In the World but not of the World

Daniel 1:14-20

The title of this post comes from the Gospel of John. The phrase is taken from several verses in the Gospel. (1) John 15:19 — If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (2) John 17:15 — I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. (3) John 17:18 — As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (ESV; emphasis mine)

How did the Hebrew youths know when to give into Babylonian customs and when to resist? They had Daniel to help them walk the razor’s edge of obedience to God and complaisance to their captors.

Daniel is a mentor and example for the other Judean teenagers. God honored Daniel by giving him favor in the eyes of the Chief of the Servants. The word “give” (Hebrew = nathan) is used in verse 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand… .” Daniel 1:9—9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs… .”

What God seems to say in the final verses of Daniel 1 is that God Himself is completely sovereign and in control, so that He can give people into their enemy’s hand to be a punisher of their sins; and at the same time, once-exiled, God can preserve His people by giving (Hebrew = nathan) them favor in the eyes of their captors.


Dr. Wm. Lane, Mentor

Bill_Lane_1Bill Lane expressed, “When God gives a gift, he wraps it in a person.” Bill Lane was God’s gift to Michael Card, but he is also now God’s gift to me through Card’s experience [in the book The Walk].”

To the left is a photo of Dr. Bill Lane (Th. D. from Harvard Divinity School from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

Bill Lane was diagnosed with cancer, and eventually passed from this life to the next; but before this happened, he gave Michael Card what Card described as the “greatest compliment of his life.”

Lane had said to Michael Card, “I taught you how a Christian lives. I moved here to teach you how a Christian dies.” —adapted from a review of Card’s book The Walk.


Daniel is God’s “gift-wrapped prophet” for His people. He acts as a mentor, but he did not assume this on his own. Daniel was set apart by the special gifts and graces God gave him. I mention this because he was prepared to honor God above all.

Sinclair Ferguson says this about the four Hebrew youths—

It is not who you are or where you are that ultimately matters in the kingdom of God. It is what you are. Faithfulness, not reputation or situation, is what counts in God’s kingdom. [The Preacher’s CommentaryVol. 21: Daniel emphasis mine.]

I. God’s people undergo tests by pagans as God leads them into trial. vs.14.  

vs. 14 So [the steward] listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days.

“The sovereignty of God means there is not a random molecule loose in the universe” (R. C. Sproul in class). God controls all things. Yet He does not make anyone do evil. How does this work? God alone knows.

I wonder how often we realize some of our unpleasant experiences might be for another person’s benefit! The four Hebrew youths would know where their help came from—God Almighty. Also, the steward of their household would know it, too, although the Steward might not be willing to tell the King. The other Judeans would know this, as well.

vs. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables.

II. Where God guides His people, He provides special gifts for His people to succeed. vs.17

vs. 17 As for these four youths, God gave (nathan in Hebrew) them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. ESV

Here are the gifts God gives to his servants under great distress — (1) knowledge; (2) skill in all learning; and (3) wisdom.

All of God’s servants can get these gifts if God so chooses to bestow them. Daniel is set apart from the rest by one additional gift — understanding in all visions and dreams.


New Argument from the First Amendment to Protect Religion (indirectly)

God gives people insight into the Constitution and the Judges on the Bench to permit religion in publicJay Sekulow places. (www.jaysekulow.com) The first case Jay Sekulow argued before the Supreme Court involved the LAX airport ban on Jews for Jesus handing out leaflets to people as they entered the airport.

Jay Sekulow’s argument began — “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court, local governments have important responsibilities concerning their efficient operation of airports under their control; however, the record in this case is clear — there is no justification for a sweeping ban on First Amendment activities which would subordinate cherished First Amendment freedoms.”

Jay Sekulow made what, at the time, was a unique argument in defense of religious liberties. He literally changed constitutional law. Instead of merely arguing that this ordinance violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, Jay Sekulow argued that the ordinance in fact violated the Jews for Jesus members’ free speech rights. (Board of Airport Commissioners v. Jews for Jesus, 482 U.S. 569 1987)

The Court also agreed with Jay Sekulow’s argument that “there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect.”

God gives us today our right to be heard in the public arena by a backdoor argument! This is wisdom of God that saves the day. Daniel had it and we can have access to God’s wisdom as we read His Word and pray. (www.jaysekulow.com)


III. In trial, God makes His servants standout from the crowd. vs. 18-20

vs. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore, they stood before the king.

I like the fact that Daniel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses their Hebrew names, and not those pagan names given to them by the chief ruler of the household. All glory is God’s, not pagan Kings!

They passed the test! They knew it was God’s gifts to them that enabled them to perform so ably. The reverting to their Hebrew names says to us that they were not changed in their essential character by studying Chaldean culture and literature.

vs. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

These are good odds. Daniel and the other 3 were worth 10 times the normal Babylonian students at the end of their initial trial period.

Cyrus the Great is said, in the Bible, to have liberated the Hebrew captives in Babylon to resettle and rebuild Jerusalem, earning him an honored place in Judaism. Cyrus the Great, 559 BC-530 BC from Wikipedia

IV. God can sustain His servants down to old age even if empires fall around them. vs. 21

vs. 21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.


Verses 1 & 20 place Daniel in the exact times he lived.

He went to Babylon (by Nebuchadnezzar’s public transportation) “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah.” (ca. 606 BC)

He lived until “The first year of Cyrus (538 BC) would be nearly 70 years after the date of Daniel’s captivity (Daniel 1:1), so that he would then be quite an aged man. (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Daniel).


God sustained Daniel until the first year of Cyrus. (It doesn’t say when he died.) “This year is specified on account of its importance to the Jewish people as the year of their deliverance.” (Ellicott)

Cyrus the Persian reversed Imperial policy. Under the Babylonians, conquered people were taken out of their lands and brought to Babylon. People from other conquered land were resettled there. (This explains the Samaritan Jews in the New Testament era.) Persia left them in their own land.

Look at the following film as an Introduction to the Whole book of Daniel (9 minutes). It’s a little longer than I ordinarily put in my blogs. However, this site on YouTube has similar films on all books of the Bible.


Where God’s People Draw the Line

Image above by James Tissot at the John Rylands Library; after James Tissot
Jewish Museum New York. Public Domain

Note: Daniel is set apart from the other three in appearance.

Daniel 1:8-13

Activism is the favorite sport of the masses in our world today. People think taking to the streets and shouting slogans is the way to change things for the better. 

Is this the only way? 

