the holy vessels of this God of Jerusalem. He drank from the golden cups of the temple and offered them to his Babylonian gods.

Immediately, the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing mysterious words on the wall next to the king. It terrified the king! He called for his wise men, but they could not understand what was written.

In the midst of the confusion, the king’s mother arrived and offered good news to the king. There was a man who served his grandfather who had the “spirit of the holy gods” and could explain great mysteries. Surely this man—Daniel—could interpret this mystery to the king.

Daniel came at the king’s request. He first reminded the king of his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar. God brought Nebuchadnezzar low, making him live like an animal when he became proud (see here). Belshazzar knew all this, yet he refused to humble himself before the Most High God. He taunted the very God who holds his breath!

Therefore, God  sent this final message:

  • Mene: God has numbered the days of his kingdom and brought it to an end.
  • Tekel: Belshazzar has been weighed (evaluated) and came up short.
  • Peres: The kingdom has been taken from Belshazzar and given to the Medes and the Persians.

This was one last chance for Belshazzar to repent, yet he refused. He awarded Daniel with the honors of interpreting the writing, sent him off, and resumed his party.

The Medio-Persian army had diverted the waters of the Euphrates river. Unknown to the drunk Babylonians, they lowered the water level and waded under the river gates, into the city. They found king Belshazzar and all of the leaders of the city at the party and killed everyone.

The account in scripture puts it bluntly, “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed.” (Daniel 5:30).

 

Remember!

  • God will judge those who refuse to obey Him. He is patient, but He will not forget.
  • Don’t refuse to listen to God! He will warn you, but one day it will be too late!
  • He is the Most High God and He holds our very lives! Give Him the honor that He deserves!

 

Previous post: How Big Do You Think You Are?

Categories
encouragement theology

How Big Do You Think You Are?

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You need to have self-respect.

Take pride in your work.

Don’t have a low self-esteem!

You need to start by loving yourself.

Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are less of a person.

Look out for number one!

These are the positive messages that we hear every day. You need to take care of yourself. Be nice about it, but you need to have pride!

It is socially acceptable to be proud. It is even encouraged – so long as you’re nice about it – to have pride.

These messages are popular and many of them are well meaning. But what does God say?

All through the Holy Scriptures, God has one message about our pride. Our self-esteem. Our love for ourselves.

There is no doubt. God hates our pride.

The very first of the 10 Commandments says, “You shall have no God before me”. God alone needs to be the center of our worship. Our pride pulls God away and puts ourselves in His place.

Proverbs 6 tells of seven things that The Lord hates, with pride being first on the list.

Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 tells about how the most beautiful angel, Lucifer, was lifted up with pride. He thought he was so elevated, yet he was cast down to earth.

In the New Testament, Acts 12 tells about the wicked king Herod being especially judged by God for being proud (he was eaten by worms).

But there may not be a more vivid example of pride than King Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar had it all! He had conquered all of his enemies. He was king over all of the known world. He personally led the construction of the great city of Babylon, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Now, later in his reign, he could finally rest and enjoy life.

It was at this time that Nebuchadnezzar had a terrifying dream. He saw a great tree which was tall and visible for all too see. The tree provided shelter and food for all living things. But then an angel from heaven came with an announcement. Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, but leave the stump protected. He will lose his sanity and live like an animal for seven years, until he knows that the Most High has all authority over the kingdom of men.

Anxious to know the meaning of this dream, the king called all of his advisors. Only Daniel was able to give an answer. Nebuchadnezzar is the great tree. He will soon lose his sanity, be driven from people, and will live like an animal. He will in that state for seven years until he recognizes the Most High God. Only God rules over the kingdom of men and gives the authority to whomever He wants.

Daniel followed his interpretation with advice to the king. Nebuchadnezzar needed to stop disobeying God and show justice and care for others. He needed to change his attitude and God might delay the impending disaster.

We do not know if Nebuchadnezzar showed any change of heart after this dream. Any remorse or changes in Nebuchadnezzar were only temporary. Exactly one year later, Nebuchadnezzar was on his rooftop looking at the great city of Babylon. Filled with pride over his accomplishments, he said, “Is this not my great Babylon, that I have built for myself and my own greatness?”

No sooner had the king of Babylon finished these words when there was a voice from heaven announcing the judgment from the Most High God. Nebuchadnezzar immediately lost his sanity and he was driven from the palace. The great king was reduced to living in the wild and eating grass for seven years.

Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity returned after seven years. Ha received back his mind, his kingdom, and his glory, but he learned his lesson. It was no longer all about him. From his own words,

I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

Remember!

  • No matter how great we think we are, we are nothing compared to the Most High God!
  • Our pride is an offense to God. When we lift ourselves up, we are not humble before God, nor are we giving Him the proper credit and glory.
  • Every chapter in Daniel reiterates the same theme. God is the greatest. He is greater than any political, intellectual, or military power in this world. God wins!

 

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5

 

Previous post: Who is the Greatest?

Categories
encouragement theology

Who is the Greatest?

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The account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is one of the most well-known “Bible stories“. Generations of children have heard this account told to them in Sunday School, about the three young men who refused to the bow to the king’s image.

The narrative is simple and dramatic. King Nebuchadnezzar built a massive golden image and brought all of his officials to the ceremony so that they would bow down and worship. The penalty for not obeying the king was to be burned alive in a fiery furnace.

At the king’s command, the music played and everyone bowed down. Everyone worshipped the image except for three men who refused, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three were brought to the king where they were given an opportunity to recant, but they told the king that they will not bow down to his image.

Their refusal to bow threw the king into a rage. He ordered the furnace to be super-heated and then for the guards to throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the flame. The furnace was so hot that it killed the guards who took them.

After carrying out the sentence, the king looked into the fire and jumped up quickly. “Did we not throw three men into the fire?”, he asked. “Then why are there four men walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like one of the gods?”

Nebuchadnezzar called the three men out of the fire and they emerged from the flames unharmed. Their clothes did not even smell like smoke! The event concludes with the king blessing the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and making a royal decree against anyone who dared to speak against this great God!

This event is a great encouragement to stand for your beliefs, even under intense pressure. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego opposed the king, even when they knew the consequences could be fatal.

But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did more than just stand up for their beliefs. They knew God’s law, and His first two commandments were to stay away from idols (Exodus 20:1-6). Their response to the king showed that they did not know what God would do. God may save them or He may let them burn to death. But regardless of the consequences, they would not dishonor God and would not worship the king’s image.

Don’t miss the statement of their belief, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire … But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18).

These men showed courage and were honored for their faith. But the main point of this passage goes beyond the three courageous young men on the plain of Dura. It goes beyond the selfish king who thought that he could unite his empire under the state religion. The main point of this passage is that the God of heaven, the God of these exiled Jews is greater than anything made by mankind. He is greater than the king or his empire.

Nebuchadnezzar thought he could challenge God when he said in his anger, “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

At the end, Nebuchadnezzar saw that his power was worthless. God has power over the flames and over any nation. Nebuchadnezzar ended the scene with blessing to this God.

He is the Most High God! (Daniel 3:26)

 

Remember!

  • God is able to rescue us from our troubles, but can we have the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to commit to Him regardless of the consequences?
  • God is greater than any king, any power or any nation. In our modern American society, He is greater than any leaders, politicians, or laws in our land!
  • The entire message of Daniel is a reminder that God had not forgotten His people. God has not forgotten us!

 

Previous post: His Kingdom is Forever!