Romans 2 – The Law

Read Romans 2

The prominence and important of the Law in the Old Testament cannot be understated.  It’s relevance to the New Testament and the New Covenant often is.  Paul is laying out the basics of God’s plan for salvation and we see here that the Law was a vital part of that plan.  For God’s people, however, Paul points to the true purpose of the Law and God’s true desire of His people: a “circumcised heart.”

God’s desire for His people was a renewed, reconciled relationship with humankind. Since the calling of Abram in Genesis 12, the whole arc of this relationship was that all of the nations of the world would be blessed through God’s covenant relationship with Abram.  The Law, then, became a part of how God was calling His people to live in this relationship.  It was, as Moses points out in Deuteronomy 6, always about the heart.  God’s Law showed His people the things that would damage their relationship with the goal being that they would want to avoid these things, desiring a deeper relationship with Him.

Yet Israel completely misses this point.  First, they ignore the Law and, when they are punished in exile, they eventually divulge into legalism rather than heart change.  So many laws were developed to protect people from breaking God’s Law that it was literally impossible to follow, even for the religious leaders and teachers that Paul addresses here.

Israel’s problem, in the end, was that they thought that having the Law and being in the land is what gave them their identity.  What they failed to see is that it isn’t what one does that makes them God’s people but who they are as God’s called children.  We too need to remember that our Identity is grounded in Christ, not our actions.

Check out what the Heidelberg Catechism says about this:

Heidelberg Catechism Q & A: 12, 13

Check out what the Belgic Confession says about this:

Belgic Confession Articles: 17



Day 364: Revelation 17-19; The Fall of Babylon and the Marriage Supper

In many ways, today’s reading has a lot to do about sex.  At first glance this seems rather odd to us as we have been talking about the end times and all that is to come, and suddenly we are talking about a prostitute and a great beast and all the sexual immorality of the earth.  But, if we think back over the course of our reading of Scripture again we will remember that God and the prophets often refer to Israel’s idolatry as a form of spiritual prostitution, and God often relates their running after God to the same idea as adultery.  The vision we get of Israel is of a young woman that the Lord saved from her misery, pulled her out of the proverbial mud, cleaned her up and adorned her with white robes as a bride.  However, this bride was unfaithful to Him, going off and prostituting herself to other gods.  At times the prophets said that she would welcome in anyone that she encountered on the street corner.  This is how bad things had gotten in Israel, yet even in that God still welcomed her back.

We get a lot of this same vision today, however we see it on a much grander scale applying to the people of the world.  They have gone off and prostituted themselves to the beast, to the antichrist and opened themselves to him.  The reason that sexual imagery is used here, I think, is to communicate the depth of personal giving that is taking place in the hearts of those who follow the antichrist.  Not only do they sin by not listening to  God and not living in the way that He would have them live, they have given their whole selves up to the antichrist in the way that God so desires them to turn to Him.  It is this depth of knowing, this depth of giving that conjures up images of marriage and sex, the deepest self giving that we know as humans.  It is important to note here too that, as detestable as this sounds, even John marveled at the beast and the prostitute which I think goes to show how incredibly enticing this will be.  While I don’t know about what this is or could be actually pointing to, but I know that there is a sinful lifestyle out there that, though we may condemn, we also often stop to take a second look.  We too must be careful because the beast is out there seeking whom he may devour.

So from here we see an angel that is calling out and declaring the fall of Babylon.  Now, in Hebrew literature, Babylon is the symbol of all evil, idolatry, and eternally the enemy of God.  This started being true in the Exile, when the Babylonian army destroy the Temple in Jerusalem.  From then on, they were labeled as the enemies of God.  Some have taken these references to Babylon to mean that, in the last days, the antichrist will actually seek to rebuild the city of Babylon and will rule from there.  I don’t necessarily agree with this notion, though I don’t see it as being out of the realm of possibility either.  Remember that this whole time we have been talking about the fact that these Scriptures do not necessarily denote a series of events, but rather a broad brush stroke of what is to take place before all things come to their already given conclusion.  Babylon, like the beasts and much of the other vivid imagery may just be an image, a grouping of the enemies of God.  In this instance, the angel is communicating to us that the enemies of God have fallen, no longer to rise.  This could mean spiritually there is no turning back for them, or it could mean that in this instance they are truly defeated.  In any case, what we see is that “Babylon,” despite all of her good looks, fine clothing and jewelry, and all that she offers to entice the people of the earth, at some point this will come to an end, that she will not do business anymore, and that the true lie of all she does will be exposed.

