Deuteronomy 1:1-5

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It is daunting to start reading (and writing on) the Book of Deuteronomy. But let’s have a go; if it gets too hard we’ll shift to Ecclesiastes. (That’s meant to be a joke, but it may well happen …) The first section of the book is Chapters 1-4, which is Moses’ first of three speeches in Deuteronomy. One commentator calls this the ‘historical prologue’, which outlines the journey from Sinai/Horeb to this point.

The first five verses introduce the context of the whole book: All Israel is encamped beyond the Jordan, in the wilderness (or desert), in the Arabah, in Moab. The precise location is mysterious, because some of the places named in verse 1 are not easily identified. But we do know they have travelled from Horeb (= Mount Sinai), via the Mount Seir road, to Kadesh-Barnea. This journey should take eleven days, but the Israelites have been traveling forty years, a shocking fact that is remarkably brushed over here, but which Moses will explain in the verses that follow. During this forty years, they defeated the kings of the Amorites and of Bashan. There is a map below if you would like to visualize it. If you are unfamiliar with the story, don’t worry that we have rushed through it here in summary fashion, as Moses is going to take his listeners and us back and go through it step by step.

Right now, the author wants us to hear that we are about to listen to what the LORD (Yahweh), God of Israel, has commanded Moses to say to the Israelites. His speech is further described as “beginning to explain this law”. We often think of ‘law’ as rules governing behavior. However, it is used quite differently here. The Hebrew word torah also means ‘instruction’ or ‘teaching’. In fact, this book of the Bible is called (by the original translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek) ‘Second-Law’, as it is a repetition of what was already heard in Exodus-Leviticus, but also a rehearsal of the history recorded in the Book of Numbers.

God does not teach his people only a list of rules and regulations, he teaches by story, and by history. And like a good teacher, he repeats it. It is clear from the narrative of scripture, as well as science, that it takes several repetitions for a student to grasp a truth. The Israelites needed to be told over and over and over again – and they still didn’t always get it. But I am not so very different. I have been a follower of Jesus for many years, but there are truths that I need to be taught regularly because I forget – or at least I live as though I have forgotten – so frequently. I forget that God is on the throne, I forget that my sins have been forgiven, I forget that my life is hid with Christ in God, I forget to cast all my burdens on him, and thus I lose my peace. You’d think I would be able to remember those basic ideas. And yet I need to be taught in stories and in doctrinal statements, again and again. What do you need to be taught once more?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you that your nature is grace, that you are patient to teach me over and over. Forgive me for my forgetfulness and for my wanderings. Help me to keep your word in my heart and to live it out daily.


Daniel 12

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Just when we thought Daniel couldn’t get any more confusing, when we perhaps mused, “Yes, I know something from Daniel 12 – resurrection, wise people shining like stars …”, we encounter these difficult verses. Let’s try to make some sense out of it.

Firstly, verses 1-4 are the final part of the narrative which began back in 10:20. Many people locate the events of these verses in the end times, after Jesus’ return. But such an interpretation is not necessary (although of course entirely plausible). It could simply mean: “Really bad times are coming, but your people will be rescued if God knows them. There will be a resurrection of all people, so even if they have died during the bad times, they will live again eternally. Wise people will shine, and those who make others righteous will shine. Knowledge will increase. But that’s enough for now, shut the book.”

Daniel sees two more men, one on either side of the river, probably representing the saints who trust God, who are suffering. They ask the divine messenger, “How long will it go on?” (or more literally, “Until when is the end of the wonders?”). He responds with the same words as in 7:25. It’s going to be a long time, but, in a sense, it will end before it’s fully completed – that is, the ‘half’ signifies that evil will not have its way in the end. Huh? If you don’t understand, don’t worry, nor does Daniel. He asks for further explanation, but he is told once more that the book is closed and there is nothing more to be said.

However, he goes on: the evil will continue doing evil, and not understand; many others will be refined, and the wise will understand. Is Daniel wise? Are we as readers? I guess not, because no one understands the 1290 days or the 1335 days. There are about a thousand (pun absolutely intended) theories out there, but nothing satisfies. All we know is that there is something bad going to happen to God’s people, but they need to endure beyond it and wait for God to save them at the right time. The last word to Daniel is to keep going to the end, to rest (to die?), and to rise (to be resurrected?) to his inheritance at the end of days.

