Sunday, May 31, 2015


Chapter 1 told us that Daniel was a young man with God given wisdom and the ability to understand dreams and visions. (1:17) Chapter 2 will show us the things. The triumph of Daniel’s God given wisdom over the wisdom of the Babylonians is the primary point of this chapter. The contents of the dream is secondary to the conflict between Daniel and the Babylonians.

This story is in the framework of a contest at the court of the king. There are similarities to Joseph in the court of Pharaoh in Genesis 41.

I Dreamed a Dream

Nebuchadnezzar began to have troubling dreams in the second year of his reign. It was common in his world for people to believe dreams had special meaning and may even be messages from their gods. In fact we will see that the dream did not come from the gods, but from the only God. The dream troubled the king so much he could not sleep.

Calling the Wise Men

The king wanted to discover the meaning of his dreams. Being king, Nebuchadnezzar had many servants and officials at his disposal including magicians, enchanters, and sorcerers. He also had Chaldeans. The Chaldeans had been assimilated into Babylonia by this time, so the title probably meant astrologers as opposed to people from Chaldea. This fits the context here. The King summoned all those who claimed special wisdom or the ability to interpret dreams.

It seems that Nebuchadnezzar did not trust these folks much, though. He made them not only interpret his dream, but tell him what the dream was. He was unyielding in this despite their pleas. They finally said no one could do this except the gods and they do not dwell with humans. (2:11) That statement turns out to be true. God gave the dream and only he could reveal it. Amos 3:7 says “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets”.

The Death Penalty

The failure of the wise men infuriated the king, so he ordered them all put to death. Unfortunately, this included Daniel, Hannaniah, Mishael and Azariah even though they were not part of the group that appeared before the king. There is great drama here for the Jewish reader. The righteous Jewish boys are in mortal danger because of the actions of pagan gentiles. Will they die? Will they be saved?

Daniel found out the problem and made an appointment with the king to interpret the dream. At this point, Daniel did not know either the dream or the interpretation. He had confidence in God to reveal it to him and save him from death. He had tremendous faith for a very young man.

God gave Daniel favor with Nebuchadnezzar. Despite ordering the death of all the wise men, Nebuchadnezzar granted David an appointment for the next day and a temporary reprieve from the death sentence.

We again see God answer Solomon’s pray in 1 Kings 8:50 to cause the captors to have compassion on God’s people.

Daniel Sought God & God Answered

Daniel did not presume upon God to give him the answer. He went to his friends and told them to pray. They were to ask for God’s mercy to reveal the dream and interpretation. They prayed. God answered through a vision.

Daniel Blessed God For The Answer

Daniel immediately thanked God for the answer and praised him. He acknowledged God’s sovereignty over the earth (times and seasons) and people (removes and sets up kings). (2:21) God has the power to control human events. This foreshadows the message of the dream.

Daniel acknowledged God’s knowledge of all things and his ability to reveal them when he chooses. (22) We will continue to see Daniel’s humility. He does not take credit for the things God does.

I also like the fact that Daniel prayed and thanked God before he went to the king. I might have been tempted to get to the king as fast as possible so that I could get out from under the death sentence. But Daniel puts God first. We should all do this when God answers our prayers.

Daniel Credits God For The Revelation

When Daniel appeared before the king, he gave credit to God. He said the mystery was given to him not because he was wise, but so that God could let the king know the dream’s meaning. (30) Daniel pointed Nebuchadnezzar toward God. This is placed in contract to Arioch, who took credit for finding a man who could interpret the king’s dreams when Daniel had actually come to him. We see, then, that part of Daniel’s wisdom is humility. It is the trait the Bible constantly extols. As Proverbs 1:7 says, the fear of the Lord in the beginning of knowledge.

This tiny little scene is a microcosm of behavior, showing us how the world works in contrast to the way the kingdom works. People of the world seek to promote themselves, taking credit even if not due. People of the kingdom praise God, not themselves, and understand they are his servants. God’s ultimate servant was Jesus, who is the ultimate example of humility. Jesus “…humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”(Philippians 2:8)

The purpose of the dream was the future. God revealed to Nebuchadnezzar, through the dream and Daniel’s interpretation, what would happen to his kingdom and what the future held in regard to kingdoms.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

God Created The Earth

Some will say we can write off Genesis 1 to myth. We can say God did not create the earth without hurting the rest of the message. The problem is, Genesis 1 is not the only place in the Bible that claims God's creation. The Bible is full of it, especially the Old Testament. Here is an example from Psalm 33:8-9:

Let all the earth fear the LORD
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him
For he spoke and it came to be
he commanded and it stood firm.

