1. Do you need to be a Jew to become a Christian?
Friday, July 22, 2016
Torah Observance in the Age of Grace
1. Do you need to be a Jew to become a Christian?
This book seeks to answer the question: ‘what is the place of the Mosaic Covenant (often referred to as ‘the law of Moses’) in the age of the New Covenant?’
There are many that recognize the importance of the ritual of Israel and the contribution it made to the education of the Hebrew nation - how it was designed to prepare them for the coming of their Messiah. His coming should have changed everything for them. Alas they rejected their Messiah and the whole situation became more complicated.
With the loss of the Temple, the ritual of Israel ceased. Nevertheless, many of the Hebrew nation still try to celebrate the feasts and abide by the Torah even though the instruments of Law have disappeared. Some among the Christian Messianic community and some Gentile believers who treasure the Jewishness of Christianity are also drawn to the old rituals. All recognize they cannot perform them as they should – nevertheless they seek to celebrate the Passover once a year and build booths for the festival of Tabernacles. In the light of Scripture how is this to be viewed? This enquiry, of course, is not whether Jews should abandon their culture, just that, should the rituals prescribed in the Torah still be practiced.
It is not as if this question is not Scriptural: It was faced head on by Paul, an apostle and theologian, who was trained in the Rabbinic schools as well as being divinely instructed. The subject was also debated at length in the early Church – indeed we have the result of their deliberations recorded for us. In addition, we have a letter (Hebrews) which is addressed directly to Jewish Christians with clear advice as to the place of Mosaic ritual in this day of grace. Moreover, Paul, the Jerusalem Council and the writer to the Hebrew believers dealt with the subject while the Temple was still standing, and so did not have the additional difficulties that would be faced by those who wish to celebrate the Feasts today.
What we are suggesting is that, as always, the Bible can give us the answer.The questions raised could be summarized thus:
1. Do you need to be a Jew to become a Christian?
2. If you are a Christian how do you relate to the law of Moses?
3. Is obedience to the law of Moses still required of members of the Jewish race?
Drawing on the teaching provided by that part of the Bible called ‘The New Covenant’ the author offers a Biblical response to these questions.
This book is available from Amazon - either paperback or on Kindle.
Posted by Mountjoy at 8:05 PM
Monday, December 21, 2015
The Most High rules, even in Babylon
Now we come to the most remarkable incident when the sovereignty of God was demonstrated to an even greater degree. Nebuchadnezzar had a second dream in which there was a great tree. The tree provided sustenance, shelter and comfort to both beasts and birds. But in the dream the tree was cut down although the stump was retained and protected by a metal band. The interpretation provided by Daniel was that Nebuchadnezzar would lose his position as absolute monarch – his mind would be confused and he would live like an animal until he acknowledged that Jehovah ruled from heaven. The dream was again a prophecy which was fulfilled about a year later. Nebuchadnezzar while walking in his garden was in a reflective mood. He mused, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30) While the words were yet in his mouth, a voice from heaven sounded, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan. 4:31,32).
The very same hour the judgement began. Nebuchadnezzar’s intellect deserted him, and as predicted he lost his place as absolute sovereign over the Babylonian empire. With his mind confused he lived as an animal until all was fulfilled. Then when his sanity returned, he acknowledged the sovereignty of God. “And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honoured Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan. 4:34,35) Nebuchadnezzar was brought, through the work of God and the ministry of Daniel, to praise Jehovah. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Dan. 4:37).
But were there others who faced similar tests?
Yes! There were many Israelites in Babylon at that time that had to face these issues in different ways and at different levels - among them a man named Asaph, who was a musician and a Psalmist. The Bible provides us with his testimony. He said he found it extremely difficult to live for God and had almost given up. “My feet had well nigh slipped”, he said. “For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, Nor are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride serves as their necklace; Violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes bulge with abundance; They have more than heart could wish” (Ps. 73:2-7). Asaph had witnessed the Babylonians destroying Jerusalem – those that had taken axes to the Temple of the Lord were prospering, and it looked as if they would never be brought to account. But when he went into the presence of God, he was told to take a long-term view. In the short term it might look as if the wicked prosper, but in time they will also have to face judgement. Asaph said, “Then I understood their end” (Ps. 73:17).
