49. Jonah

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 49. Jonah

Jonah 4:2,3   I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah is a delightful little book. It is simple and straight forward and although it is in the middle of a lot of other books filled with prophecy, this one has none as such for us; it is a story about a prophet! It has four parts and four corresponding chapters and each one reads like an episode out of an old fashioned radio drama, ending with a sense of, “Wow! What’s next?” I’ve chosen the two verses above as our highlight verses simply because there is such an inconsistency in them which is seen again and again in the story, that they sum up Jonah and reveal him as the very human and fallible figure that he is.

To see the context of these two verses we need to scan over the story. Chapter 1 might be titled, “Jonah does a runner and rues the day”. In that he hears a prophetic word from the Lord (1:1,2) that he is called to pass on to the occupants of Nineveh, he is a prophet. Nothing else about him or his time-period comes from the book but he is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 indicating he was a recognized prophet somewhere about 780BC. It is written as historical narrative.

However prophets are just human beings and this one doesn’t like the sound of this call. It is a call to go to Nineveh which was on the Tigris in the north east but instead he catches a boat heading West (1:3). Now it is a funny thing about us human beings. We know the truth but somehow we often fly in the face of it. For instance Jonah knew all about God, as we’ll see later, and he would know that God is everywhere and you can’t escape Him, and yet Jonah tries to do just that. You can’t run away from God!

The other thing about God is that He knows best and He loves us and wants the best for us, even if we have to go through tough times to reach it. So he sends a storm, not just any storm, but a perfect storm, so that the ship even threatened to break up (v.4), and each of the pagan sailors start crying out to their pagan gods (v.5).  Jonah, however, is down below, sleeping the sleep of the just – or perhaps the sleep of the exhausted escapee! The captain wakes him (v.6) and the superstitious crew start drawing lots to find out who is the cause of this storm (v.7) and, lo and behold, the lot falls on Jonah. Interesting!

They ask him who he is (v.8) and he then confesses his testimony: “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” (v.9) To cut a long story short, Jonah tells them to throw him overboard if they want to save themselves (v.12) which is a remarkably sacrificial approach really. This goes against all their beliefs but they eventually do it and so in the middle of the night, in the middle of the most horrendous storm out at sea, Jonah ends up overboard. End of story. Well, not quite: “the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.” (v.17) End of chapter, end of episode 1 of our radio series. Tune in next week to see what happens!

If episode 1 was filled with action, episode 2 has none except Jonah praying inside the fish, glimpses of which are quite enlightening. Speaking of his plight as a result of what the Lord had done, he declares, “I said, `I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.” (2:4) Now he must have written this down some time after the events and whether it is true that that was what he said, or what he later felt he ought to have said, the fact is that he knew that resurrection, was one of the thing of which the Lord was capable. In the awfulness of the insides of this fish he had prayed: “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” (2:7) and then added, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.” (2:8,9) Great!

That is quite remarkable for he speaks about God’s grace that is available to believers and as a believer in repentance mode, he will know God’s salvation. At which point, “the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” (2:10) End of chapter, end of episode 2. What will happen now?

Now a bedraggled and, no doubt, a wreck of a man who is past caring, goes to Nineveh, proclaims the message of repentance and the city repents. Easy. So, as the previous episodes had concluded with an act of God, so does this one: “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” (3:10) End of an action packed and highly dramatic episode. End of story.

Well, not quite. Jonah, we said, is a very human prophet and he is now fed up. Come on Lord, you could have wiped out this miserable bunch of pagans in this city (4:1,2). Why did you bother with them? Why did you bother sending me? Because you clown they wouldn’t have repented and been saved and been changed if you hadn’t brought God’s message to them!

Jonah, possibly still a bit overwhelmed by what had happened to him, isn’t thinking very clearly. He states what he knows about God from the books of Moses: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (4:2b) Well, yes that is true but He only ‘relents’ when there has first been repentance and for repentance to come, someone has to face them with the truth.

