Rome, the Fourth Beast – Daniel 7

In a series of prophecies given to Daniel throughout his life, the Lord laid out a timeline for the coming empires of human government which will rule the world.  These would reign in their appointed times until God chooses to replace them with His own government, led by the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Daniel lived five centuries before Christ’s first coming.  In three separate visions, four future empires are described using imagery of various beasts and a human statue – the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. It is now 2,500 years after Daniel’s visions, and we are likely somewhere near the end of the era for the fourth beast, the Roman Empire and its modern-day descendants. 

 Daniel said: “I was looking in my vision at night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were churning up the great sea. Four huge beasts came up from the sea, each different from the others.Daniel 7:2 (TLV)

“After this in my vision at night, I looked and behold there was a fourth beast—terrifying, frightening, tremendously strong, with large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed—and anything that was left it trampled with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that came before it; it had ten horns. Daniel 7:7 (TLV)

Just as in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream Daniel 2, the Roman empire was described using the oppressive strength of iron. 

40 Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron shatters and breaks everything—and just as iron smashes everything, so will it shatter and crush all the others. 41 Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly potter’s clay and partly iron, so this will be a divided kingdom. It will have some of the strength of the iron, for you saw the iron mixed with clay. 42 As the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 Just as you saw iron mixed with clay, people will mix with one another, but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.  Daniel 2:40-43 (TLV)

We now enter the realm of interpretation and speculation.  What does it mean that initially this beast will smash everything with iron, but then it will be a much weaker mixture of iron and clay, partly strong and partly brittle?

One can research any number of interpretations for this, but here is mine: the strong iron is the original Roman Empire around the time of Christ, which stretched its mighty fist across all the known world, including Jesus’ Jerusalem and Galilee.  It was a government of domination, slavery, and expansive warfare.  I interpret the later weaker mixture as a sort of modern-day reconstituted Roman Empire, an alliance of states (called kings in the Bible) which evolved from the original empire, perhaps including members’ former colonies.

Some of the fierce dictators of modern history drew their symbolism from ancient Roman times and attempted to rebuild their own version of that empire.  Fortunately for the people of earth, they failed. But scripture warns us that before the coming of the fifth kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, one last attempt at Roman reconsolidation will be attempted with the backing of satanic powers, and for a time they will achieve frightening results.  The good news is that we know the end of the story: God’s empire will prevail over evil, and this last evil world government under antichrist will be thoroughly defeated.

44 “Now in the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will this kingdom be left to another people. It will crush and bring to an end all of these kingdoms. But it will endure forever.  Daniel 2:44 (TLV)

When the Lord does install His kingdom of heaven on earth, all that is good and pure will remain in it, and all that is evil and harmful will be removed. 

What about us?  How can we very imperfect people hope to survive all this to be with the Lord into eternity?  That is exactly why Jesus came to earth the first time, to be the perfect and complete sacrifice for our sin on the cross, and to be raised from the dead for our eternal life. 

All people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but God has a remedy for each one of us:

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23 (NKJV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:8-10 (NKJV)

The spiritual life in Christ is a complete gift of His love and mercy.  All we need to do is to humbly turn to Him to receive it.  We will then be given the gift of the Holy Spirit to live within us to cleanse, to aid and comfort us, and to guide us closer into His perfect light.  May you receive this priceless gift of eternal salvation today.

Reflection

Father God, we turn to You through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Protect us from dark forces and powers, for we know that You are far greater than all of them.  Declare us righteous by the cleansing and forgiveness of Christ through the power of the cross and His resurrection from the dead.  Fill us with the Holy Spirit that we may rest in Your blessing and comfort and share Your love and forgiveness with others today.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

    
17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
    and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
    but the Lord delivers him out of them all.  Psalm 34:17-19 (ESV)

Alexander the Great – Daniel 8

Alexander the Great was a young military genius who defeated the Medo-Persian empire in 333 BC.  He is the biblical king of Greece mentioned in the prophecies of Daniel, written almost two hundred years before Alexander lived. 

Alexander’s armies moved swiftly like a leopard against the lumbering “bear” of Medo-Persia, two analogies used in Daniel’s second prophecy, found in Daniel 7.  In Daniel 8, Daniel’s third prophetic vision uses imagery of a two-horned ram for Medo-Persia and a goat for Alexander’s Greece.  Greece will defeat Medo-Persia to become the next great world empire in its place.

Daniel described in his vision what was to happen to the two-horned ram, Medo-Persia.

“While I was contemplating this, behold, a male goat came from the west crossing the face of the whole earth without touching the ground! Now the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. He came up to the two-horn ram that I had seen standing beside the canal, and charged it with raging strength. I saw him attacking the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering his two horns. Now the ram was not strong enough to stand against him, so he knocked the ram to the ground and trampled him. No one could rescue the ram from his power.

