A Long-Term Perspective.

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.– Matthew 24:15-31 ESV

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In this chapter, which has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus gave His disciples a glimpse into God’s plans for the end times. With His upcoming death and eventual departure nearing, He was preparing His followers to set their hope on the future. It was all in response to their question: “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). Jesus was providing them with an expansive overview of the things to come. Some of what He had to say would take place in the not-so-distant future, including the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, which occured in 70 AD. But much of what Jesus told them has not yet taken place. 

Jesus’ reference to the abomination of desolation refers to a passage from the book of Daniel. In chapter 9, Daniel records a message he received from the angel, Gabriel. It was in response to a prayer Daniel had prayed on behalf of all the Jews who, like him, were living in exile in Babylon. He had been reading the prophecies of Jeremiah and saw that God had promised to return the people to the land after 70 years in captivity. Daniel knew that the 70 years was quickly approaching and he longed to see God fulfill His promise.

Gabriel delivered the following message to Daniel:

Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. – Daniel 9:25 ESV

Daniel had been thinking about the fast-approaching date of Israel’s return to the promised land. But God was giving him a much broader, longer-term view of the things to come. Yes, they would be returned to the land at the end of the 70 years in exile. And they would rebuild Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple. But then, God told Daniel that a period of seven sets of seven (49 years) and sixty-two sets of seven (434 years) would pass, once the people had been restored to the land. That adds up to 483 years. Once the people had returned to the land, it would be 483 years until the Anointed One came. This is a prediction of the coming of Jesus in His incarnation. But Gabriel also predicted that the “anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing” (Daniel 9:26 ESV). Jesus would die.

But what Gabriel shared next has yet to occur. He was giving Daniel a glimpse into the distant future, the end times.

26 And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator. – Daniel 9:26-27 ESV

And this is what Jesus referred to in His Olivet Disrouce. He too mentioned a time yet to come. These are prophetic words of Jesus describing a series of future events and they are complex, confusing and controversial. Jesus said these would be difficult days. When these things take place, those living in Judea should run for their lives (vs 16). They should not bother packing (vs 17). If they’re away from the house when it happens, they should not go back for any reason (vs 18). It would be best not to have small children when these things take place (vs 19). Those who are alive at that time, should pray that bad weather or the Sabbath won’t prevent them from getting away (vs 20). Why? Because these will be the worst days the world has ever known or ever will know (vs 21). Then He states that unless God intervenes, no one will survive (vs 22). It will look as if it is time for Jesus to return, but no one knows that day (vs 23-28).

But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. – Matthew 24:29 NASB

This is describing what is known as the Great Tribulation. A literal seven year period of great persecution and evil on the earth. Before this all takes place, the Church will be raptured. Jesus will return to remove all the believers from the earth. Paul encourages us about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. The removal of believers results in the removal of the Holy Spirit, the One who restrains evil in the world. And the removal of the stabilizing influence of believers and the presence of the Spirit will result in a time of unrestrained evil. It will see the coming of the Antichrist, described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2. It will be a time of great persecution of the people of Israel, like nothing they have ever gone through before. But it will end with the second coming of Christ.

The Return of the King!

These difficult days will end with the second coming of Christ.  The tribulation will culminate with the return of Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

“And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the people of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” – Matthew 24:30 NLT

The disciples would not live to see this day. We will not be around to see this day. No one knows when this day will happen.

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” – Matthew 24:36 NLT

Just like in the days of Noah, Jesus’ return will catch people unprepared and off guard. It will come suddenly and unexpectedly. But there will be those who have chosen to follow Christ during those days. “And he [the Son of Man] will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.” (Matthew 24:31 NLT). Jesus says that there will be two men will be working the field, one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour, one will be taken, the other left. He says that the chosen ones or the elect, will be taken. This indicates that there will be those who come to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation. The second coming of Christ will see a dividing between believers and non-believers – all those who are alive at that time. This is NOT a rapture passage.

Even though the disciples would not live to see these events, they are to live in readiness. And as we make new disciples, we are to pass on this attitude of preparedness. Don’t allow yourself to be dulled by the world and lulled into complacency.

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36 NLT

What difference should all this make to us today? Do you find yourself dulled by the worries of this life? Do you live in a state of readiness for the Lord’s return? Do you have a proper understanding of what is to come? Jesus was preparing His disciples to keep their eyes focused on the end. Their immediate future was going to be difficult. He was going to die, resurrect, then leave them. They would be reponsible for continuing His mission of sharing the gospel with the world. They would suffer as a result and many of them would die martyr’s death. But He wanted them to know that God had a plan in place. Their immediate circumstances would not be an indication of how things were going to end. Jesus would eventually leave them, but He would also return. As believers, we need to have a long-term perspective, focused on the end that God has in store.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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The God of Destiny.

Therefore thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I will plead your cause
    and take vengeance for you.
I will dry up her sea
    and make her fountain dry,
and Babylon shall become a heap of ruins,
    the haunt of jackals,
a horror and a hissing,
    without inhabitant.

“They shall roar together like lions;
    they shall growl like lions’ cubs.
While they are inflamed I will prepare them a feast
    and make them drunk, that they may become merry,
then sleep a perpetual sleep
    and not wake, declares the Lord.
I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter,
    like rams and male goats.