But Jonah, so often a bit like us, gets caught up in it and forgets the very basics: God IS love and in His compassion isn’t looking for destruction. As Ezekiel said, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23,32) [That ought to have been a highlight verse in Ezekiel, if not in the Bible!]

So the Lord gives Jonah a little lesson as he sits in the shade of a vine outside Nineveh later. The Lord made a worm eat at the roots of the vine and it died – and Jonah got angry. And thus we come to another highlight of this book: “the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (4:10,11) i.e. we get upset about really minor issues. We need to get refocused to come in line with God’s heart; He gets upset over lost people. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Lk 19:10) Us, and the people around us!

48. Obadiah

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 48  Obadiah

Obad v.3,4   The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, `Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars,

from there I will bring you down,” declares the LORD.

The reader who comes to Obadiah for the first time might be excused for reading it and then thinking, “That’s it? Where’s the rest? Why are these two pages worthy of being included in the canon of Scripture?” These questions are even more pertinent when you realise that verses 1 to 4 at least appear almost as copies of Jeremiah 49:14-16. Did the Lord inspire him? Did Jeremiah inspire him? Did the Lord through Jeremiah inspire him? Questions even arise over the date of his writing. The only clue appears in verses 11 and 12 where Edom is accused of sitting back smugly when Judah and Jerusalem were pillaged. This together with the Jeremiah parallel would suggest some time after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC, and yet, it has been suggested before 553BC when Babylon came against Edom.

But then there is the very subject matter of these mere 21 verses – Edom. Edom was a territory in the mountains to the south east of the Dead Sea. Descended from Esau (see Gen 36:1,9,43), these blood relatives of Jacob (Israel) had historically opposed Israel, from the earliest days when they refused to let Israel pass through their land (see Num 20). When Judah and Jerusalem were ransacked by Nebuchadnezzar, it would appear that they looked down on them with no compassion and themselves felt they were impregnable in their mountain fortresses.

When the prophet refers to The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks,” (v.3) it may be that he was speaking more specifically than just the fact that they lived in the mountains for Sela was the capital of Edom and perhaps later Petra, and both Sela and Petra mean “rock” or “cliff”, It was this pride that the Lord specifically spoke against (v.3,4) and because of that they too would be pillaged with nothing being left (see v.5,6). There in the mountain caves they hid their riches (v.6), but their friends and neighbours will turn against them (v.7). They thought they were so clever, so wise, but all that would be brought to an end (v.8). Their warriors, so adept at coming down from the mountains and marauding others, will be cut down (v.9).

And why is all this happening?  “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob.” (v.10) Because, “you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.” (v.11) They clearly derided Judah and laughed over that had happened to them: “You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.” (v.12) Indeed they should not have gone down from their mountain fortresses and traveled up country to join in their downfall: “You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster.” (v.13) But it was worse, for they had picked off random survivors: “You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.” (v.14)

Yes, the Lord had seen and catalogued all of their activity against His chosen people, and for that reason He was holding them accountable and declares this general principle in respect of His people: “The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.” (v.15) There it is spelled out so clearly for all history to see: what you do to Israel will be done to you! And if bad was done to Israel, destruction will come to those who bring it (v.16). Jerusalem will be blessed (v.17) and be the cause of the downfall of those who oppose them – starting with Edom! (v.18) Those who are presently in exile will return and will triumph and this land will be theirs (v.19-21).

So why did we choose v.3 & 4 as highlights in this shortest book of the Bible? Because pride and a false security (not based on the Lord) was at the heart of their actions, which led them to look down on God’s people and even work for their destruction, and this the Lord will not tolerate!

For us, it may not be so much that we either look down on or even speak against Israel (although both are wrong), so much as in this materialistic world we can gain a sense of false security from our ‘things’ and our affluence (certainly compared to large parts of the world) and even our history, and in so doing we fail to trust the Lord. True security only comes from truly trusting and knowing the Lord.