For this, all those in heaven rejoice!  Not simply because the truth of Babylon has been exposed to the whole world, but because God has judged her accordingly and she is indeed fallen.  Later we see Jesus coming on a white horse and throwing down Satan, the beast, and capturing him.  All of heaven rejoices at this happening!

Finally today, we get a chance to talk about the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is an image of a great feast that will take place in heaven with all believers, those whose names are written in the book of life.  Jesus invites everyone to His table, all those who believe in His name are welcome there.  When we celebrate communion together as a church, not only “do this in remembrance” of Jesus’ last supper, but we do it in anticipation of this event that will take place in the future as well!  There will be a time when Satan is defeated and sin is no more and all those who believe in the name of Jesus and have been saved by grace, through faith in Him, will sit down at His table and feast with Him!  What an exciting prospect to be a part of this some day!  This is what we look forward to at the end of time, being in the presence of our Savior and Lord, sitting and eating at His table, being free from sin, death and persecution forever and ever, amen!

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)



Day 320: Acts 7-8; Stephen, Persecution, and Scattering

Today’s post, at least as I write it, is going to be mostly not my voice.  I think that what Stephen says here is probably one of the most important speeches in the Bible with the exception of the teachings of Jesus Himself.  Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit rehashes the whole story of God’s faithfulness throughout the history of the Jewish people and how He has brought them to this point.  He lays out for them all the things that have happened, the things that are recorded in the Law and the Prophets, of which these folks are supposedly experts, and how they all lead up to Jesus.  I have marked a lot of the names and parts of the grand narrative of the Bible that Stephen really covers, linking them all of what we talked about in the first month of this journey through the Bible, and also some of the narratives of Joshua, David, and Solomon.  I encourage you to re-read this speech and as you do create some space for yourself to remember these stories, remember what we talked about, and remember all that God has indeed done to bring them to this point right now.  We have the opportunity right now to take a step back and, rather than reading individual portions of Scripture, to see if from a “bird’s eye view,” or perhaps more appropriately a “God’s eye view” of all that has taken place.

Apart from this speech, and the subsequent stoning of Stephen, we read of the scattering of the believers, the movement out of Jerusalem because of the great persecution that begins and takes place.  While this may see horrible, at least on the surface, for those of us that are reading it, this scattering actually facilitated the spreading of the early Church outside the city of Jerusalem into the areas of Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus says at the beginning of Acts.  Though their center still remains in Jerusalem, where the Apostles mostly stay, the outward movement that is precipitated by this persecution is really the beginning of the movement outward towards the “ends of the earth.”  Notice too that immediately we read that people are coming to faith outside of Jerusalem because of the preaching that is taking place.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very much at work in all that is going on here!

And Stephen said:

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’  Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living.  Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.  And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years.  ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’  And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.  Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh.  And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers,  and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

“But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph.  He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive.  At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.  And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’  But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying,‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?  Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’  At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush.  When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord:  ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.  Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.  I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’

“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.  This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.  This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’  This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.  Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’  And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.  But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
    during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
You took up the tent of Moloch
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.  Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who built a house for him.  Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”



Day 278: Malachi 1-4; The Broken Covenant

Well friends, we have come to it at last.  The end of the Old Testament.  I have to say, I’m shocked that it has taken this long.  We emphasize the New Testament so much in contemporary Christianity that I guess I thought it was larger.  But in all honesty, its taken 3/4 of a year to get through the Old Testament, leaving less than 1/4 of the year to get from Matthew to Revelation.  Today though, we come to the final writing but canonically and chronologically in the Old Testament.  Malachi is the punctuation of the Old Testament, showing the people of Israel that have returned to Jerusalem and Judah that they cannot continue to break the covenant even after returning from exile.  Whether Malachi was actually one of the returned exiles or a post-exilic child is not known, but what is known is that he spoke to the people around the time that Nehemiah was dealing with the controversy of intermarriage with other nations that was going on in Judah, many years after the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.