We live in Babylon (a hostile world). Babylon will try to stop us going into the presence of God. It will say – not your God but my gods. In our current culture that could be idolising possessions, that is, getting caught up in a material culture and seeking to acquire more and more trinkets; or it could be the pursuit of pleasure to the detriment of health and relationships and ethical living. But we must stay faithful to the Father and the Saviour. Read and study His Word, pray, maintain fellowship with other Christians and speak often about Him to others. We must lay up treasure in heaven (Matt.6:20) and acknowledge that godliness is profitable for all things (1 Tim.4:8).
In God’s presence Asaph was strengthened and encouraged. He wrote: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. … it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God” (Ps. 73:25-28). He had learnt the lesson God taught Habakkuk: “the just shall live by faith”. Daniel’s three companions grasped it when faced with execution by fire. Daniel will yet have to embrace it when faced with execution (thrown to the lions). Asaph embraced it as well, during his captivity. In our lives, which might or might not, be as difficult as those recorded in the book of Daniel, we must seek to live by the same principle. Remember - our God reigns!
As was the custom with some of the great oriental rulers, Belshazzar hosted a great festival in his palace, and invited a vast number of dignitaries to the feast. This seemed very foolhardy since his kingdom was under threat at the time, for the Medo/Persian army was encamped a short distance from Babylon. But thinking his fortified capital city was invincible, he refused to recognise the warning signs. Instead, in an act of defiance against the God of Israel who had given his father, Nebuchadnezzar, position and power, he commanded his servants to serve wine in the sacred vessels that had been brought from the Temple in Jerusalem. During the festivities when toasting the gods of Babylon a most remarkable event took place. A man’s hand was seen writing on the wall of the banqueting suite. It was a message from God. Sent by the same One who had written on tablets of stone centuries before: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod. 20:3), - Jehovah is the only true God; and “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exod. 20:7), - Jehovah demands total respect. The message on the wall was: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” (Dan. 5:25).
It is no wonder that great fear gripped Belshazzar and his nobles. But as yet, they did not know what the writing meant or why it had appeared. Yet there was a man who knew – Daniel! They sent for him and he delivered a very solemn message. After reminding the king of the personal history of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel rebuked Belshazzar for not acknowledging the God of Israel. Events and circumstances had taught his father that there was only one true God, a fact that he had proclaimed to all his subjects. So Belshazzar was clearly familiar with the family history and should have known better. Daniel drew the conclusion that in spite of the knowledge of Jehovah’s reality and power, demonstrated through Nebuchadnezzar’s experience, Belshazzar had deliberately chosen to worship the idols of Babylon. Daniel made a double accusation against the monarch.
(1) That Belshazzar had failed to respect the God of Israel: “... you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them” (Dan. 5:23).
He charged him with blatant idolatry: “... you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your (1) ways, you have not glorified” (Dan.5:23).
Daniel intimated that these were the crimes that brought judgment from above, and the meaning of the writing was: “Mene: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; Tekel: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; Peres: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians ” (Dan. 5:26–28). That night the Medes and Persians entered the city through a water course under the fortifications and the Babylonian empire ended. Belshazzar was executed a few hours later. But Daniel continued and prospered! Our God reigns!
Daniel faced yet another test
After the fall of the Babylonian empire, the narrative records Daniel’s work and witness before another powerful ruler, Darius the Mede. He continued to hold high office because of his wisdom and fidelity. However, such godliness will always be a rebuke to those who despise truth and honour, and a plot was hatched against him. It appears the plot, Satanic in origin, was designed to disrupt his prayer life. It was about this time, in the first year of the reign of Darius, that he had calculated that the deported Israelites should return to their homeland. He based his conclusion on the prophecy of Jeremiah that said that their exile would last only seventy years. Now that the end of that period was approaching Daniel gave himself to prayer. The plan of his enemies was that he should be prevented from praying to Jehovah. Since, generally in Babylon prayers were offered through priestly mediators, they persuaded Darius to issue an edict that, for one month, all prayers should be directed through him – he was to be the only priestly mediator. Those that broke this restriction should be executed. It could be that Darius saw in this new law a mechanism by which he could test the loyalty of the latest citizens of the Median Empire; and perhaps he was also flattered by the suggestion that he should be the only conduit by which his people could petition their gods. Darius signed the new law. Daniel’s opponents were elated with their success. If Daniel ignored this restriction he would be executed.