“How Babylon is taken,
    the praise of the whole earth seized!
How Babylon has become
    a horror among the nations!
The sea has come up on Babylon;
    she is covered with its tumultuous waves.
Her cities have become a horror,
    a land of drought and a desert,
a land in which no one dwells,
    and through which no son of man passes.
And I will punish Bel in Babylon,
    and take out of his mouth what he has swallowed.
The nations shall no longer flow to him;
    the wall of Babylon has fallen.” – Jeremiah 51:36-44 ESV

Babylon was the greatest nation on earth during the time in which this oracle of God was written. They had been on a significant winning streak, having conquered a wide range of nations, both large and small. They were the playground bully of that age. And all lived in fear of them. No one had been able to stand against them. The mightiest armies had fallen before them. But God has made it perfectly clear that His sovereign rule and Almighty power was greater than that of Nebuchadnezzar and his vaunted troops. It was Yahweh, the God of Israel and Judah, who was invincible and a force to be reckoned with. It was He who commanded the greatest army on earth or in heaven. He was the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The chariots, infantrymen, archers and siege engines of Babylon were no match for Him. And the very fact that Nebuchadnezzar and his administrative cronies believed they were the top dog in the kennel was laughable at best. King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and far-reaching empire we nothing but a minor dot on God’s eternal timeline.

The great king of Babylon would eventually be replaced by yet another king, who deemed himself a virtual deity, with all the power and influence to match. In fact, Nebuchadnezzar would eventually give way to Belshazzar, who would rule over the expansive and highly impressive Babylonian empire. And during his reign, God would pay a special visit to the king and his guests at a special banquet where they were using the sacred vessels his predecessor had plundered from the temple in Jerusalem many years before. 

Many years later King Belshazzar gave a great feast for 1,000 of his nobles, and he drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking the wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver cups that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to drink from them with his nobles, his wives, and his concubines. So they brought these gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. While they drank from them they praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. – Daniel 5:1-4 NLT

What audacity. What arrogance. Here was this pagan king, entertaining his drunken assemblage of courtiers and guests, and using the holy vessels from the temple of God to serve his wine. Not only that, they ridiculed God by praising their own false gods, attributing to them honor for their victory over the nation of Judah. But God was watching, and He was not amused. So, God Almighty decided to crash the king’s party.

Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him. Daniel 5:5-6 NLT

The finger of God had written a message for the king, but it was illegible and undecipherable. None of his enchanters, astrologers, or fortune-tellers could tell him what the writing on the wall meant. So, the queen’s mother suggested he send for Daniel, the Hebrew who King Nebuchadnezzar had appointed as chief over all his magicians, wise men, and fortune-tellers. The king’s mother describes Daniel in flattering terms: “This man Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, has exceptional ability and is filled with divine knowledge and understanding. He can interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems” (Daniel 51:12 NLT). And when Daniel showed up in the king’s court, he interpreted the handwriting on the wall and delivered its meaning to the king.

Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. He killed those he wanted to kill and spared those he wanted to spare. He honored those he wanted to honor and disgraced those he wanted to disgrace. But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them.” – Daniel 51:18-21 NLT

Daniel gave the king a brief history lesson on his predecessor’s painful lesson on pride that he had suffered at the hands of God. While King Belshazzar had known all about this event in Nebuchadnezzar’s life, he had chosen to ignore it and learn nothing from it – as his recent behavior at the party clearly revealed. So, Daniel gives the king some bad news.

“You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from his Temple brought before you. You and your nobles and your wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny! So God has sent this hand to write this message.” – Daniel 5:22-24 NLT

Belshazzar had a pride problem, just like Nebuchadnezzar had. And Daniel reminds the king that his kingdom and his life were given to him by God. His destiny was in God’s hands, not his own. And the future of his kingdom was far from being controlled by lifeless gods “that neither see nor hear not know anything at all.” Then, Daniel gives the king the meaning behind the indecipherable words written on the wall.

“This is what these words mean:

“Mene means ‘numbered’—God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.
Tekel means ‘weighed’—you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.
Parsin means ‘divided’—your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” – Daniel 5:26-28 NLT

The end was near. Belshazzar’s days were numbered. His great kingdom and his overblown pride were about to be destroyed by God. Which brings us back to our passage in Jeremiah. God uses the metaphor of drinking and drunkenness to warn the nation of Babylon of their coming doom.

“And while they lie inflamed with all their wine,
    I will prepare a different kind of feast for them.
I will make them drink until they fall asleep,
    and they will never wake up again,”
    says the Lord. – Jeremiah 51:39 NLT

The Babylonians would ultimately fall to the Medes and Persians. But the eschatological Babylon, the personification of all that is evil and wicked in the world, will also be destroyed when Christ returns to earth. The pride of man will be snuffed out once and for all. The arrogance of the creation will removed by the Creator. The false gods of the earth will be eliminated, never to be seen or worshiped again. It is God who holds the fate of the world in His hands. It is God who gives life and takes it away. It is God who controls the destinies of all, from kings to commoners, dictators to despots, and the prideful to the hopeless.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Pride of the Nations.

“You are my hammer and weapon of war:
with you I break nations in pieces;
    with you I destroy kingdoms;
with you I break in pieces the horse and his rider;
    with you I break in pieces the chariot and the charioteer;
with you I break in pieces man and woman;
    with you I break in pieces the old man and the youth;
with you I break in pieces the young man and the young woman;
    with you I break in pieces the shepherd and his flock;
with you I break in pieces the farmer and his team;
    with you I break in pieces governors and commanders.

“I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea before your very eyes for all the evil that they have done in Zion, declares the Lord.

