Shaking the Universe – Haggai 2

Bible prophecy clearly states that God intends to shake the heavens and the earth before replacing thousands of years of world government with His own eternal one, to be led by the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  This will occur after a time of great conflict upon the earth, known as the Great Tribulation.

21 “Say to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah: ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and I will overturn the throne of kingdoms and destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations. I will overturn the chariot and its rider, so horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.  Haggai 2:21-22 (TLV)

Referring to the great shaking of the ground which took place when the Lord called Moses and the Israelites to Mount Sinai after freeing them from slavery in Egypt, the writer of the book of Hebrews also tells us that a shaking will take place in the end times.

26 His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.” 27 Now this phrase, “Yet once more,” shows the removal of those things that are shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.  Hebrews 12:26-27 (TLV)

What is the nature of this shaking?  Exactly what this will look like involves some speculation.  Is it an actual shaking of the ground as in an earthquake or is it a metaphor for the major authority changes which will take place in the spiritual and physical universe? 

There have been several very turbulent times in history which must have looked like the final Tribulation to those in the middle of them.  But in retrospect, these were the birth pains prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24:8.

For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. But all these things are only the beginning of birth pains.  Matthew 24:7-8 (TLV)

The kings of Judah were the placeholders for the coming Messiah, but they failed to come close to God’s holy standards, so He abruptly ended their royal line and carried them off into Babylon.  Their final king Jehoiachin, known also as Jeconiah or Coniah, lived out his life there. *

After seventy years of exile, the Lord directed some of the people of Judah to return to Jerusalem with the permission of the new Medo-Persian government to begin reconstruction of the temple.  These were led by their governor Zerubbabel, a grandson of Jeconiah, and a member of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.  God would choose faithful Zerubbabel as a signet ring, granting him divine authority and power as one placed in His chosen line.

23 “On that day’”—it is a declaration of Adonai-Tzva’ot—‘I will take you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, my servant’—it is a declaration of Adonai—“‘and I will set you like a signet ring. For I have chosen you.’” It is a declaration of Adonai-Tzva’ot.  Haggai 2:23 (TLV)

(Adonai-Tzva’ot – means The Lord of Hosts.)

Though we may be tossed and shaken about by the waves of life, God has never lost control.  His plan will be carried out in full no matter the opposition, spiritual or human.  May this be a source of comfort for those with faith, and a life preserver to reach for by those searching for a loving power greater than themselves.  His arms are open and welcoming for all.

Reflection

What ground is shaking around you today?  The Lord wants to fight our battles for us as we lean upon Him and His goodness.

Lord, we reach out to you for the thousandth time or for the first time.  Take us in Your arms and meet our desperate needs, be it for ourselves or for someone else whom we love.  We trust You to be present and a source of great comfort and peace in whatever our need.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

*(Note: Jehoichin’s Rations Tablets from the royal archives of King Nebuchadnezzar were excavated from Babylon during 1899-1917 by Robert Koldewey. They describe the rations set aside for captive King Jechoniah and five of his sons. Source: Wikipedia)

Big Plans for a Small House – Haggai 2

We have rounded the last turn and are in the home stretch of this online meditation series built around the Genealogy of Jesus Christ.  The last person from the genealogy to be covered in the Old Testament – Zerubbabel – is here, and soon we will be looking at a series of prophecies by his contemporaries, the prophets Haggai, Daniel, and Zechariah. 

Some of these prophecies will point towards the first coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was born about five hundred years after they were written.  Others will cover the global events surrounding Christ’s second coming which is yet to occur but could happen within our lifetimes.  It is a blessing to be aware of what God has to say about the future.

After these prophecies, we will cover a few final events from the latter days of the Medo-Persian empire and close this study with the short book of Malachi.  From here, the word of God in the Old Testament would go silent for another four hundred years until the birth of Christ.

The prophet Haggai joined Governor Zerubbabel and high priest Joshua in returning to and living in Jerusalem near the end of Daniel’s life.  God would use Haggai to get the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem started again after a long hiatus, and it would be finished a few years later.