However, realising the importance of the prayer, and also feeling the compulsion of the Spirit of God, Daniel continued to pray regularly for the restoration of Jerusalem. The spies of his enemies kept watch so when he knelt in prayer he was observed, arrested and brought before Darius, charged with lawbreaking and disrespect of the king. The success of the plot against Daniel caused great consternation to the emperor Darius, but there was no mechanism which allowed him to show clemency. Although Darius saw through the devilish plans of Daniel’s enemies he could do no other than find Daniel guilty. He sentenced him to be thrown to the lions, which would mean certain death. This event reveals that Babylon does not rest in its opposition of God’s people.
Daniel’s sentence was carried out. He was cast into a den of lions and a stone rolled over the mouth of the cave to prevent his escape. It seems, during this time he was the only calm person involved in these events. He spent a quiet night in the company of man-eating lions. Then, in the morning when orders were given for the stone to be taken away from the mouth of the den, with great sadness and fearing the worst, Darius called out, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” (Dan. 6:20) To his amazement a voice rose from the depths of the den: “O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you” (Dan. 6:21–22). The Scriptures speak of Daniel as a man of faith and a man of prayer and this episode supports that assessment of him. Daniel has demonstrated once again that in a hostile world ‘the Just must live by faith’.
The lessons from the writings of Daniel seem to be clear – that Satan will use any and all resources to negate our Christian witness in the same way as Babylon sought to negate the witness of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. We live in a world that the Bible says “... lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). It is against God and will aim to make us conform to its culture, diet and practices, whereas the Bible encourages us to live lives that are godly, seeking to glorify the God who has called us. Paul advises, “... walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).
A last post-script to Daniel’s life
But the story of Daniel in the lions’ den also reminds us of the death of the Saviour, the Lord Jesus. Like Daniel, he suffered from a plot hatched in high places: He was unjustly accused, condemned and sentenced to death: He was placed behind a stone: but like Daniel (and yet not like Daniel) He emerged in the morning triumphant. It is because Jesus died and rose for us that we must maintain a testimony that honours Him.
Our God Reigns!
Posted by Mountjoy at 11:55 AM
Saturday, August 15, 2015
Living for God in a Hostile World
Nebuchadnezzar has a dream
Nebuchadnezzar dreamed a dream – a dream of some importance – a dream from the Lord. The most powerful man in the world is not protected from the voice of God. Realising he has dreamed a dream of undoubted significance Nebuchadnezzar devised a test. Since Babylon was full of idols and deities, and he was supporting a whole host of officials and servants allied to these gods, he decided to ask them to supply the dream, and then interpret it. Failure to supply and interpret the dream carried the death sentence. Many complained that Nebuchadnezzar was being unreasonable, but they could not prevail. Execution orders were issued. Then Daniel stepped forward. He committed himself, in the name of the Lord, to tell the dream and the interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar and all Babylon were going to be confronted with unanswerable proof that only Israel’s God was real, sovereign and limitless in His wisdom and power.
But first Daniel called a prayer meeting – for himself and his three Hebrew friends. We are not told the content of Daniel’s prayer, but we do see his confidence that the information received was accurate when we read of his prayer of thanksgiving:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, And light dwells with Him. “I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers; 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 demand.” (Dan. 2:20–23)
Armed with munitions from above, Daniel spoke to the king. Daniel asserted that since Jehovah gave the dream, only Jehovah could provide the interpretation. The dream was of a statue (perhaps an idol) which was mostly made of metal. It had a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, stomach and thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. In the dream a stone quarried out of a mountain struck the image on its feet, and the image disintegrated and turned to dust. The dust was then carried away by the wind. The dream was a prophecy, and demonstrated:
(i) God’s wisdom (it laid out God’s programme for the nations), and
(ii) His power (He will bring it to pass).
It was another example of the clear message of the book - the sovereignty of God:
‘… the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses’ (5:21).
The dream told of the deterioration of future dynasties until earth’s wisdom and power would have lost all worth. Only at that time would Messiah come. The ability of Daniel to receive and relay from heaven future world events to the Babylonian monarch produced a remarkable confession. Nebuchadnezzar admitted:
“Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret” (2:47).