If you remember back to that section of Nehemiah, when he arrived in Jerusalem from Babylon, he faced a great deal of challenges from both outside and in.  People resisted as he and the returned exiles sought to rebuild the wall.  Also, he was approached many times with issues concerning their faith and practices, which included the intermarriage of Hebrews with foreign women.  It is into this climate that Malachi speaks.  To be honest though, I think that at least 90% of what he had to say is completely applicable to us today as well.

Malachi (ortodox icon)

Malachi (ortodox icon) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Malachi was facing down an already unfaithful people.  They had just endured 70 years of exile as punishment for their sins and yet upon returning to their homeland, the started right back up with their sinful actions.  The religious leaders had once again become corrupt, neglecting worship by offering sacrifices of blemished animals.  This was a direct contradiction to the Law.  The people had also become corrupt in their worship, saying they will offer their best and then bringing their worst.  Malachi points out that they brought blind and debilitated animals for sacrifice, giving to the Lord that which they didn’t want anymore.  Sound familiar?  In my dealings with Churches, I’ve found that most abide by the 80/20 rule… 80% of the giving from 20% of the people.  We don’t give out of joy or even out of gratitude, but because our pulpit has shamed us into it for another year.  This reveals not only a lack of faith and trust, but a lack of understanding the true nature of giving to which we are called.  We follow the “give when you want to, or when you can” pattern, something Jesus will address in a rather harsh manner for us in the coming days.

The message of Malachi then turns to the people.  Apart from the sacrifices that they were offering inappropriately, an act that was unfaithful to God, they were also being unfaithful to their wives.  While the intermarriage controversy was one that Nehemiah had to deal with, it seems as though the people were dealing with the problem of marriage on the whole.  Men were getting divorced whenever they wanted to, not on account of marital unfaithfulness but by reason of marital boredom.  Sound familiar?  Divorce rates both in and out of the church are hovering around 50%.  Pastors and priests are caught day after day in sexual sin and marital infidelity.  Marriage itself is a pillar of society that has fallen by the wayside.  Why?  Are people being more unfaithful?  Maybe in some cases… But for the most part people are just being more selfish.  Rather than working on a relationship, they simply throw it away and get a new one.  Much like appliances in our culture, it is just easier (and often cheaper) to get a new one rather than work to fix the old.  And what of our faith?  It seems as though, with the rise of “spirituality” and the idea that there is no absolute truth, that faith too is simply a throwaway item.  Bored with your church?  Find another one.  Bored with God?  Try Hinduism for a while.  Bored with the truth that is right for you?  Try something different on for size.  We are shaped by the things that are around us, the culture in which we live.  Rather than being strong in our faith and then addressing culture, we have settled for being strong in our culture and then addressing faith.  And then we wonder where God has gone and why He is seemingly silent in our day to day lives.

But thank goodness for the covenant.  Thank God that He does not change.  Even when we turn away and do not keep the way of the Lord He still invites us back.  “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.  Malachi speaks to this in chapter 4:

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.  Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.  He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Bible Timeline Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

Bible Timeline
Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

These are the last writings of the Old Testament.  From here we enter the “inter-testamental period,” a time of over 400 years when God was seemingly silent.  Much happened during this time, some of which is included in the Apocrypha, the deutero-canonical books of the Bible that the Nicene Father’s considered somewhat helpful, but not inspired in the way that the Canonical Books of the Bible are.  Some day we may work through them, but in the mean time we wait… fortunately not for 400 years but roughly 24 hours until we enter Matthew and the Word of God becomes flesh!



Day 275: Zechariah 1-6; Intro to Zechariah

Zechariah is the second of the three prophets that correspond with the final three books of the Old Testament Scriptures.  He, like Haggai and Malachi was one of the remnant of people that returned to Judah from the exile in Babylon during the reign of King Darius.  While Haggai’s message centered greatly on the rebuilding of the Temple and less on the glory of what was to come, Zechariah’s turns sharply from the rebuilding of the Temple to the coming of the Messiah.  In fact, apart from Isaiah, Zechariah holds the title as being the prophet that speaks most about the coming of the Messiah, speaking some 500 years before the prophecies would be fulfilled.