47. Amos

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 47.  Amos

Amos 9:11   In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places,

restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be,

If we have suggested that a highlight is a high point of faith or hope in a book, when it comes to Amos we have to wait until the last half of the last chapter of this nine-chapter torrent of negative prophetic outpourings. From the first verse we see that the main part of Amos’ ministry was probably about 760-750BC, which is not long before Samaria in the north was destroyed and the people carried away in 722.

Although the vast majority of the book is condemnatory, speaking against the sins of surrounding nations and cities – he has the Lord roaring from Jerusalem (1:2) against Damascus (1:3-5), Gaza (1:6-8), Tyre (1:9-10), Edom (1:11-12), Ammon (1:13-15), Moab (2:1-3), as well as Judah (2:4,5) and Israel (2:6 – 5:27) etc. there is within it a poetic and prophetic symmetry that is almost unique in the Bible and is fascinating to read.

For example in chapters 1 & 2, where he identifies each of this cities or states or nations, he uses this phrase “For three sins of …., even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.” (v.3,6,9, etc.). I like the way the Message Version puts it: “Because of the three great sins of…  – make that four…” It’s almost like the prophet says, “For at least three sins, no there are more than that.” It is also a style that is often used in Proverbs, and it is a style that makes it easy to see the divisions and direction of the various prophecies that are coming.

In chapter 3 there is a lovely example of prophetic repetition to illustrate a point. Observe the word ‘do’ or ‘does’ here in verses 3-5:

Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?

Does a lion roar in the thicket when he has no prey?

Does he growl in his den when he has caught nothing?

Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground where no snare has been set?

Does a trap spring up from the earth when there is nothing to catch?

These are cause and effect things, i.e. nothing happens without a cause, and so he follows it with the outcome: “Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared– who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken– who can but prophesy.” (3:7,8) i.e. prophecies don’t come unless God has spoken and when He speaks the prophet can’t help but speak and (implied) this is why I am saying all these things!

In chapter 4 there is this same sort of repetitious style as the prophet points out what the Lord has already done in His disciplinary judgment, each one starting with ‘I’: “gave you empty stomachs” (4:6), “withheld rain from you” (v.7), “struck your gardens and vineyards” (v.9), “sent plagues among you” (v.10), “killed your young men” (v.10), “overthrew some of you” (v.11). It is a call to wake up and repent. As I have studied judgments, it is clear that death is only a judgment ‘of the last resort’ and so it is clear the depth to which Israel has fallen by the extreme lengths the Lord has had to go to, to seek to get them to come to their senses and return to Him.

Another example of this sense of repetition so often found in Scripture, and especially in prophetic writings, is in chapter 6 where he speaks against the complacency found in both the northern and southern kingdoms (6:1). See the number of time ‘You’ is used. You… “put off the evil day” (v.3 in your thinking pretending it won’t happen), “lounge on your couches” (v.4a – indifferent to your plight), “dine on choice lambs” (v.4b food becomes a focus – a characteristic of life in the West for so many today), “strum on your harps” (v.5 music – ditto), “drink wine by the bowlful” (v.6a ditto), “use the finest lotions” (v.6b cosmetics – ditto), “do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph” (v.6c indifferent to the plight of God’s people – ditto) “will be among the first to go into exile” (v.7 but the judgment WILL come on all this – ditto)

When we come to chapters 7 & 8, we come to a number of very visual warnings: A swarm of locusts (7:1-3), a consuming fire (7:4-6), a plumb line (7:7-17), a basket of ripe fruit (ch. 8). Rather like Jeremiah, he receives opposition from the religious establishment (7:10-17)

In chapter 9 he has a vision: “I saw the Lord standing by the altar,” warning of impending judgment that is all-encompassing (v.1-10) but then remarkably, out of the blue so to speak, comes this final word of hope – to restore the Davidic reign (v.11,12), to bring great fruitfulness and abundance (v.13) and to bring back from exile and restore Israel (v.14) and utterly restore Israel in their own land (v.15). Now whether that last promise was deferred for nearly three thousand years (from then), by Israel’s rejection of their Messiah, or whether it was simply supposed to bring great reassurance in a time of tumult, is unclear. Even this book could not be written without an  element of hope for the future. The present required a strong message calling for repentance (which would be rejected in the north resulting in their destruction in 522, and by the south resulting in their destruction in 587), but in the longer-term there was the Lord’s knowledge of what would have to happen, eventually resulting in a restoration of a purged and purified people of God. It is a fascinating book!