God then used Haggai to prophesy far into the future, highlighting the heavenly significance of the new temple.  It was not so much the physical building itself, which was of a much humbler nature than the original one built by King Solomon.  Instead, it was the fact that there was once again a house of God on earth, built upon the exact spot the Lord had chosen.  This spot has eternal significance – it was here where Abraham was directed to bring his only beloved son Isaac to sacrifice to the Lord.  God stopped it from happening, providing a ram instead, but perhaps Abraham’s willingness to obey played some unknown role in the Father’s willingness to go forward with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This sacrifice would take place north of the temple altar, as prescribed by the law given to Moses.

As God had told Abraham:

15 The angel of Adonai called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I swear—it is a declaration of Adonai—because you have done this thing, and you did not withhold your son, your only son, 17 I will richly bless you and bountifully multiply your seed like the stars of heaven, and like the sand that is on the seashore, and your seed will possess the gate of his enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed—because you obeyed My voice.” Genesis 22:15-18 (TLV)

All nations on earth are being blessed today by the abundant grace and mercy that flows from the sacrifice of Jesus, the seed of Abraham, given for the forgiveness of sins.  In Him, all believers may enjoy eternal life with the Lord. 

Christ and His coming kingdom will be a major focus of the prophecies we look at from Medo-Persian times.  We will start with the ones the prophet Haggai brought to the returned exiles in Judah.

1 On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of Adonai came through Haggai the prophet: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, kohen gadol, and to the remnant of the people: 

For thus says Adonai-Tzva’ot: “In just a little while I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and I will shake all the nations. The treasures of all the nations will come, and I will fill this House with glory,” says Adonai-Tzva’ot“The silver is mine and the gold is mine!”—it is a declaration of Adonai-Tzva’ot“The glory of this latter House will be greater than the former,” says Adonai-Tzva’ot. “In this place, I will grant shalom”—it is a declaration of Adonai-Tzva’ot.  Haggai 2:1,6-9 (TLV)

kohen gadol – means High Priest.

Adonai-Tzva’ot – means The Lord of Hosts.

shalom – means complete peace and wellness of body, mind, and spirit.

God has big plans for His House in Jerusalem.  Like Abraham’s willingness to obey God with Isaac, the temple reconstruction demonstrated a willingness by humans to obey God and to participate in His boundless works and wonders.  It will be an amazing journey to experience as we follow the Lord.

Reflection

If we are willing to take a small step of faith with God, He is willing to take a giant leap for us.  Like the boy who brought five loaves and two fishes to Jesus, who then multiplied them to feed over five thousand people, may He do the same with our humble offerings.

Lord, multiply our mustard seeds of faith to allow us to journey with You in awesome wonder.  Give us a glimpse behind the heavenly curtain to see how You are so active all around us for the benefit of all people, Your beloved creations. Then help us to join You in your work. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

In the Lion’s Den – Daniel 6

By the time he reached his elder years, the prophet Daniel had seen a lot.  He and his friends had been carried off into exile in Babylon as teenagers, but the Lord did not forget him.  Because of his faithfulness and God’s favor, he ended up in positions of authority in the king’s court of not only one, but two great world empires. 

Witnessing the end of the Babylonian empire at the hands of Cyrus the Great, Daniel not only survived the transition of power to Medo-Persia but was given an even higher leadership position under King Darius.  This king had appointed 120 governors over the empire, and wished to place Daniel over these, first in the top three, then over all 120, second only to himself.  He was very close to Daniel and had a great appreciation and respect for his wisdom and integrity.

One of the major shortcomings of people is a tendency to be envious or jealous of those who receive something we want for ourselves.  These 120 governors were no exception.  The fact that Daniel was an outsider from Judah only made the matter worse in their eyes.  They did not even believe in God let alone think that He could be responsible for Daniel’s great favor.  They wanted to set a trap for Daniel to make him look bad in the king’s eyes, but all they could find fault with was his faith.  So, they used his beliefs to set Daniel up, pushing the king to sign a decree that looked harmless to him on the surface, one that would punish those who prayed to anyone but the king for 30 days.

All the supervisors of the realm, the magistrates and satraps, ministers and governors, have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce a decree that anyone who prays to any god or man for 30 days other than you O king, will be cast into the lions’ den. Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it may not be altered, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.”  Daniel 6:8-9 (TLV)

A man of faith like Daniel would never stop praying to the God who had brought him safely through so many trials throughout his long life.  He did not even try to hide his prayers from those seeking to put him to death.

