Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Bible Reading: Daniel 5v1-12 'Reading the King's writing'

"King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.
Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.
The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, ‘Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed round his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.’
Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.
10 The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. ‘May the king live for ever!’ she said. ‘Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale! 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. 12 He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.’"

Chapter 5 is only chapter dealing with Belshazzar and his reign, it's a helpful reminder that Daniel is concerned with recording the big picture of God at work not a chronological history of Babylon.  The events recorded are significant events crucial to God’s kingdom.  So we are not given an explanation of the end of Nebuchadnezzar or of Belshazzar's coming to the throne.

The account of Belshazzar is in contrast to Nebuchadnezzar, whereas Nebuchadnezzar is given various changes and opportunities to turn and to repent in Daniel 5 we see that God judges and Belshazzar is cut off.  However, we must remember that this is just the highlights not all the detail, and Belshazzar as we shall see knew all about God and his dealings with Nebuchadnezzar.  This chapter is hugely significant to Daniel and his friends because it is the fulfilment of Isaiah 47 and God's promise that Babylon will be judged, it reminds them again that God’s word can be trusted.

In verse 1-12 we see Belshazzar's failure tolerant the lessons of history.  Who is Belshazzar?  He is (v1) the king, a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar, the word “Father” (2, 11, 13, 18, 22) means both father and ancestor.  Interestingly in verse 7 he offers Daniel the third place in the kingdom not second.  Scholars say he reigns in place of his Father Nabonidus - who was hated by people.  Anyway Belshazzar is the centre of the court, holding a massive feast as sign of his power and majesty.

But v2-3 Belshazzar is a blasphemer – he sends for the goblets from the temple in Jerusalem, drinking from the holy things in mockery of God.  v4 Belshazzar is idolater. With Yahweh’s temple furnishings in his hands he praises idols.  It's worth noticing again the way idols are described “gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.”  Belshazzar and his courtiers are praising dumb man made idols even as the real living God acts – what a contrast!

And what a shock for Belshazzar when the God he has just been mocking acts in judgement and unsurprisingly Belshazzar is terrified.  As the story is told there are lots of similarities to the events and reactions of previous chapters;  v6 is an echo of chapters 4 and 2 and the dreams given to Nebuchadnezzar, v7 is an echo of actions of Neb in chapters 2 and 4. He is making the same mistakes as Neb.  And in v7 Belshazzar offers a great reward because he is terrified – is the God he has just mocked acting?

Verse 8-9 serve to build the tension in the account as wise men are offered great rewards but not a single one of them can read the writing on the wall. The whole court is baffled, the focus now is not Belshazzar’s greatness but on the conundrum of the writing.  Yet it remains hidden, another echo of chapter 2:28 “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries…”. This puzzle remains and whilst we are thinking 'why doesn't he send for Daniel?' no one else is until the Queen arrives on the scene.

The (10-12) Queen is probably not his wife but a royal figure in court. She remembers Daniel and her remembering Daniel and lessons of chapters 1-4 puts into greater contrast Belshazzar's failure to do so.  But Daniel seems to be in obscurity, to have been forgotten, he certainly no longer has position he had under Nebuchadnezzar (11).  But his character and actions are remembered by the Queen.  The stage is set as verse 12 fades to black with Belshazzar calling for Daniel.

It's a helpful corrective to potentially wrong thinking.  It's easy to think after reading Chapters 1-4 that standing boldly for God leads to reward.  Daniel and his friends have admittedly faced dangers and even death for their faith and yet each chapter seems to end with them in a better position than before.  But Chapter 5 reminds us that faithful service often goes unnoticed and unrewarded.  Daniel has been in obscurity but has still been faithfully serving God, Go has not forgotten him even if others have.

The other helpful thing we are reminded of here is that God does not forget.  God does not forget either his people or his promises.  Our God is faithful, we can rely on him and his goodness.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Bible Reading: Matthew 6v19-24 "A new relationship with stuff."

