July 7, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Monday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
                    
Morning - Ps.75, 76, 1 Sam. 8:4, Lk. 13:1-9
Evening - Ps. 73, Dan. 4:4-18, Acts 22:30-23:11

Commentary, Daniel 4:4-18
                 
Nebuchadnezzar has had another dream.  Like his first, this is not an ordinary dream, and he believes it is a divine message.  As with his first dream, the leaders of the religions of Babylon are unable to discern the meaning of the dream.  This is a critically important point leading to two possibilities.  First, maybe the dream is not a message from the divine, although, if that were true the astrologers and wise men should have been able to tell the king so.  Second, maybe it is a message from the divine, but the Babylonian religious leaders are not being told what it means.  This leads to the conclusion that they are not sufficiently connected to the divine to understand what is being said in the dream.  In other words, their religions are not really just different ways of worshiping the same God; they are about completely different gods, and those gods are not there.  Thus, they are completely disconnected from the Living God.  It is very important to realise that we are not free to change God in order to make Him more acceptable to us, or to confuse Him with the gods invented by human imagination.  We must take God on His own terms.  It is we who must conform to Him, not He who must conform to us (see Jn. 14:6).

In verse 8, Daniel comes to the king, and is immediately welcomed into his presence, for the king knows Daniel is profoundly connected to the divine.  I am using the word "divine" because the king, while recognising the reality of the God of Daniel, does not recognise Him as the only God, nor does he believe He is the only God who inspires Daniel (4:8).  He probably believes his dream has come from Bel, high god of the Babylonian religion, and assumes the God of Daniel is subservient to Bel.   Thus, he calls Daniel according to the name of his (Nebuchadnezzar's) god, Belteshazzar, and the reference to the high god in Daniel 4:2-3 probably refers to Bel rather than God. It seems apparent also that Nebuchadnezzar considers Daniel one of the prophets of Bel (4:9).

Though Nebuchadnezzar recognised the reality of the God of Israel (Dan. 2:47) he never forsook the idolatry of Babylon, so his references to Bel are not surprising.  His brief recognition of God serves as a warning to all who take faith in God lightly.  Many persons, seemingly converted in the warmth of a strong sermon or church service, are found among the unbelievers again in short order.  Many church members, whose faith appears strong while they are under the influence of a caring church, family, or minister, fade back into the world when that influence is removed.  Many who once appeared to be faithful students of the Bible are now found among its critics and skeptics.

Tonight's reading ends with the king's order to Daniel, as a prophet of Bel, to interpret the dream.  Daniel obeys, but it is not a prophet of Bel who gives the meaning of the dream.  It is Daniel, whose name means, "God will Judge," who addresses the king in the name of God.

Tuesday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.77, 1 Sam. 9:1-10, Lk. 13:10-21
Evening - Ps. 74, Dan. 4:19-27, Acts 23:12-24

Commentary, Daniel 4:19-27

Nebuchadnezzar is a tyrant.  He has built an empire on violence and bloodshed.  He rules it with ruthless efficiency, killing those who cross or displease him (Dan. 2:12-13).  He enriches himself at the expense of conquered peoples, and credits an idol with granting him success and prosperity.  In Nebuchadnezzar's defense, most of the conquered people would have gladly done the same to him, for then, just as now, people were not good at making peace through voluntary alliances.  They were much better at conquering neighbors and forcing them into slavery, thus, carving out for themselves brief eras of peace and security at the expense of others.  In Daniel's time, Nebuchadnezzar was better at this than anyone else around him, so he was able to build and maintain an empire.

For an unexplained reason, God is giving Nebuchadnezzar a chance to repent.  His dream, easily explained by Daniel, tells of a time when he will be removed from his throne and his kingdom given to another. God raised him up for His own purposes, and God will cast him down at will.  The watcher in verse 23 is an angel who begins the judgment of God on Nebuchadnezzar (25-26).

But the same God, who sent the dream to warn the king of his impending doom, also sent Daniel to invite him to repent.  It is important to see the great invitation in this dream.  It gives Nebuchadnezzar the chance to repent.  It gives him the chance to turn to God.  Nebuchadnezzar had the opportunity to leave his idolatry and turn to God.  This is one of the most important aspects of this entire dream.
                                                           
The entreaty of verse 27 invites the king to begin to rule the empire in righteousness and justice.  It invites him to uphold the rights of the people, especially the poor, which would be the people of conquered nations as well as the poor of Babylon.  It is an admonition to stop ruling according to his own whims, which have become corrupted by power, and to start ruling by the principles of justice, truth, and integrity; not to benefit himself and the ruling class, but to benefit all people.