Daniel and his friends were promoted, and began a ministry that was designed to establish one main truth to Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Cyrus, and Darius – the truth that YHWH is on the throne of world affairs - ‘our God reigns’.
Babylon will try to intimidate you
Chapter three of Daniel records the tightening of the tension between Babylon and the faithful Israelites. Mainly it was a clash of cultures – a conflict between the idolatry of Babylon and Israel’s monotheistic culture that forbade idolatry. Perhaps with memory of his significant dream, Nebuchadnezzar erected a huge statue overlaid with gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide. The image, the height of a seven or eight story building, was clearly designed to impress. But it also had a second purpose; it was also designed to unify the multinational peoples of the empire, both politically and religiously. The opening ceremony in the capital city of the empire was given a musical setting by the Babylonian state orchestra. Nebuchadnezzar demanded a public demonstration of complete loyalty to himself and his patron god, Nabu. This would be evidenced by a public ceremony when all people were commanded to fall down before the idol and worship. The pledge of allegiance to Nabu would amount to a pledge of allegiance to his viceroy, Nabu-kudurriusur, that is, Nebuchadnezzar himself. The population was expected to give complete obedience. Failure to worship the idol carried the death sentence.
But when the music sounded and foreheads touched the ground there were three men still standing. The three who refused to acknowledge the golden image and offer obeisance were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Israel was in captivity because of its tendency to worship idols, but here were three of its young men prepared to stand alone, even to die, before bowing down before the Babylonian image. The three Israelites were brought before Nebuchadnezzar and given a further opportunity to obey the edict and worship the image. But they loved YHWH more than life itself, and refused. They defied Nebuchadnezzar with courtesy. On the other hand Nebuchadnezzar derided YHWH with the words, “who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” (Dan. 3:15)
Now in this serious, life threatening experience, the benefit of their previous training came to their aid. The discipline of body, mind and spirit would now be of supreme importance in their survival. They responded,
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:16–18).
Such a refusal, including as it does the implication that the God of the Hebrews could protect them from the flames, incensed Nebuchadnezzar and the execution order was issued. The furnace was fed with fuel and the heat increased until the Chaldean officials were satisfied that the death of the Hebrew rebels was certain. But then something happened that no-one had anticipated. Although they were cast into the fire they survived with the help of a mysterious fourth person. When commanded, they climbed out of the furnace, but not the fourth who disappeared. They had suffered no harm and the fire had had no effect. YHWH had indeed been able to deliver them from the furnace.
The lesson is obvious – in Babylon, the Just must live by faith. Coming face to face with an undoubted miracle, Nebuchadnezzar declared:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this” (Dan 3:28,29).
So the wisdom of God had been validated when Daniel had previously interpreted the king’s dream, and the power of God had been validated when the hottest fire that man could generate could not affect His servants – our God reigns!
More from the life of Daniel next time.
Posted by Mountjoy at 7:09 PM
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Lessons from the Life of Daniel.
Babylon is out to change you!
The book of Daniel contains both history and prophecy. Its twelve chapters divide comfortably into two halves, six and six. The first six chapters are mainly the personal history of Daniel and his three contemporaries, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; while the second group of six record those visions that God gave Daniel setting out events that were, at that time, yet in the future. Daniel’s name means ‘God is my judge’ and succinctly identifies Daniel as a person who wished to live under the eye of the God of his fathers. It was also at the heart of the testimony of the three Hebrews who were his colleagues and friends. Because of their obedience and willingness to honour God in all places and under all circumstances, these four were used to bring the knowledge of the one and only true God to idolatrous and cruel monarchs.