On Sunday we're looking at Matthew 6v24-34. Today we'll look at the context as we break into the Sermon on the Mount because what follows is closely tied to this section:

19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount has been explains what it means to be part of the kingdom to live life with him as king, how that impacts a disciples actions, emotions, attitude to God, and living in terms of religious observance.  Now he explores the orientation of the disciple, what they live for, what really matters to them, what drives them. The disciple is to live with their hearts set on heaven, their eyes fixed on God and their life devoted to him.

In this passage there are two treasures, two ways of living, and two masters. Each reveals respectively; what your heart is set on, what you live looking for and who you serve. In each pair there is a warning and a call to kingdom distinctiveness.

1. A heart set on heaven
We’ve been to loads of weddings and at nearly every one there has been a gift list, a little card which comes with the invite saying you can go on line and view the things the Bride and Groom want from whichever store it’s with.  Amazon have extended it with the individuals wish list, you can create your own list of things you really want and then supply a list of email addresses so Amazon can email your friends and family a subtle hint.

It reveals to us the way our world works doesn’t it, we all set our hearts on things, there are things we really want; be it stuff, a relationship , a family, or a career. Jesus says that we all set our hearts on something, but that there is something distinctive about what the disciple sets their hearts about what they treasure.

Jesus warns the disciples: there are two types of treasure: earthly treasure and heavenly treasure and you will want either one or the other, and that desire will affect your living.  He commands them not to pursue earthly treasure and points out the folly of doing so, why is it folly? Because it doesn’t last. It gets eaten, or eroded, or stolen.

Clothes don’t last forever, the new shiny car will eventually rust and fail its MOT, money loses its value. Jesus is saying that ultimately that is what happens. Everything is decaying. Ultimately everything we have on earth will disappoint us.  That is the way it is with every treasure on earth it is temporary and even if we still have it when we die we can’t take it with us.

In contrast where does Jesus command his disciples to lay up treasure? In heaven, and treasure in heaven is permanent it is secure, it never runs out, erodes, decays or is stolen. It is in the most secure place possible.

Treasure on earth is obvious but it poses the question what is treasure in heaven? The phrase treasure in heaven is found in Jewish literature and refers to whatever is of good or eternal significance that comes out of what is done on earth. There are some of those things outlined in Matthew 5 in the Beatitudes, God rewards whole-hearted service, a life lived now with eternal consequences which God will reward. To lay up treasure in heaven is to be rich towards God, it is to live with an eye to eternity now.

Do lay up treasure Jesus is saying, but lay it up in the right place, live for real treasure.

Who you bank with matters doesn’t it? We’ve seen that with the banking crisis, people lost thousands, councils lost millions, invest wisely is what every bank advert calls you to do. Jesus says the ultimate investment, the safest most lasting of all treasures is treasures laid up in heaven by living now for eternity.

Jesus goes on to say that the thing you treasure shows what your heart is set on, what is the priority for your life. How can we tell what our hearts are set on, we need a diagnostic tool, here are three questions that will do that why not take a moment to think them through:

a. What do you dream about?
b. What if you lost it would make life unbearable by its absence?
c. What do you long for for your children?

Those 3 questions help unveil our treasures the things we dream about and fear losing are the things we treasures most, the things we couldn’t live without reveal what gives us hope, and the things we long for our children reveal the things we believe will bring them satisfaction, that will make life worth living for them, and provide a window into what is really in our hearts, what we really believes satisfies us.

Don’t set your heart on glittery worldly things which are temporary, breakable and rotting but set your heart on heaven, on being with God and enjoying his presence forever. Where are we storing up treasures?

2. Eyes set on God
The eye has already been used in the Sermon on the Mount, how? (5:29)Through the eye sin enters the heart. What you fix your eyes on determines where you go, what course you will follow, how you will live.  How does Jesus describe the eye? The eye is the lamp of the body is the image Jesus uses – it’s the image of a lamp lit to give light to a room - if the eye is good or healthy you will be full of light. But if your eye is bad or diseased light will not be able to enter in and you will be living in dark.