Imagine how different the world would be if Nebuchadnezzar had turned to God. Unfortunately this is yet another example of a great gift of God thrown away by human sin. 

Wednesday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
                    
Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 80, 1 Sam. 9:11-21, Lk. 13:22
Evening - Ps. 81, Dan. 4:28, Acts 23:25-24:9

Commentary, Daniel 4:28

Nebuchadnezzar did not repent.  If anything, he became even more arrogant.  "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" (4:30). Remember that, in the dream, God told Nebuchadnezzar that it was God who raised him up and gave him the empire of Babylon.  It was not Bel who did this for him, and it was certainly not the accomplishment of Nebuchadnezzar alone.  By sending this message to him, God gave Nebuchadnezzar an extraordinary opportunity to, as we would say in New Testament language, "be saved."  Very, very few people receive special dreams from God. Fewer still are visited by a prophet to interpret them.  We are accustomed to reading about such things in the Old Testament, and we may think they were common occurrences.  Not so. They were very, very rare. That's one of the factors that made them noteworthy, and it is one of the reasons why they were recorded in the Bible.  So Nebuchadnezzar was the recipient of a very rare gift from God, and he threw it away.

Before we criticise Nebuchadnezzar, perhaps we should ask ourselves how great our opportunities have been, and what use we have made of them.  He had a dream, but we have the Bible, which records many dreams. He had a prophet, but we have the Bible, which contains the words of many prophets.  We have the New Testament, which records the life and teaching of Christ.  We have the Holy Spirit.  We have the Church, the Sacraments, and all the means of grace at our disposal.  Many reading this commentary have hours of leisure time each day and live in lands where we can own and read the Bible freely.  By all accounts we should be the most informed, most Biblically literate, most Godly-minded people in the history of the world.  What have we done with our opportunities?  To leave "undone those things which we ought to have done" is just as sinful as doing "those things which we ought not to have done."

To whom much is given, much will be required, so, as Nebuchadnezzar had a great opportunity, his loss for rejecting it was also great. The dream came true in every detail (33).  It is possible that this happened in the last years of Nebuchadnezzar's life, and that he died soon after the events recorded in verses 34-37.  Whether this is so or not, Nebuchadnezzar leaves the pages of the book of Daniel in verse 37, but not before his sanity is returned and he is allowed to return to his throne (36).  He also proclaims great faith in the God of Daniel, whom he calls the King of Heaven in verse 37.  Was his conversion genuine?  Did he truly turn to God?  Or did he merely acknowledge Him as the greatest among all gods?  We cannot know this until we walk the streets of Heaven ourselves and find him present or absent.  We can know whether our conversion is real or not, and what we have done with our own opportunities.

Thursday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 85, 1 Sam.9:22, Lk. 14:1-14
Evening - Ps. 89:1-9, Dan. 5:1-9, Acts 24:10-23

Commentary, Daniel 5:1-9

Whether the faith of Nebuchadnezzar was real or not, all traces of it have dissipated by the time Belshazzar became king.  Belshazzar (not Belteshazzar, Daniel's Babylonian name) whose name means "Bel protects the king," is the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar.  Verse 2 refers to Nebuchadnezzar as his father in the same sense the Jews refer to Abraham as their "father."  In tonight's reading he is throwing a pagan festival, which is basically a drunken orgy. Under the influence of much wine, he calls for the vessels stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  His intent is to insult the vessels, and the God they represent, by using them as containers from which to drink wine in honour of Babylonian idols (5:4).  It is easy to see that this action is an intentional affront to God.  They are using sacred vessels to toast all manner of things that stand against everything that God is.

This is not at all unusual.  Even people who call themselves by the name of Christ do the very same thing today.  Denying the doctrines of Scripture and blessing ungodliness in the name of God, their actions are no less insulting to God than those of Belshazzar.

Truly the handwriting is on the wall, for a hand appears to the Babylonians and writes upon the wall of the hall in which they revel in ungodliness (5:5). Belshazzar knew his actions were wrong, and he knew that his grandfather held the God of Daniel in high esteem.  He knew the story of God's dealing with Nebuchadnezzar (5:22), yet he committed this terrible insult against God.  This is why his countenance was changed and his body trembled so much that his knees knocked together (5:6).  Yes, the appearance of the hand was frightening, but the knowledge that it wrote a message from the God of Israel, whom he insulted in high contempt, was even more frightening.  

The handwriting is on the wall for all to see.  God has given all people a witness to His existence and will (Acts 14:17, Rom1:19-20).  Man's problem is not that he does not know God; it is that he refuses to act on his knowledge.  People hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).  Therefore, they are without excuse (Rom. 2:1) and under the wrath of God (Rom 1:18).

