Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Discipleship Considered (Continued)

Studies in Daniel (Continued)

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 Jehovah, 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 Jehovah 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 heads 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 Jehovah more than life itself, and refused. They defied Nebuchadnezzar with courtesy. On the other hand Nebuchadnezzar derided Jehovah 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. Jehovah 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!

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Book from the pen of Bryan W Sheldon

The Messiah and the Covenants of Israel

One of the great foundation blocks of the healthy relationship between God and humankind is His righteousness. It can be guaranteed that in all His speech and actions He is righteous. By this, it is suggested, that because He is righteous you can trust what He says, you can trust His word. Invariably, He says what He means, and He means what He says.

Every word that comes from the LORD is carefully chosen and perfectly weighted. And because of His foreknowledge, He never, at any time, has to reverse or cancel His promises. In these days when there are subtle attempts to undermine the Word of God, we declare we can trust it, all of it, with no exceptions, and this includes those utterances that have covenant status. We have confidence in the righteousness of God, and confidence in the Word of God, and confidence in the covenant promises of God.

This book is an examination of the Abrahamic Covenant; the Mosaic Covenant; the Land Covenant; the Davidic Covenant and especially the New Covenant. And since the New Covenant is the rock on which the blessing of the Church is built, we will ask and answer the question, ‘how can the Church enjoy the blessing of the New Covenant, when it was declared to be for the nation of Israel?’

The last chapter asks the question, 'Has the Church replaced Israel in the purposes of God?' and gives the answer 'No' supplying a number of reasons why we should reject the replacement view.

The book is published by Gospel Folio Press (Port Colborne): A5 size: 180 pages:
ISBN 978 192 676 5105

Any that have difficulty in obtaining a copy should contact the author: b.sheldon@ntlworld.com

Monday, June 7, 2010

Walking with God - an example of discipleship

Living for God in a Hostile World

Daniel in Babylon

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 Jehovah. 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. Jehovah, the Lord God, 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 a 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; his name 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).

Babylon is out to change you!

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.

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.