Different forms of torture and execution were in vogue for the various world empires.  Babylon threw their victims into a raging fire (as had happened to Daniel’s friends, though they were rescued by God).  The Romans would impose crucifixion.  The Medo-Persians preferred to drop people into dens of hungry and aggressive lions to inflict maximum fear and punishment before death.  This was never the king’s desire for his trusted colleague Daniel, but once he had signed the decree, there was no way out of it for him.

17 So the king gave the order and Daniel was brought and thrown into the lions’ den. Now the king spoke to Daniel saying, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!”  Daniel 6:17 (TLV)

Darius had been tricked into throwing Daniel into the lion’s den, and he spent a sleepless night worrying about him.  At first light, he ran to the den, hoping against hope that through some miracle, Daniel had survived.

To his surprise, Daniel actually answered his call.

23 My God sent His angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they haven’t harmed me, because I was found innocent before Him. Nor have I committed any crime against you, O king.”

24 Then the king was overjoyed, and ordered Daniel taken up out of the den. So Daniel was lifted out of the pit. No injury of any kind was found on him because he had trusted in his God. 25 At the king’s command, those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the lions’ den—they, their children, and their wives. They had not even reached the bottom of the pit before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.  Daniel 6:17 (TLV)

Not for the only time in the Bible, those who had maliciously set a grisly trap for others ended up falling into it themselves.  Even their families paid the ultimate price for their evil scheme against Daniel and the king.

There are many aspects of this chapter we can reflect on, but here are three: 

First, God rewards faithfulness and will fight our battles for us against those who are stronger than we are. 

Second, there is a warning not to plan evil against others, no matter how small or trivial it may seem.  We may end up falling into whatever harm we have arranged for others to experience.

Third, it reminds us just how dangerous envy and jealousy can be in influencing our actions.  When others are experiencing God’s favor and blessing, it is not for us to resent it.  We get our many blessings, too, within His will and by His timing, though they may be of a very different nature than the blessings of others that we are coveting.

May you be encouraged by God’s faithfulness to Daniel and know that He loves you and wants a close relationship with you, as well.  He has opened the doors of heaven for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Reflection

Am I envious or jealous of someone or of something that they possess?  God warns us in the Ten Commandments not to covet the goods or relationships that He has granted to others.

Lord, show me the things in my heart that are displeasing to you and wash them away by the power of Your Holy Spirit.  Grant me faith to overcome my unbelief.  Grant me gratitude for my blessings while being glad that others are receiving theirs.  Show me if I am setting anyone up to experience evil or hardship and help me to put an end to my scheme, even if it is only in my mind.  Help me to walk in purity and to reflect Your divine Light to all others.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Stirring Up Our Spirits – Haggai 1

Do you experience times when a part of you wants to do things we know are of service to God, but another part of you would rather just skip it and do something else?  I think most of us have days like that.  But if we do get too focused on our own needs over the long-term and set God’s priorities off on a shelf somewhere, we may need to have our spirits stirred up.

The exiles who returned from Babylon to rebuild God’s temple in Jerusalem were at that point – they encountered enough difficulty to set God’s priorities aside for awhile, then left them there for almost twenty years. 

After beginning their work with great enthusiasm, they were shut down by a group of hostile neighbors who had the ear of the Medo-Persian authorities.  For a time, no more work on the temple was allowed.  Though the returned exiles, their governor Zerubbabel, and high priest Joshua remained in the land, the focus of their efforts now shifted to tending to their own affairs, not God’s.

Meanwhile, the Lord was working on the heart of the new Medo-Persian king, Darius the Great.  Because the Lord had changed the king’s viewpoint, he was not only willing to let the work on the temple resume but would also pay for everything the workers needed using the government treasury.  This was an amazing display of favor and provision from the hand of the Lord.

Unfortunately, by the time the king’s permission was granted, the people had lost all interest in serving God and were now focused exclusively on serving their own needs.  Once again, God was placed in the position of needing to get their attention to remind them that He alone is truly worthy of worship and service.  God’s temple needed to be rebuilt and now was the time to do it.  The Lord used the prophet Haggai to stir up the peoples’ spirits to get the work started again.