The Psalmist is saying that, because God created the world, we owe him our reverence and our worship.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


The Book Daniel is, on one level, the story of a young Jewish man taken into exile in Babylon. In Babylon, he faced many trials with faith in God. If you grew up in church, you may remember sepia prints that pictured Daniel in the lion’s den or his three friends in the fiery furnace. The first six chapters of the book are a narrative of these and other events.

Chapters 7 through 12, though set in the same context as the first six, are less a narrative and more an apocalypse. It is a revealing of the events of the future culminating in an end to the conflict of this age.

On one level, we will study Daniel’s faithfulness in trial and persecution. On a deeper level, we will study God’s sovereignty as the ruler of all things, faithful to deliver his saints and working in history to accomplish his goals. To live faithfully in exile, you have to believe in God’s faithfulness. In that process, we will see that Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s work and history, bringing salvation and deliverance to his saints.

The news is full of stories of the Islamic State these days. It is a group of radical Muslims who are taking over parts of Iraq and Syria, committing acts of extreme violence to do so. Imagine that they came to your country and conquered it. Imagine that many people were killed. Finally, imagine that you were taken prisoner and shipped to the Middle East to live in a country with different customs and a different religion. That was exactly Daniel’s situation. How would you remain faithful? You would do it the same way that you persevere through every trial you presently have. You believe that God is in control (sovereign) and that he will deliver you from evil.

So, let’s dive in!

Daniel in Exile
Daniel 1:1-2

In the first two verses, Daniel gives us a precise date and context for the story. Nebuchadnezzar was in the process of conquering the Middle East. The Egyptians and Assyrians went to fight him at Carchemish, hoping to stop him and maintain their own power.

Carchemish was located at what is now the border between Turkey and Syria, on the west bank of the Euphrates. Nebuchadnezzar defeated Egypt, though. Jeremiah 46 is the Word of the Lord on the subject. The defeat of Egypt was an act of judgment of God against Egypt.

Unfortunately, Nebuchadnezzar kept moving after his victory, attacking Jehoiakim the king. 2 Kings 24 tells us Jehoiakim was a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar, but rebelled against him. Nebuchadnezzar won that battle also. He took vessels from the temple of the Lord and put them in the temple of his god, Marduk. Nebuchadnezzar also took many captives, especially among the upper class. Daniel was taken captive.

Remember that exile was the final act of punishment for Israel’s violation of the covenant, as set forth in Leviticus 26. God did what he said he would do if Israel violated the covenant. He was true to his word.

God was also true to his word spoken through Isaiah. When Hezekiah sought protection from Babylon rather than then Lord, and showed the Babylonians the treasures of the palace and temple, Isaiah said Hezekiah’s descendants would be carried off to the palace of the king of Babylon and his treasures all taken away. (2 Kings 20:16-18)

This was a terrible time for Daniel and his companions. His city and country were in ruins. He was a prisoner in a hostile, foreign land. He saw the holy vessels of the Temple taken and placed with a pagan god. But God was still working.

1 Kings 24 and Daniel 1 both portray the defeat of Jerusalem as a judgment of God. 1 Kings 24:3 says “surely this came upon Judah at the command of the LORD, to remove them out of his sight”. Daniel 1:2 says the LORD gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. So, from the very beginning of the book, we see the Lord portrayed as the one who directs the affairs of nations and people to accomplish his will.

It may not sound comforting that God sent his people into defeat, destruction and exile. But it actually is. If the Israelites went into captivity through happenstance, there would not be much hope. But if the God would said he would send them into exile for their sin did so, keeping his word, they could believe he would keep his word and restore them to their land and rebuild their temple.

If Jerusalem and Judah remained destroyed, the story of redemptive history would be difficult to imagine. Yet, we see, in the midst of this chaos, God had a plan and purpose that he would accomplish. He began this with a group of young men.

God Sets His Plan In Motion

The king liked to utilize the best and brightest of the conquered people in his service. So, he instructed his Chief Eunuch to pick our some young men for this purpose. The young men were to be of nobel birth, good looking, smart and educated. He had them educated in the literature and language of the Chaldeans, or Babylonians. (4) He had them fed with the same food he ate. He was trying to change them from good Jewish boys to Babylonian men. In American, this is often done by colleges.

We actually have many samplings of Babylonian writing. They wrote on clay tablets. They wrote their literature in Akkadian but their commercial documents in Aramaic. They spoke Aramaic at court with the king. Parts of Daniel are written in Aramaic.

