Wednesday, July 31. Daniel 6 – 8

There is a historical problem at the end of Daniel 5 that carries us into chapter six. Daniel says that “Darius the Mede” overcame Babylon at the age of sixty-two. The problem is compounded in 9:1 as he is further identified as the “son of Xerxes.”

If we just stick with the names, we must identify this Darius as Darius II, the grandson of Xerxes II. That gives us a date of 424 B.C. and makes Daniel nearly two hundred years old.

It’s a difficult historical issue, but one that is not without resolution.

First, the conqueror of Babylon was Cyrus, an undisputable fact. But, Cyrus was the son of a Median princess and was known even to Nabonidus as “Cyrus the Mede.” “Darius” was an old Iranian title for a king, and we know that Cyrus (or one of his descendants) made up another title, a Persian one, Xerxes, as a title for king. Second, remember that this book is not written by Daniel, but by someone who had access to Daniel’s writings. The first six chapters are written about Daniel, entirely in the third person. The second six chapters are also written about Daniel but the writer admits to reading the writings of Daniel (cf. Daniel 7:1). The book would have been composed long enough in the future that the writer would know these Persian titles. In fact, the writer admits to them. In the last verse of chapter six, he writes “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, who is also [the NIV translates this “and”] Cyrus the Persian.”

What should not be overlooked in the chapter however is the great faith of Daniel and Cyrus’ acceptance and admission of the sovereignty of the God of Israel.

Tuesday, July 30. Daniel 3 – 5

It’s easy to overlook sometimes how much time goes by in just a few chapters in the Bible. In chapter five, Daniel is said to have been appointed “chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.” And yet, Belshazzar doesn’t seem to know him. To further complicate matters, Belshazzar has called in the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners to interpret the writing on the wall, but they cannot. If Daniel is their chief, why wasn’t he there, leading his crew?

Daniel was taken as a young man to Babylon in 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar had just become king of Babylon. Our story in chapter five takes place sixty-six years later. Daniel is an old man and likely no longer “chief” of anything – yet certainly known by reputation.

Belshazzar was not really the son of Nebuchadnezzar. He was the son of Nabonidus, the fourth king to follow Nebuchadnezzar. He was not even of Nebuchadnezzar’s family, but Nebuchadnezzar was such a renown king of Babylon that he took the title “Nebuchadnezzar” and thus appropriated his name and reputation for himself. Unfortunately for Babylon, he was but a pretender with no interest in ruling the empire and his son, Belshazzar co-ruled with him, taking care of the daily administrative tasks.

Daniel, of course, doesn’t tell you all this. It does not interest him. What does interest him are five things: First, that Belshazzar is disrespectful to the God of Israel by taking God’s things and treating them as his own. Second, that Belshazzar values wealth rather than the Lord. The plateware of the Jerusalem temple was not valued by the king as belonging to Israel, but valued because they were gold. Third, that the Lord judged Belshazzar’s values and found them lacking. Fourth, that the Lord, in one night, brought an end to the Babylonian empire, giving it to the Persians. Fifth, that Belshazzar failed to learn the one thing Nebuchadnezzar found most important: that the God of Israel rules in the kingdoms of men and gives them to whomever he pleases. Fail to learn that lesson, and your goose is cooked.

Monday, July 29. 2 Kings 23, Daniel 1 – 2

Chapter two of Daniel contains a Joseph story of sorts. The similarity is on purpose. Note that Daniel personally asks the king for time that he might interpret the dream for him. But when Daniel goes to the king, he is “introduced” by Arioch who claims to have “found” among the exiles of Judah a man who can interpret the dream. The author of Daniel wants the reader to make the connection with Joseph, who was “introduced” to Pharaoh and someone who can interpret dreams.

But chapter two also serves to emphasize the sovereignty of God.

The astrologers protest that “there is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks.” No one can reveal the king’s dream except the gods – who do not live among men. Daniel affirms the conclusion of the astrologers: “no [one] can explain to the king the mystery” of his dream. But there is a God in heaven who can. This God has given the kingship to Nebuchadnezzar, but only temporarily. All kingdoms are temporary until this particular God sets up a kingdom that can never be destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar proclaims Daniel’s God the God of gods and Lord of kings.

In piggybacking on the story of Joseph, Daniel is connected to deliverance – at least the promise of it. This chapter sets the stage for a discussion of what is to come before God sets up his permanent kingdom.

Sunday, July 28. 2 Kings 19 – 22

Manasseh was the longest reigning king in the history of Israel and his appearance in chapter twenty-one is pivotal. Remember in chapter seventeen the lengthy recounting of Israel’s sins led ultimately to her conquest by the Assyrians. Here, the lengthy recounting of Manasseh’s sins is preceded by a mention of Babylon, the first reference to her as a power of note in the book of Kings. Chapter twenty-one also foretells the demise of the southern kingdom of Judah, connecting that demise (as the reader already knows) with the power of Babylon and, with the behavior of the kings of the northern kingdom (note Manasseh and Ahab are both connected to Amorite behavior – 2 Kings 21:11 and 1 Kings 21:26).