That word healthy also means ‘good’ in the sense of singleness of purpose. What you fix your eyes on determines how you live. Jesus is again calling the disciples to live for the kingdom, he is calling them to a singleness, a purity, of focus. Jesus is calling the disciples to seek first the kingdom of God to the exclusion of everything else.

What is the alternative? The alternative is to fix their eyes on the world in its sin and darkness, to want the things it wants, to follow its way of living. And it produces a darkness in terms of the view you have of the world. It is impossible to look in two directions at once, and life lived without God is a life lived in darkness – unaware of and unable to make good moral decisions.

In Proverbs the wise person is warned against setting their eyes on wealth and riches (Prov 23:4-6) and the person with a good eye will be blessed for he shares his riches with the poor(Prov 22:9).

If the first challenge is what is your heart set on the second is what are your eyes focused on? Because that will determine how you live. Live life focused on the wrong thing and you are living in darkness not light.

3. Devotion seen in service of God
In every instance Jesus has given in this section there are two options, 2 things you can set your hearts on, 2 things you can set your eyes on, and lastly there are two masters you can serve.  Notice that there are only ever two options. This is made particularly clear here, “No-one can serve two masters”, it is impossible says Jesus. The word serve means to be a slave, a slave couldn’t belong to two owners, a slave has one master and he owes that master exclusive allegiance.

So it is with you says Jesus, you can’t serve two masters we either serve God or money. “Money” has over time come to be the accepted meaning of the original word which was ‘Mammon’, mammon originally meant something in which one puts their confidence, or on which one relies.  No doubt money is the most prominent and obvious of these but there are others. It can be a relationship, or a career, a person, things, or money. It is anything which we rely on to give us confidence and which we therefore pursue or are devoted to.

So the person who works all the hours possible to advance their career can be doing so because they are serving their career, it is their God, what they are relying on for confidence what ultimately gives them worth.  The person who spend hours or money on how they look because image is what gives them their security, it is what they rely on.

Mammon is any good thing which God has given us which we take and twist and make into an ultimate thing displacing or rivalling God. We may not do so theologically or in our thinking but we may do so practically in our living.

Who does Jesus say can serve two masters? “No-one”. There can only be one God in your life, it is impossible to serve two. It is impossible – that means if we find our selves thinking yes but I can – we are lying to ourselves, in fact Satan loves it when we delude ourselves like that. It is utterly impossible to be devoted to, to set your heart on, to set your eyes on, to be a slave of two masters. Who do you serve?

The disciple is distinctive because they are singular in terms of what their heart is set on, what they fix their eyes on and what who they are devoted to.  God’s people saved by grace, those who recognise the king and enter his kingdom live life in his service for his glory.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Bible Reading: Daniel 4v28-37 'Humbled at last'

As Nebuchadnezzar recounts the testimony to his empire of God's work in his life one of the striking thing is his honesty about his sin and rebellion.  Pride is replaced by an honesty and integrity that seems to see God glorified and not do anything that gets in the way or deflects from that glory.

Nebuchadnezzar refused to repent, he refuses to heed warning, to acknowledge God as Sovereign and so twelve months later as he revels in his achievements, in his sovereignty he is struck down.  It's worth saying that in many ways his boasting is right; he has done some amazing things – he rules Babylon that has become the empire, he has built or renovated over a dozen temples, completed the great walled city of Babylon, and built a new palace with connecting hanging gardens. But he does  not and will not acknowledge God, he thinks it is all due to his sovereignty and power.

The response to such arrogance is, verse 31, 33,  instant – the decree is issued just as in dream.  Twelve months have passed but God does not forget, his word does not fail, God is faithful.  Nebuchadnezzar refuses to acknowledge God’s glory but boasts in his own and so God removes it.

But notice that there is again the promise of mercy, verse 32, even in the word of judgement in the word “until” God's judgement is designed to bring Nebuchadnezzar to his senses not to destroy him, it is to humble him not to damned him.

