30. In the face of fear

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 30.  In the face of fear

Heb 11:33,34    who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies

There are two parts to this general description in these two verses of the activities of men and women of faith in the Old Testament and they both begin with ‘who’. The first one we considered in the previous meditation, a more general description. The second one that we now move on to speaks of specific events that stood out in the Old Testament history as outstanding acts of faith.

The first reference to those who shut the mouths of lions,” must surely refer to Daniel in the lion’s den found in Daniel, chapter 6. The long and the short of it was that Daniel was an official in Babylon in the reign of Darius and was doing well, so well that others were jealous and looked for a way to bring him down. The only thing they could think of was to get the proud king to issue a thirty day edict that everyone should worship the king as their god and no one else. Daniel first of all prayed: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.” (Dan 6:10,11)

Daniel accordingly refused and was thrown into the lion’s den but the king was much upset about this and said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” (v.16) The next morning he came and called to Daniel from outside, “Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.” The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” (v.21-23)

Now this action by Daniel is a specific example of faith from a man of faith. The earlier chapters of Daniel reveal a young Israelite man who is all out for God and who acts with the wisdom of God, even when he is carried into captivity in Babylon.

Now we need to be quite clear abut this. There were at least three occasions when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came against Israel, defeated them and took people back to Babylon as slaves, and all this, the many and varied prophetic words at the time made very clear, was the specific work of God bringing discipline to Israel. The last and final time resulted in Nebuchadnezzar totally destroying Jerusalem and everything in it, including the Temple. For the Jews this would have been devastating.  However it appears that Daniel was carried away in the third year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign while Jehoiakim reigned in Israel, probably the first deportation in 605BC (remember the final one and destruction of Israel took place in 587BC some eighteen years later.) Years pass, Nebuchadnezzar is followed by Belshazzar who in turn is followed by Darius who had appointed Daniel as one of the leading men of the nation.

There are various things to note here. First, I want to reiterate that what we considered above is one act of faith – a remarkable one where Daniel refused to cower before the schemes of men and determined to remain faithful to God in whom he could trust – but it is one act in a life of faith.  We have made this point before and it need emphasizing: yes we may make individual acts of faith but ultimately the whole life for the Christian is a life of faith.

The second thing to note – and in the romanticism that sometimes follows the Sunday School stories that are told about Daniel and his friends (because they are good stories to tell) we lose reality – is the incredibly difficult times Daniel and his friends lived through. Their nation was pillaged and they were taken as slaves to a foreign country. Now many people would just sink into abject misery in such circumstances but the record shows that Daniel and his friends – good Jewish boys – stayed faithful to God and, with the wisdom and revelation of God, actually prospered and were promoted and promoted and promoted in this alien court.  Daniel survived and prospered, we might say, by receiving and using spiritual gifts of revelation. There’s a challenge!

Now for much of the time, here in the godless West, we live in an age of plenty and prosperity and, up until this time of writing (early 2016), relative peace as far as other nations are concerned. But suppose we go through another and worse financial collapse than 2008 (which some economists are forecasting) and suppose there are national upheavals, war, revolution, terrorism, whatever, how would you and I respond? Would we recognize the judgement of God? Would we remember we are His children even in the face of whatever might come? Would we hold fast to Him, seek Him, listen to Him, receive His resources? Please note I am note saying these things will come, but if they did would we be people of faith like Daniel or does our ‘faith’ rely upon peace and stability and comfort?

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