Jesus and John in Revelation pick up a lot of imagery from these chapters of Daniel. But let’s think how the original author understood it. His message is that God’s people are going to suffer and they need to endure. Even if they die, they need not fear, as long as they trust and fear God as their sovereign. Evil is not going to go away. But the wise, and those who bring about righteousness, will yet shine like stars in a velvet black sky. Most of us do not suffer as the original audience of this book did. And yet we continue to be battered by the problem of evil in the world, even when it doesn’t confront us directly in our own lives. The Book of Daniel calls on us to stand firm in the face of evil, to stand for righteousness, to continue trusting that God will save, even if after death.

There was a time in my life not too long ago when I felt absolutely crushed by what was going on, barely holding on, overwhelmed by feeling out of control. Much like Daniel and the people of God during the exile. At that time the lyrics of this song were a great encouragement to me: “Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place; I’m on the throne”. It’s not entirely appropriate to Daniel and his situation, but maybe it will encourage you today.

Prayer: Lord God, there is so much in this world that I don’t understand. How long will this evil last? I am weak and confused. Please help me trust you, and to know that you are on the throne, that you are in control, especially when I am not.

[PS. There will be no new reading tomorrow. Take the time to catch up on anything you have missed. Next week we will begin looking at Deuteronomy.]

Daniel 10:20 – 11:45

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In today’s passage we hear the main content of the message, the context of which was described in yesterday’s reading of Chapter 10. Before we get to it, there are a few verses we skipped over that need a comment, which also help us understand the message of Chapter 11 better.

In 10:13 the divine messenger – who may be Gabriel (cf 8:16), but the author doesn’t specify here – tells Daniel that he was delayed by opposition from the prince of Persia, and he returns to that theme in 10:20-21, acknowledging that he needs to go back to fighting the prince of Persia and that the prince of Greece is also lurking. He also mentions that Michael is Judah/Israel’s (‘your’ is plural) prince. What is that all about? It is likely that the author is referring not to human authorities, but to spiritual principalities and powers (cf Col 2:15; Eph 6:12). There is a definite sense throughout scripture, both Old and New Testaments, that geographical regions have specific deities or divine beings associated with them. We see that in SE Asia also – although many western Christians don’t believe in any of this. It appears in these verses that the spiritual beings are at war with one another, and there is an implication that these ‘heavenly’ battles sometimes spill out onto earth too. That, in fact, is what this divine messenger is about to explain to Daniel: the wars and battles that will take place over the next few centuries.

The whole of Chapter 11 is then a narration from the divine messenger of the events from the first year of Darius the Mede until some time in his distant future. The story he tells is very close to the politics that played out in the Middle East/North African region of the world from about 540 BC, covering the reigns of Cyrus, Cambyses, Darius, Xerxes, Alexander the Great (the mighty king), and then the Ptolemy (southern king) and Seleucid (northern king) dynasties. From verse 21 the divine messenger talks about Antiochus Epiphanes, whose evil and blasphemous rule was also described in Chapters 8-9.

There is barely a mention of God in this chapter, nor even much of his people, except to refer obliquely to their suffering when the invader captures the Beautiful Land (surely meaning Israel/Judah/Palestine). The evil ruler rages against those who keep the holy covenant, and tries to turn the people against God, desecrating the temple and abolishing its sacrifices, “but the people who know their God will firmly resist” (11:32). The wise continue to instruct the people, though some fall in order that they may be refined. Again, reading the Books of Maccabees will yield a lot of insight if you want to know more about this period of history, and how God’s people withstood evil.

But what does it mean for us, more than two thousand years after these events? We learn that God’s eyes are on all the world, not only that small patch of land which today is called Israel or Palestine. God’s people are to read and understand history, not to ignore it. But we should do so within the context of understanding the greater spiritual realities. Wars that are fought on earth have their counterparts in the heavenly realms. This should not frighten us, because we know that God is the winner in the end. Paul says in Eph 6:10ff that our struggle is against the spiritual forces of evil, and that we fight with truth, righteousness, faith, the word of God, and prayer. The gospel that Jesus is Lord is what gives our feet flight and protects our minds with salvation. In the face of evil in this world, let us arm ourselves appropriately, resisting the attacks of evil with the shield of faith in our great and sovereign God.

Prayer: Sovereign Lord Jesus, you are the ruler over this world. You have saved me, and my faith is in you. Strengthen me to fight the spiritual battle on earth, to stand for righteousness and justice, until there is no more war to be fought because every knee has bowed before you.