Again the wise men of Babylon are unable to interpret the message.  The "wise men" of our own time have the same problem.  The prophets of the religion of secular humanism, for example, often express a desire for justice, clearly borrowed from the Bible.  But they deny the existence of God and insist that man can create a just world by his own abilities.  Modern theistic humanists believe in God, but think they find Him/her/it/they inside themselves, and believe only what their "hearts" tell them about God.  Their religion also often expresses a desire for justice, but it is justice according to their own personal definitions.  Both forms of humanism have rejected the one foundation upon which justice may be built, the revelation of God in the Holy Bible.  Without this revelation, man can never agree on what constitutes peace or justice. Without a revelation from God, the only arbiter of truth and morality is the individual person, and every person's truth and morality is different.  The revelation from God is available to modern day "wise men," but they reject and distort it. Like the prophets of Babylon, the handwriting is on the wall, but it is meaningless to them.

Friday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 86, 1 Sam. 10:1-11, Lk. 14:15-24
Evening - Ps. 91, Dan 5:10-16, Acts 24:24-25:12

Commentary, Daniel 5:10-16

The queen is not Belshazzar's wife.  They are all present at the festival (5:2).  The queen is his mother or grandmother.  She is wise enough to shun the wicked party assembled by Belshazzar, and realises that Daniel is able to interpret the message which the Babylonian prophets cannot (5:12).  She even calls Daniel by his Jewish name, which means, "God will Judge," rather than by his Babylonian name which has to do with the pagan idol, Bel (5:12).  As the wife or daughter in law of Nebuchadnezzar, she remembers the favour of God on him, and the God-given abilities of Daniel. She still retains her belief in other gods (5:11), however, and cannot be considered a convert to true, Biblical faith.

King Belshazzar calls for Daniel, also addressing him by his Jewish name (5:13).  Perhaps the Spirit of God is moving in this profane and wicked man's heart.  Certainly, as with Nebuchadnezzar, this warning to Belshazzar is also an invitation to repent of his sin and turn to God.  Belshazzar is almost scared enough to do it, but not quite.  It is a good thing to have a certain amount of fear of God.  The Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but fear without faith is not enough.  A person may stop doing something because he is afraid of going to hell, but that is not the same as repenting of sin and loving Christ as Lord and Saviour.  True faith is a turning of the entire being toward God.  It is to embrace him as God and King, and to trust Him to cover your sins with His grace.  Belshazzar's fear fell far short of this.

Daniel's response (5:17) was not a rejection of the king's offer; it was a statement that he would speak the truth of God regardless of the result.  The king may offer money and honours now, but when he hears the meaning of the writing, he may order Daniel's death.  Neither possibility sways Daniel's intent to tell the truth.  He will remain true to God at all costs.

A little imagination will find many ways to apply Daniel's faithfulness to our situation today.  Many have deserted the Bible for the sake of financial and social gain.  Ministers, congregations, even whole denominations have cast Scripture behind them to gain members and keep the money coming in.  Feelings and convenience, rather than Biblical faith is often the deciding factor in people's choice of churches, and many parents are more concerned that a church have a gymnasium than the Gospel. On the other hand, many in authority have punished those who attempted to stand for truth.  The "church" has killed far more faithful Christians than the world.

Saturday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 90, 1 Sam. 10:17, Lk. 14:25
Evening - Ps. 96, 98, Dan. 5:17-30, Acts 25:13

Commentary, Daniel 5:17-30

Tonight's reading allows us to witness a great cosmic war. The battleground is the city of Babylon.  The contestants are God and Bel, the idol of Babylon.  The battle is fought through two men, Belshazzar, whose name means, "Bel protects the king," and Daniel, whose name means "God will judge."  We are going to find out which name expresses the truth.  If the prophecy written on the wall comes true, then God has judged Belshazzar and proven that He is God and there is no other. If the prophecy does not come true, then Bel has protected the king and proven that he is the Most High God. 

This clash of the Gods takes place at a crucial time in Jewish history.  The Jews will return to Jerusalem soon, and the events we studied recently in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are about to occur.  So the Jews need to know their God lives and reigns.  They need to know He raises kings and empires up, and casts them down as He sees fit.  More importantly, they need to know He rules in the life of His people, His word is true, and His will is accomplished infallibly upon the earth.  This will show the Jews they can trust Him when the time comes to return to Jerusalem and do the hard work and sacrificing required to rebuild the city and Temple.  Most importantly, it will encourage the Jews, infected with pagan idolatry and a diluted Jewish faith, to throw down their idols and return to God as His covenant people again.

Like the Jews, we are called to follow God and keep His Covenant, even in difficult and dangerous times.  We need to know that God will judge all and Bel will protect no one.  Then we can follow God with confidence.

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