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TEXT: Daniel 1:1-2
SUBJECT: Daniel #1: The Lord is God!
Today, with God's blessing, we'll begin the study of Daniel, and what has to be one of the Bible's most fascinating and relevant books.
If you've read it, you know has fascinating it is. In fact, I knew it was before I could read. When I was two or three years old, my father told me the stories of the Fiery Furnace, the Handwriting on the Wall, and the Lions' Den, and now--more than fifty years later--they thrill me every bit as much as when I first heard them.
A few years later, I learned there was more to Daniel than young men the fire couldn't burn and an old man the lions wouldn't eat! Chapters 7-12 depict bizarre creatures at war with God and each other. I had no idea who or what the monsters were, but I knew they weren't boring! By any standard of storytelling, Daniel is good one, full of chills and thrills, with enough mystery and excitement to keep a little boy or an old man up all night thinking about it, and praising the Lord!
Daniel is interesting, to be sure, but not in an antique way. We're not reading it as scholars studying the way things used to be on the other side of the world. Like few books in the Old Testament, Daniel speaks directly to us, to when and where we are in our daily lives, to the pressures we face in a pagan society and to the temptations we feel to give into its beliefs and morals.
Like Daniel and his friends, we belong to God, but we're not in the Promised Land. We are strangers and exiles, living in a world that belongs to the Lord, but is being run by squatters. The Second Coming of Christ will set things right, but Jesus hasn't come again, not yet He hasn't; and until He does, we have to live as lights in a dark and crooked world.
Daniel was inspired and preserved by God to help us do that. But we won't do it on our own, not even with an open Bible before us and open hearts to receive its message. Our understanding of the Word and our commitment to live by it depend on the perennial giving of the Holy Spirit. O wind, blow upon these bones, that they may live!
Daniel's story ends with the rise of Cyrus, lord of the Persians and the Medes. It starts seventy years before--
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah.
Scholars say this is the year 607 BC, a time of cold--and sometimes hot--war between two great Empires, an old, creaky one in Egypt and a fast rising one in Babylonia (today's Iraq). A few years before, the armies had clashed not far from Judah, and Egypt won the battle, during which Josiah (Judah last good king) was killed.
The Battle of Carchemish did not end the war, however, and now Babylonia had the upper hand. Nebuchadnezzar, it's king, drove the Egyptians back, and while he was at it, took Jerusalem and made it into a vassal state.
This is what I learned in Ancient History, and it's true. But there's another truth, one I didn't get in college, but from the Bible. The prophets didn't deny the geo-politics involved in the battle for Jerusalem, but they saw something underneath them. There's more to the story than Jerusalem being a good outpost to keep an eye on Pharaoh.
Why did Judah fall to the Babylonians? They fell because of their sins. Israel was unlike other nations. They had been chosen by God to be His People, a light to the Gentiles. But for many years, their light had been darkness. Jehoiakim was a wicked king. So was his brother, Jehoahaz, and their grandfather, Amon, and his father, Manasseh, was the wickedest king the country ever had, setting up images in the Temple, slaughtering the prophets, and filling Judah with witches and warlocks!
All this time, God had pleaded with His people to repent of their sins, but they turned a deaf ear to His offers of mercy. And, now, in keeping with His Covenant, He sent the Babylonians, first to humiliate His people, and twenty years later, to burn their Temple to the ground and scatter the nation to the four winds.
Daniel's God is a God of mercy, but not only mercy. He is also just, and when His people will not listen to His Word, He finds other means to get their attention. If they won't hear His prophet pleading with them in Hebrew, they'll hear a soldier screaming at them in a language they do not know. One way or the other, the Lord will speak. Jeremiah cried at this time--
O earth, earth, earth, hear the Word of the Lord!
But the people would not listen.
Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah three times over a twenty year period, with each attack being more harsh than the one that came before it. Daniel refers to the first one only. After taking the city, the Babylonians cherry-picked the best men to take home with them, to teach them the letters, philosophies, and morals of Babylon.
This comes up a bit later in the story, but it's worth noting at the outset that the writer doesn't say they were taken to Babylonia or Chaldea. He says they were--
Carried into the land of Shinar.
This is the only time the word appears in Daniel, and while it might just be there for variety, I bet it isn't. Shinar rings a bell to everyone who knows his Bible. That was the place--way back near the beginning of Genesis--where Nimrod and his servants tried to build a tower that reaches into the heavens, and where human glory and greatness would be put on display for all to admire--including the Lord.