Protest in Russia in 1918

Image from Smithsonian Magazine; Bolshevik 1917 revolution. public domain image

Believers need to stand back from mass protests and avoid the anarchy and vandalism. Note the advice to Titus in 2:7-10 ESV—

7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Bondservants…are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

In the Book of Daniel, we see God’s people deported from their homeland and placed in the midst of a hostile culture. As our situation parallels the Hebrew youths in Daniel, its lessons become more and more applicable. 

I Corinthians 10:11, speaking of judgments that fell on ancient Israel in the past, gives us application from those judgments—

11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

God singled out the behavior of the captives for our imitation. Daniel was the one who stood out from the others. Yet, he is not the subject of the Book that bears his name. God is the subject of the book! Daniel is gone long ago, but God remains ever the same! 

“Here Daniel shows his endurance of what he could neither cast off nor escape; but meanwhile he took care that he did not depart from the fear of God, nor become a stranger to his race, but he always retains the remembrance of his origin, and remains a pure, and unspotted, and sincere worshipper of God.” (Calvin) 

Daniel and the other Hebrew youths did not take an activist attitude toward the Babylonian government. They had a more important agenda. 


Robert Louis Stevenson 

Robert_Louis_Stevenson_at_the_age_of_twenty-nineWhen the noted writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, was a boy, he was sitting in his room one night watching a lamplighter light the streetlamps below. His mother came in and asked him what he was doing. He replied: “I’m watching a man punch holes in the darkness.” (From the Word Made Flash website)

Image left is of Stevenson age 21. From Wikimedia Commons. 


The four Hebrew youths could not picket or raise a stink to change Babylon. They did bring light into darkness wherever they could. God’s people are in this world to punch holes in the darkness wherever God has placed them. Let the light of God’s word be injected into the public conversation, whether people hear or not. This is our mission. 

Daniel_and_his_three_friends_refusing_the_king's_food

The Hebrew youths had accepted a lot of change in their exile. They were taken from their homeland to Babylon. They were taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. They were given new names that included the deities of Babylon, instead of references to The God of Israel as their old names did. They were assigned a portion of the King’s food from his table. They drew the line at eating some of the things from the King’s table. 

Image right from Wikimedia Commons in the public Domain. 

How they went about refusing the food is something we could learn today. 

vs. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food (Hebrew pat-bag) that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 

We dealt in the last post with the subject of food. Nothing of the King’s table was bad in and of itself. Outward credit for their success would go to the King of Babylon whether they ate the delicacies or not. I agree with Longman that one reason for the restriction of their diet was to avoid defilement. Another reason was the exiled youths would know God was behind their success. 

Banquet Table

Food for a Special Event from Pinterest

Calvin says, patbag means “to be nourished as to be intoxicated with delicacies.” The Babylonian king wanted to soften the Hebrew youths’ obstinate hearts with luxuries. Luxurious living leads to forgetting their own ways and God and embrace everything Babylonian. 

The theme of this section is—

God is behind the success of His people in times of trouble, and He alone must receive the glory for it.

I. God’s people go about their resistance to pagan authority in a wise manner. vs. 8

vs. 8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore, he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.

group-prayingMatthew 10 states—

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 

Jeremiah 29—

7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

The King’s motive for supplying rations to the youths was to capture their allegiance. The King’s wine would have been the most excellent available. The meats would have been cooked to perfection.

Daniel was given wisdom from God to lead his companions to shun the delicacies of the King’s table so they would not be tempted to live a life of ease and enjoyment. They had to be ready at the Lord’s command to stand firm in trial. They could not afford to be lured into a life influenced by Babylon. 

II. God gives His people a leader to guide them into obedience to God in a pagan society. vs. 8

LeadershipSome may ask why Daniel takes the lead in this matter. All people are on the same ground before God, yet God sets apart certain people for His service and gives them a combination of natural gifts and graces they will need to perform their service. 

Quotation on the right is from Pinterest. 

The sin of democracy is envy. People want a life like the rich live. In the end democracy can only make people equal by wealth distribution. God does make some people capable of leadership by exalting them over others. All are on level ground when it comes to equality before God. 


Abraham Kuyper on Equality and Inequality

Abraham_KuyperIf the [Reformed view] places our entire human life immediately before God, then it follows that all men or women, rich or poor, weak or strong, dull or talented, as creatures of God, and as lost sinners, have no claim whatsoever to lord over one another, and that we stand as equals before God, and consequently equal as man to man.

Hence, we cannot recognize any distinction among men, save such as has been imposed by God Himself, in that He gave one authority over the other, or enriched one with more talents than the other, in order that the man of more talents should serve the man with less, and in him serve his God. Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition. (pp. 16-17)


I cannot relate to you adequately how this passage from Kuyper has helped me to understand how God has dealt with me in my ministerial life! When we see leaders who are graced with talents and gifts from God, we cease all striving for our own advancement and follow God’s leader. We do not try to undermine God’s leaders who are faithful to Him. They serve us as they serve God. (See the Kuyper quotation above.) 

III. God’s people can meet pagan demands in an alternative way other than compromising their faith. vs. 9-10

vs. 9 And God gave† Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So, you would endanger my head with the king.”

† Note: “gave” nathan in Hebrew, meaning to make persons objects of compassion before (in the eyes of) another. (see BDB Lexicon on BibleHub.) This is the same word used in Daniel 1:2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God.

“How did we get here?” an exiled person might ask. Daniel 1:2 says God gave us over to our enemies. Note carefully the same God that gave the Jews into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands gave Daniel favor in the eyes of his enemies. 

The youths would choose out of the delicacies what food that would not compromise their faith. The chief supervisor of the youths was not worried for their safety. He was worried about his own fate should the King notice they were weak from the food they took. In the end, he was serving himself since he would have more of the dainties to feed on. He just wanted to ensure his own position and life from danger. 

“This is a special act of God’s favor to his afflicted people, to give them any favor in the eyes of them that do afflict them.” (Matthew Poole’s Commentary) 

William-Wilberforce-Quotation

IV. God’s people will always come out on top when tested by following God’s instruction. vs. 11-13 

11 Then Daniel said to the steward† whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.”

Note that there is a two-tier leadership over the Hebrew Youths— (1) The Chief over the Imperial household eunuch in the ESV (We discussed this in an earlier post); (2) The steward placed over the Hebrew Youths. 

Rather than defying a greater authority, the Reformers urge an appeal to lessor authorities. Daniel did not go to Nebuchadnezzar directly. He appealed to the Chief over the Household and to the Steward who took care of them.  

Steward is meltsar Hebrew meaning a lesser official in charge of others. This also implies separate quarters for the Hebrews away from others. 


Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Son

Lighted LampsWe saw earlier that Robert Louis Stevenson drew a lesson from a lamplighter. Let’s end with one from Charles Haddon Spurgeon [CHS] and one of his sons. 

One day Spurgeon and one of his sons were walking home when CHS saw a lamplighter ahead of them. He was lighting the lamps along the way. After a while, the lamplighter passed from their view when he disappeared over a hill.

CHS commented to his son, “That’s the way I want to live my life. Illuminating the darkness preaching the word of God. And then, disappear over the hill to heaven.” (Skinner, Lamplighter and Son). Image from Pinterest) 


I really do believe this ought to be our mission. We are not called to a physical war. (cf. II Corinthians 10—

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds

Molding the Minds of the Brightest and Best

The picture above is titled, “Daniel and his three friends refusing the king’s food.”
1873 from The story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Daniel 1:3-7

The Overall Theme of the Book of Daniel

At first glance, Daniel seems to be too ancient of a book to convey a message to the 21st Century readers. Not so, because people in developing countries in the 21st Century often turn to Daniel and Revelation for guidance and comfort. Tremper Longman gives us the key purpose in the book of Daniel:

“The book of Daniel was written in large measure for the express purpose of being a guide to God’s people who live in the midst of a troubled world, particularly one that is toxic to our faith.” [Longman, T. How to Read Daniel, p. 145.]

Does this sound familiar? Troubled world? We live in a hyper-troubled world! Toxic to a believer’s Faith? If we follow the desires and aims of the dominant worldview in our day, it will destroy our Faith!

Let’s trust God who is able to rescue us from pagan onslaughts in our world! God is the One who gives us hope.


Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.


Let’s dig into Daniel 1:3-7; 8a and see some principles believers can use as they serve in a hostile society.

Vs. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility…

I. Service to a government hostile to their faith may be required of believers. vs. 3

The use of the word “eunuch” in the Bible. The Hebrew word is saris which refers to a man in some sort of official service to a ruler, but “neutering” isn’t always a part of the office. Compare Pharaoh’s Potiphar who is a saris (eunuch; compare Genesis 39:1) and who was definitely married (Gen. 39:7ff). It is doubtful whether the term always or usually refers specifically to a [neutered male] rather than to a palace official in general.”  [see Christianity Today Wiki site.]

Compare Isaiah 39:7—”And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” So, Daniel and the youths from Judea may not necessarily have been neutered. They may have been trained to be workers at court for the Babylonian government. Daniel chapters 1-7 tell us as believers how to live faithfully in the midst of Neo-pagans and atheists. Believers can serve, but there are limits to their service as we will see later. 

Note Jeremiah 29:1; 4-7

cry-of-prophet-jeremiah-on-the-ruins-of-jerusalem-on-a-bible-subject-18701 These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. … 4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Image of Jeremiah mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem (Wikimedia in the Public domain).

Jeremiah sent this letter from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon, who had been exiled from their homeland. (1) They are not to engage in clandestine guerilla warfare against the land of the exile. (2) Neither, does he command them to confine themselves to “a Jewish ghetto.” He says they are to engage in regular activities that lead to prosperity of their new land. (We will see the limitations on believers’ service later.)

Book_of_Daniel_Chapter_1-1_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

Picture of Ashpenaz making his selections from the youths of Judea.
Image is from Wikimedia and has a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license

4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

II. A pagan nation with its worldview always seeks to capture the youth for its service vs. 4.

Daniel and the Other Three Youths in Daniel—The KJV calls all four “Hebrew Children.” The Hebrew word is yeled [Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon of Hebrew]. They are “young men possibly in their early teens at the time of their deportation.” [Rushdoony, R. J. (2001) Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation.]

I don’t know about the other exiles, but these four young men were old enough to follow God in the Babylonian court. We might not be deported to another country in exile from our own country; however, we are in a similar situation.

We are “exiled at home” today if we are true Christians. The Neo-pagan worldview has overtaken the public square in our country. How did this happen? It happens still at the secular universities and colleges. I urge parents who are sending their young people to college to read Michael Kruger’s book, Surviving Religion 101. Book cover below.

Kruger book cropped

“Writing in the form of a letter to his college-age daughter, Michael Kruger’s Surviving Religion 101 takes a topical approach to examining some of the toughest questions Christian students encounter at secular universities.”


Personal Experience Teaching in a secular Community College

For more than 15 years, I taught at a Community College. I first taught transitional studies (sounds better than developmental courses).

After 5 years, I was invited to join the Humanities Faculty and teach REL-103 (similar to REL-101 Kruger addresses in his book). It was called “Comparative Religion.” No one lost his faith in my classes. I even taught one Hindu student from India. I had to help her understand Judaism and Christianity since she had no knowledge of them.

Sadly, I heard of other instructors teaching things harmful to the Christian Faith. I did not teach anything but what was in the textbook. As lead instructor of REL-103, I chose the textbook.


5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.

8a But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank… .

III. Care must be exercised in taking delicacies from the world. vs. 5

Marduk_and_petDaniel decided he did not want to defile himself (gāal) 1:8. The means of the defilement was the delicacies (path-bag) from the King’s table—of Persian origin; a dainty; portion of meat. Those who ate delicacies would be seduced into further compromises with Babylonian ways. Babylonian wine was undiluted, no doubt.

Jews are not by nature abstainers from alcohol. However, pagan feasting would lead to excess of alcohol. Jews normally diluted wine with water. The least was 4:1 water to wine. In places where water was not safe, wine helped to purify water so it would be drinkable.

Image of the chief Babylonian god, Marduk. from Wikimedia Commons; public domain.

I have already dealt with this matter of delicacies that deceive in a previous post I did on Romans 15. See the post “It’s Better not to Look Back! At least, in that Way.” So, 1st Century Jewish Christians in Rome thought they should abstain, as Daniel and his three friends had done. This makes good sense of Jewish Christians “not drinking Roman wine” in Romans 14. We remember Rome had at this stage already gotten the cryptic-name “Babylon” (cf. I Peter 5:13). Jewish Christian believers did not want to be seduced by Rome’s delicacies.

6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

Name chnages in Daniel 1

IV. Once one is drawn in by the delicacies, a change in character follows. vs. 6-7.

The Significance of a Name Change in the Bible. “All their Hebrew names had something of the God in them; but to make them forget the God of their fathers, the Guide of their youth, the heathen gave them names that savored of idolatry. It is painful to reflect how often public education tends to corrupt the principles and morals.” [Matthew Henry] (Note a public school in England is fact a private exclusive school for the elites of the land e.g. Eton, Harrow, Winchester College, Wells Cathedral School, Ampleforth (the Roman Catholic “Eton”), Westminster School, and Benenden School (all girls).