46. Joel

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 46.  Joel

Joel 2:28,29   I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Commentators are all over the place as to dating Joel but, as I read it, my conclusion is that the date is really irrelevant because he deals with such major issues spanning history. Simply by what is said, here I believe, is a reasonable suggestion to what is in it:

Part 1: 1:1-2:11  The plight of Israel

Part 2: 2:12-18   That concludes in a call to repentance

Part 3: 2:19-27   That flows into an assurance that the Lord will hear and bless.

Part 4: 2:28-32   Now a jump to the period of salvation, the period of the Church

Part 5: 3:1-21     This flows on to the last days, of judgment on the nations.

Now before we examine the contents of each part, note in v.15 the first reference to “the day of the Lord” which we’ll examine in a moment. It is significant in the number of times it appears (5) but it is unclear initially, I would suggest, whether this refers to just one specific day of judgment at the end, or is simply a phrase used to describe the various times God comes to bring judgment. Perhaps we should look more closely:

1:15  Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.”

2:1b  “Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming.”

2:11  “The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?

2:31  “the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.”

3:14,15 “For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine.”

The common thing about this day is that it will be terrible and will be accompanied by judgmental destruction. So now let’s note how it appears.

Part 1: The Plight of Israel: (1:1-2:11) starts with a call to recognise the plight of the land, having been ravaged by ‘locusts’– an invader from the north (v.6) who has ravished the land. It appears to conclude with the first call to repentance (v.13,14). Yet although that has already happened, there is coming a worse day (v.15), the ‘day of the Lord’. However he then appears to pick up and continue bewailing the present state of the land in the same tone as the earlier verses (v.16-20). It is almost as if the Spirit breaks in on his anguish about the present state, as if to say, yes, but there is a much worse day that will come later in history that makes this present time pall into insignificance.

Continuing the same section, bemoaning the state of the land, in Chapter 2 we find the Spirit seems to break in yet again with this reference to ‘the day of the Lord’ (2:1,2) but when he says, “It is close at hand” (v.1c) we should understand that in prophetic language, terms and experience, it so often does NOT mean ‘it’s coming shortly’ but ‘it’s high on my prophetic horizon as of major significance in the world’s history’; be aware of this day, pray, repent and adjust your lives in anticipation of it.

I say these verses in chapter 2 are all part of this first section because in v.3 Joel  keeps on referring to “them” and “they”, (count the number of times), referring to this invading army from the north (see in v.3 to 11). But then we appear to have a problem, for this description finishes in v.11 with The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” which seems to point back to what has just been written. Again, in prophetic terms, what we find is that this latter part (v.3-11) of the whole section is a description of what is happening in the IMMEDIATE FUTURE, indeed what seems to have already started according to the earlier verses, AND what we might term the END TIME FUTURE.

Part 2: The Call to Repentance: (2:12-18) In the light of this awareness of the state of the land and of the invading army, both now and in the long-term future, together with the reasons for both, the obvious call is for repentance. That is the only way to stop the present disciplinary judgment and to avoid the wrath of the end-time Day.

Part 3: The Lord’s Response – Blessing: (2:19-27) Whenever there is repentance, the Lord will always bless. The blessing spelled out is provision, (v.18,19) deliverance from the invader (v.20), abundance of harvest (v.21-24), and restoration after the work of the ‘locusts’ (v.25-27). In the light of what follows it seems this could well describe the restoration that followed the Exile.