A great deal of Zechariah’s messages in the first eight chapters come while the Temple is being rebuilt and, while Haggai was also delivering messages to the Jewish remnant, Zechariah’s messages focused in on remaining faithful, casting out sin, and being purified while continuing their work on the Temple.  These messages were also filled with hope for the people.  If you remember back to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, everything was in ruins and there was a great deal of opposition from the locals as well.  People that lived in the land once the Hebrews were forcibly removed had absolutely no interest in the Temple or the walls of Jerusalem being rebuilt so they harassed and caused trouble for the Jews.  The message that Zechariah brought to the people gave them hope not only for completing the Temple, but for the future when their King would come and rule them again.  We also see pictures of the priesthood, which before the exile had become unbelievably corrupt, functioning in the way that it was meant to as a mediator between God and the people.  Zechariah also sets forth images of Israel as it was meant to be, with great prosperity and blessing as the people of God.

Zechariah is a very important book when it comes to understanding the coming of the Messiah.  He speaks God’s message to the people of Israel time and again about the coming of the true king that will reign over His people with justice and righteousness.  This message holds true for us as well.  While the hope that Zechariah first refers to is that of the coming of Jesus, the coming of which ushered in the Messianic age in which we can find salvation in Christ’s blood, we too look forward with anticipation to the second coming of Jesus.  When He comes again, we will see the truest and deepest fulfillment of these prophecies when all will be consumated to Him and made right for all eternity.  In our time of waiting, we too are called to cast off sin and continue to try and remain pure in all that we do, working each day in anticipation for Christ’s coming again.



Day 274: Haggai 1-2; Priorities

The prophet Haggai was a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, one of the many returned exiles from Babylon under the reign of King Darius.  In fact, Haggai and his are mentioned in the book of Ezra.  Haggai returned with the first wave of exiles from Babylon.  After a few years of being in Jerusalem, the people had rebuilt their own houses and some of the city while the Temple, God’s house, stood in ruins.  Haggai’s message to the people was that they needed to get their priorities straight.  It was by the will of God that the people even returned to their homeland and to the city of God, yet right away they started in their bad habits again, thinking of themselves first.  Unlike some of the other prophets that had come before him, well accepted  by the people living in Jerusalem and they got right to work on rebuilding God’s house.

After the people had rebuilt the temple, we read in Ezra 3, that many of the old people, those who had seen the first Temple, wept at the sight of the second one because it was not as good.  These folks didn’t weep for themselves, but because they felt as though the second Temple had done an injustice to the Lord.  However, God spoke through Haggai again to remind them that it wasn’t the physical building, nor was it the things they adorned it with that made the Temple glorious, but it was the presence of God almighty there that fills the Temple with glory.  Here too we see a promise from God of a future glory, when all things will be made right again and the House of God will be in its fullest glory.

I think that one of the main themes in this story is that of priorities.  Too often we get our priorities completely mixed up, putting the things that we want over the things that God wants for us to do.  I’m sure that there wasn’t a sinister plot to not rebuild God’s house when the people returned.  They probably just got caught up in things like… surviving.  But Haggai points out that, once they had build their own houses, they needed to refocus their priorities and get to work on the things that were important.  This was one of the main reasons why they had returned to Jerusalem in the first place!  More important that the priorities here though is the reaction of the people to Haggai’s message.  They don’t hem and haw, they don’t call a consistory meeting or a town hall meeting, they don’t hire consultants to consider costs to see whether its worth it or not… THEY RESPOND and get to work!  This is what God wants from us when He speaks to us… when He shows us where we are mixed up in our priorities… He wants us to RESPOND.  I think that too often we try to think it through and see what we need to do rather than listen and do.  A great many movements from  God have been cut down in consistory meetings due to “lack of available funds.”  If God is calling us to do something, HE WILL PROVIDE all that we need to make it happen.  It may not be glorious.  It may not even be glamorous.  It might not look like the work of the Mega-Church a couple blocks away, but it will what God wants it to be: work for His Kingdom.