The moment is pivotal in that it is here that God voices His decision to punish His people. It is also pivotal in that the future of the Davidic dynasty is once again, seriously in danger. The first time was at the death of Ahaziah when his mother, the daughter of Ahab, king of the northern kingdom assumed the throne and sought to wipe out the house of David. Here, Manasseh’s son, Amon, is assassinated (only the second assassination in the history of the southern kingdom – see 2 kings 12). Fortunately, the people chose his own son as his replacement.

Why was Amon assassinated?

Kings is not clear. A simple reading might lead us to conclude it was because the people did not want the paganism he was promoting. But then again, it wasn’t the people who assassinated him, but his own officials. We know from Chronicles that near the end of his reign, Manasseh had a change of heart and began to destroy the very signs of paganism he had promoted. If we put Kings and Chronicles together, we might surmise that his officials saw the foolishness of such a course and killed Amon. The people, however, wanted the High Places to remain so they put to death the leaders and appointed Josiah (just a boy) in Amon’s place believing he would be like his grandfather Manasseh (also a boy king). In other words, if they were going to have a king, he needed to be one who was conciliatory to all religions, not just the religion of Israel. If this assessment is true, we find their spiritual descendants alive and well in our own time.

Saturday, July 27. Micah 7 – Nahum 3

Chapter seven of Micah must be counted among the most encouraging chapters of the Bible with regard to the nature of God.

The Lord is just. He is not going to continue to bless anyone who shows disdain for Him through abysmal behavior. Israel has certainly done that, and God has responded appropriately. He has filled the land with want – they eat but never have enough, they save but it disappears, they plant but the harvest never comes. Their condition merits and receives the derision and scorn of the nations (6:16).

And yet . . . Israel remains God’s people. They will repent, if only for a while. But God, because it is His nature, will forgive. He pardons sin, forgives transgression, and delights to show mercy. He cannot help it. He cannot but hurl their sins far from them – into the depths of the sea.

This is the God they serve. It is the God we serve.

Don’t misunderstand. This isn’t an excuse for taking advantage of God. The forgiveness and mercy did not come immediately. It really came to the descendants of the sinful. But it came. And it comes to us too. There are far too many Christians who believe God has not and will not forgive. They’ve been sinful too long, too often. But Micah says that’s not true. To anyone and everyone who turns to God in penitence, even if it is only until the “next time” comes along, God forgives. That’s the kind of God He is.

Friday, July 26. Micah 4 – 6

At this point, the real threat to God’s people is coming from Assyria and it is a threat to both the northern and southern kingdoms. The result of this threat will be the scattering of God’s people (5:8). But their scattering will have the effect of a trojan horse in the midst of her enemies. While the enemies believe they have conquered Israel through exile, the captivity only serves to scatter an empowered Israel among their captors. Led by the figure from Bethlehem in chapter 5, their captors will not have a chance and Israel’s foes will be destroyed.

Chapter five, of course, is well known in the New Testament because of Matthew’s reference to it regarding the birth of Jesus.

The scattering of the exiles will come to pass. There will be no deliverance (made plain in 1:9; 2:10,13). But later, with the unexpected birth of one from David’s line, victory will come. It will, however, result in the destruction of all the false religions Israel has held dear.

Israel, reading this, likely expected the deliverance to come in her 6-7th century B.C. lifetime. It would not. Yet, because it was a promise of God, they believed it certainly would come true and by Jesus’ day, the prophecy was seen to herald the coming of the Messiah (which Matthew confirms). Christian people should properly see that they are the heirs of this promise, but they should also see that their scattering among the nations of the world gives them grreat responsibility to tell those nations about the Lord, for a day of judgment is coming upon all mankind who do not obey Him.

Thursday, July 25. Micah 1 – 3

If you want a good, concise picture of why God is so upset with His people, you have only to read the first three chapters of Micah. Evil abounds. Folks lay awake at night plotting how they can save themselves, or get ahead of their neighbors. Influenced by the sins of the northern kingdom, Israel, the plague of wickedness has infected Judah. God sees Israel’s evil as incurable and so her capital, Samaria, will become a heap of rubble. But the malignancy has spread to the extent that even Judah will not be able to save herself (see 2:10,13).

While the sinfulness is widespread, God lays its blame particularly at the feet of the leaders of the people: political leaders, the royal family, and particularly the prophets share the blame because they could have done something, but they chose not to do so.

It is not the function of leaders just to rule. Their main role is to lead and they must do so by example and enforce it with the power of their position. Not everyone can hold this significant place of leadership, but all of us are called to lead. In whatever position you find yourself, you should determine to be an example for others to follow. They may not follow you. But it is not your job to make them follow, only to provide a light through the darkness in a way that makes the lighted path desirable.