In the second year of Darius the king, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying, “This is what the Lord of armies says: ‘This people says, “The time has not come, the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt.”’” Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses while this house remains desolate?” Now then, the Lord of armies says this: “Consider your ways! You have sown much, only to harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but there is not enough for anyone to get warm; and the one who earns, earns wages to put into a money bag full of holes.”  Haggai 1:1-6 (NASB)

In addition to the words of Haggai, all of the blessings of God that had been flowing their way for years were beginning to dry up. The people had settled into a comfortable lifestyle after the hardships of exile and all the resistance to the temple work by their neighbors.  A dwindling of God’s blessing was apparent, waking them up to the fact that the temple was still a desolate mess long after their own homes and property had been built back up and their cupboards filled. 

As things began to get difficult for the people and they began to experience scarcity rather than abundant blessing, they finally understood the problem – they were ignoring God and His will for them. 

God has put us all on this earth for a purpose. When we seek the Lord, He will show us what that is, and we will begin to experience a true peace. 

12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the words of Haggai the prophet, just as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke by the commission of the Lord to the people, saying, “‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord.” 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of armies, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.  Haggai 1:12-15 (NASB)

God had stirred up their spirits once again, beginning with the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua.  The temple work resumed, and ultimately its reconstruction was completed. Centuries later it was built up by King Herod, and the temple in Jerusalem was a center of focus for God’s presence on earth until the coming of Christ and the global presence of the Holy Spirit. The temple would ultimately be destroyed by the Roman Titus in 70AD, leaving only the western wall (the Wailing Wall) as a reminder of Messiah’s promise to return there one day.

God still stirs up our spirits today, though He may use different means to do so.  Rather than using a problem or a perceived need, He may simply use a word of encouragement from a godly friend (like a Haggai) or a divine coincidence that draws our hearts and minds back to the Lord. He does this to let us know, “I am with you”, and we get re-inspired to follow Jesus wherever He may be leading us.

As Jesus said,

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)

Reflection

Who or what stirs up my soul to follow God today?

Is God using me to help stir up someone else’s spirit towards Him?

Lord, we seek to follow You, as there is no rest or peace for the weary any other way.  You are deserving of all of our hearts and labors.  Lead us and guide us in our work, then help us to rest at the feet of Jesus to be fully restored.  Pour the Living Water of your Holy Spirit into our thirsty souls and fill us to overflowing.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Facing Opposition God’s Way – Ezra 4

What do believers do when someone or something comes against us unjustly and we feel helpless to stop them?

This happened to the people who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon after seventy years of exile.  Even though they were simply obeying God and following His will to begin rebuilding the temple, local residents began to oppose them and their work in the strongest manner.  So great was their resistance that work on the temple was ceased not long after it began.

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, and bribed advisers against them to frustrate their advice all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.  Ezra 4:4-5 (NASB)

By bending the truth in their communications back home, the opposition gained the support of the leadership and work was brought to a halt on the temple reconstruction project.

23 Then as soon as the copy of King Artaxerxes’ decree was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their colleagues, they went in a hurry to Jerusalem to the Jews and stopped them by military force.  Ezra 4:23 (NASB)

The half-truth is an effective tool of opposition used throughout the ages and is almost impossible to defend against on our own.  Satan has used this tool from the garden of Eden to Jesus’ temptation in the desert and continues to use it today. 

Face it – we all come up against strong opposition from time to time.  But how are we supposed to respond to it?  When we seek to retaliate using our own will and thinking, we usually end up increasing the problem and strengthening the opposition.

God has established a pattern and a method for us to use when in such unpleasant circumstances:

14 The Lord will fight for you, while you keep silent.”  Exodus 14:14 (NASB)

As I write this, I am in the middle of an ongoing, unresolved dispute with someone.  We both believe that we are in the right and are trying to maintain cordial relations.  But it is a raw and emotional issue for each of us, and we patiently look forward to a righteous resolution in God’s time.

It is difficult not be angry when in the middle of a conflict, but anger is something we absolutely must avoid.  As a good friend counseled me, “D” plus “Anger” equals “Danger”.  The root of anger is fear, and when we lean on God in faith, the fear begins to subside, and we trust that the future is in God’s hands.

