Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Reading Through the Book of Daniel (1-4) #1

E and DThis past week I began reading through the book of Daniel accompanied by, Esther & Daniel, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Mark Mangano. The book of Daniel reminds God’s people that He is still in charge of world events, despite his seeming defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The book of Daniel is an apocalyptic book which reassured the Jewish exiles that God, despite the defeat of Jerusalem and destruction of His temple, is still in charge of His people and, all the nations, and will continue to preserve them and keep the promises He made to them. Apocalyptic literature is designed to give God's beleaguered people a glimpse of His throne room in heaven and at His plan for the future, so that they continue to have hope and trust that He is sovereign over them and over the nations.

And Israel, would she have a future? If so, what could she expect? Just as God had delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace (Dan 3) and Daniel from the lions’ den (Dan 6), Israel would be delivered from her captivity (9:24–27). God “rescues and he saves” (6:27). Israel is promised a future in order to fulfill God’s sovereign plan for the cosmos. 132

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to Daniel and his three friends who are exiled from Jerusalem in the first deportation to Babylon in 605BC. They are designated to serve in the Babylonian court. As part of their assimilation into Babylonian culture they are commanded to eat the king's food. They refuse to do this but provide an alternative to their overseer. When they are seen to be more healthy than their counterparts they are exalted and honored with high positions. The four friends are excellent examples of Jeremiah's instruction to the exiles in 29.5-7 of how they are to live and serve in Babylon. God's preservation and exaltation of Daniel and his friends is a picture of what God will do for Israel while the nation is in exile.

Chapter 1 has shown that “success without compromise was possible even in the midst of captivity.” Daniel’s life testifies to the challenge of cooperating with society without compromising godliness.  Daniel 1, 174

We must stand against every ideological expression of the godless spirit of the age...There is no idea more insidious than philosophical naturalism. Its explanation of human origins so devalues mankind that it leaves us without meaning, with moral anarchy, and with existential despair and misery. Parents, teachers, preachers should take every opportunity to teach that human value, dignity, purpose, and hope are based only in the biblical teaching of creation. Daniel 1, 175

Daniel enters the court of Nebuchadnezzar in much the same way Joseph came before pharaoh; as an interpreter of a dream from God about the future that would effect the "whole world." Like Joseph, Daniel humbly gives God all the credit for any wisdom and knowledge He brings to the situation. The vision is of a great statue that represents 4 great Gentile kingdoms that will rule the Mediterranean "world" until the coming of the kingdom of God. The main point is that YHWH, despite His people being in exile, is in control of world history and is moving it toward the establishment of His eternal kingdom. The pomp and power of these human kingdoms is transitory and unreliable. God's people should look, trust and hope in His coming kingdom.

When the professionals told the king that divine revelation was needed to reconstruct the king’s dream, they were quite right. This was the reason why Daniel and his friends prayed to God. They prayed that God would reveal the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and, in so doing, show the reality, power, and wisdom of the one true God. Daniel 2.17-19, 183

“We need not give only a political significance to this colossal statue,” writes Wallace, “It can stand for our little empires, domestic, social, business, financial or ecclesiastical in the midst of which some of us sit enthroned, trying in vain to find security and satisfaction. It can stand merely for the image of our own future. But we shall never be at peace till we have really seen and acknowledged that the empire of ours, whatever it is, must give way before the coming of the kingdom of God.” Daniel 2,  190

Do not trust the nations of this world. They are not preeminent. They do not hold your destiny in their hands. They, like you, are under the judgment of God—your God.” Daniel 2, 193

Nebuchadnezzar defies the message given to him by God in the dream of the image by constructing a giant image of gold to be worshipped by all His people. He decrees that all who fail to bow to the image, representing the greatness of Babylon and his own godhood, will be thrown into a fiery furnace. Daniel's three friends defy the decree and receive the penalty but are miraculously preserved within the fire accompanied by a "son of the gods." Nebuchadnezzar is forced to acknowledge God's superiority to himself.

They do not doubt the power of their God to deliver them from the king’s furnace, but they have no right to presume that He will do so.” Their faith is matched by their submission to the Lord’s will. “The young men recognized that God’s will might be different from what they would find pleasant, and they were willing to have it so, without complaining.” Daniel 3, 199

God might have effected deliverance for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego without sending such a personal messenger, and this would have been wonderful of itself. But He did more. He effected the deliverance by a special emissary who tangibly demonstrated God’s presence with them in the trying hour. God had permitted the men to be cast into the horrifying furnace, but in doing so He had literally gone in with them. Daniel 3, 202

However, he still has not learned his lesson. In chapter 4 he proudly gives himself credit for his own greatness and that of Babylon. God sends him a terrifying dream in which a great tree (representing the king) is cut down and the king becomes beast-like until he recognizes God greatness and his dependence on Him. Nebuchadnezzar recounts his humbling and acknowledges that the "God of Heaven" rules above him and he is dependent on Him and is restored to the rule of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar then urges all people to acknowledge the supremacy of the "Most High God" over the gods of the nations.

King Nebuchadnezzar would for a time be despoiled not only of his empire but also of human understanding, so that he would differ in nothing from the beasts, since he was unworthy to hold even a lowly place among the common people. Although in his own eyes he had seemed to tower above the whole human race, he was so cast down that he was not even the last among mortals.”  Daniel 4, 209

“A man who thinks he is like a god must become a beast to learn that he is only a human being.” Daniel 4, 211–212

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