Day 273: Zephaniah 1-3; The Wilderness of Judgment and Exile

The prophet Zephaniah was another contemporary of Jeremiah, preaching the warning of the coming judgment and the message or the need for repentance for the people of Judah in much the same place and time that Jeremiah was.  Along with a couple of other prophets during this time, Zephaniah was part of what seemed like God’s last ditched effort to get the attention of His people before judgment was poured out on them.  While Zephaniah’s ministry actually ended well before the the people of Judah were conquered, the message that he delivered did take place starting about 15 years later.

As I was considering what to write about today, reflecting on this reading, I was wondering how to present the themes of the prophetic message in a way that would be somewhat different than before.  Being that roughly the same message is delivered time and again by the prophets, it seems that, as we near then end of our journey through the Old Testament, much of what is going to be said has been said.

Yet I was struck today by a theme that hasn’t been high on the conversational topic list in quite some time: wilderness.  Remember back with me to the stories of Abraham, JacobMoses, the Exodus, David, and then forward to the exile.  All of these narratives in Scripture depict some of the greater times of wilderness experiences in the Bible.  If you remember these discussions, the wilderness is a major theme, especially in the Old Testament (but also in the New Testament as well), which revolves around identity.  When Abraham was called by God, he was taken out of his homeland and wandered as an alien in Canaan.  In this time his identity as a person from UR of the Chaldeans, and re-identified as one called by God to be the father of God’s people.  This was done through a covenant, visions, and continuing faithfulness from God.

Jacob too has a wilderness experience where he is stripped of his identity as a cheating brother and re-identified as “Israel” in the culmination of his exile when He wrestled against God.  Moses too experienced the wilderness of life in his “exile” from Egypt.  Here he was stripped of his identity as an Egyptian Prince and re-identified as the leader of God’s people.  As a nation under that leadership, Israel is stripped of their identity as a group of Egyptian slaves and re-identified as a nation, the people of God in the wilderness of Sinai.  David too spends a great deal of time in the wilderness, on the run from Saul, and is transformed from a shepherd boy into the King of Israel.

The judgment and subsequent exile also serves this same function, a grand wilderness experience for all the nations of the world at that time.  It is clear that all of these nations have developed an identity that revolved around the idolatry that plagued Israel and those that surrounded them.  Zephaniah uses a variety of different ways to express this to the many nations upon which this judgment will fall.  Cities will be turned into pastures and lands on which animals both wild and domestic will lay.  Lands will become desolate and nations dismantled.  All that made them who they were will be stripped from them and they will be forced into the wilderness.

With all of this there is much talk about the coming day of the Lord.  In many ways, this is the ultimate goal of this wilderness experience.  Sure, the peoples would be punished, set away for their sins, but the point of judgment is not simply reproof, but correction.  God is not indiscriminately pouring our wrath without a goal,  He is showing His power and His might, alerting the nations to return back to Him.  While this will happen through judgment and exile, ultimately this will all culminate in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  This is the day of the Lord, the day when all people can truly find their identity a restored relationship with God.

At that time I will gather you;
    at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
    among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
    before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.



Day 258: Daniel 7-9; Daniel's Visions of the Future (Part 1)

Chronologically speaking, this first of the visions of Daniel at the end of his book happens before the incident of the writing on the wall in chapter 5.  The reason that this makes a difference is that we are moving backwards in time to before the Medes and the Persians would have taken over the Babylonian empire, which happened at the end of chapter 5.  As we begin reading chapter 7, we enter into the final part of the book of Daniel in which he writes down his dreams and visions that he has later in his life.   Daniel’s dreams are often seen as bizarre and probably even strike us as strange and incomprehensible.  Some of the things that he is seeing are things that we would wake up from and be thinking about all day because we just didn’t understand the strange images in our head.  In fact, Daniel too didn’t understand all of the things that he saw, and he is often perplexed and troubled over his visions.