Daniel 10:1-19

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Chapters 10-12 of Daniel are the most challenging to understand and apply. It is some years later, during the third year of Cyrus – a time when things should be looking up for the Jews, because they have been given permission to return to Judea and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. However, not all the exiles returned, and life was never the same, even in the restored kingdom. These chapters explain what life was like and continues to look like for God’s people. In today’s passage we read the introduction to the vision.

Daniel was in mourning, probably for the sad and sorry state of his original home while he remained in captivity (cf Neh 1). During this time he stood on the banks of the great river, just as Ezekiel had stood 66 years earlier, and saw a terrifying vision of an awesome man. There are so many verbal parallels between Ezekiel’s visions and Daniel’s here that it is impossible to ignore the intentional link. The effect of the vision and accompanying sound was that Daniel fell on his face unconscious, weak with terror, to the ground.

Daniel is touched by a hand, and he is set on his hands and knees, trembling. Presumably the hand belongs to the man, who then speaks kindly, reminding Daniel once again that he is precious to God (cf 9:23), and asking him to understand the words the man is about to speak. Now Daniel is told to stand up, and he obeys, although still trembling. Observe how Daniel has been raised up: from flat on his face, to his hands and knees, to standing (just like Nebuchadnezzar in Chapter 4). The man tells Daniel not to be afraid, because he has come as a result of Daniel’s prayers, and his commitment to understand and humble himself before God.

Skip over verses 13-14 for a moment (we’ll pick them up tomorrow) and look at Daniel’s response in verses 15-17. He still looks to the ground and is mute. But the man touches his lips (cf Is 6:7), and Daniel is able to open his mouth to confess his weakness and anguish (the same word is used repeatedly in Isaiah to describe labour pains). Again the man touches Daniel and he is strengthened. He calls Daniel precious once again, and urges him to be not afraid, to be at peace, to be strong. Daniel feels strengthened and asks the man to speak. But we will hear the content in tomorrow’s reading.

What are we to make of this section? First of all, in its theological and literary framing, we must hear that the author is setting up the following speech in the context of biblical revelation. We have to keep that in mind as we read the next two chapters. He wants us to hear that this word about a great war is true (10:1), and stands in the trusted line of previous scripture. In fact, the word I translate as ‘war’ here is the same word used in Is 40:2, where Isaiah assures Israel that her warfare (NIV = ‘hard service’) is ended; this is important in light of Dan 9:24-27 and how it relates to Chapters 10-12.

Secondly, and perhaps less importantly but more powerfully, the character of Daniel in this chapter reveals something to us about our relationship with God. We sing songs about seeing God face to face, entering his presence, resting in his arms, etc, but let us never lose sight of the reality illustrated in this chapter: God is awesome, and when we really see him we will probably be knocked unconscious. Even so, he is tender and caring, not wanting us to fear, but wanting to strengthen us and have us understand his word. The man in linen (who is not characterized as God himself, yet clearly represents him as a divine being) acknowledges that he has come in response to Daniel’s prayer, commitment, and humility before God. God sees Daniel as precious, desirable, beautiful (it’s the same word used of the fruit in Gen 2:9; 3:6; God’s laws in Ps 19:10; the lover’s shade in Songs 2:3; and for coveting!). God wants to interact with his servants who humble themselves before him.

Prayer: Our God, you are an awesome God, reigning in heaven above. Forgive us for our lack of humility before you, and help us to understand who you truly are. Thank you for your mercy and your desire to have a relationship even with me, that you would deign to reveal yourself and share your word with me.

Daniel 9:20-27

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In this section we get the answer to Daniel’s prayer, which we read in the first part of the chapter. Daniel had prayed a prayer of confession and a petition for mercy from the great compassionate God he knew as Yahweh. His concern was for his people, Israel, and for Jerusalem specifically. Bear in mind, as we read, that within the story of the book, Daniel is in Babylon, under the rule of Medea around 550 BC, during the exile of the Jews which began in 597 BC. (Extra-biblical history has no account of a Darius the Mede at this time; the first known Darius in history, a Persian, reigned from 522 BC, and Darius son of Artaxerxes reigned from 423 BC.)

Gabriel comes to answer Daniel’s prayer with insight and understanding, for he is considered as precious. Gabriel then presents a mysterious vision. Before we get caught up in its intricacies, remember that the vision is meant as an answer to Daniel’s request for mercy. God hears Daniel’s prayer and responds.