“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain,
declares the Lord,
    which destroys the whole earth;
I will stretch out my hand against you,
    and roll you down from the crags,
    and make you a burnt mountain.
No stone shall be taken from you for a corner
    and no stone for a foundation,
but you shall be a perpetual waste,
    declares the Lord.

“Set up a standard on the earth;
    blow the trumpet among the nations;
prepare the nations for war against her;
    summon against her the kingdoms,
    Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz;
appoint a marshal against her;
    bring up horses like bristling locusts.
Prepare the nations for war against her,
    the kings of the Medes, with their governors and deputies,
    and every land under their dominion.
The land trembles and writhes in pain,
    for the Lord‘s purposes against Babylon stand,
to make the land of Babylon a desolation,
    without inhabitant.
The warriors of Babylon have ceased fighting;
    they remain in their strongholds;
their strength has failed;
    they have become women;
her dwellings are on fire;
    her bars are broken.
One runner runs to meet another,
    and one messenger to meet another,
to tell the king of Babylon
    that his city is taken on every side;
the fords have been seized,
    the marshes are burned with fire,
    and the soldiers are in panic.
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:
The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor
    at the time when it is trodden;
yet a little while
    and the time of her harvest will come.”

“Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon has devoured me;
    he has crushed me;
he has made me an empty vessel;
    he has swallowed me like a monster;
he has filled his stomach with my delicacies;
    he has rinsed me out.
The violence done to me and to my kinsmen be upon Babylon,”
    let the inhabitant of Zion say.
“My blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea,”
    let Jerusalem say. Jeremiah 51:20-35 ESV

Ten times in this section, God refers to an unknown entity with whom He would break the nation of Babylon. He calls this unnamed nation or alliance of nations “my hammer and weapon of war.” Repeatedly He states, “with you I break in pieces”, and then describes the various people and places He will destroy using this instrument of destruction. And the primary focus of their attention will be the nation of Babylon.

“I will repay Babylon
    and the people of Babylonia
for all the wrong they have done
    to my people in Jerusalem,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 51:24 NLT

God describes Babylon as a “ destroying mountain,” but they will prove no match for Him. Mountains are an image of stability and power, immovable and virtually insurmountable. They appear as barriers and serve as protection to nations, denying easy access to their borders by their enemies. Babylon was massive and a force with which to be reckoned, but God warns them, “When I am finished, you will be nothing but a heap of burnt rubble” (Jeremiah 51:25 NLT).

God issues a battle cry, summoning the forces of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz. These were nations located to the north of Babylon. They would join the Medes in forming a massive army, with the horses of this combined army descending on Babylon like locusts. The result of this alliance on Babylon would be devastating. They would stand no chance. And in just a limited amount of time, the once great nation of Babylon would be completely destroyed, wiped off the map.

Babylon will be left desolate without a single inhabitant. – Jeremiah 51:29 NLT

But as we have noticed before, this has to refer to an as-yet-unfulfilled event, because when the Babylonians fell to the Persians in 539 BC, the nation was not wiped off the face of the earth. The city of Babylon was spared and made a part of the Persian empire. The people of Babylon were simply assimilated into the Persian culture. But what God is describing here, through His prophet, Jeremiah, is the complete annihilation of Babylon. That has not yet happened. And while there is no nation of Babylon at the present time, there is a day coming when Babylon will rise again and become a major force during the end times. Whether or not the actual city of Babylon will be rebuilt is not entirely clear. But the spirit of the nation of Babylon has continued on through the centuries, even after its fall to the Persians. It’s love for wealth, power, and domination can be found throughout the nations of the earth and will only increase in intensity after the rapture of the church. The period of the tribulation will be marked with the rise of the antichrist, who will rule at the head of a world-confederation of nations. This new-Babylon will put the original nation to shame in terms of its decadence, power, and devastating influence over the world scene. Daniel provides a glimpse of what this day will look like.

Then he said to me, “This fourth beast is the fourth world power that will rule the earth. It will be different from all the others. It will devour the whole world, trampling and crushing everything in its path. Its ten horns are ten kings who will rule that empire. Then another king will arise, different from the other ten, who will subdue three of them. He will defy the Most High and oppress the holy people of the Most High. He will try to change their sacred festivals and laws, and they will be placed under his control for a time, times, and half a time.

“But then the court will pass judgment, and all his power will be taken away and completely destroyed. Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him.” – Daniel 7:23-27 NLT

This was part of a vision given to Daniel who was exiled to Babylon along with the rest of the people of Judah. God gave him this vision during the reign of King Belshazzar of Babylon. This vision was a God-ordained glimpse into the distant future, providing a detailed description of the fall of this future “Babylon.” And the book of Revelation provides yet another description of her fall.

“She glorified herself and lived in luxury,
    so match it now with torment and sorrow.
She boasted in her heart,
    ‘I am queen on my throne.
I am no helpless widow,
    and I have no reason to mourn.’
Therefore, these plagues will overtake her in a single day—
    death and mourning and famine.
She will be completely consumed by fire,
    for the Lord God who judges her is mighty.” – Revelation 18:7-8 NLT

Like the Babylon of Jeremiah’s day, this future Babylon will be marked by pride, arrogance, a love of wealth and luxury, and an obsession with world domination. But all the nations of the world that chose to do business with her would one day stand back in wonder, dumbstruck at her devastating demise.