“The male goat became exceedingly great, but as soon as he became mighty, the large horn was broken, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.  Daniel 8:5-8 (TEV)

We do not need to speculate about the correct interpretation for the beasts in this prophecy.  The answer is clearly spelled out to Daniel by a heavenly being, the angel Gabriel.

15 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it. And behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. 16 And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” 17 So he came near where I stood. And when he came, I was frightened and fell on my face. But he said to me, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.”

18 And when he had spoken to me, I fell into a deep sleep with my face to the ground. But he touched me and made me stand up. 19 He said, “Behold, I will make known to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation, for it refers to the appointed time of the end. 20 As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. 21 And the goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn between his eyes is the first king. 22 As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power.   Daniel 8:15-22 (TEV)

Gabriel would return on the scene five hundred years after Daniel and three hundred years after Alexander the Great to appear before Mary, the mother of Jesus.  This visitation would lead to the appearance of Jesus on earth, who would be born both fully God and fully human.  Jesus’ mission for His first visit to earth would be to spread the good news of His coming kingdom of heaven, attested to by His great miracles, and to atone for the sins of all believers worldwide through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. 

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Luke 1:26-33 (ESV)

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.  Matthew 9:35 (ESV)

Even at the height of its glory. Alexander’s empire would be nothing in comparison to the glory of Jesus’ eternal kingdom which will one day replace all earthly governments.  We have the privilege of being invited into that kingdom through the gift of faith in Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross for us.  The purification of faith allows us to spend eternity in the presence of a holy God, something we could never possibly achieve through our own effort.

As the apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.  Romans 5:1-2 (NLT)

As Daniel shows, earthly kingdoms will come and go, but the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ will stand forever.  May we all choose to be with Him there.

Reflection

What is one worry in my life that I can place in the loving hands of a sovereign God?  May He lift it from us to remove that burden today.

Lord, we worship You and glorify You.  Forgive my sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus and help me to forgive others through Your divine love.  Bless and protect my loved ones and even my enemies.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Like a Bear – Daniel 7

The Lord gave the prophet Daniel a series of visions which depict the coming “kingdoms” of the earth followed by the appearance of His eternal kingdom, led by Jesus Christ.  This latter-day government will replace all the world systems that came before it.

The first prophecy came in a dream God gave to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, which the Lord also revealed to Daniel.  It was an image of a magnificent statue, a human figure, which depicted the great empires and governments which will rule on earth before the divine kingdom comes.

32 The head of that statue was of pure gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, and its feet partly iron and partly clay.  Daniel 2:32-33 (TLV)

The power and authority of each subsequent ruler would diminish as each empire replaced the former, as indicated by its lower position on the statue and inferior metallic composition.  The standard interpretation of these empires is Babylon (the head of gold), Medo-Persia under Cyrus and Darius (the arms of silver), Greece under Alexander the Great (the belly and thighs of bronze), and Rome and its present-day descendants (the legs of iron and feet of mixed iron and clay).

These will all be replaced by the coming kingdom of heaven, led by Jesus.

44 “Now in the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will this kingdom be left to another people. It will crush and bring to an end all of these kingdoms. But it will endure forever. 45 For just as you saw a stone cut out of a mountain, yet not by hands, crush the iron, bronze, clay, silver and gold, the great God has made known to the king what will happen in the future. Now the dream is certain, and its interpretation is trustworthy.”  Daniel 2:44-45 (TLV)

Daniel’s visions regarding Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar confirm that the overthrow of that empire was an act by the will of God.  Babylon’s replacement, Medo-Persia, was put in place through God’s hand.

Daniel’s two subsequent visions refer to Medo-Persia as a beast with attributes like a bear and a ram.

“And behold there before me was another beast, a second one, like a bear. It raised itself up on one side; it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh!’  Daniel 7:5 (TLV)

The Medo-Persian empire was a great conqueror of the known “world” of its time.  Its armies were massive, moving slowly across the land and devouring it like a bear.  Even soldiers’ families would accompany them, further slowing the pace of conquest.  Their leaders would free the exiles of Judah which Babylon had taken, allowing them to return home to rebuild their temple and the city of Jerusalem, which Nebuchadnezzar’s armies had destroyed.

In Daniel’s third vision, he saw himself standing by the Ulai Canal in Susa, the capital of Medo-Persia.  This empire would be ruled by two united-but-competing entities, the Medes and the Persians, with Persia the more powerful element.  This allied kingdom would expand greatly through the subjugation of peoples to their west, north, and south, including the former Babylonian empire, Egypt, and Lydia, the three ribs.