The people are not let “off the hook” because their leaders failed them. They are responsible themselves for knowing the right way and following it. They are not responsible for the deception of those who replace the truth for the message everyone wants to hear. They are responsible for knowing better, and for being deceived. No one is innocent before God. Everyone has responsibility to live in the way of holiness – or else.

Wednesday, July 24. Isaiah 64 – 66.

As we come to the end of Isaiah, you will find elements in chapter sixty-six that you have seen throughout the book.  There is God’s complaint that His people are very religious, but it is not a faith from the heart.  They are willing to make all kinds of sacrifices, but unwilling to listen to the Lord.  There is the threat of punishment and exile for those who have disobeyed the Lord.

There is the promise of restoration and the assurance that God is powerful enough to make these things happen.  Though the human mind cannot fathom a birth without labor pains, or the creation of a country in but a moment without struggle, God claims the ability to make it happen (66:7-8).  This powerful God is faithful.  He does not bring to the moment of delivery and then abandon his people.  He is sovereign.  He completes what he starts, allowing to be born what He begets.

There is also the focus on missions.  The punishment God brings will disburse His people throughout the world.  From there, the faithful will make His will known, and will bring the people of the world to worship the Lord.

This reminds me of the early days of the Church in the book of Acts.  Though Jesus had told his disciples their mission was to be his witnesses to the “ends of the earth” (a notion and phrase we find prevalent in Isaiah), these early Christians kept the word of God located in Jerusalem.  It wasn’t until the persecution of the Church by Saul that Christians began to spread out, making the Lord known.

Isaiah ends with the promise of a new day: a new heaven and a new earth, a new priesthood, blessing for those who tremble at the word of the Lord, and eternal punishment for those who don’t.  The beginning of these promises started with the coming of Jesus.  The culmination of them all will occur with his return.

Tuesday, July 23. Isaiah 61 – 63

Remember to keep the context of this section of Isaiah in mind as you read. With these wonderful promises being made about Jerusalem, it’s tempting to see them as being made to seventh century B.C. Jews about something to happen in their lifetime. Indeed, those who first read this book would have legitimately thought they were for them. But they never came true in their day, nor any day near them. They cannot come true until the coming of the Lord’s servant who atones for the sins of the world with his suffering.

And so, these promises to Israel are really promises to God’s covenant people, made up of all people of the world – note the proclamation is to the “ends of the earth,” which would include gentiles, and a banner is raised for the “nations.” The promise of exaltation is made to Christians.

That being true, we might well wonder precisely when the Church will be so exalted, when the world will see our righteousness and that God’s delight is in us.

Perhaps the key is in a text alluded to in the New Testament, but not quoted – indeed, though much of Isaiah 62 sounds like New Testament, there is not one quote found there. That passage is 62:5, echoed in Revelation 21:1-2, the bride (Church) presented to the bridegroom (Christ).

Two lessons come to mind: First, we should be confident that the blessing God promises will indeed come to pass. It will not, however, as we’ve written often previously, just come to pass. God will never delight in a people who continue to spurn His ways. He will never rejoice over those who continue to bring Him shame. We are an active participant in the glorious promise of the Lord when we live according to His will.

Second, until that day comes, we should look expectantly for it, and pray for its arrival, never being silent in prayer day or night and giving God no rest ‘till he makes His Church the “praise of the earth.”

Monday, July 22. Isaiah 58 – 60

While the “sin” problem may have been dealt with by the suffering Messiah (chapter 53), and a banquet of peace offered without charge to the people of God (chapter 55), the blessings will not just appear. They will only come to a people who change their lives. Chapter fifty-eight contains the best summary of what is needed in the entire book.

Before we look at that chapter though, there is an important matter that must not be missed.

The “sin problem” will not be dealt with in the lifetime of Isaiah – or that of the people who heard him, nor those who first read him. It will not be dealt with until the servant who is the Lord comes.

That, of course, was Jesus.

So whatever requirements God makes here of His people are really focused on us, Christians, upon whom the ends of God’s promises have come. What does God require of us?

He requires a devotion to His values.

It means generosity to those who depend on us rather than exploiting their dependence.

It means turning the other cheek toward those who would hurt us, and a refusal to strike those who have provoked us.

It means standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

It means providing for the needy.

It means a devotion to family – especially those of the family of God.

It means we trust in God. That was always the purpose of the Sabbath. God took a day off. We should too. God’s people don’t have to work all the time, because their hope is neither in their work nor in their income, but in the Lord who provides the work and the day to do it.

It means that the People of God, as the People of God, the Church, is known for living these values. It means those values must be found in us as individuals so they can be found in the collective nation of His holy people.

This is important. When God’s people, cleansed by God’s sacrifice, live God’s way, only then will He satisfy our needs in a sun-scorched land and strengthen our frame. Only then shall we be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.