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens,
    decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls!
In a single moment
    all the wealth of the city is gone!” – Revelation 18:16-17 NLT

To this day, we see nations who wield great power and enjoy tremendous wealth and privilege. Their economies flourish while other nations struggle to exist. They buy and sell goods, profiting from their international commerce. They are self-sufficient, having no need of God. They worship the gods of money, power, and pleasure. But all of these nations will eventually fall. Their day in the sunshine will one day end. Their place of prominence on the world stage will not last forever. They are no match for God. He may choose to use them to accomplish His will, but He does not need them. And He will not share His glory with them. Their prideful arrogance will be broken. Their egotistical belief that they are self-made and unstoppable will end in disaster and devastation. They will all suffer the same ignoble fate as King Nebuchadnezzar and his great nation of Babylon.

“King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has eaten and crushed us
    and drained us of strength.
He has swallowed us like a great monster
    and filled his belly with our riches.
    He has thrown us out of our own country.
Make Babylon suffer as she made us suffer,”
    say the people of Zion.
“Make the people of Babylonia pay for spilling our blood,”
    says Jerusalem. – Jeremiah 51:34-35 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A High View of God.

Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.

And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” – Genesis 40:1-8 ESV

It is important to look back on an important detail from the previous part of the story. In chapter 39 we read, “And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison” (Genesis 39:20 ESV). A little later on, in chapter 40, we are told it is “the house of the captain of the guard” (Genesis 40:3 ESV). This was most likely a building attached or adjacent to  Potiphar’s house so that he could keep his eye on these royal prisoners. Because Joseph had been a slave of Potiphar, captain of the king’s guard, he had been transferred from Potiphar’s house to the royal prison. Joseph had committed no crime against the king, but yet he was placed in this prison, even though he was a common slave. This is an important detail, because it is while Joseph is in this prison that he will “just happen” to meet two other individuals who will play a significant role in his future.

Before long, Joseph is joined by the king’s cupbearer and chief baker, both of whom had done something to make the king angry enough to throw them both in prison. We are not told their crimes, but they had both experienced the same meteoric fall in their fortunes that Joseph had. They were placed under Joseph’s care, because as we saw in the last chapter:

And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. – Genesis 39:22-23 ESV

Two men with close ties to Pharaoh are imprisoned alongside Joseph. Because of the Lord’s hand on Joseph’s life, he is placed in charge of them. And then the fun begins. Both of these men end up having dreams. Vivid dreams. Disturbing dreams. On the very same night. And we’re told that each dream had its own interpretation. But remember where they are: In prison. They have no access to wise men or magicians, astronomers or seers. How will they ever discover the meaning to their dreams. And why had they both had dreams on the very same night in the very same place?

The next morning, Joseph notices that something is wrong. The two men are visibly upset and, true to his role as their caretaker, Joseph asks them what is disturbing them. They both reply, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them” (Genesis 40:8a ESV). They seem to know that these dreams are not your garden-variety dreams. There is something significant about them and they are anxious to know what they portend. The response Joseph gives provides us with a glimpse into his theology – his view of God. He simply states, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me” (Genesis 40:8b ESV).

There is a great deal of similarity between this story and the one concerning Daniel and his interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Over the book of Daniel we read:

Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, “I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” – Daniel 2:2-3 ESV

The king’s counselors and wise men respond, “Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation” (Daniel 2:4 ESV). But the king is adamant. He not only wants them to tell them what the dream means, he demands that they be able to tell him what he dreamed. If not, he will have them torn limb from limb. These men are dumbstruck. They find themselves in a life or death predicament and plead with the king.

“There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 1The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” – Daniel 2:10-11 ESV

Enter Daniel. He tells the king:

“No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” – Daniel 2:27-28 ESV

Long before Daniel lived and his story was written down in a scroll, Joseph held a similar view of God. His God was all-knowing and ever-present. His God was able to reveal mysteries and make known the unknowable. Joseph knew a thing or two about dreams. He had had a few of his own. Perhaps Joseph had been given the interpretation of his own dreams by God. By this time in the story, Joseph could have had a much more clear idea of his future and the role his two dreams were going to play. But whatever the case, Joseph is nonplussed by what the two men say and simply asks them to share their dreams so he can provide them with an interpretation – with the help of God.

Joseph held a high view of God – even in the lowest moments of his life. He refused to let his physical location or the state of his circumstances alter his view of God. His expectations of God were greater than any complications life might bring. Even in prison, his God was with him. And if his God was with him all the time and in all places, He was big enough to handle the interpretation of a few dreams.

“We should fix ourselves firmly in the presence of God by conversing all the time with Him…we should feed our soul with a lofty conception of God and from that derive great joy in being his. We should put life in our faith. We should give ourselves utterly to God in pure abandonment, in temporal and spiritual matters alike, and find contentment in the doing of His will,whether he takes us through sufferings or consolations.”  – Brother Lawrence

The Forgotten God Who Never Forgets.

King Ahasuerus imposed tax on the land and on the coastlands of the sea. And all the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people. – Esther 10:1-3 ESV

Some things never change. And King Ahasuerus is a case in point. All through this struggle he remained committed to his own kingdom and his own personal pleasure. The book of Esther opened with an opulent feast that lasted for six solid months. This affair was meant to be a calculated display of the king’s wealth and power. The wine flowed. The decorations were sumptuous and the food was of the highest quality and served in great quantity. No expense was spared. Part of the reason behind the opening scene of the book was to establish King Ahasuerus as the sovereign ruler of the kingdom of Persia. He was powerful, influential and in total control of his domain. He could do as he wished, whether with his money or his queen. He could elevate a person to the second highest office in the land, as he did with Haman, or he could decree the elimination of an entire people group with nothing more than his signature. He is set up as no less than a god.