Part 4: The Period of Salvation: (2:28-32) Although this might be seen as ongoing blessing continuing on from the period of the Lord restorative goodness above, we have separated it out (as our highlight of this book!) because of the words, “And afterward” in v.28 and the application of these verses under the anointing of the Spirit on the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost in the light of the outpouring at the beginning of Acts 2 (see Acts 2:16-21). Those verses have just been fulfilled, he says. It was the start of the period of the Church, a period during which “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” (Joel 2:32 & Acts 2:21) and it will end at “the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:20)

Part 5: Judgment on the nations:  (3:1-21)  The coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD,” referred to in 2:31 is clearly spelled out in chapter 3, a time of restoration of Israel (all the people of God) and judgment of the (unbelieving) peoples of the nations (v.1 & 2). And why this latter judgment? Because of the way the nations had treated the people of God (v.3-8).  OK, get ready for battle, says the Lord, you versus me (v.9-11), just as we see in Rev 19:11-21.  This will be a time of great judgment on all who oppose, reject and rebel against the Lord and against His people (v.12-21)

To summarise: the word comes to the people of God in the Promised Land (Judah is not mentioned until chapter 3) to a) take stock of their situation, ravaged by an enemy and b) repent so that God may bring blessing on them. In due time, part of that blessing will be the outpouring of His Holy Spirit, which will usher in a new era, the era of salvation for whoever believes in the Son of God and his work on the Cross. It is an era that will continue until the Lord winds up history on that fateful “Day of the Lord” when He enters into judgment with all who oppose Him, a time of accounting and final judgment. In this short three-chapter book, this amazing prophet catches the sense of the day and puts it in the perspective of the whole of history yet to come, yes a time of trouble that will give way to blessing, a time of trouble that will appear minor in comparison to the end-time judgment that he also senses. What a prophetic spectrum!

45. Hosea

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 45.  Hosea

Hos 1:2   When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.”

Hosea, the first of the minor prophets, presents us with a problem. Are there any highlight verses?  It depends what we mean by highlight. We have usually taken it to mean verses that shed light and release faith, and when you read through Hosea there is not much that fits that description. Hosea prophesied in a period somewhere either side of 700BC. Although so much of the time it appears that he is speaking against the northern kingdom, the fact that in the opening verse he is identified by four kings of the south as well as one from the north, you are left wondering if much of what he says is supposed to also be a warning to the south.  As a book it is mostly a prophetic tirade against the sins of Israel, calling for repentance.

Chapters 1 to 3 have a unique and amazing personal element to it which, possibly we may suggest, stands out as a highlight in Scripture.  The Living Bible puts verse 2 as follows: “The Lord said to Hosea, “Go and marry a girl who is a prostitute, so that some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, committing open adultery against me by worshiping other gods.” Now I am not quite sure about that paraphrase which is a commonly understood interpretation of what took place because a) the emphasis of what happened with his wife, Gomer, is on her relationships with a number of ‘lovers’ and the word prostitute only occurs in 3:3 and 9:1 as suggesting that this is almost what these relationships are tantamount to, and b) there is indication that only one of her children’s father was anyone other than Hosea, although it is of course possible, if not likely (see below).

So adultery (relationship out of wedlock involving at least one who is married) and unfaithfulness (breaking of the marriage covenant) are the charges against Israel and Hosea is told to emphasise that by taking a wife who will prove to be an adulterer. When she has children, the names Hosea is to give them speaks out the Lord’s message.

Her first son is to be called “Jezreel” (1:4) which means ‘God scatters’, an indication of what He will do with unrepentant Israel. The Lord also explains (v.4) that it is to highlight the wrong massacre that Jehu committed at Jezreel when he killed Joram. (see 2 Kings 9) and He would end that dynasty (which shortly happened).

Gomer’s next child (1:6) was a to be called “Lo-Ruhamah” which simply means ‘not loved’ for, said the Lord, “I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them.” i.e. He has given up on Israel.