How one translates verse 24 could suggest its interpretation, so I offer my own literal translation here: “Seventy sevens are determined for your people and for your holy city to complete the transgression, to seal sin, to atone for iniquity, to bring everlasting righteousness; to seal vision and prophet and to anoint the holy of holies.” Many people, including myself, have attempted to find dates to fit 49 or 490 years, and there are dates that kind of work. But another way forward, which I prefer, is to understand ‘seventy’ as referring to Jeremiah’s prediction (Jer 25:11; 29:10, cf Dan 9:2), and multiply it by ‘seven’, as suggested by Lev 26:24. This is then a symbolic number, seven lifetimes, the full number of years required to satisfy God’s wrath. Gabriel’s point is not how long the suffering lasts, but that it ends. As Isaiah also prophesied, Jerusalem will be comforted and her sin atoned for (Is 40:1-2). Then there can once again be righteousness and holy anointing, after the prophesied punishment has been fulfilled.

Verses 25-27 then spell out that 70 x 7 in a more detailed way: 7 + 62 + 1. Again, I wouldn’t press the numbers too hard into specific years, but it is not difficult to see how the events worked out in history. There was a decree to rebuild Jerusalem – that is probably Cyrus, but could also be Darius the Persian, as recorded in Ezra. After rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, the priesthood was restored and there was a leader in Israel once again – these are most likely the ‘anointed’ and ‘prince’ (which are not capitalized and have no definite article in the original Hebrew). But then this anointed one is ‘cut off’ and the holy city destroyed once more. Sacrifices and offerings cease and abominations bring desolation – until the end is poured out on the one who made it desolate. This makes a lot of sense when applied to the period of Antiochus Epiphanes’ rule 175-164 BC, which many scholars agree is the time the book was written. The anointed one would therefore be the high priest, Onias, who was murdered in 170 BC, three years before Antiochus desecrated the temple.

Of course, this is not to say that it can’t also apply to Jesus and/or the end times. Certainly Jesus was also an anointed priest who was cut off, and then forty years later the temple was destroyed yet again and Jerusalem razed during the war of 70 AD. In fact, the synoptic gospel writers all quote this passage with reference to Jesus and the destruction of the temple, and also possibly ‘the end times’. But I don’t think the author of Daniel had all that in his mind, nor is there any sense of instruction in these verses about what believers are to do in light of this revelation.

Rather, he was intending to convey to his readers that God knows the future; that bad things will happen, but that there is an end in sight; evil will be punished, and sin will be atoned for. Remember, this is an answer to Daniel’s prayer for mercy. Let us therefore be thankful that God hears our prayers, that he knows the future, and that he will deal with injustice in his own way and in his own time.

Prayer: Thank you, merciful Father, that you hear and answer prayer. Thank you that there is an end in sight to all suffering and injustice. Help me to trust that you will deal with it.

Daniel 9:1-19

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In this section, apart from the opening verses, it is like we have been transported out of the Book of Daniel and into some other Old Testament book (cf Neh 9, for example). Here we have no narrative, no foreign king acknowledging God’s sovereignty, no visions or dreams, nothing like the previous chapters. It is the only part of the book that uses the divine name, Yahweh (written as LORD in most translations). Some scholars think the whole Book of Daniel is a compilation from different authors; we will deal with the text as it stands, regardless of authorship or date.

The first verse gives the setting as the reign of Darius the Mede, as in Chapter 6 (which also focuses on Daniel in prayer). Daniel has been reading the word of Yahweh in Jeremiah’s prophecies, that Jerusalem’s desolation would last seventy years (cf Jer 25:11-12; 29:10). Presumably he also read that the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews was the threatened judgement on God’s people for disobedience. This is not only found in Jeremiah, but also in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, as well as other places in the prophets. He must also have read Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:46-53, the words of which are echoed so strongly here, urging God to hear when his people repent.

As a result, Daniel turns to prayer and penitent supplication. There are two themes in the prayer. Firstly, God: he is great, awesome, righteous, compassionate, forgiving, and faithfully keeps his covenant. God gave laws through his servants and prophets, especially Moses. He brought his people out of Egypt and thus made his name famous. In keeping with the promises he made, he has punished his people for their rebellion. Secondly, God’s people: they have sinned and rebelled against God’s command, they have not listened to God’s servants, and they have been shamed. They and their land are suffering because of their disobedience, yet they have failed to turn away from their sin and towards the Lord and his truth.

