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