Fortunately, in many of these visions, God Himself provides an explanation for Daniel.  Some are similar to the Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue, but more specific in what kingdoms and rulers would come when.  Other dreams, however, seem to be focused on a more distant time, later in history when the “Ancient of Days” appears and judges all the kingdoms of the world and all its people.  Visions such as this are very similar to what we see in the book of revelation with its beautiful and sometimes even scary imagery of the times that are to come.

There are some Christian denominations that have taken these visions of Daniel and combined them with bits and pieces of other parts of the Bible to try to draw together theories and even theologies of what the end times will look like for us on earth.  Some have even placed names and meaning on some of the different images in Daniel’s visions as being specific countries, rulers, and even events in our contemporary context.  In these theologies, much of what Daniel sees is considered to be taken as literal, something that doesn’t seem to be possible all the way through and therefore doesn’t work on a consistent basis.  Its difficult to say, when interpreting the Bible, that some of it is literal and some of it isn’t… however I don’t think that the argument of a literal or symbolic reading of the Bible is Daniel’s point here at all.  Daniel is faithful recording what the Lord is showing him about the future events and telling it to the people of Israel who are lost in exile and displaced and alone in a foreign land.  The message that Daniel has for them?  Hope.

All of Daniel’s visions are centered around the “Ancient of Days” and what he does.  God shows Daniel and others what is to come in the near future.  Earthly kingdoms will change hands; new people will come to power.  In fact, there will be lots of turmoil that goes on from a political standpoint and it appears that the people of Israel will be caught in the middle of it.  I’m sure they weren’t to thrilled to hear this.  However, God shows up in each of these visions as one that is much more powerful than the kingdoms and rulers of men.  In fact, God sits as both the author and the judge of everything that is to come and, though the people of God may suffer for a while and have to deal with difficult life on earth, ultimately everything is under His control and He will bring all things to the resolution He has in mind: Restoration.



Day 257: Daniel 5-6; The Writing on the Wall

While I’m not entirely sure if it is from this particular Biblical narrative that the saying “see the writing on the wall” comes from, the meaning of that particular idiom is fairly similar to that which God was communicating to king Belshazzar on that particular evening.  What strikes me as interesting in this story is that the son did not learn at all from the father.  In these last two days we have seen four instances where king Nebuchadnezzar was humbled before God; when the God of the Hebrew captives proved to be stronger than the king of the world at that time.  Yet Belshazzar comes to power and makes the same mistakes as that of his father with much more dire consequences.  Yet this isn’t something that we haven’t seen before is it?  And I think therein lies one of the themes of today’s narratives.

Belshazzar's Feast depicts a vision described ...

Belshazzar’s Feast depicts a vision described in the biblical Book of Daniel. –31&src= Daniel 5:1–31 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before we get to that though, there are two stories here about what it means to follow God and the consequences, whether good or bad, that come from our actions.  King Belshazzar inherits the grandest of all kingdoms, likely from his father, and rules for a time.  During this time it is clear by what we read here that he is certainly not a Godly king, nor does he do anything to follow the God of the Hebrews.  In fact, in this party that he throws, he orders that they take out the items from the Temple of God that they can use them for the feast, ultimately desecrating them more than they already are.  It is at this time that the “hand of God” appears and the news is given that his kingdom is about to fall and he is about to die.

Daniel's Answer to the King

Daniel’s Answer to the King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In sharp contrast to this, we are once again given the example that Daniel sets in chapter 6, refusing to pray to anyone but God.  Even when this trap is set for him, one of the most honored and trusted of King Darius‘ advisers, he does not yield and is punished by human standards.  Yet here God clearly knows the heart of Daniel and Daniel trusts that his faith and faithfulness to God will be seen and honored, whether in this life or the next.  You can almost hear the words of Paul here, “to live is Christ and to die is gain…”  Ultimately Daniel’s faithful actions lead to his being saved from the human punishment that they tried to inflict upon him.

That brings up back to Belshazzar.  He placed his trust in his own power, the might and glory of his earthly kingdom.  He did not realize that it was all given to him by God.  Yet on the night when he celebrates all of his earthly power, God shows up and writes the words:

MENE MENE TEKEL PARSIN

God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.

You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.