Daniel and his three friends objected to delicacies of the King. However, they did not reject the Babylonian name with reference to pagan deities, neither did they reject the Babylonian training. (I’m going out on a limb here, but I’ll bet they used their old names in private conversation with one another. And, they prayed to the God of their fathers.)

Capturing the Minds of the Brightest and Best of Young People

Daniel 1:1-4

The picture above by Arthur Hacker “By the Waters of Babylon” (1888) is in the public domain.

The picture is an imagination of Psalm 137 click on the link if you wish to read it. Wm. Faulkner used one stanza as a title for a novel, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem.”


I. Our viewpoint from earth leads us to assign a human cause to calamity. vs. 1

1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.

This is the first indication of Babylon fighting with Judeans. Much of the problems between nations, then and now, consist in allying oneself with nations a man thinks is the most powerful force in their area of influence. This is called realpolitik. To quote the great forger of alliances—

“America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” by Henry A. Kissinger, the great realpolitik advocate of the Nixon and Ford administrations. 

Neo_Assyrian_Empire_671_B.C

The orange area in the map above shows the Assyrian Empire at its height.  The small yellow area is Judea. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0.

Judea was in the middle of two great superpowers—(1) the Egyptians and (2) the Babylonians. The only way one could attack the other was through Jewish territory. The Judean Kings played one nation over another in an attempt to pay less tribute and to be left alone.

Psalm 20:7—Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Large numbers of horses and chariots meant security and peace in the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) world. Weak nations ally themselves to the stronger nation.

II. If we adopt God’s viewpoint in his word, we realize He rules the circumstances of His people. vs. 2

2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.

This was not the first time God had aided Judea against a stronger nation—see Isaiah 36-37. Let me quote a minimum of verses from those two chapters of Isaiah, so the reader can follow the story.

1. Assyria had attacked Judea and was poised to conquer Jerusalem.

Isaiah 36:1 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 2 And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 3 And there came out to him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

2. All pagan nations trust in their own gods—metal or mental. 

A_general_history_for_colleges_and_high_schools_(1889)_(14741624926)

Public domain picture of an Assyrian siege of a city [not to scale). (1889)

4 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On John_Singer_Sargent_-_Study_for_ Pagan_Gods, _Boston_Public_Library_-_1937.206_-_Fogg_Museumwhat do you rest this trust of yours? 5 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 6 Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 7 But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar (in the temple at Jerusalem)”?

9 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 10 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”

Portrait of John Singer Sargent – Study for “Pagan Gods,” Boston Public Library – 1937. Public Domain from WikiMedia Commons right →

3. Hezekiah humbled himself and prayed before God, and so ought we against all who oppose our God and ourselves.

Isaiah 37:1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord.

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”

King_Hezekiah,_clouthed_in_sackcloth,_spreads_open_the_letter_before_the_Lord

King Hezekiah, clothed in sackcloth, spreads open the letter before the Lord. (1873)

36 And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 37 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. 38 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. And after they escaped into the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.

Why did Judea forget this great deliverance from their foes in the past? God always meets the person or nation who cries out in desperation to Him!


General_Booth (2)A beleaguered evangelist from the Salvation Army sent a telegram to Wm. Booth.

“I have tried everything and can make no headway with the people on my mission field.”

Booth sent a terse reply, “Try tears!”

General William Booth is pictured to the right. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons.


III. Conquering powers always set out to capture the youth and press them into service against God. vss. 3-4

3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

We see this same pattern today. Our youngest children are turned from God and are taught things opposed to His Word, will, and ways. This is a “brain-drain” of titanic proportion. Our institutions of higher learning mislead the students who will be teachers. In the classroom, these newly graduated teachers mislead our children and grandchildren.

Maybe it’s time we spread the threatening letters to us before God, and pray that a similar fate not meet us as met Judea.

 

Exiled to a Pagan-land

The image above is in the Public Domain. James Tissot “The Flight of the Prisoners,”
ca. 1896-1902; Jewish Museum, New York, NY.

I will do a minimum of formal Introduction to Daniel, so if you are interested in exploring Daniel’s date of writing, original setting, etc. refer to the Introduction to Daniel in the ESV Study Bible. (The link in blue will take you to the ESV Study Bible Introduction to Daniel. Take a look at the map of the ancient world at the end of the article. It always helps to have a map before you when you read ancient literature).


Daniel 1:1-2

1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. [ESV]

There is no background in the text given for the first two verses, and there is no resolution at the end of the book, either, for that matter. We are not to assume, however, Judeans were victims of a conquering empire bigger and richer than they were. Interpreters of the book who lean toward social justice view, often make it diatribe against all huge empires who oppress the poor.

From the standpoint of narrative structure, there should have been a prologue and a resolution at the end.

structuring_a_narrative (2)

The drawing is adapted from https://literacyideas.com/narrative-writing

The absence of some of the elements of narrative structure brings one to the point of judging one’s own life in light of what is written in Daniel. Read an Ernest Hemingway short story and you will see a similar pattern to the one Daniel chose—minimalist structure—no prologue and no resolution at the end; Daniel begins with problem.

Because Daniel begins without a prologue does not mean the his readers did not know why they were exiled. We are not to assume Judeans are simply victims of a conquering empire bigger and richer than they were. (No social justice reading is intended.)

As the title suggests, the Israelites were taken from their homeland to a pagan land. We are living in the homeland of our forefathers, but paganism now dominates it. The buildings look the same, but the people living in them are far from those who had a Biblical world-and-life view like our ancestors did.

I am positing, in our case, it is possible to be exiled at home. (At least I feel more and more like I am a pilgrim in a strange land!) The absence of a prologue and a resolution, make it easier for us to take the lessons to our heart.

However, the outline of the happenings in Daniel 1:1-2 is as follows—

I. Babylon laid siege to Judah’s land. vs. 1
II. Nebuchadnezzar pillaged the Temple and its treasury house, and took all of it to Babylon. vs. 2

I want to extract some principles I see in these verses for we who are exiled in our own land.

I. God can use any instrument to bring His will to pass. Daniel 4:2

20 Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. 21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; 22 he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him. 23 To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

We should substitute for “He removes the Kings” = “He removes governments.” Monarchies are rare in the 21st Century, yet God is sovereign over the nations of the 21st Century as He was over Babylon.


