July 29, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, Week of July 28- August 2

Monday

Morning - Ps. 39, 1 Sam. 1:12-20, Lk. 11:37
Evening - Ps. 42, 43, Dan. 2:14-24, Acts 20:17

Commentary, Daniel 2:14-24

None of the wise men of Babylon were able to tell the king's dream; therefore, he issued an order that they should all be executed.  While this may be cruel, Nebuchadnezzar has realised that they are all pretenders.  In his anger he plans to rid his kingdom of their lies.  Daniel, however, asks the king to wait a while before putting his plan into action (2:15&16), promising that he would tell both the dream and its interpretation.

Verses 17 and 18 show Daniel and his companions seeking God in prayer.  They are asking God to give Daniel understanding that he may not be killed with the rest of the wise men.  God does not always answer our prayers "yes," but He did this time.  In fact, we can see that it is the providence of God that has orchestrated this whole event.  It is God who gave the dream to Nebuchadnezzar, and God who kept it from the false prophets and wise men of Babylon.  In this He showed the falsehood of their religions and powers.  And it was God who gave the interpretation to Daniel.  In this He shows that He is the One God, who sets the order of times and seasons, raises up and casts down kings and empires, and has revealed the dark and secret things of the king's heart to Daniel.  It is worthy of note that Daniel had pity on the wise men of Babylon.  He desired not their death, but that they might see the hand of God, and worship Him.

Tuesday

Morning - Ps. 45, 1 Sam. 1:21-2:11, Lk. 12:1-12
Evening - Ps. 49, Dan 2:25-35, Acts 21:1-14

Commentary, Daniel 2:25-35

The inability of the pagan magicians to know and interpret the king's dream shows the falsehood of their entire religion (2:27).  Daniel's ability to know and interpret it shows that there is a God in Heaven (2:28) and it is the God worshiped by Daniel. He has revealed the dream to Nebuchadnezzar and its meaning to Daniel (2:30).

There is an implicit question in these verses; if the wise men of Babylon, through their magic and spells and gods, cannot discern this dream, which is obviously an important message from God, why consult them any more?  Nebuchadnezzar had already decided not to, in fact, he intended to kill them.  But what about the Jews?  They had been brought low by trusting in false prophets and false religions.  It was for this sin that God had allowed the Babylonians to conquer them.  They needed to be shown that there is a God in Heaven, and He is the God of Israel.

It was common practice in those days for a defeated nation to believe their god had been defeated by the conqueror's god.  The Jews, having been deeply influenced by pagan thought for many generations, may have thought the Babylonian gods were stronger than The God, and that, in some kind of cosmic battle, they had defeated God, and thus, were able to defeat Judah.  God here shows to His people that He is still The God, The One God, The Only God.  The idols of Babylon did not defeat the Jews, their own sins did.

Therefore, why not follow God?  Why not turn to Him in Biblical faith and be His people and receive His blessings?  This is being imprinted upon the Jewish people in this passage.



Wednesday

Morning - Ps. 56, 1 Sam. 2:18-26, Lk. 12:13-21
Evening - Ps. 62, 63, Dan. 2:36-45, Acts 21:15-26

Commentary, Danile 2:36-45

Tonight we are told the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar's dream.  The great image of verse 31 represents kings and empires of the earth that will rise and fall, beginning with Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar.  He is a mighty king over many kings, but his empire will not last forever.  As Babylon's power fades, another empire will rise and conquer it.  This empire will not be as great or extensive as Babylon (39).  It, too, will fall into decay and be conquered by a third, which will also fall into decline and be conquered by a fourth.  This empire will be strong as iron, breaking and subduing the earth with great power and cruelty (40).  But it will not be invincible, for it has feet of clay.  It has a vulnerable spot, a weakness (42).  It, too, shall fall.

In the days of these kings and empires, "shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (44).  What is this Kingdom?  It is the Kingdom of the Messiah.  He is the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, meaning His Kingdom is not established by the might and works of man.  He breaks the other empires to pieces and consumes them (45).  They may appear mighty, and unassailable to themselves and to the world, but God can raise them up and cast them down at will.  They may think they will last forever, but others will rise and take their places, and they will become but memories.  It is the Messiah's Kingdom that will last forever.  He is the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and He shall reign forever.

We know that the first empire is Babylon and the fourth is Rome, for it is during the time of Rome that the Messiah came to earth to establish His Kingdom.  There are some questions about the meaning of the other two.  Some have thought the empires are Babylon, Media, Persia, Grecco-Roman.  Others have thought they may be Babylon, Medio-Persia, Greece, Rome.  Obviously both groupings name all the empires leading up to the birth of the Messiah, so it may not matter terribly which is "correct."  It is a minor point anyway.  The major point is that they will fade into oblivion and the Kingdom of the Messiah will be the only Kingdom that will last forever.  Therefore, do not put your trust in human empires that wax and wane like the moon.  Do not be troubled by them, as though they will last forever.  Trust in the Lord and dwell in His Kingdom by faith.