So it should be no surprise to read at the end of all the events recorded in the book of Esther that the king chose to levy a tax on the land of Persia. This was probably motivated by a number of factors, none more obvious than the king’s greed. But it is important to recall that Haman had promised to pay 10,000 talents of silver into the king’s treasury in exchange for an edict to wipe out the Jews. That would have been roughly 375 tons of silver, an exorbitant amount that represented two-thirds of the entire empire’s income. Obviously, with Haman’s death, this financial boon was never realized. So the king resorted to a tax. He was going to fill his royal coffers one way or another.

But what about Mordecai and Esther. How does the story leave them? Esther remains queen. She has been given all the lands and the wealth of Haman. Mordecai has been elevated to the second-highest position in the land. He has a great reputation among the Jews and is even extremely popular among the Persians. In essence, his ship has come in. He, like Esther, is set for life.

But there is a subtle silence in these closing verses, and it is in keeping with the rest of the story. There is no mention of God. The people have been rescued from destruction, but there is not a single word said about God’s role in their miraculous salvation. One of the things we must refrain from doing when reading the book of Esther is making either Mordecai or Esther the heroes of the story. While the book bears her name, Esther is not intended to be the focal point of the story. It is important to remember that Esther and Mordecai were part of the Jewish population in Persia that had determined to remain rather than return to their homeland under the leadership of Zerubbabel.

Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. – Ezra 1:2-4 ESV

Cyrus had given the Jews the opportunity to return to their land and play a part in the reestablishment of their kingdom and the restoration of their capital and its temple. While tens of thousands returned, some obviously chose to stay in Persia. Mordecai and Esther were part of that group. The Jews who remained in Persia had been unwilling to make the long trek back to Jerusalem and preferred to stay behind. They took the path of least resistance. To a certain degree, they compromised their convictions and chose to remain exiles in a land that was not their home, but that had become quite comfortable and familiar to them. In fact, you see throughout this story a spirit of compromise and convenience. It is only natural to compare what is taking place in the lives of Esther and Mordecai with the stories of Daniel and Joseph. These two men also found themselves living as exiles in unfamiliar lands. Joseph was in Egypt, sold into slavery by his own brothers. Daniel was in Babylon, taken captive by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar when he destroyed Jerusalem. But these two men refused to compromise. They remained committed to their God and determined to live according to His laws. And it was their obedience to Him that resulted in His blessings on their lives. But in the cases of Mordecai and Esther, it seems as if any convictions they may have had took a backseat to their attitudes of compromise and convenience. Unlike Daniel, Esther willingly ate the king’s food and submitted to the beauty treatments designed to prepare her for the king’s bed. At no point in the story do we hear her refuse to eat certain foods that would improper for a Jew to consume. While Daniel refused to obey the king’s edict that banned prayer to any deity but the king, Esther was willing to subjugate herself to King Ahasuerus through sexual intercourse. Daniel’s actions got him thrown into the lions’ den, while Esther was made queen.

It would seem that Mordecai and Esther were more concerned about the people of Judah than the God of Judah. Ultimately, they used their positions of influence and authority to come up with a plan to protect their people from destruction. But their objective seems to have had little to do with the holiness of God’s name. And yet, throughout the story, God is actively moving behind the scenes to orchestrate affairs in such a way that his unfaithful people are the unlikely and undeserving recipients of His faithful mercy and grace. Mordecai and Esther are not icons of virtue. But they are instruments in the Redeemer‘s hands. Oftentimes, God uses us in spite of us. He has used pagan kings, egocentric Amalakites, young Hebrew virgins, common fishermen, misguided zealots, reluctant prophets, adolescent shepherds, and a wide assortment of other unqualified, unlikely individuals to accomplish His divine will. The story of Esther is the story of God working through the lives of the unfaithful in order to display His faithfulness. God didn’t need Mordecai or Esther to accomplish His will, but He used them anyway. He didn’t choose them because of their qualifications or potential contributions to His plan.

I am reminded of the words of Paul, written to the believers in Corinth. He wanted them to remember that their salvation by God had not been a result of their merit. They had not been deserving of salvation. They were not chosen by God because of their wealth, wisdom, power, or positions. It was their lack of merit that resulted in God’s mercy. It was their absence of greatness that resulted in God’s grace.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT

The story of Esther is the story of God’s faithful love and unmerited favor. It is the story of God’s might overcoming the power of kings and the plans of the enemy. While His name is never mentioned in the book, His presence is felt on every page of the story. He is the immortal, invisible, God.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise. – Walter C. Smith

From Bad to Worse.

And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm was determined against him by the king. And the king returned from the palace garden to the place where they were drinking wine, as Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was. And the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” As the word left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face.  Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Moreover, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the wrath of the king abated. – Esther 7:7-10 ESV

Haman’s entire life seems to have been a series of well-calculated plans intended to elevate himself to highest realms of power, popularity and financial success. And up until recently, he had proven to be successful. It is important to remember that Haman, like Mordecai, was not a native Persian. He was an Amalakite and either he or one of his ancestors was taken captive by the Babylonians during one of their many expeditions into the land of Palestine. As an outsider, Haman had done well for himself. He had risen to become one of the most important and influential dignitaries in the king’s court, with tremendous power and prestige. Haman had a made it a personal mission to become a success and he had achieved his goal. After attending the first banquet held by Esther, he had bragged to his wife and friends: “Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king” (Esther 5:11 ESV). He was the epitome of a self-made man. 