My Wife’s Favorite Attribute of God

When my wife was dying, I asked our pastor to come by on Sunday afternoon and serve us communion as an entire family one last time. He asked her some questions about various Bible studies she had led over the years. She told him about the various Ligonier studies they had used. One of her favorites was on the attributes of God. He asked her which attribute was her favorite. Without hesitation she answered her favorite was the sovereignty of God. She died 4 days later. Our sovereign God took her into His heaven to the place He had prepared for her. Now she is sitting at the Table of the King!

If my wife could witness to the importance of the God’s sovereignty of God on her deathbed, I believe we ought to live by the belief of a sovereign God as we walk in life!


II. No nation or philosophy eclipses the Sovereignty of God.

Steve LawsonResounding throughout the pages of Scripture is the proclamation that God is King. And the concept most closely associated with His kingship is His sovereignty. To say that God is sovereign is not to say merely that He is stronger than everyone else, although this is true. Rather, to call Him sovereign is to ascribe to Him a rule and authority that transcends space and time, leaving nothing outside its scope.

The sovereignty of God is like a soft pillow upon which the believer lays his head at night. There is no attribute more comforting to God’s children than the sovereignty of their Father. Under our most adverse circumstances, we believe that sovereignty has ordained our afflictions. In the most severe trials, we trust that God has a purpose, and behind that purpose is His master plan. Even in our darkest valleys, we must rely on this foundational truth, that divine sovereignty is using it as a part of a far greater design for His glory and our good.

— Dr. Steve Lawson, pictured above right, Ligonier Teaching Fellow, from his book Show Me Your Glory


You and I are not capable of using evil to bring good to pass. However, God can. As an older fellow told me one time, “We can’t, but God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick.”

III. God hears our prayers for deliverance.

The Prophet Habakkuk, in 1:1-4, asked God to intervene in Judah and bring an end to widespread violence and sin.

1 The oracle [weighty matter] that Habakkuk the prophet saw. 2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.

This is not a bad prayer, but it seems Habakkuk is hinting at God doing something improper. In any case God answers his prayer.

5 “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. 6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans [Babylonians], that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.

God is going to use a more evil empire to being to end Judea’s sinful behavior. Maybe Habakkuk should have been careful for what he asked of God.


Improper Prayer Requests

My mother used to have a peculiar prayer partner. (“Peculiar” is the nicest way to put it.) On one occasion they were in prayer. They were asking God for things that were good, at first. This was the beginning of the “name it-frame it-claim it” movement. All of a sudden, this lady blurted out, “Give me and Gay a set of diamond earrings!” Mother opened her eyes and stared at her. She finally “woke-up” under my mother’s piercing gaze. She said, “I guess that was a bit too much, wasn’t it, Gay.” Mother nodded yes and they returned to prayer for the country, their church, and the world!

By all means we should bring our complaints (Laments) into God’s presence. Several Psalms are Psalms of Laments. A lament is a complaint. God is the only one who can do anything about our complaints.It is good to tell God our warped experiences in life. We can even bring our anger into his presence. Just stay long enough to hear His correction.


Habakkuk’s right response in 2:1

I will take my stand at my watch-post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer [when I am corrected].

This last phrase of Hab. 2:1 is best translated when I am corrected. The Hebrew word tōkechah = rebuke, correction.

Habakkuk started off his prayer wrong, but by 2:1 he ends where he should be—humble before God and awaiting correction of his thinking revealed in Chapter One.

Eduard_Bendemann-_Die_trauernden_Juden_im_Exil_um_1832

Depiction of Jews mourning the exile in Babylon by Eduard Bendemann (1811–1889)
I believe the painter had Psalm 137 in mind.

IV. God is sovereign and yet he does not infringe on man’s freedom.

God says he is raising up the Babylonians, but he didn’t drag them to Judea and make them besiege it. Neither did he make the Judeans sin.


The Westminster Divines put this well, Section 2; Paragraph 1

From all eternity and by the completely wise and holy purpose of his own will, God has freely
and unchangeably ordained whatever happens. [His ordaining] does not mean, however, that
God is the author of sin (he is not), [or] that he represses the will of his created beings, or that he
takes away the freedom or contingency of secondary causes. Rather, the will of created beings
and the freedom and contingency of secondary causes are established by him.


You and I can trust God when nothing else works. So we must trust in God when times are good, so we can be ready for the rough times.

 

Dare to Trust Daniel’s God!

Picture above is in the public domain. published by Thomas Agnew and Sons, 1892

Daniel 1:1

1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.


I know, as did I, you probably sang “Dare to be a Daniel,” either at Sunday School or at VBS.

Refrain:
Dare to be a Daniel!
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known!

It’s has a snappy tune still appealing to children even though it was written in 1873 by P. P Bliss. But is this the message of the book of Daniel?

I think Daniel 7 gives the message of Daniel.

13
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

The main lesson of Daniel, then, is not, as is often assumed (and taught!), Dare to be a Daniel! Rather, the main point is this: Dare to trust in Daniel’s God! [from Wilson, T. (2015) Daniel (Knowing the Bible series). Carol Stream, IL: Crossway Publishing. Kindle Edition.]

I. Jesus began to fulfill this prophecy by His incarnation.

Ellicott says this of the phrase “One like a Son of Man”—”The title implies one descended from man; but as this Person is spoken of as being like one of human descent, it follows that He was not merely a man. The early Jewish and Christian interpretations that this is the Messiah are confirmed by our Savior’s solemn appropriation of the title to Himself (Matthew 24:30).”

Westminster Shorter Catechism clarifies the Son of Man and God—

Q. 21. Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect?
A. The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever.

This Catechism question delineates the two natures of Christ—”God and man in two distinct natures and one person, forever.” He bridged the chasm between God and humans by obeying God as the God-man and by dying in our place.

II. Jesus at present has the dominion over all in heaven and earth, so we can trust Him.

We are in the expanse of time time between the first Coming and the Second Coming. Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords now. Hebrews 2 gives us where we are—

8 Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

We are between two days—(1) Calvary, the day Christ died for our sins; and (2) the Second Coming, the day when Christ will vanquish all His and our foes. Where we live is referred to as “the already, but not yet.”

Theologians use this phrase when they talk about the Kingdom of God. It helps explain the truth that the Kingdom of God has come to us in Jesus Christ [‘the already aspect.’] The Kingdom of God is here.” And we experience living in the Kingdom of God’s love, and we participate in God’s Kingdom through our prayers and our worship, through our service to others and our love. But God’s Kingdom has not yet come in all its fullness” [the not yet aspect]. (from https://www.cccchelmsford.org/sermons/the-already-and-the-not-yet/)

We are closest to the power that moves heaven and earth when we kneel before the Throne of Grace. (see Hebrews 4:14-16).

kingdom_concept

Daniel’s people lived between two days: (1) their exile from their land, and (2) their return to that land.