In the meantime, we are learning to be patient, to do right, to live in peace as much as is in our control, but at the same time not to be a doormat to be trampled on.

The returned exiles in Jerusalem also felt powerless to defend themselves and ceased work on rebuilding the temple of the Lord.  In fact, they had no choice in the matter as the authorities ordered them to stop.  That can happen to us today, as well, when our opposition gains the ear of those in power.

But over time, God turned the favor of the authorities back towards the exiles to the point where they were actually financially supported in their work.  God prompted the new king, Darius the Great, to go back to look for the initial decree that had been ordered by Cyrus to commence the temple work.  He found it, and work on the temple was ordered to begin again with full provision provided by the royal treasury.

1 Then King Darius issued a decree, and a search was conducted in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon. And in Ecbatana, in the fortress which is in the province of Media, a scroll was found; and the following was written in it: “Memorandum— In the first year of King Cyrus, Cyrus the king issued a decree: ‘Concerning the house of God in Jerusalem, let the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered, be rebuilt, and let its foundations be repaired, its height being sixty cubits and its width sixty cubits…

Furthermore, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of that house of God: the full cost is to be paid to those people from the royal treasury out of the taxes of the provinces beyond the Euphrates River, and that without interruption. And whatever is needed, bulls, rams, and lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine, and anointing oil, as the priests in Jerusalem order, it is to be given to them daily without fail, 10 so that they may offer acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the lives of the king and his sons.  Ezra 6:1-3,8-10 (NASB)

When God settles our conflicts, the results far exceed whatever we could hope to achieve using our own power and will.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.  Psalm 34:19 (NKJV)

Reflection

What conflict do you find yourself in today?  Does it seem hopeless?  We turn our trials over to the Lord seeking His righteous resolution.

Lord, grant us the faith to trust You to handle our conflicts in a righteous way today.  Keep us from anger and resentment and give us Your love for others as we patiently wait on Your saving hand.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Putting God First – Ezra 3

Led by their governor Zerubbabel, a large group of exiles returned to Jerusalem under the decree of Cyrus the Great and began the work of rebuilding the temple.  Governor Zerubbabel was a grandson of the last of the kings in the line of Judah and is in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.  He is an important link between the old royal line, the kings of Judah, and the new one, fulfilled by Jesus.

12 After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah fathered Shealtiel, and Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel.  Matthew 1:12 (NASB)

It was the beginning of a new era.  The people were putting God first in their lives and following His ways rather than just doing whatever seemed right in their own minds.  No longer would they pursue idol worship and its associated evil practices – their idolatry had perhaps been the single greatest cause for the Babylonian exile – God’s unwanted but necessary means to put an end to it.

Their focus now was on rebuilding the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem, God’s chosen focal point for worship, and for performing the offerings and sacrifices outlined in the law of Moses. 

After Christ came, Jesus became God’s prescribed sacrifice for sin. His temple is now worldwide, living within the hearts of believers through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Christ will one day return to Jerusalem to rule and reign, and people will come from all over the globe to worship Him there.  But first, the foundation of the temple must be reestablished by Zerubbabel, and its construction begun.

Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites who were twenty years old and upward to oversee the work of the house of the Lord. 

The people began by worshiping the Lord and dedicating their work to Him, following the law of Moses and its offerings.  They built an altar to the Lord and performed the prescribed sin sacrifices upon it for purification and cleansing.  This was God’s remedy for sin prior to the coming of Christ. All sin, though covered by the blood of bulls and goats, was still on account until Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross wiped it all away.  The sins of all believers – past, present, and future – were dealt with once and for all on the “altar” of the cross at Calvary.

10 Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord according to the directions of King David of Israel. 11 And they sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His favor is upon Israel forever.” And all the people shouted with a great shout of joy when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  Ezra 3:8, 10-11 (NASB)

The people had finally learned an important lesson after seventy years of exile: put God first. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also emphasized the importance of seeking God before anything else.

31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you.  Matthew 6:31-33 (NASB)

It would be very easy to leave the study at this point, but there is a problem.  Just as with the people of Judah, it is still all too easy for us to follow our own desires first and follow God’s will second, if at all. That is a weakness of human nature, the flesh.