The Chief Eunuch gave the men Babylonian names since they would serve in the Babylonian court. He gave them names that played off of their original names by using the name of a pagan god. Each of their original names contained some for of the word for God. Daniel’s name meant “my judge is God. He was renamed Belteshazar, which means “may Bel protect his life”. Bel is another name for Marduk. Hannahiah means “Yahweh is gracious”. Shadrach means “the command of Aku”. Aku was the Sumerian moon god. The Babylonians had many gods.

Mishael means “who is what God is?”. Mesach means “who is what Aku is?”. Azariah means “Yahweh has helped”. Abednego means “servant of Nebo”, another Babylonian god. As with the education program, the king wanted to erase their Jewish identity and replace it with a Babylonian identity. In our case, Satan works to erase our Christian identity and replace it with a worldly identity.

So we see that, as God went about his redemptive work, he used four young men, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azeriah, all from Judah, to accomplish his work. Daniel is the leader and most prominent, of course.

Daniel Remains Pure

Although the king provided rich food to the young men, Daniel deemed the food to be defiling. The passage does not tell us why. The word “defile” usually involves some violation of the Old Testament dietary laws, such as not eating pork. Note that this is not an endorsement of a diet plan. It is Daniel saying I will not conform to the ways of the Babylonians, I will remain a faithful Jew. I will trust in God’s faithfulness to take care of me.

I think there is also a reflection of Hezekiah’s sin here. Daniel did not want to rely on the provision of the Babylonian king as Hezekiah had sought the protection and provision of Babylon, bringing judgment on Israel. (2 Kings 20:17) Instead, Daniel chose only naturally growing food, vegetables, and naturally occurring drink, water. He depended on God’s provision rather than Babylon’s, at least symbolically.

We should remember that we are citizens of heaven and exiles here on earth. Like Daniel, we should live according to the standards of our country, heaven, not of the culture around us. (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 2:11)

It was also a stand against self interest. The Eunuch could have bounced Daniel and his friends out of the program and let them live in poverty like the rest of the exiles. But, for Daniel, faithfulness to God was the only important thing.

God was working in this situation also. Verse 9 tells us God gave Daniel favor and compassion with the chief of the Eunuchs.

Daniel also demonstrated the wisdom God gave him. The Chief Eunuch did not want to let Daniel change his diet. He was afraid Daniel and his friends would look less nourished and strong than the rest of the men and that it would cost the Eunuch his life. (10) So, Daniel proposed a 10 day test, confident that the Lord would honor it. And, indeed, he and his friends looked better and fatter than the others at the end of 10 days. They looked so much better that the steward put everyone on the same diet. (16)

Daniel Rises To The Top

God blessed these faithful men with great talents so that he could use them in his service. He gave them learning and skill in literature and wisdom. They learned Babylonian literature and knowledge and they were wise. God gave Daniel even more talents. particularly, he gave Daniel understanding of visions and dreams. This talent will figure greatly into the course of this book. These talents caused the king to look upon the men with favor.

There is an interesting note about that. God is sovereign, but chooses often to work in answer to the prayers of his people. When Solomon prayed to dedicate the temple he constructed for the Lord, he prayed that, if the people should go into captivity, that God would grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive. (1 Kings 8:50) God granted that prayer many years later with Daniel and his friends.

When the three year training period was over and the young men all had to stand before the king, these four stood out from the rest in their abilities. They were the top of their class by a great margin. They were also more wise than the magicians there in Babylon by ten times. (18-20)

You might remember that the Egyptian pharaohs employed magicians to interpret dreams. (Genesis 41:8) When they could not interpret pharaoh’s dreams, God gave that ability to Joseph to accomplish his work. Satan counterfeits the work of God, but God always triumphs over Satan.

Verse 21 tells us that Daniel remained in the king’s court all through the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, his son Belshazzar to the reign of Cyrus, the king of the Medes and Persians, who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. Daniel had been there 66 years by that time. That is quite a career. Cyrus issued the decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Daniel lived in Babylon for the entire time of the captivity. Kings came and went. God’s faithful servant endured.

Chapter 1 sets the stage for the remainder of the book, telling us how Daniel got into the court of the king of Babylon and how God gifted him to be used to accomplish God’s plan of redemption.

I realize in writing this lesson that most of us are not Daniels. Most of us assimilate into our cultures as most of the Jews assimilated into Babylon. I am grateful that my salvation, and yours, does not depend on my being a Daniel. Jesus came to save the unworthy. So, while I strive to be like Daniel, I often fail. Thanks be to God who loved me and saved me in my failures. His grace is awesome, my work is not. Put your trust in God, who is always faithful.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Rounding Up Strays
James 5:19-20

Where I grew up, there were often herds of cows out in the fields. Some of them would “wander off” from the rest of the herd. Someone would go get on a horse and find them, then bring them back. It was called “rounding up the strays”. It is a good metaphor for James’ words in these two verses.