I have forgotten where I read this information, but I put it in chart form. (At least the first question came from Hamilton, J. M., Jr. (2014). With the Clouds of Heaven (New Studies in Biblical Theology series), p. 41. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Questions of the Exiles

The song is cute, but let’s alter its lyrics—

Dare to trust Daniel’s God!
Dare to stand with Him!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known to men!

We can live this refrain out in our lives with Daniel’s God with us.

Our Attraction to Eternity

II Corinthians 4

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (NIV)


In my own time of mourning, I have been thinking on II Corinthians 4:16-18. I memorized them awhile back in the KJV, the Bible of my youth and of my study in college. (The King James Version is no longer the language of my lips in sermons, but it remains the language of my heart in private with God.)

I learned a long time ago not to rush to a commentary in order to study Scripture. “Read the text” was drilled into me in inductive Bible study classes. I consult commentaries and theological books when I do not understand something. I only open a commentary when I have a question that I need an answer for. This prevents me from living “a second-hand life” through books about the Bible, instead of reading the Bible itself. 


An intellectually oriented pastor was met at the door after his sermon by a woman with a paper bag. She handed it to him. He asked about what she was giving him. She replied, “You said that the common taters didn’t agree with you. So, I brought you some sweet taters.”

I think that lady punctured his ego-balloon.


One of my questions for this passage is:
How can I concentrate my sight on something I cannot see?
 

I have looked at numerous commentaries and theology books, but two only answer my question—Charles Hodge’s commentary on II Corinthians. R. C. Sproul, a theologian and pastor (and a teacher of mine twice). I recommend his book Everyone’s a Theologian. (His Scripture Expositions are still being released as they edit the sermons from St. Andrews Chapel where he preached for 20 Years. I highly recommend his Exposition of Romans.)

II Corinthians 4:16-18 introduces the reason we do not call it quits when the ministry gets tough.

Paul had outward persecution from all kinds of persons.

Certainly the ministry was always tough going for Paul. Hodge cites two Scripture passages to show how tough it was for him.

I Corinthians 4:9a; 11-13

9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena… . 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. (NIV)

II Corinthians 11:23-28

23 Are they [the false teachers] servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (NIV)


Dr Will Norton 2Dr. Will Norton was professor of missions at Reformed Theological Seminary–Charlotte, when I worked on my D.Min. there. One day someone from the administrative staff inquired about where I was staying. I replied that I was staying at SIM headquarters, just opposite Carowinds. They asked me if I would pick up Dr. Norton at the airport when he came in at 10:30 pm. (I was younger then and could stay up past 11:00 pm.)

I will never forget that ride from the airport to Dr. Norton’s home. He queried me concerning the state of the church I served. Well, that state included a Church-fight at the time. He gave me this advice—”Always remember that someone needs you!” In other words, in the midst of strife, don’t forget about the needs of others. He died at 102 years of age.


Most of Paul’s suffering was due to his ministry.

illustration-of-crushing-torture

An ancient means of torture—board with weights
added until the person gave up or died. (WikiMedai Commons)

But note an extra source of suffering Paul has—

Paul had pressure from people constantly coming to him for advice. 

11:28 …I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. “Concern” is in Greek “merimna—care, anxiety.” Literally it means “to be drawn in different directions.” (Thayer’s Lexicon) The same word describes Martha in Luke 10:41.

This word for “pressure” (epistasis in Greek) is interesting. Thayer’s Lexicon gives this meaning—”a troublesome throng of persons seeking help, counsel and comfort…thronging to one.”

Then, in addition to the outward suffering, the pressure of ambassadors from other churches coming for help or sending a person with a letter eliciting Paul’s opinion on a matter.


Charles_Ellicott_by_Herbert_R_BarraudEllicott says this—”The daily visits of inquirers, the confessions of sin-burdened souls, the craving of perplexed consciences for guidance, the reference of quarrels of the household or the church to his arbitration as umpire, the arrival of messengers from distant churches, each with their tidings of good or evil—this is what we have to think of as present to St. Paul’s thoughts as the daily routine of his life.” (picture of Ellicott, from Wikipedia)


Please don’t think that pastors are weak or unfit to serve if they suffer from personal attacks by parishioners and/or officers. Much of this kind of suffering is like the torture picture above—people keep putting pressure on the pastor until his health breaks or he leaves. Pray for pastors because they care for those without Christ.

Paul gives us the one thing that will keep us going under such pressure.

The word Paul uses here in II Cor. 4:18 is skopeō meaning: “to fix one’s (mind’s) eye on”; or the “end-marker of a foot-race” (Thayer’s Lexicon) In English we sometimes say I scoped out a place place for fishing.

In Phil. 3:14, Paul uses a cognate of the word skopeō—I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Skopos is used once in the Greek NT meaning “the goal or end one has in view.” Thayer’s Lexicon.

Which eye does Paul allude to in this II Cor 4:18 ? (1) not the physical eye since we cannot see the glorious benefits of our resurrection yet; (2) rather, Paul says we use the eye of faith.


EDWARDS-Jonathan1

Jonathan Edwards says this about seeing  God—

As to the faculty that is the subject of this vision. It is no sight of any thing with the bodily eyes; but it is an intellectual view. The beatific vision of God is not a sight with the eyes of the body, but with the eyes of the soul. (Edwards, J. The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Volume I & II . Candid Publishing. Kindle Edition.)

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.


We use the eye of faith as we read God’s Word to see in part what awaits us in glory. Only such a mediated vision can keep us going in tough times!

 

An Abundant Entrance into Heaven

Photo above is from https://quotesgram.com/christian-quotes-about-death/


Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15 KJV

The Lord cares deeply when his loved ones die. NLT


The Lord is not indifferent to the manner of the death of his faithful people. They may die without much fanfare here on earth; but in heaven, that’s another story! We will have to await our own death and entrance into heaven to fully know what fanfare awaits us there.

God does not guarantee an abundant exit from this world. Some of His choicest servants have died ignominious deaths. However we should not think that God is not touched with by our suffering in this life. Jesus is our Great High Priest according to Hebrews 4.

