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.