I lifted up my eyes and looked up, behold, a ram with two horns was standing in front of the canal. The two horns were long but one was longer than the other, but the longer one grew up last. I saw the ram charging toward the west and north and south. No animal could stand against him—none could deliver from his hand. So he did as he pleased and magnified himself.  Daniel 8:3-4 (TLV)

The Medo-Persian empire would stand until 333 BC, when it would be defeated by the next great empire, Greece, under Alexander the Great.

When dealing with biblical prophecy, there will often be competing and sometimes contradictory interpretations.  For instance, some see Daniel’s second prophecy about the bear as being a reference to present-day Russia, implying that his second vision is focused on the latter days, just before God installs His kingdom.  This may be.  Also, the Lord sometimes uses a single prophecy with both near-term and long-term fulfillments.  That could also be the case here.

God chose to include this prophetic information in His word for believers to read and ponder.  He does this to inform, to encourage us, and to remind us that He is still in control and that His kingdom is the one which will replace all the others, for all time.  Its loving King is here and is One that each of us can reach out to today, Jesus Christ.  He will never turn anyone away who comes to Him in humility and reverence, no matter our past.

Reflection

Lord Jesus, we recognize You today as the One who came to earth to bear our sins upon the cross, dying for our complete purification, and rising again to give us new life. No matter what we have done, Your sacrifice on the cross is greater.  Help us to follow Your light as we walk the path of Your eternal kingdom.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Beasts from the Sea – Daniel 7

With King Nebuchadnezzar now deceased and the empire of Babylon nearing its last days before defeat by King Cyrus of Medo-Persia, God presented Daniel with a new set of prophetic visions.  These visions would complement the divine insights given to earlier prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, painting a picture of a time when the most powerful of world governments will be pushed aside by the Lord.  They tell of a time when God will be ready to replace these human leaders with His own eternal Kingdom, led by a returning Jesus Christ.  This will all happen at some point in our future, perhaps even in our own lifetime.

Daniel’s new visions included imagery that will be seen again in the Apostle John’s Book of Revelation, recorded six centuries later – images of great beasts coming up out of a sea.  As an angel would explain to Daniel:

 17 “These four huge beasts represent four kingdoms that will arise from the earth. 18 But in the end, the holy people of the Most High will be given the kingdom, and they will rule forever and ever.”  Daniel 7:17-18 (NLT)

Daniel’s prophecy begins with an image of the first beast:

Daniel said: “I was looking in my vision at night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were churning up the great sea. Four huge beasts came up from the sea, each different from the others. 

“The first was like a lion with eagle’s wings. As I watched, its wings were pulled off and it was lifted off the ground. It was made to stand upon two feet like a man, and the heart of a human was given to it.  Daniel 7:2-4 (TLV)

We know from context that this first beast of a lion with eagle’s wings represents ancient Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar the Great.  He was also represented by the head of gold at the top of the human statue in an earlier dream interpreted by Daniel.  The statue’s golden head was its most prominent position and was made from its most valuable material.  Daniel revealed the dream’s meaning and how it highlighted the king’s preeminent greatness.

37 You, O king, are the king of kings to whom the God of heaven has given sovereignty, power, might and glory. 38 Wherever mankind, beasts of the field, and fowls of the heaven dwell, He has given them into your hand, and made you ruler over them all. You are the head of gold.  Daniel 2:37-38 (TLV)

The human kings and kingdoms which followed Nebuchadnezzar would be inferior in both stature and authority.  He had been gifted with a throne at the pinnacle of human achievement and power.  But Nebuchadnezzar’s pride was getting in the way of his tender heart, so God humbled him with a mental illness that took him from the throne for seven years.  Reduced to the humblest of situations roaming among wild beasts, the king eventually developed a true perspective for his position in life under the favor and care of a loving God.  With the king’s newfound faith and compassionate heart, the Lord restored Nebuchadnezzar to his throne for the remainder of his days.

Three more beasts will appear to Daniel in his vision, each one rising up out of a turbulent sea and representing a new kingdom to come.

God wants us to know that He is still in full control despite the churning of the “seas” around us.  And He wants to remind us that, as impressive as the glory and achievements of mankind may be, life is still a gift from His hand.  One day, these wonders will all be greatly surpassed by the glory of His coming kingdom under the reign of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Reflection

Do you feel as if you are in the middle of a tempest today?  God wants to calm the storms in our hearts even as they rage on around us.

Lord, we turn to You to settle our hearts and draw us close to You today.  Help us to walk in peace amidst the trials of life and grant us the favor of a righteous resolution for our difficulties.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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.

1 For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. Psalm 62:1-2 (ESV)

*(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.