So, what can I do to include God in what I need to do today, and to walk according to His purposes and ways as I want to do?

Many find that the day goes better if I start it out with some God time.  It doesn’t have to be long.  Our period of God-focus may include prayer, Bible reading, and perhaps some meditative materials.  We can thank Him with gratitude for the gift of the day, pray for others, seek guidance for the challenges ahead, ask forgiveness for our shortcomings, and seek His help in forgiving others who have offended us.  Our quiet time with God also allows the Holy Spirit to bring to our attention what He wants to place on our hearts or in our minds.

May you enjoy a blessed and peaceful day today as we seek to put God first in our lives.

Reflection

Lord, forgive us for all our sins, including those times of anger and selfishness when we turn away from You to follow our own path of destructive behaviors.  We desire to live in peace and fellowship with You, putting You first in everything we do.  When we fail to do this, grant us Your mercy and grace to help us live pure lives that honor You and draw others to Christ.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Decree of Cyrus – Ezra 1

Fulfilling prophecy found in Isaiah 44-45 in which the Lord called Cyrus by name over 150 years before his time, King Cyrus now reigned over the entirety of former Babylon.  He incorporated his latest conquest into an expanding Medo-Persian empire, the chest and arms of silver of the multi-metallic human figure of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from Daniel 2.  The great statue in the dream represents the successive human empires and their derivatives which will reign on earth before God’s kingdom ultimately replaces them when Christ returns.

Cyrus’ conquest was part of God’s plan to end Judah’s seventy-year exile in Babylon, as prophesied by Jeremiah.  It would be Cyrus’ job to begin the process of permitting exiles to return home to Jerusalem to lay the foundation for a new temple.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying:

“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to rebuild for Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. And every survivor, at whatever place he may live, the people of that place are to support him with silver and gold, with equipment and cattle, together with a voluntary offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.’”  Ezra 1:1-4 (NASB)

The exiles were permitted to return home after seventy years in Babylon, but it was on a volunteer basis.  Some people returned to begin the labor of rebuilding the temple, but many others decided to remain in Babylon, sending along money and support, instead.

Cyrus also directed that God’s holy articles from the temple, which had been shamefully dishonored by Belshazzar before his fall (Daniel 5), be respectfully returned to their place of origin.

Also King Cyrus brought out the articles of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and put in the house of his gods; and Cyrus, king of Persia, had them brought out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and he counted them out to Sheshbazzar, the leader of Judah. 11 All the articles of gold and silver totaled 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought them all up with the exiles who went up from Babylon to Jerusalem.  Ezra 1:7-8,11 (NASB)

The seventy-year exile was difficult for the people of Judah, but it was necessary to extract them from the clutches of idolatry and faithlessness that had held them in their grip.  Now they were “in the grip” of God, which is a much safer and better place to be.

The journey home would not be an easy one.  The travelers would face many difficulties and encounter much opposition on the road to temple reconstruction, but they obediently followed God.  One might assume that the Lord would make life easy for them after such a long and difficult exile, but just as with good and faithful people today, God sometimes permits the rigors, heartaches, and attacks of the enemy to come.  And like many believers today who experience such setbacks and grief, their goodness and faith are miraculously increased rather than diminished by the fires of life when placed in the hands of God.

Reflection

What trials or troubles are you in the midst of today?  God is there for your comfort and support.

Lord, You know our challenges, hurts, and heartaches.  We put these in Your loving hands, and ask for strength, guidance, and Your healing touch.  Hold our burdens and help us to continue walking forward on the path of righteousness.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Lord Calls Cyrus – Isaiah 44

Over one hundred and fifty years before Babylon fell to Darius’ armies under King Cyrus, God had spoken of this moment of freedom for His exiled people through the prophet Isaiah.  The transfer of power from Babylon to Medo-Persia brought about an almost immediate royal decree to send a group of the exiles back to Jerusalem to begin re-building their destroyed temple, starting with a laying of its foundation.  This would ultimately lead to a rebuilding of the entire city.