She then has a second son (v.8,9) to be called “Lo-Ammi” for, said the Lord, “you are not my people, and I am not your God.” a possible indication that indeed this child was not Hosea’s.  However, after this, there is one ray of hope which perhaps ought to have been our highlight: “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, `You are not my people,’ they will be called `sons of the living God.’ The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.” (v.10,11)

Now that is amazing. Note what it says – Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore. Northerner as well as southerners? The two will be reunited? Well, in 2 Chron 30, in Hezekiah’s reign (which was shortly AFTER the fall of Samaria in 722) Hezekiah made a remarkable call to Israelite exiles to come and join their revival (v.6-9) and it is clear that they did (v.17-20). Was that the fulfillment of this remarkable promise?

Chapter 2 is a prophetic indictment of the wife – Israel – and yet as it goes on in verses 14 to 17 there are again verses of hope: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me `my husband’; you will no longer call me `my master.’ I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked.”

That is amazing. Achor, near Jericho, had been where Achan had been stoned for his disobedience (see Josh 7:24-26) and known as a ‘valley of trouble’ ever since. Achor, just over the border of the northern kingdom, would yet become a place of hope. Would it be in exile, that the northern kingdom carried away in 722 would, like the southern tribes, learn to worship God again, free from idols, in exile? The remaining verses of chapter 2 are verses of hope.

In the intervening period, Gomer has obviously left Hosea and is living with another, probably as a slave (for he has to pay for her) and when we come to chapter 3 we find he is instructed to go and take her back (3:1-3). Why? Of what was this to be a picture? “For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.” (v.4,5)

Did this refer to the northern kingdom or the south, or both? Whichever, it is a word of hope for whoever would hear. This is not a God who is wiping them out of existence; this is the Lord who presents a picture of hope to His people, the hope of a good future with Him. It is of course conditional upon their repentance and if they won’t do it before hand, then it will be repentance that comes out of exile. Confusing times, terrible times, strong words, words of rebuke and yet also words of hope. So a difficult book, in some ways a depressing book, and yet nevertheless there ARE highlights of hope for those who would hear and respond. Tragically it would be the latter course mentioned above – repentance that comes out of exile – that would apply, but the offer was always there and even though the measures taken against both Israel and Judah were strong, the end result was a purged people who came back to the Lord free from idol worship.

44. Daniel (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 44.  Daniel (2)

Dan 1:8,9   But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,

So we come to the prophetic section of Daniel, chapters 7 to 12. If encounters with God are sometimes referred to as mountain top experiences, here we have another mountain range with a few peaks. It is a confusing area of Scripture with a variety of interpretations given by commentators, so let’s satisfy ourselves with identifying the sections and picking up some highlights within them.

Vision 1: The Four Beasts (7:1-28  Probably 553BC). Possibly the most spiritually significant one of the visions, Daniel is lying down (v.1) when he sees fours beats, representing four kingdoms (v.2-8) but immediately following he is given a picture of heaven with God ruling over all things, shades of the book of Revelation: As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.” (v.9,10) Shortly after, in this vision, is one of the clearest Messianic visions in Scripture: In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (7:13,14) A human figure in heaven, led before God given supreme authority over the world, an everlasting kingdom. None other than the Son of God. Wow! The four beasts represent kingdoms of men on the earth BUT “the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever–yes, for ever and ever.” (7:18) Yes, kings will come and go, but the rule of the kingdom of God through His people is supreme in importance and significance in God’s eyes.

Vision 2: The Ram and Goat and horn (8:1-27  About 551BC)  A vision about ‘the time of the end’ (v.17)

Daniel’s Prayer & Answer: (9:1-27 About 539/8BC) Daniel understands Jeremiah’s seventy years (9:2) so prays and fasts for Israel and confesses the sin of his people (9:3-19). That prayer is a highlight. While praying and fasting, the angel Gabriel comes and reveals something of history’s future. Within it we may surmise the coming of Jesus (v.25), the anointed one, who will eventually be cut off (v.26) and the ruler of the land (Rome) will destroy Jerusalem and the Temple (v.26b as happened in AD70).  Wars and desolations will characterize history of this fallen world (v.26c) until a time of upheaval and change when the Lord will decree the end (v.27). If the talk of ‘sevens’ is confusing, rest in the knowledge that the Lord knows how history will pan out.