Haman stands in stark contrast to another man who found himself living as an outsider in a foreign land. Daniel was taken captive as a result of the Babylonian conquest of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. He was taken prisoner and transported to the royal capital where he was forced into service to the king, Nebuchadnessar. Daniel was one of the “youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace” (Daniel 1:4 ESV). He was to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. “The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king” (Daniel 1:5 ESV). And we’re told that God gave Daniel favor and compassion with the eunech who was in charge of his care. Daniel had no personal agenda. He had no plan to worm his way into the good graces of the king and secure for himself a position of power and prominence. In fact, Daniel simply wanted to obey his God. And yet, God would choose to elevate Daniel.

God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. – Daniel 1:17-20 ESV

Haman was a self-made man. Everything he had achieved in life had been the result of his own hard work and carefully calculated schemes. And here he was having dinner with the king and queen. But things were not going well. His plot to wipe out an entire people group has just been exposed by the queen and she has dropped the bombshell of an admission that she was a member of that group. Haman was in shock. And the king was beside himself in anger. He was so upset that he had to leave the room in order to think. And when he returned he found Haman draped all over the couch where Queen Esther was seated. Haman had simply been begging for his life, but to the king, it looked like he was attempting to kill Esther with his own hands.

The king has Haman arrested. And this is where Haman’s carefully crafted world completely falls apart. The king is informed that Haman “has set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall in his own courtyard. He intended to use it to impale Mordecai, the man who saved the king from assassination” (Esther 7:9 NLT). Just when Haman didn’t think it could get any worse, it did. He had originally hoped that this banquet would be the perfect environment to ask the king for permission to execute Mordecai. But that all had been spoiled when he had to parade Mordecai around the streets of Susa in honor of his role in saving the king’s life. None of this had been part of his plan. How was he to have known that Esther was a Jew? How could all his carefully laid plans have fallen apart such epic fashion? The answer is simple: God. He had not included the sovereignty and providence of God in his calculations. He had not considered the handiwork of the Almighty in his plans. But it was becoming painfully clear to Haman that there were greater forces at work here than he could have ever imagined.

Back in the book of Daniel, we have the story of Daniel’s Hebrew friends: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The had refused to bow down before the golden image erected by King Nebuchadnezzar, and their fate was to be thrown into the fiery furnace. When given one last chance to reconsider, they simply said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18 NLT). What a contrast. They knew God was at work. They had no doubt that the Almighty was mightier than the king of Babylon and the forces of evil surrounding them. And they were willing to die for Him if necessary.

Haman would simply die. Not for a god, but for his own self-centered agenda. “So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai” (Esther 7:10 ESV). He had spent his entire life focused on himself and he would die alone and forgotten. He had unwittingly pitted himself against the God of the universe. He had plotted and planned against the Lord God Almighty and lost. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had placed their faith in God and lived. Daniel would do the same and survive a night in a den full of man-eating lions. He would know what it was like to have God deliver him from the worst-case scenario. Haman would simply discover the pain of watching his world go from bad to worse. No God. No hope. Know God. Know hope.

 

Hear. Forgive. Act.

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. – Daniel 9:19 ESV

Daniel 9:4-19

As Daniel wraps up his prayer, he refocuses his attention on the mercy of God. He asks that God would hear his prayer. He asks that God would forgive the transgressions he has just confessed. Finally, he begs God to hear and do something about it. In the Hebrew, the next phrase is in the negative. He actually says, “delay not.” He is asking that God intervene immediately. In other words, he wants to see the power of God unleashed without delay. After all, they had been waiting 70 years. According to the writings of Jeremiah, the time was ripe for God’s promise or restoration to be fulfilled. Daniel wanted to see it happen ASAP.

But what is interesting is the reason Daniel gave for God to hear, forgive and act. He appeals to God based on His own name and reputation. From Daniel’s human perspective, he saw it as a case of God’s character being at stake. People had already been talking about the state of affairs in Israel, and how their God had abandoned them. Daniel had to have heard countless rumors and discussions regarding God’s apparent apathy toward His own people or His inability to do anything about their condition. Even the Israelites had to have given up hope that their God was ever going to do something about their captivity. That is probably why so many of them had turned to the gods of Babylon. But Daniel held on to what he knew about God. He put his hope in the reality of who God claimed to be and what He had already done for the people of Israel. The words of Jeremiah the prophet rang in his ear, providing him with the faith he needed to keep on believing.

There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you. They are both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood! Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz. They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith; their clothing is violet and purple; they are all the work of skilled men. But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. – Jeremiah 10:6-10 ESV

Daniel’s God was incomparable. He was without equal in power and was worthy of all honor. Daniel longed for God to protect His own name, because he knew the people of Judah were incapable of carrying it off. He asked God to do something because he was painfully well aware that the chosen people of God had chosen to do nothing. There was nothing they could do. They were complete incapable of changing their ways. They were stubborn, rebellious and prone to solve their problems their own way. But Daniel knew they had one hope: God. He knew if anything was going to happen, it would have to be up to God. And if God was to do anything, it would be based on His own desire to protect the character and reputation of His name. God would not allow Himself to be perceived as a liar, as weak, as uncaring, without compassionate, powerless, indifferent, always angry, unmerciful, or unloving. God had promised to restore the people of Judah, and He would. God had made a covenant with the people of Judah, and He would keep it. God was all-powerful, and He would show it. God was loving, and He would prove it. God was sovereign, and He would reveal it. God would hear, forgive and act. Not because of the people of Judah, but because He is God.