Shinar stands for human lordship, over against the Lordship of God! Way back, when Nimrod contested the power of God, he was broken when the Lord came down to look at his puny efforts and confound them by confusing the languages. Shinar became Babel (and Babylon), which, to God's enemies means 'the Temple of God', but to God and His people, it means, Confusion.
Nimrod has been dead for centuries and his Empire has fallen to dust. But a new king has risen to take his place with an Empire of incredible size and power and magnificence.
His name is Nebuchadnezzar, named after his father's god, Bel, he himself worships Marduk. Mythology says that Marduk is both the Sun God and a Divine Calf.
These also remind of us older spiritual battles. The Egyptians, including the Pharaohs who enslaved Isrel and threw their babies into the Nile worshiped the sun. Need I remind you of the Calf? The golden calves who led Israel astray, first in the wilderness and then under the wicked rule of--
Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin?
The best men of Judah have been carried off by a pagan king to a pagan Empire to serve the interests of pagan gods. Will they do it? Will they give in if threatened with....say a Fiery Furnace?
No they won't. The God of Israel has sworn to keep His people through fire and water. And He does--
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and delivers them!
The servants of the true God are heroic men who stand up to the servants of the false gods of Babylon. But there's more at stake than Jews vs. Pagans.
You see, Nebuchadnzezzar carried away more than young men. He also took--
Some of the articles of the house of God.
Which articles we don't know, but I would guess the most important ones, the Ark of the Covenant for one, the lampstands, and certainly the golden cups that will show up later in the story.
What did he do with the sacred things? He--
He brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.
Remember, the houses of God or the gods were their palaces, the thrones from which the Divine King or image kings ruled, To put the cups and so on in Marduk's Temple, therefore, was equivalent to seating God at a table below King Marduk, who was then hailed as the highest god, the god who conquered all other gods, up to and including the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!
This is what Daniel is about. It's about Lordship; it's about who's in charge, and who deserves our worship and service. Is it the so-called victorious gods of Shinar, or the God who looked like He had lost to them?
Daniel calls us to faith, faith in God's Word over against believing what our eyes tell us.
THE LONG WAR
What do our eyes tell us?
They tell us that we're in a spiritual war--and that we're on the losing side. We win a few battles here and there--David kills the Giant, for example, but, most of the time, we lose.
Start with the first battle. God gives Adam a true word that will lead to life. The Serpent gives him a false word that will lead to death. Which word was believed and acted on? It was the false word--the devil's word--and by taking it, Adam plunged himself and all of us into misery and death.
Adam's two sons had a different sort of battle, with Cain, the wicked one, murdering his brother. Later, the sons of God and the daughters of men mixed, and bloodthirsty giants, who either corrupted or killed every servant of God in the world, except for Noah and his family.
Later, Pharaoh oppresses Israel, the Canaanites corrupt the Jews, and then Pagan Empires rise to persecute God's people. Looking at the history of the world and God's people in it, the Psalmist says--
For your sake we are killed all the day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
As if mistreating the servants of God were not bad enough, the devil and his minions went even farther. They persecuted the Son of God, ending their depraved triumph by nailing Him to a cross, the most painful and humiliating way a man could die.
The battle that raged through the Bible didn't end when the Apostle put down his quill and rolled up the last scroll. It's still going on--the seed of the serpent is still torturing the Seed of the Woman.
There's no way of sugarcoating it. We're in a spiritual war, and we're on the losing side! Until we remember what happened on a Sunday morning in the spring of about 30 AD.
Jesus of Nazareth--the biggest loser who ever lived--rose from the Dead in Triumph over all of His enemies--and ours. God has ambushed the devil, allowing him so many victories that he became overconfident. When he dared to kill the Prince of Life, the Prince of Life came back to life and killed him.
The Book of Daniel closely parallels the storyline of the whole Bible and history. It starts off bad for God and His people. The Lord's Holy Things are in Marduk's Temple and His people are in exile. But Daniel lived to the first year of King Cyrus, the year the Holy Things and people went home.
Our battle will end on an even better note. Christians who keep the faith and die in Christ are triumphant over their enemies. But the Final Victory is still to come.
Jesus is coming again, and when He does, His servants will be raised to share in His own immortal glory. On that Day, no one will wonder 'who's in charge'. Everyone will know--
The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ.
Praise the Lord!
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