Prayer & Revelation of Spiritual Warfare: (10:1-21 Probably 539BC) Daniel prays for three weeks (v.1) until a divine figure appears (v.2-9) who reveals that from the moment Daniel started praying he had been heard (v.12), but there had been resistance from the demonic authority of Persia (v.13) until help had arrived to take over from him to release him to go to Daniel (implied in v.20). Although he says he will explain Israel’s future, he says nothing yet beyond he has to go back to continue fighting the power of Persia after which the power of Greece will come. It is an unclear passage but has insights similar to the apostle Paul’s, “rulers… authorities …. powers of this dark world and … spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) and which few but intercessors  seem to become aware of.

Vision 3: The Four Kings: (11:2 – 12:4) This is a continuation of chapter ten in as far as it is the explanation by the divine figure of what will happen. There is much detail and some commentators follow it through showing how it corresponds to all that took place in the period from here until the coming of Christ, of which the Scriptures are otherwise silent. Again the message has to be, the Lord knows! It is all according to plan! The final part of the vision – 12:1-4 – some suggest is a reference to the death and resurrection of Christ and the salvation that follows.

Vision 4: The Two Men:  (12:5-13) In this final ongoing vision Daniel sees two men who he questions about all this. He is told, “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.” (v.10)  A good description of the period of the Church when many get saved and sanctified while many others continue to do evil.

As I look back over these chapters, I ask myself, where are the highlights? Well, it depends. If you want the wonder of God and of heaven, it is 7:9,10. If you want a vision of the coming Messiah, it is 7:13,14. If you want spiritual warfare it is 10:1-20, but the truth is that as you might meditate on individual verses that come alive to you, they might become your highlight verses.

Again and again throughout it all, with the talk of enigmatic ‘sevens’ there filters through this sense that a) God knows all the periods of history and b) He has a program of history. It is a combination of the working of the enemy, the working of powerful people (‘kings’) and the working of the Lord Himself. Much of the time the visions spell out orders of events, the unrolling of history, so often focused on rulers, the powerful people who so often appear to influence history, but there are ‘time’ or ‘duration’ elements in some of them but given in very enigmatic ways, e.g. “a time, times and half a time,” (7:25), “seventy ‘sevens’” (9:24), “seven `sevens,’ and sixty-two `sevens.’” (9:25), “a time, times and half a time,” (12:7). Yet, also, there is the occasional sense that everything is happening to a set timetable, for example, “the appointed time of the end,” (8:19, 11:40, 12:4,9) and “an end will still come at the appointed time.” (11:27,29,35) Confusing, yes, but even as the book of Revelation indicates, the supreme authority rests on a throne in heaven. He is the Lord of all, despite the turmoils of history. Perhaps this is THE ‘highlight’ truth that shines through in all this strange prophetic and visionary talk.

43. Daniel (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 43.  Daniel (1)

Dan 1:8,9   But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,

As we now come to Daniel, we come to the third of God’s ‘roving reporters’ of the Exile. Daniel was carried away to Babylon in the first of Nebuchadnezzar’s raids on Jerusalem but unlike Jeremiah and Ezekiel his role was not to speak God’s words to the exiles but was, instead, to speak as God’s mouthpiece to the various kings from Nebuchadnezzar on. The first six chapters of his book are historical, telling how this happened, and chapter 7 to 12 are prophecies or visions he received. Because of this we will take one historical incident for our first study in this book and then one from the prophetic section.

We have chosen verses 8 and 9 above because they are ‘turning point verses’ that impinge on all that follows. They start, as you can see, with a ‘But’ which indicates they flow on from what has gone before, so let’s pick that up first, for it is highly significant in Daniel’s story.

