Sapphire Sky

January 28, 2017

The Coming King

Filed under: encouragement, theology, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 9:48 pm

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“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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December 28, 2016

Do We Pray?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 1:09 am

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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

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December 9, 2016

The Ram and The Goat

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 10:18 pm

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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

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November 6, 2016

The History of the World

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 8:30 pm

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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

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October 28, 2016

Politics and Bad Coworkers

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:05 pm

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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

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October 7, 2016

The Final Party

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 6:32 pm

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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?

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September 25, 2016

How Big Do You Think You Are?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 6:37 pm

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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?

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September 10, 2016

Who is the Greatest?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 11:04 am

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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!

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August 28, 2016

His Kingdom is Forever!

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 3:36 pm

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“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.

We look at the American political system today and it is easy to get discouraged. None of the major political candidates show any wisdom to lead a country. They all look like they are more consumed with self-serving interests than to care about the future of the country.

To be an American Christian today likely means that you will be labeled as a bigot, ignorant of science, or out of touch with reality.

The situation is much worse in other parts of the world. Russia has recently passed laws that prohibit worship in any other place but the state-sanctioned churches (see here). The World Watch List lists 41 countries in the world which have moderate to extreme persecution of Christians. Many Islamic nations have a death penalty for anyone who converts from Islam. North Korea is ranked again as the most dangerous country for a Christian, for 14 years in a row!

It is easy to become discouraged and to start to wonder. Is God really in control?

God gave a message to His people in the sixth century B.C. This was a time of the terrible crisis for the surviving Jews of that day. The northern nation, Israel, was completely destroyed a century earlier. The southern nation, Judah, had lost their independence, and were now slaves to whatever world powers would dominate them.

The king of Egypt had come in 609 B.C., killing the king and setting up his own vassal king over the country. The king of Babylon then came four years later, setting up his rule over Judah and taking captives back with him to Babylon.

The situation would only get worse. Babylon would return 17 years later to destroy Jerusalem, burn the temple, and carry away all of the inhabitants to exile. The Jewish nation would cease to exist for 70 years.

Where was God during this crisis? God gives His answer in the Book of Daniel.

God is all-wise. God is all-powerful. The great God who can change the seasons can raise and lower kingdoms.

The kingdoms of this world do not have any power over the God of the Universe!

The scene of Daniel 2 opened in the emperor’s bedroom. King Nebuchadnezzar had just awakened from a terrible dream. He was greatly disturbed by what he saw, yet he could not remember the dream!

The king urgently summoned all of his advisors and wise men, demanding that they tell him the dream and its interpretation. These wise men were very skilled in interpreting dreams, but this was new to them – never before were they asked to tell the dream itself!

They begged the king to tell them the dream but their entreaties only made the king more angry. When they failed to tell the dream, the furious king demanded that all of his wise men be executed!

The king ordered all of the wise men in Babylon to be killed. This included the Jewish slaves who had only recently graduated from their training (Daniel 1). When the executioner came for Daniel and his companions, Daniel requested time so that he could provide an answer for the king.

Daniel returned to his house and discussed the matter with his companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Together they asked God for mercy so that He might show them the mystery.

The prayer above was Daniel’s response when God showed him the dream and its interpretation. His praise to God declared that the God of heaven has the power over time, seasons, and over kingdoms. God had shown the deep mysteries and had given Daniel the wisdom to show the answer to the king.

Daniel requested to be brought to the king. He made it clear that no human could answer his request, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries and has shown the king what will happen in the latter days.

Daniel then told the king his dream. He dreamed of a massive image that was overwhelming in its appearance and brightness. The head of the image was made of gold, the chest and arms of silver, the middle and thighs of bronze, the legs of iron, and the feet of iron and clay mixed. A stone was then cut without any human hand and struck the image in the feet, destroying the entire image. The stone then became a great mountain and filled the earth.

Daniel then told the interpretation of the dream. The five elements of the image were five empires (kingdoms) that would rule the earth. Nebuchadnezzar himself represented Babylon, the head of gold. After him would be three other kingdoms, successfully representing the silver, the bronze and the iron. The final kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle, like the iron mixed with clay. During the days of the final kingdom, the God of heaven will destroy the kingdoms of the world and set up a kingdom himself that will never end.