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [ESV]

The old KJV renders verse 15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus Christ the God-Man experienced every emotion we experience. God is not capricious in His dealings with us. Dr. R. C. Sproul used that word one day in class. A country boy said, “Why are you talking about that car?” We all had a laugh. The student was talking about the the Chevrolet Caprice. What he was really saying was, “I do not understand what capricious means.” Dr. Sproul explained, “Capricious means that behavior is determined by chance or impulse or whim.” By saying that God has emotions does not mean He experiences them the way we often do—acting out of a whim. Humans often relate to others depending upon how they feel at the time. God is not so capricious. He acts out of His plan that He has settled before the world began. The death of human beings fit into His comprehensive plan though we are incapable of reading God’s mind. (see Romans 11:33-36)


I have witnessed a number of people die in my lifetime. The first death I remember was that of my Great-Grandfather–Rich Dowell. My father had arranged for the family to go to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on February 20, 1960; I was 7 years old (the Greenville Memorial Auditorium had only been open for two years). My Gr. Grandfather had carried my bother Mike (aged 4 years) up the stairs in his arms. We took our seats in the second balcony area on the left side, good seats in which to view the show. Suddenly my Gr. Grandfather began gasping for air and reaching for his throat. We kids around him thought he was acting, after all we were at the circus and he frequently put on a fun-filled show for us kids. A policeman saw him and knew he was not acting. He scooped Gr. Granddaddy into his arms and took him away. We were told to sit still and enjoy the show and that Gr. Grandaddy was sick. My father went with him to the ambulance waiting outside and off they flew to old Greenville General Hospital. My Gr. Grandfather had died in his seat at the circus, and I had seen it happen. That memory is indelibly engraved on my mind.


This story came to mind when my wife of 46 years died, May 12, 2022. We were all gathered around her as she passed into the presence of God without any earthly fanfare.

The New Living Translation [LT] translates II Peter 1:11 this way—And God will open wide the gates of heaven for you to enter into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The old King James is difficult to comprehend for 21st Century people, but I grew up on it. “For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Note, we are not promised an abundant exit from this world to heaven, but an abundant reception into heaven! (Far Above Rubies: The Life of Bethan Llloyd-Jones, pg. 204).

I can think of only one person in the Old Testament that had a grand exit from earth—Elijah. II Kings 2:11-14.

11 As [Elijah and Elisha] were walking along, talking, suddenly a chariot of fire, drawn by horses of fire, appeared and drove between them, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariot of Israel and the charioteers!” As they disappeared from sight he tore his robe. 13-14 Then he picked up Elijah’s cloak and returned to the bank of the Jordan River, and struck the water with it. “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” he cried out. And the water parted and Elisha went across! 15 When the young prophets of Jericho saw what had happened, they exclaimed, “The spirit of Elijah rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and greeted him respectfully.

Why did Elisha say, “My Father! My Father!”? “Elisha probably meant something more than to show respect. He regarded himself as Elijah’s specially adopted son, and hence had claimed the “double portion” of the firstborn.” (Pulpit Commentary.)

471px-095.Elijah_Ascends_to_Heaven_in_a_Chariot_of_Fire

Elijah’s chariot in the whirlwind by Gustave Dore; public domain.

What a dramatic exit from earth!

Yet such a great New Testament figure as the Apostle Paul had an ignominious death.

1280px-Decapitación_de_San_Pablo_-_Simonet_-_1887

The Beheading of Saint Paul by Enrique Simonet, 1887

He was beheaded by a Roman Soldier.

It doesn’t matter where we die, but it is crucial where we go after we die (Far Above Rubies: The Life of Bethan Llloyd-Jones, pg. 204).

Malachi 4:1-3—The Day of Recompense

Malachi 4:1-3

Image above “Jesus offers Living Water” on Pinterest.

I am a Tolkien fan. The Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite books, and this appreciation extends to the Peter Jackson movies, also. Here is an excerpt of dialogue from The Return of the King. The fall of Minas Tirith is imminent. Pippin thinks they are going to die.


Pippin Took: “I didn’t think it would end this way.”

Gandalf the White: “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here… .” (see Return of the King, below.) See the rest of the scene on the clip below from YouTube.


We as God’s people may suffer now from enemies, but God sees all and will take care of us. If we are to die, God will see us safely through “the valley of the shadow of death.” Then, we see “a far great country under a swift sunrise.” This is Malachi’s message.

In the end, God will recompense His people for their sufferings.

II. At their death or at the end of this age, God’s faithful servants will enjoy a swift sunrise and full enjoyment of the new day that has dawned. vs. 2

4:2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

We have already made reference to “fear” in two different senses—
(1) Childish response is fear of punishment. This is an immature response.
(2) The mature response is fear of doing anything that might mar a relationship. It is the second sense of fear in Malachi 4:2. We are so concerned over not harming our relationship with God that we restrain our conduct if it may displease Him.

The reference to “the sun of righteousness” is to a sunrise. I know many commentators speak of the Son of Righteousness,” but it is better to take it as sunrise.


Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a preacher who lived in Scotland in the 19th Century. He wrote a Hymn, “I Once was a Stranger.” Its subtitle is Jehovah Tsidkenu—”The Lord is Our Righteousness.” I learned it on my first trip abroad to Scotland. It was still sung in M’Cheyene’s homeland in 1974. 

“God’s righteousness has been proudly and defiantly called in question by ‘the wicked’; but, it has been humbly trusted in and waited for by ‘the righteous’” (Malachi 3:18). (See Spence, below.)


III. The wicked will be destroyed and will leave no trace of their earthly life behind. vs. 3

4:3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act,” says the Lord of hosts.


Rain on Funeral Day

Rain on Funeral Day photo from YouTube

Rain on the Day of a Funeral

The Gullah people inhabit South Carolina’s barrier islands and low country land. A lady at Church who grew up on one of the Islands told me the Gullah have an interesting belief. If it rains on the day of a person’s funeral, it is a good sign. God indicates that they are in heaven and all traces of them on earth are washed away. 


Malachi says the opposite about evil who are judged at last day. God’s people will walk on the ashes of those who are judged. Those who treated God’s people as doormats for their feet, will be trodden under foot at the day of judgment.

This is reminiscent of Joshua 10:24—

24 And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the men of Israel and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks. (I’m not recommending readers to literally put their feet on people’s necks. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.)


crushedThis a picture of victory over our enemies. Romans 16 states—20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 

This refers back to what we call the Protoevengelium—”First Gospel. Genesis 3:15—”I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring [evil people and demons] and her offspring; He [Christ] shall bruise your head [serpent], and you [Satan] shall bruise his heel.”

“The Hebrew word rendered ‘bruise’ (shoof) is the same in both clauses. Suitable as it is in its application to the ‘crushing’ of a serpent’s head beneath a man’s foot, it [seems]  unsuitable as applied to the serpent’s attack upon the man’s heel.” (see Ryle, below.) The crushing of a snakes’ head is a mortal wound. The bruising of or striking at a heel is painful but not fatal.