If a cow wanders off from the herd, it might get injured by falling on a slope or getting caught in brush or a fence. It might also get killed and eaten by predators. The same is true of sheep, the more common animal in the New Testament.

James writes of “anyone among you wanders from the truth”. (19) That could mean one who has theological error or one who has become entangled in sin. He once again starts his instruction with “brothers”, clearly addressing believers.

There are many false teachers today. There are many temptations to sin and plenty of people who tell you it is ok to do so. We should guard our hearts and we should fight for our brothers and sisters. Since James says we can save the wanderer’s should and cover a multitude of sins, he must be speaking of serious sin or error that could lead to apostasy.

James tells us that we should go to one who has wandered from the truth and try to bring him back, for it will save him and cover many sins. (19)

Jesus taught this also. He told a parable in Matthew 18 about sheep. He said if a man has 100 sheep, and one goes astray, he will leave the 99 and go find the one and rejoice that it is found. (Matthew 18:10-14)

In addition, Jesus even taught the steps we should go through. This teaching is in Matthew 18:15-20. We are first to go tell the wanderer his or her fault. If the person listens to you, that is the end of the matter. Jesus says you have gained a brother (or sister). If the person will not listen to you, you go again to talk to him, but with one or two others. If he still refuses to listen, you tell it to the church. Last of all, if he will not repent, you must excommunicate him. That is what Jesus meant when he said treat him as a Gentile. (Matthew 18:17) Gentiles were excluded from the Jewish fellowship.

Jesus did this with Peter. It is recorded in John 21. Peter, you may remember, denied Jesus three times. After Jesus was arrested, Peter denied to the servant girl that he was a disciple. (John 18:17) He denied Jesus again to men standing around a fire. (John 18:25) He also denied being in the garden with Jesus to a man who was a servant of the high priest. (John 18:26) Denying Christ is about as serious a sin as you can commit, isn’t it? Yet, Jesus sought out Peter and brought him back into the fold. He did not make it easy on him, requiring him to say three times that he loved Jesus. But he set him back on track and commissioned Peter to tend to the flock of new believers.

Although wandering off into sin or error is a dangerous and harmful thing, I find it comforting that Jesus can and will restore a repentant believer and even use him or her in the Kingdom.

Paul also had to confront blatant sin in the church. The church in Corinth allowed a man to attend their church while he was sleeping with his father’s wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1) Paul instructed the church to excommunicate him and they apparently did. The man repented. Paul instructed the church to forgive him and take him back, to reaffirm their love for him. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

Too often we let our brothers and sisters wander off without trying to bring them back. That means their sanctification has ceased. It means they profane the name of Christ by their continued sin.

It is hard to do, and frequently unsuccessful. Nonetheless, we are to do it and God will often be gracious and bring the person to repentance. If we bring a person to repentance and restoration, we have covered a multitude of sins. Whereas, if we leave the fallen one alone, he or she will commit a multitude of sins. I have seen success in doing this, and I have seen failure. But, I do not regret trying.

Once a person repents, it is our duty to forgive. Some churches are not good at that.

May God give us the honesty to confront sin in ourselves , the courage to confront it in others, and the love to extend forgiveness to the repentant.


THE PRAYER OF FAITH - James 5:13-18

Just as a reminder, the picture above is an old painting of James.

The second topic of James' final three instructions is prayer.

The Prayer of Faith
James 5:13-18

The second area of James’ closing thoughts is prayer. Our response in all phases of life is prayer. If we suffer, we pray and ask God for strength and endurance. (13) This takes us back to verse 2 of chapter 1, “meeting trials of various kinds”.

If things are going well, and we are cheerful, we should sing praise to God. (13) Give God credit for the good things in life just as you cry for help in the bad things of life.

But what if we are sick? In that instance, James says to call for the elders of the church to pray for him and anoint him with oil. Oil was used for physical healing for the sick, but is also a symbol of anointing, the transfer of God’s power to an individual life. (Mark 6:13) It is a sort of symbolic act of consecration. The healing comes from the prayer, not the oil. (15)

Why call for the elders? Elders were to be men who were older and wiser. They were to be appointed to shepherd and instruct the church. (1 Peter 5:1-4) Paul instructed that elders should be appointed. (Titus 1:5-9) He gave a list of qualifications. He gave his final instructions to the church in Ephesus by speaking to its elders. (Acts 20:17) So the idea is that the elders would be mature in the faith, spiritually sound, wise in the Word and charged with ministering to the flock. Interestingly, Paul did not call say to call for someone who has the “gift” of healing, as is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9. (Another question is, must these be appointed elders or just older men?)