In verse 34 we see that cause and effect of God's decree being fulfilled: this proud boastful, self assured, self-adulating king is humbled and he raised eyes heavenward and his sanity is restored. Then he praised the Most high.  Looking to heaven suggests that he is seeking God (34), and his praise of God gives God the glory he has up to now refused to – God is king!  And as a result, verse 36, God is merciful and responds to Nebuchadnezzar repentance and recognition of him as Sovereign Lord.  And, verse 37, Nebuchadnezzar's change is not temporary but permanent, he now lives to praise and exalt and glorify the king of kings - there are few better statements that sum up the believers life and purpose.  Salvation by grace leads to a life lived for God's praise, exaltation and glory.

It is good to think on how we received mercy, how gracious God was in humbling us, in bringing us to the cross where we stood amazed at his love for us.  As we do so may we head in to today resolved to therefore praise, exalt and glorify the King of Kings.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Bible Reading: Daniel 4v19-27 'Understanding dreams'

In verse 19 Daniel’s reaction shows his concern for Nebuchadnezzar as he thinks about the dream.  It helpfully shows us that whilst Daniel is faithful to both the king and God, he is not uncaring about Nebuchadnezzar even though he is the king who had him carried off into exile, even though he is a king who as yet has not bowed the knee to the living God.  Daniel believed the interpretation he is given by God and is fearful about its meaning for the King, Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been troubled for a time, but reassures Daniel.

As Daniel explains the dream we see that, verse 22, Nebuchadnezzar is the tree, with his power and influence clearly recognised and depicted by the spreading branches and growth.  But he is a tree that will be cut down, verse 23.

Verse 24 draws a contrast between Nebuchadnezzar's decree in chapter 3:11, and God’s.  God's decrees come to pass because he is the ultimate authority, he is King of kings and Lord of lords.  God’s decree, the dream, is very specifically “issued against my lord the king.”  Nebuchadnezzar has been told in advance what will happen and what will end it in verse 25b.

There is another contrast here in how Nebuchadnezzar sees himself and how God sees him; to Go he is a tree that can be felled even if its  “height was enormous…its top touched the sky…visible to the ends of the earth…from it every creature was fed.”  Nebuchadnezzar is not as all powerful as he thought, his opinion of himself is wrong and God will humble him.   Nebuchadnezzar sees himself as tree and, chapter 3, worthy of worship God sees him as (17, 25, 31) someone he has given power to for a period of time he decrees.

The essence of sin is that I make myself , in a host of ways, the centre of the universe.  That is true of Nebuchadnezzar and God will not stand for it.  Yet there is also a contrast here between the  mercy of God and merciless nature of Neb; (v27) Neb is described as one who oppresses, (c/f ch 3:11, 29) whereas God shows mercy giving Neb warning in dream and sending Daniel who calls him to repent, and it will be seen in his restoration once he has repented.  “It may be then that your prosperity will continue” – God may relent if you repent, because he is gracious compassionate.  The question as Nebuchadnezzar recounts his testimony is will he?  Will he heed the warning, or brashly, brazenly continue to flaunt his power and rule and to deny Gods.

God is gracious and merciful in the warnings he gives his people, in the ways and times he speaks to us.  The question is will we listen and repent or stubbornly believe the lie that we are in control?

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Bible Reading: Daniel 4v4-18: 'The evidence that God is God'

Nebuchadnezzar in his proclamation to his whole kingdom about his faith in God begins by explaining the dream he was given.  At the time he received the dream he was not spiritually searching, he was not discontent, but (v4) he is ruling, seemingly untroubled “contented and prosperous” but opposed to God!  Until v5 God unsettles “terrified” Nebuchadnezzar, and this is more than just a nightmare.  He knows that this is more than just the adult equivalent of monsters under the bed and so he turns again to his diviners, magicians, enchanters and astrologers for answers.

One of telling things here is that Daniel is his last port of call “Finally”.  Despite Daniel's track record, his wisdom, his godly service, his boldness and God given interpretation in chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar looks everywhere else first.  It's worth pausing to ask why?  Is it that he doesn't want to be confronted with Daniel's God again?  Is it that he will search for any other answer rather than Yahweh?  As we look around our world, our circles of friends and our families many of us know those who do exactly that.