Praying For God’s Glory.

Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.  – Daniel 9:17-18 ESV

Daniel 9:4-19

Throughout his prayer, Daniel has used two different Hebrew names for God: Adonai and Elohim. The first refers to God’s sovereignty as King. The second speaks of His strength. Daniel was appealing to the Almighty God, the very same God who had created the universe, called Abraham, rescued the Israelites from captivity and proven Himself powerful and in control of all things over and over again. Daniel knew he was taking his appeal to the only one who could do anything about it. There was no other place to go and nothing else to do. So he asked God to listen to his pleas for mercy. He asked Him to see their desolations. He begged Him to make His face shine upon the devastated temple in Jerusalem. Daniel was asking God to take a long hard look at their situation, from Babylon all the way to Jerusalem, and do something about it. Not because they deserved His rescue, but because of His mercy. Because of His own reputation.

Daniel subtly reminds God that the devastated city of Jerusalem belongs to Him. It is the only city in the world where a temple dedicated to Him exists, and it is in ruins. Daniel appeals to God’s reputation. He shows concern for the name of God. This prayer is a whole lot less about Daniel and the people of israel than it is about the reputation of God. Daniel seems to know that God is going to act for the sake of His own name. He will protect the integrity of His reputation. He has given His Word to the people of Israel to be their God and to keep His covenant with them. Daniel knows that He will do what He has promised to do and boldly prays accordingly. Daniel also shows a great deal of concern for the city and Jerusalem and its temple. His was not a selfish, self-centered prayer, aimed at his own rescue and restoration. He was praying on behalf of all the people of Judah, including those back home as well as those in Babylon. His concern was for the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God, and the city that bore the distinction of containing the temple of God.

How often our prayers far more focused on our own needs than on God’s reputation and glory. Daniel seemed far more concerned with the fame of God than with his own situation. The truth is, Daniel had a pretty good thing going in Babylon. He had a government job. He had weathered the storms of persecution that took place early on in his stay in Babylon. Daniel had access to the king and was in his good favors. He most likely lived well and enjoyed a certain degree of prominence and prestige that his fellow Jews would have envied. But Daniel was more concerned about God’s glory. He couldn’t stand the thought of God’s temple lying in ruins, the city of Jerusalem sitting unoccupied and the remnant who remained living without a king. He wanted God to act. He longed to see God display His power and exert His sovereignty on the earth. It’s interesting to note that Daniel did not tell God what to do. He didn’t give Him a long list of expectations or demands. He simply asked Him to listen, see, and act. Sometimes we can be so bold and presumptuous as to not only tell God what is going on in our lives, but also how to solve it. We not only share our needs, we share our demands. And in doing so, our concern becomes less about God’s glory than about our own good. We want what we want, not necessarily what He wants. There is nothing wrong with sharing our requests with God. The Scriptures command us to do so. But there is a huge difference between sharing our problems with God and telling Him exactly how and when we want them solved. God is not our personal genie. He does not exist for our glory. Our prayers should focus far more on God’s reputation and glory than our own.

Daniel wanted to see God act. There is no doubt that Daniel would have loved to have seen Jerusalem restored, the people returned to the land, and the nation of Israel reborn as God’s chosen people. He had read in the scroll containing the words of Jeremiah the prophet that this was exactly what God had promised would happen. So Daniel wanted to see that promise fulfilled. But his concern was far more focused on God than on himself. A restored Jerusalem and a rebuilt temple would bring glory to the name of God all around the world. The release of the people of Israel after 70 years of captivity in Babylon would take a miracle of God, and when it happened, God would get the glory. And for God to do all of this despite the fact that the people of Israel didn’t deserve it, would speak volumes about His grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. It would display His power and prove His sovereignty over all nations. It would convince the people once again that He is a covenant-keeping God. Praying for God’s glory requires trusting in God’s goodness. We must learn to trust Him to do what is best. He will always do what is right and will always act in such a way that His reputation remains unstained. We may not always get it and even like it, but God will always do what brings Him glory and results in our ultimate good, whether we see it or not. The key is learning to care first for His glory, and less about our own good.

No Lesson Learned.

As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly. – Daniel 9:13-16 ESV

Daniel 9:4-19

The people of Judah had deserved just what they had gotten. God had been righteous in all of His actions. That was the stance of Daniel. He was not angry with God. He did not shake his fist in God’s face, demanding an explanation for the last 70 years of exile. He knew exactly why the people of Judah were living in Babylon instead of the land of promise. Moses had warned them of the consequences of living in disobedience to God. “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV). And he had been very specific. “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone” (Deuteronomy 28:36 ESV). The amazing thing to Daniel was not what had happened to them, but that they had learned to lessons from their experience. He openly confessed, “Every curse written against us in the Law of Moses has come true. Yet we have refused to seek mercy from the Lord our God by turning from our sins and recognizing his truth” (Daniel 9:13 NLT). For seven decades the people of Judah had continued to live in stubborn and open rebellion against God. Their punishment had not produced any remorse or caused them to run to God in repentance. As God had predicted through Moses, they had simply acclimated themselves to their new surroundings and begun to “serve other gods of wood and stone.”