God promises to set the record straight about us and those who have opposed us. In the meantime, we persevere and walk by faith in the Risen Lord.

Let me preface the next story with a caveat. I’ve heard it before, but the story was told with different details, either omitted or included. I’ve also heard it told with different persons’ names. This being said, I believe there is a kernel of truth we need to bear in mind. I quote it from a blog that contains only the essential aspects of the story with no embellishment that comes from one speaker using it and others using it later adding details they imagine, etc. (I encouraged my students to use hypothetical names when using a story whose source they couldn’t document. “Consider with me a faithful servant of God coming home on the same ship with the President of the United States… .”)


After serving as a missionary for forty years in Africa, Henry C. Morrison became sick and had to return to America. As the great ocean liner docked in New York Harbor there was a great crowd gathered to welcome home another passenger on that boat. Morrison watched as President Teddy Roosevelt received a grand welcome home party after his African Safari.

Resentment seized Henry Morrison and he turned to God in anger, “We have come back home after all this time and service to the church and there is no one, not even one person here to welcome us home.”

Then [his wife reminded him], “Henry, we’re not home yet.” (see De Coursey, below.)


When we arrive safely in heaven, either at our death or at the Second Coming of Christ, that’s when our welcome home will be given. “Well done, good and faithful servant!”(Matthew 25:23)

Notes on Sources

De Coursey, P. (2015). “Not now but Later,” blog post 7 July 2015. Accessed 17 December 2021 from https://www.ktt.org/resources/truth-matters/not-now-later

Keil & Delitzsch. (1866; 1973 reprint). Commentary on the Old Testament. Accessed 8 December 2021 from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/kad/malachi/4.htm

Kirkpatrick, A. F. (1904). The Book of Psalms with Introduction and Notes. Books II & III. Psalms XLII–LXXXIX. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Accessed 8 December 2021 from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/malachi/4-2.htm

Return of the King. (n.d.). Accessed 17 December 2021 from https://www.quotes.net/mquote/120417

Ryle, H. E. (1914). Genesis in Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; 1921 reprint.  London, UK: at the Cambridge University Press. Accessed 21 December from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/cambridge/genesis/3.htm

Malachi 4:1-3—The Day of Retribution

Malachi 4:1-3

Image above “Michael, the archangel, with Satan under his feet,” on Pinterest.

A Psalm comes to mind when I think of the struggle we have today to determine what/who is right and who/what is wrong—Psalm 73.

1 Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Sometimes it appears as if evil is always rewarded and God’s people are the ones suffering. Note Psalm 73:16-7—

16 But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.

No problem can be faithfully understood until we enter into God’s presence and spread the problem before Him. Our sanctuary today is any place where we can be alone with God and have His Word opened before us. All we need is to utter a prayer for understanding. Psalm 73 says—18 Truly you set them [i.e. “the wicked”] in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!

The wicked may prosper, but God sees to it they slip and end up destroyed. “The wicked have at no time any sure hold on their prosperity. They are a ‘set in slippery places’—places from which they may easily slip and fall.” [See Spence, below.]

quote-truth-forever-on-the-scaffold-wrong-forever-on-the-throne-yet-that-scaffold-sways-the-james-russell-lowell-248283

We may be in ignorance as to why things happen to us, but God knows our destiny. I Timothy 6:15-16—15 He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

Let’s not forget that God possesses full knowledge of all things! The light by which God manifests His presence in heaven is “created as a theophany.” Since God is spirit, no one can see Him. John Calvin says this about “light unapproachable”—

GodLight2He means two things, that God is concealed from us, and yet that the cause of obscurity is not in himself, as if be were hidden in darkness, but in ourselves, who, on account of the dullness of our understanding, cannot approach to his light. We must understand that the light of God is unapproachable, if any one endeavor to approach to it in his own strength; for, if God did not open up the entrance to us by his grace, the prophet would not say, “They who draw near to him are enlightened” Psalm 34:5. [see Calvin below.)

The first three verses of Malachi teach us—

In the end, God will leave no doubt as to what/who is right and who/what is wrong. He will repay the wicked for their sins against Him and His people; and He will recompense the righteous for their sufferings.

I. The purification of God’s fiery judgment will consume the wicked and any memory of what they have done. vs. 1

4:1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

The “for” in 4:1 refers back to Malachi 3:2-3; 18—

3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. [ESV]

“The day of judgment will be to the ungodly like a burning furnace. ‘A fire burns more fiercely in a furnace than in the open air (Hengstenberg).’ The ungodly will then resemble the stubble which the fire consumes (cf. Isaiah 5:24; Zephaniah 1:18; Obadiah 1:18, etc.). [see Keil & Delitzsch, below.]

Verse 4:1 is very meaningful to believers as they suffer and the wicked seem to prosper. It states [the fire] “will leave them [the wicked] neither root nor branch.” A sonnet comes to mind—in the filmclip, an actor reads the sonnet. You can read along by reading the text blow it.

         Ozymandias
By Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.” [See Ozymandias Sonnet, below).

ozymandias (2)

Ozymandias is one form of the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II in Ancient Greek. This form of the name was commonly used in English sources written prior to the twentieth century. The poem is about the ephemeral nature of human power. The idea behind the poem is that this “Ozymandias” was once a great monarch who ruled a mighty empire. He built this Colossus in the desert and gave it this inscription, but now he is long dead, his cities are long gone, his statue is in ruins, and he has been totally forgotten.” [See Ozymandias, below.]

Eventually the desert sands will cover everything, and there will be no remembrance of the empire the proud monarch left. The same is true of the mighty who are trying to erase Christianity from societies in the West. They look triumphant now, but will be quickly forgotten on earth as Ozymandias’s buildings, towers, and statues of his day were.

Concluded next week.

Notes on Sources

Keil & Delitzsch. (1866; 1973 reprint). Commentary on the Old Testament. Accessed 8 December 2021 from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/kad/malachi/4.htm

Kirkpatrick, A. F. (1904). The Book of Psalms with Introduction and Notes. Books II & III. Psalms XLII–LXXXIX. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Accessed 8 December 2021 from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/malachi/4-2.htm

Ozymandias. (n.d.). Accessed 17 December 2021 from https://talesoftimesforgotten.com/2019/08/15/who-was-ozymandias/

Ozymandias Sonnet. (2021). Accessed 14 December 2021 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozymandias

Spence, H. D. M. ed. (1909). Exposition of the Psalms by G. Rawlinson in The Pulpit Commentary. Accessed 8 December 2021 from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/pulpit/psalms/73.htm