Nebuchadnezzar had carried off King Jehoiakim of Judah (1:1,2) together with members of the royal family and the nobility, young men who clearly had learning (1:3,4a) with the objective that these young men would be taken to Babylon and, for three years, would be taught and trained in the history and ways of Babylon so that eventually the best of them could serve Nebuchadnezzar in his court (1:4b,5). Daniel was one of these young men.

Now part of the perks, or perhaps part of the brain-washing that would transform these brightest of men into good Babylonians, was to provide them with all the rich food and drink that was available in the royal court. Part of the transformation process was to also give each of these young men a Babylonian god-linked name and so Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar which probably means, “Bel protect his life” (Daniel had meant, “God is my judge”) i.e. everything was being done to change these men from being young Israelite noblemen to good Babylonians.

So we come to the point where this rich food is being presented to Daniel and his three friends (v.5)  at which point he determines to resist this transformation process. So note the stating point of his actions: Daniel resolved.” He set him mind on resisting this. However he is basically a slave and not in a good position to say what he will or will not do, so he goes in humility and “he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” Now we come to the God part: “Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel.” Somehow the Lord had spoken into the officials heart and made him feel good towards Daniel, but that isn’t enough to sway him; he would like to help Daniel (perhaps he too was an ‘import’!) but he was afraid of what the king would say if they looked worse than the others (v.10).

At this point Daniel is not put off and perseveres and gets what today we would call ‘a word of wisdom’ and simply asks the guard, who the chief official had put over them, to let them try out for ten days a menu free from rich food and wine, and then see what they are like at the end of that time. He agrees to this. (v.11-14) At the end of the ten days Daniel and his friends look better than any of the other conscripts (v.15) and so the guard allows them to carry on without the rich food and wine (v.16).

We then see the Lord’s blessing on these four young men: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” (1:17) so that “At the end of the time set by the king …. he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (1:18-20) What a testimony!

The lessons of this little incident are clear and powerful. Note first, Daniel is in an alien environment, not one of his choosing. He is powerless in the situation, except he comes from a godly background. Now this is interesting in that the words that came from Jeremiah, and later from Ezekiel, indicate that the spiritual state of Judah and the occupants of Jerusalem was very low – and yet Daniel clearly stands out as one who resolves to remain one of the people of God. So, lesson no.1 – Daniel resolves to hold on to his heritage. When you or I find ourselves in such a situation, can we too resolve NOT to go the way of the rest of the world and remain true to God (how to do that is the problem that follows and is to be addressed). We may need to persevere, but will we do it?

We then saw that the Lord was clearly with Daniel in that He made the chief official favourable towards Daniel.  Lesson no.2 – recognize that wherever you are the Lord is with you (Heb 13:5b) and He will be working for you (Rom 8:28). In what follows it is clear that Daniel has the wisdom of the Lord. Lesson no.3 – in such times always turn to the Lord and ask Him for His wisdom to know what to do (Jas 1:5) Simple isn’t it!

We will see further examples of such things in Daniel as the book unfolds. In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which he demands his astrologers and wise men to tell him about, and their failure would mean their death (2:1-13) – which includes Daniel and his friends. When Daniel is told about this, he speaks to the commander of the king’s guard who has been sent to execute them all: “Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact.” (2;14) This opens up the way for him to ask the king for time (2:16) and then he gets his three friends to intercede before the Lord (2:17,18) and the Lord gives him the answer!

As a result of this Nebuchadnezzar, “placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.” (2:48) Amazing! And so it carries on. If you are not familiar with Daniel, you must read how in chapter three his three friends make a further declaration of their commitment to God: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (3:17,18) and there’s more to follow. It is an amazing story, this story of this young prophet who became senior counselor to king after king. And why? What were his characteristics? His faithfulness to God, his resolve, his humility, grace, wisdom and tact and his prayer life, a true child of God whose example is to be followed. Wow! Go for it!