24 This is what the Lord says, He who is your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb:

“I, the Lord, am the maker of all things,
Stretching out the heavens by Myself
And spreading out the earth alone,
26 Confirming the word of His servant
And carrying out the purpose of His messengers.
It is I who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited!’
And of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built.’
And I will raise her ruins again.
28 It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd,
And he will carry out all My desire.’
And he says of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’  Isaiah 44:24,26,28 (NASB)

The Lord had used Babylon as an instrument of judgment and correction against Judah for their ongoing stubborn idolatry and rejection of Him.  The people remained in exile for seventy years while their farmlands back home lay fallow to catch up with their required sabbath year rests as specified by the laws God gave to Moses, laws that had been ignored for almost five hundred years.

God is serious about His law, so serious that He remembers even five hundred years later the failure to keep it.  But He also understands the weakness of our flesh and our inability to obey.  He made provision for this by coming as a man, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human.  Because of God’s great love for us, Jesus came to take upon Himself the judgment and punishment that we deserve for our sins and failures.  After dying on a cross for us despite His complete innocence, Jesus was raised from the dead so that we believers may also experience eternal life with Him.

Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  Romans 8:1-4 (NASB)

God had revealed His plan to restore Israel from exile when He called Cyrus through the prophet Isaiah.  God also foreshadowed our restoration from sin through the writings of many prophets about the coming of Christ.

When we turn to Christ in faith, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is a daily wellspring of life, encouraging, cleansing, and forgiving us for our sins.  When we seek to follow God’s ways, He makes all things possible for us.

Even with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we still often fail and fall short of the life we seek to live for God.  Although He could keep a record of all of our sins and shortcomings, the Lord chooses to “remember them no more” when we come to Him in humble repentance to seek forgiveness. 


If You, Lord, were to keep account of guilty deeds,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
So that You may be revered.  Psalm 130:3-4 (NASB)

God loves you and is reaching out for you wherever you are, whatever your situation.  He is magnificently greater than any problem we are facing.

Reflection

Thank you, Lord, that though my sins be as scarlet, You have cleansed and purified me by the blood of Christ.  I humbly turn to You in gratitude for the countless blessings You have bestowed upon me.  Help me to follow You in love.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

17 And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will no longer remember.”  Hebrews 10:17 (NASB)

 Humility vs Humiliation – Daniel 5

What is humility?  I have heard many good definitions for the word.

Humility is NOT humiliation, which is a forced and usually painful lowering of one’s standing or social position through some embarrassing mistake or misfortune.  The unhappy experience of humiliation may LEAD to humility, but that would perhaps be its only positive by-product.

For purposes of this meditation, humility can be regarded as a healthy appreciation of our place in the world in the eyes of God.  It is not putting ourselves down or belittling our accomplishments.  Rather, it is an appreciation of our ongoing need for God’s love, care, and favor in our lives.  And recognizing that we as a person are no better or worse than any other people in God’s world.

When Daniel was called before the Co-Regent Belshazzer to explain the mysterious writing on the wall left by the disembodied hand, he reminded him that King Nebuchadnezzar before him had gone through a humiliating experience sent from God.  Due to his excessive pride and faithlessness after being especially blessed by the Lord, Nebuchadnezzar was forced to live among the wild animals for seven years before finally coming to his senses and gaining a true sense of humility.  When he finally acknowledged God’s sovereignty and goodness, he was restored to the throne. 

22 Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, 23 but you have risen up against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives, and your concubines have been drinking wine out of them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see, nor hear, nor understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways, you have not glorified. 24 Then the hand was sent from Him and this inscription was written out.  Daniel 5:22-24 (NASB)

Now, decades after Nebuchadnezzar, it was Belshazzar’s turn to face God’s judgement.

Daniel went on to explain the writing on the wall:

25 “Now this is the inscription that was written:

‘Menē, Menē, Tekēl, Upharsin.’

26 This is the interpretation of the message: ‘Menē’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. 27 ‘Tekēl’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. 28 ‘Perēs’—your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”  Daniel 5:25-28 (NASB)

29 Then Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.

Despite Belshazzar’s appreciation for Daniel in clearing up the mystery, God’s time had come for the transition from the Babylonian empire to the Medo-Persian empire.  The head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 was coming to an end, and the chest and arms of silver were about to take over.  King Cyrus had united the Medes and the Persians, and now his sub-king Darius had his armies outside Babylon, looking for a way into the city.  By diverting a portion of the river that ran beneath the wall, they were able to enter in through what had been an underwater tunnel.