The elders must pray in faith. (15) No faith is required of the sick person here. If the elders pray in faith, the Lord will raise up the sick person. The idea seems to be that the sick person has been too weak to get out of bed, but now is raised up in healing.

James says the prayer of faith will “save” the one who is sick. (15) The NIV says “make the sick person well”. The word translated save is the Greek word “sozo”, which may mean physically healed or delivered from sin. I would still say that God has the final say in who is healed and who is not, in his sovereignty. But I would also say, if you are asked to participate in this kind of event, as an elder, do not do it unless you can pray believing that God can and will heal. Do not pray in qualifiers to give God an out. He can take care of himself. Just ask God to heal the person. James says it is the “prayer of faith” that brings healing.

James also says, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. While all sickness is not the result of sin, the Bible certainly allows for the connection. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus not only heals the paralyzed man, he forgives his sin. James allows for the possibility, because he says “if” the person has committed sins he will be forgiven, not “since” he has committed sins.

James also encourages us to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so we can be healed. There seems again to be a sense here that sin sometimes causes sickness. One example of this situation regards the Lord’s Supper. Paul said that some in Corinth were sick because they participated in the Lord’s Supper without discerning their sin and brought judgment on themselves. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)

Certainly we are not to keep our sins secret. They will destroy us. Psalm 51 testifies to this, as David acknowledged his sin with Bathsheba made him feel that his bones were broken. (Psalm 51:8) He lost the joy of his salvation. (Psalm 51:12) Although we do not like to share our failures with others, confessing your sins brings greater accountability and allows another person to pray for you. And 1 John 1:9 tells us to confess our sins to the Lord for forgiveness and cleansing.

James goes on to say that, when a righteous person prays, that prayer has great power as it is working. (James 5:16) He appears to have moved on from the elders to any members of the congregation. James gives us the example of Elijah, who prayed and God stopped rain for three and one half years, then prayed again and it rained. (17) Elijah’s power here was God given, and subject to the sovereignty of God. Although Elijah made the proclamation to Ahab that it would not rain, we would assume he did so at God’s command. (1 Kings 17:1-7) And God certainly directed Elijah to go and pray for rain. (18:41 et seq)

But I do not want you to think that my belief in God’s sovereignty means I do not believe in prayer. God has chosen prayer as the means through which he will work in our lives on many occasions. We are told repeatedly in the Bible to pray.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Scripture is about Christ

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40)

Scripture is about Christ. Read it to any other end and you will miss its meaning. 


Do Not Dishonor God With Oaths

This is the beginning of the end. When James says “but above all”, he is moving toward conclusion. He will have three concerns to address. All three involve speech.

This discussion about oaths or swearing is not about cussing.

It is about invoking God’s name, or something else, to tell someone what we say is true or that we will definitely do what we say we will. I am sure you have hear someone say “By God” before they committed themselves to something. Or maybe they simply said “I swear”. In American courts, witnesses are “sworn in” before their testimony. They swear to tell the truth. They swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, “so help me God”.

The Jews were allowed to take oaths. But they had to make good on them. Leviticus 19:13 says “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD”. Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 says “Pay what you have vowed-better not to vow than to vow and not pay”.

Our fidelity to God must be lived out in all areas of our lives. One area you might not have thought of, James mentions here. That is, do not swear or take an oath by anything other than the one true God. James mentions swearing by “heaven or by earth”. If you swear by anything else, you commit idolatry, for you say that person or thing is greater than God, or is as capable as God at holding you accountable. For example, the Jews would swear by the temple, or something in it, as if the temple and its furnishings could magically hold them accountable. Or, it would give them a way out, saying they did not swear by the Lord.

Only God has the power and the right to hold us accountable for our vows and oaths. Paul invoked God to show he was telling the truth in Romans 1:9. He said “For God is my witness…” and went on to say he prayed for them always.

The Westminster Confession says:

The name of God only is that by which men out to swear, and therein it is to be used with all holy fear and reverence. Therefore, to swear vainly or rashly, by that glorious and dreadful Name, or, to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred. Yet, as in matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the Word of God, under the New Testament, as well as under the Old, so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority in such matters out to be taken. (22:3)

The best thing, of course, is that you keep your word without needing an oath. You just do what you say you will do, whether yes or no. James here reflects Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:33-36. Jesus said:

Again you have heard it that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply yes or No; anything more than this comes from evil.

We should tell the truth without being forced to take an oath. We should do what we say we will do without the need of an oath. Christians should be known by truth and integrity. We should not despair of waiting for Jesus to return and adopt the standards of the world regarding the truth.