In verses 17-19, Daniel asks the Lord God to hear his prayers, see the desolation of his holy sanctuary in Jerusalem, and forgive. He does not give the reason as saving the people from their suffering, but honoring God’s own name. This is in accordance also with Ezekiel, where God acts to protect his own name and honor (eg Chapters 20, 36).

How shall we apply this message to ourselves? We are not in the same position as Daniel, and yet we can learn from him. We learn to read God’s word, appropriate and believe its message, and repent for our repeated failures to obey God’s commandments. We learn also to stand in the gap as an intercessor for our communities or our nation. Let us also not forget what we are reminded here about God: his compassion, forgiveness and faithfulness to his promises. In God’s economy and sovereignty, there is always space and time for repentance. How we act affects not only our own honor, but his also.

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me, and those I represent, for everything we do which brings shame to your holy name. Help me to live for your glory and honor. You are great and glorious.

Daniel 8

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Our chapter today is similar to yesterday’s, but on a smaller scale. It also takes place during the reign of Belshazzar, but about two years later. This time, however, there is a location for Daniel’s vision: the city of Susa, in the province of Elam, which is east of Babylon, south of Media, and west of Persia.

The vision is easily interpreted. The ram is the Media-Persian empire, and the goat that overwhelms it is Greece. The prominent horn is Alexander the Great, and the important one of the four horns that arise after it is broken off is Antiochus Epiphanes of the Seleucids. The ‘beautiful land’ that Antiochus dominates is Israel/Palestine, and it is the second temple in Jerusalem which he overthrows and desecrates. The 2300 evenings and mornings probably symbolize the time when the Jews were unable to offer sacrifices (cf 12:11), but it could also refer to the period in history from the time the high priest was killed to the time that the temple was restored – about seven years – as recorded in 2 Maccabees. Most of the vision is actually about the rise of the evil Antiochus, rather than God’s people or even God himself.

But couldn’t it be about some other evil person in history? Adolf Hitler, Donald Trump, the pope, the president of the EU, or the antichrist himself? Doesn’t Gabriel say it is for the ‘distant future’ and ‘the time of the end’? We must keep in mind that the setting of the vision is the reign of Belshazzar, about 550 BC, and that the time of Antiochus is 175-164 BC, that is almost 400 years later. So the time of Antiochus is the distant future from the time of Daniel’s vision (regardless of when it was actually written). Nevertheless, of course it may prefigure another evil figure in history, just as the Son of Man (7:14) prefigured Jesus, who was born 550 years later. My argument would be that it doesn’t really help us at all to identify someone else in history, except to say that God knows evil men rise to power, then stand against him and his people. Yet they will be cut off, destroyed.

Note Daniel’s response in verse 27. The vision caused him to be exhausted and lay ill, but then he got up and went about his business. The vision didn’t inspire him to action or rebellion or deep study. He didn’t understand it, so he went about his ordinary work, in service of the king. There is an implied faith without understanding in the passage. Not all the prophets understood all they saw, and neither do we. There is a lot in the Bible that I read and I don’t understand, or I read and I don’t particularly like. I can’t escape the fact that it is there, but I don’t need to act on it. There is no lesson in this chapter of ‘what to do in the light of this revelation’. The lesson is that bad stuff happens in this world, nation rises up against nation, some men are evil, people suffer, and God knows about it. It hurts our souls and sometimes lays us up in our beds for a few days. But then we have to get up and get back to our work.

Prayer: God, there is so much I don’t understand in this world, so much suffering and so much evil. Help me to trust that you have all this in your hand, Father, and that you will bring an end to it at the appointed time.

Daniel 8 — The Ram, The Goat, and The Little Horn Again » Kehila News Israel

Daniel 7

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The style of writing changes spectacularly in this chapter, but the message is the same. After the first verse which is still in narrative form, we now have Daniel writing in the first person about his vision / dream. It takes place during Belshazzar’s reign, so we have gone backwards in time, prior to Chapter 5 (where Belshazzar dies). The language is apocalyptic in the technical sense, full of weird imagery and symbolic numbers. This chapter parallels Chapter 2, where Nebuchadnezzar dreamt of the layered statue, but instead of a statue we have beasts rising up out of the sea.