30 That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31 So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.  Daniel 5:29-30 (NASB)

God’s judgement of Belshazzar was now at hand, and unlike Nebuchadnezzar before him, there would be no restoration to the throne this time around.  Belshazzar had insulted the Lord in just about every possible way until finally God’s patience ran out for both him and his empire. 

God is longsuffering with us, wishing all to come to repentance.  But if we pridefully taunt Him and act with sacrilege day after day, continually rejecting His generous offer of love and forgiveness for us, we may one day find ourselves near the end of our rope in a desperate situation.  The time is now for spiritual clarity and humility, recognizing our true place in God’s universe.  When we realize that God and His power are real and that He is for us, not against us, we can turn to the Him, even from a place such as this, and He will forgive us.  Nebuchadnezzar’s story is testimony to the great lengths God will go to for our salvation.

Reflection

Am I practicing humility today?  Where and how can I give more credit and honor to the Lord for the successes in my life?

Lord, You are so good and the source of all blessing and favor in my life.  I am so grateful for all that You have done for me, even dying on a cross so that I will be able to experience eternal life with You.  Help me to walk with You and to express divine humility to all.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Writing on the Wall – Daniel 5

More than twenty years after King Nebuchadnezzar had been restored to his throne in Babylon, the king was now dead, and new leadership was in place.  The king’s “son” (actually a grandson) Belshazzar was now reigning as co-regent and presiding over the governance of the palace.  He liked lavish drinking parties, and no expense was spared in the revelry.

1 Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.  Daniel 5:1 (NASB)

A party atmosphere permeated the city and its officials.  But outside city walls, a danger lies in wait.  Darius the Mede, a sub-king of King Cyrus who had unified Medo-Persia, had his armies encamped there. He was looking for a way to breech Babylon’s defenses to add to their list of conquests.  The festive crowd in the party either did not know or were in such an inebriated state that they did not care about the imminent threat just outside city walls.

The young co-regent added to his troubles by taunting Almighty God, desecrating holy articles that had been plundered years earlier from the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem.

While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines could drink out of them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank out of them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.  Daniel 5:2-4 (NASB)

Nebuchadnezzar had had a change of heart, developing a sincere faith in God in the years since he had stolen the articles.  God forgave him for his ignorant act.  But faith in and respect for the Lord was not passed along to Belshazzar – quite the opposite.  And tonight, all hell would break loose in Babylon, beginning with an uninvited guest at the party.

Suddenly the fingers of a human hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. Then the king’s face became pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints loosened and his knees began knocking together.  Daniel 5:5-6 (NASB)

Have you ever been so frightened that you realized your knees were actually knocking together?  I have.  The appearance of this frightful, disembodied hand that began to write had this same effect on the young co-regent.  Whatever or whoever this was and whatever it was writing on the wall was as perplexing as it was terrifying.  No one could comprehend the words’ meaning.

Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even more pale, and his nobles were perplexed.  Daniel 5:8-9 (NASB)

Finally, a queen in the palace remembered about the prophet Daniel, who had previously been able to decipher such divine mysteries.

11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—appointed him chief of the soothsayer priests, sorcerers, Chaldeans, and diviners. 12 This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of riddles, and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned and he will declare the interpretation.”  Daniel 5:11-12 (NASB)

The writing was now on the wall for Babylon and its failed leadership.  It was about to be judged by God for the pain and hardship it had inflicted on His people.  Daniel would be brought in to explain all to Belshazzar and his court.

23 … the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. Daniel 5:23b (NKJV)

Reflection

This account reminds us that when we fail to give God glory for what He has done for us, even giving us the breath of life in our lungs, we are not being very pleasing to Him. 

If, like Belshazzar, we add sacrilegious behavior and taunt the Lord, we are putting ourselves in a dangerous position.  But God will forgive even this if we come to our senses, turn away from evil behavior, and humbly seek His face.

Father, forgive us for all the times we did not give honor to You.  Help us to acknowledge You in all our ways so that You may intercede to make our paths straight.  We turn to the cross for forgiveness and a new life in Christ.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.