Your Kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

While I’m sure Belshazzar did everything he could on earth to keep his kingdom and his power, there is no amount of earthly power that can overcome that of Heaven.  The same power that saves the faithful also punishes the wicked for there is no earthly power that can overcome God.

This brings us back to the kings actions with the knowledge of his father’s humility.  There is no doubt that Belshazzar knew of the things that happened during the reign of king Nebuchadnezzar.  Indeed, those stories I’m sure were fresh in his mind on the night his kingdom was lost.  It is a shame that he didn’t learn the lessons of the people of Israel.  For hundreds of years their kings had done the same thing, not learning from the lessons of their fathers and now they were exiles, removed from their land, their kingdom taken from them.  Soon Babylon, or at least the Babylonian kings would share their same status: Exile.  It is the Lord who sets up and removes the kingdoms of the earth.  There is no power except that which is established from heaven.  I think the governments of today, caught up in their squabbling and power grabbing, need to remember the true source of their power, the only one that has allowed them to be where they are.  Its too bad that Truth isn’t as clear as the writing on the wall.



Day 256: Daniel 3-4; The Fiery Furnace and The Tree Dream

Today’s reading continues in the narrative of the prophet Daniel.  On the whole, Daniel is just as much narrative in genre as it is prophetic.  But, let Ezekiel’s strange actions that were meant to be symbolic of what was going to happen to Israel, the actions of Daniel and his three friends are also telling of the way that the people of Israel should live before God, even in exile.  I think this is seen more prominently in what is one of the most popular Bible stories, especially in the prophets: The Fiery Furnace.

When faced with the challenge to commit idolatry and engage in the very thing that had brought the people of Israel into exile in the first place, or risk their lives by worshiping only the one true God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stayed true to their faith.  There was no question in their mind about their loyalty to the God of Heaven.  Even when they were bound by the military and set face to face with their impending destruction, they unwavering denied their last chance to save themselves.

Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego and the Fiery Furnace Photo Credit: www.aeroventure.com

Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego and the Fiery Furnace
Photo Credit: www.aeroventure.com

Fire is often used in the Scriptures as a symbolic reference as that which cleanses and purifies.  When refining metals, fire is that which consumes all of the impurities, or “dross” as the forth verse of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” so eloquently states.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

While talk about symbolism often brings with it questions of the truth of the passage, I think that the truth that is communicated in this narrative is much greater than whether or not these events actually happened.  My point here really doesn’t center around the veracity or the factual nature of the events of this narrative, but about the truth that the communicate.  These three people chose specifically to obey the law of God, not turning from it or bowing to any other gods or images and because of that, when they passed through the fire, they were not consumed because they remained pure and steadfast in their faith.  What I am not saying here is that they were perfect, because like all humans, they were not.  However, what I am saying is that they remained faithful to God even to the point of death and in that, God protected them from that which threatened their lives.  This is indeed the example given to the people of Israel and to believers everywhere, we must not forsake God but rather submit ourselves to Him fully and completely.

Nebuchadnezzar's Dream Tree Photo Credit: www.deviantart.com

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream Tree
Photo Credit: www.deviantart.com

The second dream of Nebuchadnezzar is also a part of today’s reading.  The dream of a tree is not quite a well known, but the interpretation that Daniel gives the king shows once again the strength of God and His power over that of the nations of the world.  A tree is a symbol of a great man which is, in this case, the king himself.  We see this in other places in the Bible as well.  The one that comes to mind for me is that of Psalm 1, where they blessed man is “like a tree planted by streams of water.”  In contrast, ordinary people are like grass, the masses of the world which blow to and fro in the wind.  An even greater contrast is to the wicked which are blown away by the wind.  However this great tree cannot stand before the Lord and is cut down (although not destroyed).  In some ways this could be seen as the people of Israel as well, a great tree that has been chopped down, yet from the stump a new tree will be born.

In light of the dream and its interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar does not do anything to change.  To that end, we see the dream fulfilled in its entirety a year later.  Then and only then does the king humble himself before God.  These two narratives are set up next to each other perhaps as a contrast to what happens when one faithfully follows God and what happens to those who choose to ignore Him.