Verses 2-8 describe the four beasts, and the interpretation of the dream comes not from Daniel himself (according to his telling of the story), but from someone standing in the heavenly court. Just like in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the beasts represent four kings, or kingdoms, the first of which is glorious and most likely indicates Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. The second and third are probably Media and Persia, and there is significance in the small details which we won’t go into here. The last kingdom is Greece (culturally) which perhaps becomes Rome (politically), devouring the rest of the earth with violence. Another possible interpretation is that Media and Persia are conflated into the second beast, the third is Greece, and the final destructive one is Rome. The arrogant speaking horn is generally thought to be Antiochus Epiphanes, a Hellenistic (i.e. Greek) king of the Seleucid Empire in the second century BC, who persecuted the Jews mercilessly. If you are interested in more details about this historical interpretation, you can read this article. On the other hand, some people suppose that Daniel is not dreaming about kingdoms that existed during the time the book was written, but about other regimes, far away in the future, through prophetic gifting.

The most important part of the dream / vision, however, is not about the four kings and all the imagery associated with them, but the rule of the Ancient of Days. Although the other kings had been given dominion for a set time, it was removed from them, and the last beast was slain and destroyed. A new ruler emerges, one ‘like a son of man’. His dominion, granted by the Ancient of Days, is everlasting and will not end, and he is to be served by people of every nation and tongue. He is the king of all kings and the lord of all rulers. On this side of history, and with the interpretation we read in the Book of Revelation, it is impossible not to see Jesus here, the self-designated Son of Man, and his set-apart-ones (saints) against whom ‘the arrogant horn’ continues to wage war until he is completely obliterated.

But how did Daniel and his first readers understand it? It is interesting to see in verse 28 that Daniel was troubled and afraid, given that the vision was overwhelmingly positive. But perhaps he was thinking of the struggle the saints would have, the oppression that they would face, before the final victory. His intent was surely to encourage the saints, that even though they suffer, in the end, the Most High, whom they serve, will win; and that they will inherit not only his kingdom, but the wealth of every other kingdom which ultimately submits to God (verse 27).

Recently I heard a helpful sermon illustration about watching a recorded sports match after the event. The tension is taken out of it when you know the final result. Even though there are ups and downs, and sometimes your own team is losing, if you know that your team will win in the end, it is a lot less stressful. The Book of Daniel is just like that. If we know that we are on the side that wins in the end, why do we get so stressed about life in the mean time? Again, like 2 weeks ago thinking about Paul in the shipwreck, I am reminded of Gandalf in Minas Tirith, facing almost certain death and yet trusting that good will yet win in the end. (You can watch it here.) As we are assaulted by the forces of evil, let us continue to remember and trust that God will have the final victory.

Prayer: Thank you Lord my God, that I can trust you will win in the end. Help me to stick with you, no matter what assaults my faith.

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Daniel 6

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It has never occurred to me before that this chapter is actually about leadership, administration and integrity. I have always been too distracted by the lions.

Verses 1-9 focus on King Darius and his leadership team. The king instituted a devolved team, whereby there were three administrators under him, to whom were accountable another 120 leaders. Daniel was one of the three, but the ‘excellent spirit in him’ resulted in the king planning to make him top dog. The others, of course, were jealous. But they were unable to find anything wrong – no corruption, no negligence – in Daniel. So they influence the king to write and enforce a decree which they know will get Daniel into trouble. Take a look at their entreaty in verse 7: “All the royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers, and governors have agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce a decree that for thirty days anyone who petitions any god or man except you, O king, will be thrown into the den of lions.” It seems good to the king, so he agrees. Arrogant, weak-willed idiot, who foolishly believes he has to go along with what he thinks is the majority. May I never agree to something my team says without thinking its implications through carefully.

In verse 10 we get a look at Daniel ignoring the decree and continuing thrice daily to pray and give thanks to the God of Israel, as he had always done. However, the focus of this narrative is not Daniel, but the king and his team.

The team goes back to the king to inform him that Daniel has broken the newly-made law, just as they anticipated, and is subject to the death penalty. The king is distressed and tries to rescue him but his power is limited by the law. Daniel is thrown to the lions and, in a twist of cruel irony, the king’s own ring seals his fate. The king does not eat, sleep, or relax all night, but rushes at first light to the lions’ den in anguish. When he discovers that Daniel is unharmed, he is overjoyed and has Daniel released. But he commands the accusers and their families to be thrown in instead, and they are killed instantly.