This is the message being given to the captive Jews.  They have followed false religions, and are now in the power of an idolatrous empire.  But this empire is not almighty.  It will soon begin to fade and another will take its place, and then another, and then another.  But the promises of God given to Israel will endure as long as God endures, and will come to pass as surely as He is God Almighty.  The Messiah will come, and He will come in the days of these empires.  Trust in God.

Thursday

Morning - Ps.65, 1 Sam. 3:1-18, Lk. 12:22-34
Evening - Ps.66, Dan. 3:1-7, Acts 21:27-36

Commentary, Daniel 3:1-7

Daniel 2 closes with Nebuchadnezzar recognising the God of Israel, and honoring Daniel with wealth and position.  Like so many "conversions," it did not last, and chapter three finds him setting up an idol to be worshiped by all in his realm.  The worship was attended with great show and ceremony.  A great band was gathered to call the people to worship (3:4) and the people bowed to their knees and prayed to the idol. Speeches were probably given by the religious leaders, extolling the greatness of Babylon and of Nebuchadnezzar.  It is very possible that this was a new religion set up by Nebuchadnezzar to compete with the older Babylonian religions which had failed to interpret his dream.  It is very likely that Nebuchadnezzar was installing himself as the head of this religion, and may even have been proclaiming himself as a messenger of the goods, or even a god himself.  It is certain that he placed himself at the very center of this religion. 

He did not require the people to stop worshiping other gods.  He only required that they worship the idol in addition to whatever other gods they may have worshiped.  This would have the effect of unifying the people around one god, and, of course, around Nebuchadnezzar. The polytheistic Babylonians would have no problem with the new religion.  Even most of the Jews, long accustomed to accommodating their faith to the prevailing trends, would willingly and thoughtlessly worship the image.  But three young, Jewish men, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, were about to face a major challenge which would show the power of the Living God to all, and encourage the Jews to return to Him in faith.

Friday

Morning - Ps. 69, 1 Sam. 4:1-11, Lk. 12:35-48
Evening - Ps. 71, Dan. 3:8-18, Acts 21:37-22:16

Commentary, Daniel 3:8-18

It is suggested to Nebuchadnezzar that Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego refused to worship the idol because they had no regard for the king (3:12).  The idea presented is that they hold the king and his laws in derision, and openly refuse his laws only because of their contempt for Nebuchadnezzar.  The king is outraged at this, though he should have known better.  He commands the men to be brought before him immediately (3:13).  Perhaps the king remembers the service of these men, and that their God gave Daniel the interpretation of his dream.  He offers them an opportunity to save their lives by worshiping the idol at the next service.  But the king has also made his decree, and to back away from it now would make him appear weak.  If people can break this law with impunity, why not others also?  Of course, the only right thing for the king to do is to repent of his sin and idolatry and begin to worship the Living God.  But his pride and rage will not allow this. Nebuchadnezzar has challenged God, saying He will not be able to deliver them from his hand (3:15).

The Jews' response to Nebuchadnezzar is direct.  "We are not careful to answer thee in this matter" (3:16).  They are simply saying they are not afraid to give a direct and honest answer to the king's question because they are not afraid of him."  Their reply is essentially this:  God is able to deliver anyone from anything, and He can deliver us from you.  But whether He delivers us or lets us die in the furnace, we will not worship your idol or your gods (3:17-18).

There is a great lesson here for the Church in any age.  Finding themselves in the midst of a pagan and unbelieving culture, these young men did not compromise with it. They did not join it, did not accept its values, did not become a part of it. They did not defile themselves with it, as we see when they refused the king's meat and ate only "kosher" food (1:8). Compromise would have been easy.  Blending into the culture would have been easy.  But they remained apart and separate.  They remained true to God.  We live in a similar situation and we are tempted to accommodate our lives and values to the prevailing culture.  We cannot afford to compromise.  Like Daniel, we work and live among the people of the world, and like Daniel, we seek their good and will be good citizens of the lands in which God has placed us.  But our identity and culture is always that of the Church of Jesus Christ.

They also would not defile themselves with the religion of the worldly culture.  Today we live in an age of accommodation and syncretism.  Christians are importing doctrines and practices from other religions, and from the cultures in which we live.  These Jews refused to do so and the Bible presents their refusal as pleasing to God.

Saturday

Morning - Ps. 72, 1 Sam.4:12, Lk. 12:49
Evening - Ps. 15, 46, Dan. 3:19, Acts 22:17-29

Commentary, Daniel 3:19

The events of today's reading are well known.  Not only were the men not burned, though the furnace was exceedingly hot, they were visited by Christ in the furnace (3:25), and they were exalted and promoted by the king (3:30).
                    
In the true form of tyranny, Nebuchadnezzar, probably thinking he is doing God a favour, decrees that anyone who speaks anything amiss against God "shall be cut to pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill" (3:29).  While this order served to preserve the Jews, it is not what God's people want from the world, nor does it promote God's true religion and virtue.  It is the internal rule of God in the heart that truly honours God