The description that is given of Daniel in verse 8 and 9 is important “called Belteshazzar after the name of my God’s, and the spirit of the holy God’s is in him.” “chief of the magicians”.  Again it's as if Nebuchadnezzar stubbornly refuses to recognise what Daniel himself has readily admitted, he has no power or wisdom of his own, only what God gives him.  Nebuchadnezzar will not recognise what Daniel told him in chapter 2:27-8 “No wiseman, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries”.  Yet Nebuchadnezzar has no choice but to appeal to Daniel, though tellingly he appeals to Daniel not to God despite his experiences in chapters 2-3.

The central issue in the dream is Kingship (as I think it is in the book), who rules? Nebuchadnezzar or God.  The image of a tree was a common one in referring to a ruler or kingdom or dynasty.  Then he sees “a holy one, a messenger” One who reveals God’s purposes, a supernatural watchman who command that the tree be chopped down.  However, this is not a graceless or hopeless message because there is grace in the “But” or yet of v15.  The tree will not be totally destroyed.

In v15b-16 the language changes from the tree to the person tree represents "him... his".  The tree clearly represents a human though, until God determines, he will be like a wild animal v16.  For 7 times – may be months, years, more likely 7 = perfection, God’s perfectly allotted time.

Why will this happen?  Verse 17 tells us why as the messenger announces God’s verdict – his word is what matters.  God is confronting man with his creatureliness and in contrast God’s sovereignty. Yet again God is teaching that He rules.  It is no wonder Nebuchadnezzar is fearful of exactly what the dream is about. He’s told the purpose of the dream and its application seems quite obvious, especially as the tree imagery was common at time, though Neb is uncertain as to its exact interpretation hence his anxiety, terror and need to know.

We are confronted again with our creatureliness in contrast to our creators divinity, our limitations contrasted with his limitlessness, our dependence contrasted with his almighty sovereignty.  How great is our God?  Even the most powerful men on the planet are merely grass.  Nebuchadnezzar as he reveals God's dealings with him reveals where we all stand before God.  How amazing that this God wants to know us?  How much more humbling that he stoops in the person of his son to veil himself in flesh and take our place for our sin?

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Bible Reading: Daniel 4 'The King's Decree'

Chapter 4 is last chapter recording events as God deals with Nebuchadnezzar, humbling him and bringing him to finally bow the knee.  However, there are significant differences between Daniel 4 and the first 3 chapters of Daniel.  In this chapter there is no threat or danger to Daniel and his 3 friends.  Whereas in the three previous chapters we saw some acknowledgement of God as awesome or powerful here we see Nebuchadnezzar repent and confess God is sovereign having been made aware that he most assuredly is not.  At an end of himself Nebuchadnezzar finds God.

"King Nebuchadnezzar,
To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth:
May you prosper greatly!
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
How great are his signs,
        how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
        his dominion endures from generation to generation.
I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)
I said, ‘Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me. 10 These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. 11 The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
13 ‘In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. 14 He called in a loud voice: “Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15 But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.
‘“Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.
17 ‘“The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.”
18 ‘This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.’
19 Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, ‘Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.’
Belteshazzar answered, ‘My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! 20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, 21 with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds – 22 Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.
23 ‘Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, “Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.”
24 ‘This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 you will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. 26 The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.’
28 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’
31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, ‘This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.’
33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified him who lives for ever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
    his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
    are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
    with the powers of heaven
    and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
    or say to him: ‘What have you done?’
36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honour and splendour were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble."

The chapter begins with confession  in verses 1-3.  The chapter is intact Nebuchadnezzar's proclamation to his whole empire of who God is, that he is the King and he reigns.  He confesses the “wonders and signs” that God has performed thus revealing his divine power and finally humbling Nebuchadnezzar and putting him in his place.  In stark contrast to chapter 3 where Nebuchadnezzar wanted the glory and the focus to be on himself here he purposefully and powerfully puts all the focus on God.  He finally recognises what God has been showing and teaching him throughout all of the years of Daniel and his three friends service and faith recorded in chapter 1-3.