I have kept all the theology in this passage for its own paragraph. Firstly, Daniel does not cease to pray and gives thanks to God, despite the risk to his life. Just as in the first chapter, his regard and respect for God takes precedence over his regard and respect for the earthly king. Daniel’s life is preserved by God’s angel shutting the lions’ mouths, because God found him innocent (verse 22), and Daniel trusted in him (verse 23). Darius describes Daniel as “servant of the living God” (verse 20), and he decrees that people of every nation and tongue in his kingdom should tremble before Daniel’s God. He is the living and eternal God; he rescues; he performs signs and wonders; he rules forever. The conclusion of the chapter is similar to Chapters 3 and 4, but now with Darius (instead of Nebuchadnezzar) recognizing that he is a mere vice-regent to the truly reigning sovereign lord of the universe.

The main message of this chapter is not: Be like Daniel and trust God (although that is visible too). It is, again, God is the king. The context is leadership and administration. Those of us who are leaders must take note of the warnings the author gives here: Do not be jealous of others when they are promoted. Have integrity; do not be corrupt; do not be negligent. Do not be swayed into signing things without thinking them through carefully. And most importantly, we lead only under God’s authority and by his provision. Let us not be tricked into thinking we make the rules. Fear God, the lord of all.

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me for my arrogance, foolishness, and desire for power. Help me to be a person of integrity, and to fear you always, above anyone else. Thank you that you have the power to save and to do miracles.

Daniel 5

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This chapter has a chill about it, very apt for the pre-Halloween season in which I am writing. Although this is not one of the Sunday School stories we know so well from Daniel, it is nevertheless familiar, drawing on moments from the chapters we have already read. It is from this story that is derived the English phrase, ‘The writing is on the wall’, which means that there are clear signs that something bad is about to happen.

The king now is Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, who seems to have forgotten Daniel in the intervening years. (In fact, archaeology indicates Belshazzar was probably Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, and ruled as Crown Prince around 550BC, about a decade after Nebuchadnezzar’s death, while his father King Nabonidus was away.) As sons in the absence of their wealthy fathers do, Belshazzar is having a great party with a thousand people and is drunk. In his frivolity, he brings in the holy vessels from the Jerusalem temple to use as wine goblets. While drinking, the people praise their own gods, idols made of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone. It is highly offensive to the Jewish writer of the narrative. Suddenly a disembodied hand begins writing on the wall, and the king is terrified.

As usual, none of the king’s regular wise men is able to interpret the message. Rather than ignoring it, Belshazzar becomes more frightened. But his (grand?)mother, Nebuchadnezzar’s wife (or daughter-in-law), remembers Daniel, the man with ‘the spirit of the holy God(s)’. Daniel is summoned, on her advice, and asked to read and interpret the writing, for which he will be handsomely rewarded.

Daniel does not want the rewards, for the opportunity to speak to the king is reward enough. Daniel does not waste his time in the spotlight. He asserts that the king’s father, Nebuchadnezzar, was a great and glorious king because God had appointed him to that position. However, as we heard in the previous chapter, when Nebuchadnezzar became proud and did not acknowledge that his sovereignty came from God as a divine representative, he was rejected from the throne, lost his glory, and even his position as a simple human in society. Knowing this story, however, Belshazzar his descendant did not take it to heart. He did not acknowledge the sovereign God, glorify him, or humble himself before the Lord of heaven, but exalted himself and insulted God’s honor. This very God has control over the life of Belshazzar, and he has decided to take away the kingdom and divide it between the Medes and the Persians.

The conclusion of the story is that Daniel is rewarded, as promised, for bringing this shocking news; that Belshazzar is assassinated; and the kingdom is given to Darius the Mede.

The author’s point is pretty much the same as the previous chapter: God is the true Lord of kings, and therefore of all. Anyone who takes pride in his or her own position, without acknowledging that it comes from God, is destined for a fall. Anyone who insults the majesty of God will be deposed of her or his own honor. The sin of Belshazzar – and each one of us, and all of humanity – is that he ‘failed to glorify the God who holds in his hand your very breath and all your ways’. We lose a significant aspect of the truth of biblical revelation when we think of sin as doing wrong – whether it is lying, adultery, or any other of the ten commandments. The essence of sin is failure to glorify God, to honor him as he deserves. Let us remember that in our telling of the gospel to ourselves and to others. We are all in dire need of his grace.

Prayer: Forgive me, Lord God, for my arrogance and the many ways I have insulted your glory. Give me your Spirit of revelation, that I may know you for who you truly are. You hold my breath and all my ways in your hands, sovereign ruler.