In our current point of history, the kingdoms of Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron have all come and gone, as the empires of Babylon, Medio-Persia, Greece, and Rome have come through history. We are still waiting on the final events of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, where the kingdom of iron and clay rules the world.

But more than that, we know that there will be a day when God’s kingdom will come and destroy all of the powers of this world. He will set up his own kingdom which will never end!

 

Remember!

  • He is the only wise God (Romans 16:27). God has not made a mistake in these troublesome times. None of these world events take Him by surprise!
  • He is the all-powerful God (Revelation 1:8). He removes kings and he sets up kings. No nation or its power is greater than God!
  • All of our world powers today are only temporary, but the kingdom of the Almighty God will last forever!

 

Previous post: The Test of Character

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August 14, 2016

The Test of Character

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 8:34 pm

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It is easy to feel sorry for ourselves when problems come into our lives. We believe that nobody understands us, and we have a perfect right to indulge ourselves.

Why should I try to do the right thing when my world has collapsed around me?

Can we even reach out to others if we don’t understand them?

Should we fight back when we have been hurt? What if they have hurt us more deeply than anyone could ever know?

Where is God when my life is turned upside-down?

I have had the chance to read about a young man who experienced more horrors than I will ever understand. As a teenager, he saw his city overrun by an invading army. They pillaged the town, looted the temple of God, and took him captive. Now, away from his family in a strange land, he was emasculated, given a new name, and enrolled in the pagan seminary. The penalty for failing his seminary classes would likely mean death.

Daniel was a teen in Jerusalem when his city was captured by Babylonian forces in 605 B.C. Babylon had recently defeated both of the existing world powers (Assyria and Egypt) and had extended its empire across much of the Middle East. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken several of the most promising youths back to Babylon with him to serve in his court.

Among a class of 50-75 teens, Daniel and his friends were given new names. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were all named after the God of Israel, but their new names reflected the Babylonian gods: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their classes consisted of a three-year intensive training in the language, religion, and ways of Babylon’s elite. At the end of three years, they would be personally interviewed by the king himself to see if they were competent to serve him.

These circumstances would have been intense pressure for any teen, but Daniel made a commitment. Despite everything that happened, the Bible says that Daniel resolved that he would not disobey God. Literally, he “set his heart” to not defile himself. Whatever happened, Daniel would not choose any action which would cause him to break God’s law.

There were several things outside of Daniel’s control. He was a slave to the king of Babylon and his life existed at the whim of the king or his servants. Daniel could not control what happened to him, but he could control what he chose to eat and to drink. The boys were expected to feast daily at the king’s pagan banquet, but Daniel respectfully asked to abstain. Instead of the king’s food and wine, he asked to eat only vegetables and water.

Daniel’s overseer refused at first, for fear that the he would lose his life if the boys became sick. Daniel requested a test: the four of them would only eat vegetables and water for 10 days and then the overseer could compare the results. After 10 days, Daniel and his three friends were visibly healthier than the other boys. Therefore, the entire class was moved to vegetables and water for the duration of their schooling.

There were no miracles, but God’s hand was evident throughout Daniel’s schooling. God blessed Daniel’s decision and allowed the boys to be healthy after the 10-day test. At the end of their schooling, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were personally interviewed by king Nebuchadnezzar. Not only did the four young men surpass their class, but they exceeded all of the king’s existing advisors.

 

Remember!

We can learn from Daniel’s example about how to follow God, even when under pressure:

  • Daniel refused to be defined by his circumstances. Daniel had every excuse to stop obeying God, yet he set his heart to not disobey Him.
  • Daniel was not subject to peer pressure. All of his leaders and his peers ate the king’s banquet, yet Daniel and his friends refused. Out of a class of 50-75 teens, only these four refused to participate.
  • Daniel answered his opposition with tactfulness and respect. Daniel respectfully asked the steward to abstain from eating the king’s banquet. When the steward refused, he proposed a test.
  • Daniel was not consumed by situations which were out of his control. Daniel could not control his new name, his education curriculum, or his state as a eunuch in the king’s court. Instead, Daniel made sure that he was obedient to God in the areas that he could control.

“What a lesson for us-that purity of heart and faithfulness to God come before enlightenment in divine mysteries! If you attempt to reverse these things, you need not be surprised if you fall into all kinds of error.” – H.A. Ironside [8]

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