Israel, as part of the Fertile Crescent, was always under threat of invasion by larger nations who wished to control that area of the Middle East. Their security rested in the Lord. However, in 605 BC, the Babylonians successfully invaded Israel and began a series of deportations in which many inhabitants were banished from the land of their birth and forced into slavery. So we must begin by asking a question. How did Israel get into such a mess so that the bulk of its population were removed from their homes and exiled to a foreign land? The answer is to be found in the Bible. The Chronicler, who records the history of Israel, gives the cause of the captivity in his writings: “But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy ” (2 Chron. 36:16). So despite decades of solemn warnings by Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah, Israel’s flagrant apostasy and immorality brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
From a human viewpoint, it seemed that the religion of the Hebrews had been completely discredited. The Lord God of Israel was apparently inferior to the gods of Assyria and Babylon. When the Babylonians destroyed the Temple, they claimed that their gods were mightier than the God of Israel. Therefore, it was essential at that time for Jehovah to display His power in such a way as to prove He was the One true God and the Sovereign Lord of history. He had to demonstrate that He had allowed His ancient people to go into captivity, not through weakness, but rather to maintain His integrity as a holy God. But if Israel had failed, what instrument could He find to demonstrate His wisdom and power?
He looked for a man - and found Daniel
Let us examine how God took one young Hebrew lad, trained him and used him to witness to the then most powerful monarch in the world. We will also meet his three young friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
Babylon and the Babylonians
In Old Testament doctrine Babylon represents the world against God. For example, the king of Babylon is used to typify God’s implacable enemy, Satan. Isaiah’s prophecy names the Babylonian monarch but uses language that can as easily be applied to Lucifer, the fallen angel, whose other names are the Devil and Satan. “For you (the king of Babylon) have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ ” (Isaiah 14:13–14
The father of the Babylonians was Nimrod. His name comes from a root which means, ‘he rebelled’. The Targums (the ancient Aramaic writings of the Hebrew people) comment, “Nimrod began to be a mighty man in sin, a murderer of innocent men, and a rebel before the Lord” and “from the foundation of the world none was ever found like Nimrod, powerful in hunting and in rebellions against the Lord”. The beginning of his kingdom was Babel. It was a kingdom founded on apostasy from God and supported by tyranny and oppression. The marks of his kingdom were (i) pride; (ii) unity (in rebellion against God) and (iii) the use of a false religion to oppose the true worship of God. At the time of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and arrogance were evident for he was repairing and restoring Nimrod’s tower of Babel! So if Daniel was to stand for God, he is going to have to stand in a hostile environment. He will have to stand in a world that will make it as difficult as possible for him; a world that will try to make him conform to its customs, habits and views.
A little background information
Let us begin about 609 BC. At that time Egypt was in control of the land of Israel, and Pharaoh Necho put Jehoiakim on the throne as a vassal king. Jehoiakim was a consistently wicked king. He cut up a scroll of Jeremiah’s sermons and burnt it. He tried to capture and kill Jeremiah but was thwarted through the intervention of God and his friends. In the summer of 605 BC, the son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon, led his troops against the Egyptians; this was Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah had already prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would prevail, and Judah would serve Babylon for 70 years (Jer.25:1-11; cf. Hab.1:1-17). So the Egyptian army, led like sacrificial lambs to the slaughter (Jer.46.10), received wounds that all the balm in Gilead could not heal (Jer.46.2,11). Jerusalem was besieged and surrendered to the Babylonians.
At that time, while Nebuchadnezzar was in Jerusalem, his father Nabopolassar died. Realising the throne was in jeopardy Nebuchadnezzar took his troops the short route across the Arabian Desert, and was crowned king on 6th September 605 BC, only 23 days after his father had died. When he left Jerusalem in haste, he deported some prisoners to Babylon, sending them the long way round. Among them were Daniel and his friends. He also took some sacred vessels and treasures from the Temple, and he made Jehoiakim swear allegiance to him.
Jehoiakim, uneasy paying tribute to Babylon, rebelled, and although he was killed by other enemies within the land, Nebuchadnezzar marched against Judah once more. In 597 BC he again conquered Jerusalem, and took more sacred vessels and treasures, deporting more of the population. Among those deported this time was a young priest named Ezekiel.
Five years later, in 592 BC, Ezekiel, at the age of 30, began to prophesy to the exiles in Babylon, explaining why God had not only decided that Babylon should control Judah but had also designated Jerusalem to be destroyed: and why the Shekinah glory had departed from the Temple. The third military campaign against Israel which was designed to quell any further opportunity at rebellion against Babylon rule, took place in 586 BC when Jerusalem was completely destroyed along with its Temple. It was at that time that the massive deportations, involving the bulk of the population of Judah, took place.