It is amazing how easily we can find ourselves under the loving discipline of God, but fail to see it for what it is. When we get into trouble, we tend to blame God, rather then consider what we might have done to deserve our fate. Sometimes we are suffering as a result of our own stupidity. We make decisions without consulting God. We live out from under the guiding and protecting influence of the Holy Spirit. And we end up reaping the negative consequences of our own sinful self-wills. It is at those times we need to humbly seek God and ask Him to reveal to us any sin that may have played a role in our suffering. We need to be willing to ask Him to use the circumstances of our lives to teach us more about ourselves and reveal to us more about Him. David prayed a prayer that should be a model for every believer who is serious about growing in his relationship with God. It is a dangerous and difficult prayer to pray. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT). David is asking God to shine His examination light into the deepest recesses of his life and show him what he cannot see. David realized that there were things in his own heart to which he was oblivious. There were sins lurking in his life to which he was blind. And he was asking God to point them all out to him.

Daniel was shocked that the people of Judah had not done the same thing. They had not run to God and asked Him to expose their sin so that they could repent of it. Instead, they had spent nearly 70 years learning to live with their sins and passively accepting the painful consequences. Most of them had long forgotten about the land of promise. Thousands of children had been born who knew nothing about Jerusalem or the great temple of Solomon. They had grown up worshiping false gods instead of the one true God. They saw no repentance in the lives of their parents. No one wanted to accept responsibility for their predicament. But Daniel knew better. He confessed. He entreated God’s favor. He knew that God had been righteous in all He had done regarding Israel. It wasn’t God who was in the wrong, but the people who had been set apart by Him as His chosen possession. Even in the midst of their punishment, they had remained stubborn and rebellious. In another one of his prayers to God, David had admitted, “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin” (Psalm 19:12-13 NLT). Even on the good days, we should long for God to mercifully and lovingly reveal any hidden sins in our lives. We should want Him to expose those things to which we are blind. Knowing we have a problem is the first step toward healing. It is difficult to confess sins we can’t even see. And so many times our sins are hidden from view – even our own. They remain in the dark recesses of our lives, until we allow God to expose them to us, so that we might confess them and receive His forgiveness. The people of God in Daniel’s day had not learned their lesson. They had not seen their circumstances as having come from God’s loving hand. So rather than return and repent, they had continued to live under God’s discipline. But Daniel wanted God’s blessing. He was willing to humbly confess and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Righteous Wrath.

All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. – Daniel 9:11-12 ESV

Daniel 9-4-19

You don’t want to make God mad. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But there is a growing sentiment among Christians today that believes God is incapable of wrath. It’s the “God is love” movement, and while it is not new, it is gaining influence like never before. There are countless spokespersons for this popular perspective on God who are writing books, giving talks, filling sanctuaries and persuading others that their view of God is not only the right one, it should be the only one. They reject the notion that God could ever be angry, because God is love. They downplay the notion of judgment because God loves everyone, including sinners. They take a tolerant view of sin, downplaying its significance and, in some cases, denying its existence. In essence, they have taken the biblically accurate statement, “God is love” and turned it around to say, ”Love is God.” They end up worshiping the attribute of love more than they do the One whose very nature defines what love really is.

Daniel would not have been a fan of this camp. He knew first-hand what the wrath of God looked like. He had experienced it. As a young man, he had watched as King Nebuchadnezzar and his troops had besieged Jerusalem, eventually breaking down its wall and destroying the great temple of Solomon. He had been one of thousands taken captive and transported to the nation of Babylon. He had heard the warnings of God spoken by the prophets of God. He and all the other Israelites had known full well what God had said would happen if they did not repent and return to Him. “For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands” (Jeremiah 1:15-16 ESV). God was angry. But His was a righteous anger. He was justly upset with the people of Israel because of all that He had done for them and how they had ended up treating Him – over and over again. This was not the first time they had rejected Him and proved unfaithful to Him. They had a track record of infidelity and unfaithfulness. And because God is holy and righteous, He cannot overlook sin. He has to deal with it justly. He cannot turn a blind eye and simply love like it never happened. He is obligated by His very nature as a just God to punish sin.

That is the very nature of the gospel. Paul understood the love of God well. Listen to how he defined it. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8 ESV). Don’t miss his point. God showed His love for us by sending His Son to die for us. He took out His wrath on His own Son. He had to punish sin. He had to deal justly with injustice and God’s solution was to send His Son as the substitute or stand-in for us. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). Isaiah was predicting the substitutionary death of Jesus when he wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV). Jesus took on the sins of all mankind and bore the full force of God’s righteous wrath in order to pay the penalty required. And that was a display of God’s love.

God loved Israel. But He could not and would not tolerate their sin. And contrary to popular opinion, it is IMPOSSIBLE to separate the sin from the sinner. God’s wrath against sin inevitably falls on the one who has committed the sin. We like to say, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” But that is not accurate. It is unbiblical. Paul would remind us, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). God’s wrath is poured out on people, not impersonal acts of sin. But God does love sinners, just not in the way we sometimes think. His love took the form of a personal sacrifice. He sent His son to die for them so that they would not have to suffer His righteous wrath. God’s love was made available to them through His Son’s death. All they have to do is turn from their sin and accept the gift of His love made possible through Jesus Christ. The wrath of God is against ALL sinners. The love of God is available to ALL sinners. Daniel knew both of these truths well. He understood that all He had to do was confess, repent and turn to God. “‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God’” (Jeremiah 3:12-13 ESV).