John Calvin said about Neb: “When God therefore wishes to lead us to repentance, he is compelled to repeat his blows continually, either because we are not moved when he chastises us with his hand or we seem roused for the time, and then we return again to our former torpor. He is therefore compelled to redouble his blows.”

It is worth pausing to reflect on that in our own lives.  How often does God work like this to bring us to faith, making us aware of of sin, and then again more and more strongly as we are not moved or are convicted for a time but then fall back into the escapism of everyday life?  How often even in our life as those who profess to love and follow Jesus does he have to discipline us similarly?  Repeating his warnings, reteaching us lessons, disciplining by his hand until we finally learn and confess, repent and change.  Where might God be doing that now?  Where am I not fully attuned to what God has been teaching me?  Where am I tuning out?  Where is God by grace continuing to teach?

Thank God for his grace but in winning us for himself and in persevering with us day by day, in not giving up on his work of making us pure and blameless.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Bible reading: Daniel 3v24-30 'Divine Deliverance'

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisors, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’
They replied, ‘Certainly, Your Majesty.’
25 He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’
26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!’
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisors crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.’
30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

A furious Nebuchadnezzar knows what he expects to see and hear as he has the three bound friends thrown into the fire.  But as God intervenes to rescue his servants he contradicts Nebuchadnezzar, showing him, and everyone else, Nebuchadnezzar's impotence and the futility of idol worship in the face of Yahweh.  But also that Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego have their service of him right; they serve the KING and they are right to do so.

The text also stresses (v27) the extent of their deliverance, its totality is emphasized by the detailed piling up of descriptions of the men as they come out of the fire: “unbound… unharmed… not harmed… nor was a hair… singed… not scorched… no smell of fire…” In contrast to the soldiers (22) who are burned up the moment they go near to the fire, this rescue is as complete as it is miraculous, not even a whiff of smoke on their clothing.

Verse 25 raises a big question, who is the 4th figure? Some say it is an angel some say it is a pre-incarnate vision of the Son of God. The Authorised Version has ‘Son of God’ in v25 where NIV has “like a son of the gods”.  Indeed Nebuchadnezzar himself seems unsure, having referred to the figure as "like a son of the gods" in verse 25 in verse 28 he refers to him as God has sent “his angel to rescue”.  The Bible is not clear on who he is and it also doesn’t raise it as an issue.  The key to our understanding this fourth figure is that he is God’s deliverer, God delivers his people just as he promised (Isaiah 43:2-3 “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”)  It is not a universal blanket promise of deliverance for all of God's people who take a stand, even the three friends recognised that God may not rescue them, and God rescues them in the fire not from the fire, and later in the book, in the visions Daniel has, we read of God's faithful people who stand and are killed for it.  God is our deliverer but he may not always deliver us physically every time.

In verse 28-29, as at end of chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar is impressed but not converted.  He comments on the nature of the miracle and the commends the faithfulness of Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego and gives a bloodthirsty protection to the Jews which I'm not sure they wanted.  Again the question is does Nebuchadnezzar come to faith in God or is he just impressed by God's power.  We see clearly that this is not a conversion, Nebuchadnezzar is not humbled, he is not seeing how he needs to relate to God.  There is another question which is left hanging; does he destroy the idol? Does he repent and recognise his place/impotence before God? Chapter 4 clearly tells us answer is no.

As the chapter ends Meschach, Shadrach, Abednego have gone from peril to promotion, just as Daniel had in chapter 2. God is the faithful deliverer of his people even in a foreign land.  He keeps his promises (Isaiah 43) so he can trusted to keep his other promise made in Jeremiah that the exile will only last 70 years then God's people will return to his place.  Seeing the faithfulness God is to spur his people on to greater faithfulness and trust in God's promises.