Nebuchadnezzar’s successes were not down to his prowess alone but were the work of the Lord of Hosts. The theme of God’s absolute sovereignty is both implied and demonstrated through these events. Because it was God who gave the nation into Babylon’s power, it would be God’s hand that would snatch them away again, when they were ready to renew their covenant with Him and play their part in His programme of redemption. God’s purposes for Israel were to restore them to blessing and in accordance with His will laid out in the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. The defeat and subsequent humiliation of Judah were part of God’s dealings with them as wayward children. During this black period in the history of Israel, those of the godly remnant needed to have faith in God and His purposes. Habakkuk, who had himself questioned God over His use of the Chaldeans (another name for the Babylonians) as a rod of discipline, advised the faithful to trust the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying: “... the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4).
As we said, the first captivity included Daniel and his three friends. Nebuchadnezzar followed a policy of conscripting the most intelligent people to public service, even those of a different ethnic or cultural background. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were incorporated into the government training programme, the Royal Academy of which Nebuchadnezzar was the Principal. Babylon, as an instrument of Satan, had a purpose - to negate the witness of the people of God. Babylon was out to change them.
First a change of name
Daniel (God is my judge) was renamed Belteshazzar (a prince of Bel): Hananiah (Jehovah has favoured) to Shadrach (Royal Scribe): Mishael (who is what God is) to Meshach (Guest of a king): and Azariah (Jehovah has helped) to Abednego (Servant of Nebo).
Secondly a change of diet
Added to a change of name was a change in their food.
This change was not just what
they ate; it was also a matter of culture and religion. They were required to
eat those foods that were forbidden under the Law of Moses being either unclean
or previously offered to Babylonian deities. Similarly, they were required to
drink wine which may well have been dedicated as drink libations to idols such
as Marduk, Nebo or Ishtar. Babylon wanted to replace the diet recommended by
Jehovah with a diet honouring Babylonian deities.
|Daniel takes a stand regarding diet|
Among the Hebrew exiles at that time, it was widely understood that the two main reasons for the Babylonian captivity were disobedience and idolatry. Obedience of God’s Word as laid out in the Torah (the Law of Moses) had been neglected, and worship of the deities introduced by the wives of King Solomon had increased. Therefore God had activated that part of His Word (namely the Land Covenant) that dictated that such disobedience and apostasy would lose Israel the tenancy of Canaan. For Daniel and his companions, eating the Babylonian food constituted disobeying Torah dietary laws, and becoming unclean by eating foods offered to idols, thus repeating those sins that had brought the nation under the judgement of God and triggered the captivity. Daniel wanted to continue to live under the scrutiny of God, as his name indicates (‘God is my judge’), but how could he refuse the direct commandment of the king? With great wisdom, and putting into operation the principle, ‘the just shall live by faith’, Daniel offered an alternative. Put us on a more simple diet of vegetables and water and observe the results. Their trust in God was rewarded by better health than those who ate the Babylonian diet.
Moreover, Daniel and his three colleagues continued in their studies and received from God special intellectual ability, not because of their diet, but because of His approval of their faith and commitment to His Word.
Here are four young men who were prepared to (i) discipline their bodies: (ii) discipline their minds and (iii) discipline their spirits.
Because they disciplined their bodies, God gave them better health than their diet warranted. Because they disciplined their minds, God gave them wisdom beyond their years. Because they disciplined their spirits, God gave them knowledge of His purposes, His will and His ways. At the end of three years training in the royal academy, they were examined in respect of their abilities. Nebuchadnezzar, himself very well educated, was personally responsible for their oral exams (their finals), and found them “ten times better” than all the wise men of Babylon.
We too live in Babylon, that is, a world against God, and Babylon will try to change us. Try to change our name – make us embarrassed to be called Christians. Try to change our diet – that is - change our Christian lifestyle, thus leaving us little time to read the Bible, little time to study the Word, little time to pray and also make it difficult for us to have fellowship with other likeminded Christians; even our honesty might be compromised. But for those who hold fast to good Christian behaviour and habits, and pursue a life under the banner, ‘the Just shall live by faith’, then the God of Daniel will do His part and bless. There is no guarantee that our health will be improved and our mind quickened but certainly our time will be more productive.
More from the example of Daniel next time.
Posted by Mountjoy at 2:50 PM