Month: ט״ז בכסלו ה׳תש״ע (December 3, 2009)

The Book of Daniel Lesson 5 Chap 5 by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr

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The fifth chapter of Daniel continues with one of his six court narratives.  The text falls into five different scenes:  (1) The celebratory banquet of Belshazzar (5:1-9),  (2) The Queen Mother’s speech (5:10-12),  (3) Belshazzar’s speech (5:13-16),  (4) Daniel’s speech (5:17-28), and  (5) The way the banquet ended (5:29-31).  All events in this chapter took place in one evening, which also became the last evening and the end of the Babylonian kingdom in October 539 B.C.

It all happened within some 32 years of the death of Nebuchadnezzar in 562 B.C. The Greek historians, Herodotus and Xenophon, recount how the Persians dug a trench to divert the waters of the Euphrates River, which ordinarily would run right through the city of Babylon, off into lower land, thereby allowing the enemy troops to enter the city through the lowered river bed and overrun drunken guards and a tipsy government before they realized what was happening on that final October evening of the Babylonian empire in 539.

Once again, however, mainline scholars have treated this chapter in a critical way, alleging that it contained “prophetic legend,” “myth,” Jewish “midrash,” or Jewish “pesher.”  Some of the items that seemed too miraculous for them to regard as historical included: the handwriting on the wall, the lack of an identity of the Queen Mother, and the claim that the conquerors of Babylon and the new victors were a combination of the Medes and Persians, and not just one of those two nations, viz. the Medes.

If  Daniel chapter 4 was God’s final word to Nebuchadnezzar, then Daniel 5 was God’s final word to Belshazzar. Thus, it became clear that God was just as much in charge of the heathen Gentile world and their rulers as he was of the Jewish people. The degeneracy of respect and regard for the sacred vessels of God stolen from Yahweh’s temple in Nebuchadnezzar’s day, and now abusively used in the time of Belshazzar, is a commentary on how the morals and fear of God had likewise declined. Indeed, the glory of Babylon was also declining as Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, Evil Merodach (562-560), ruled only for some two years, due to his notoriously wicked ways, after which he was murdered by Neriglissar, his own sister’s husband. Neriglissar (560-556), in turn, died on the battlefield in the fourth year of his reign. Neriglissar’s infant son (Labashi-Marduk (556), was enthroned for less than a year when Nabonidus (555-539) usurped the throne after he had tortured the young king to death.  The last years of Nabonidus’ reign were spent in Tema, in the Arabian Peninsula, while his adopted (or real son?) carried on the affairs of state in Babylon.  Thus, half of Nabonidus’ seventeen-year reign saw the king “entrust the kingship [to Belshazzar],”[1] as the archaeological document called the “Nabonidus Chronicle” attests.

OUTLINE:

Title:  “Honoring the God Who Weighs Our Lives in His Hands”

Text: Daniel 5:1-31

Focal Point: v 23d, “But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.”

Homiletical Keyword: “Areas”

Interrogative: What are the areas in which God weighs all peoples and nations in his hands?

 I.  OUR RESPONSE TO THE SACRED (5:1-9)

 A.     Sacrilegious Insolence

 B.     Excursus on Drunkenness (Proverbs 23:29-36)

 C.    Praise of the gods of Gold and Silver

 II. OUR RESPONSE TO THE REVELATION OF GOD’S WILL (5:10-16)

 A.     The Setting of God’s Revelation

 B.     The Arrival of God’s Revelation

 III. OUR RESPONSE TO THE LESSONS OF HISTORY (5:17-31)

 A.     Belshazzar’s Four Sins

      1. No Humility

      2. Excess of Pride

      3. Profanation of the Holy

      4. No Honor of God

 B.    God’s Heavenly Graffiti

 C.    The Results of Disregarding God

Conclusions

(STUDY OF TEXT BEGINS…)

  1. Our Response to the Sacred (5:1-9)

A.  Sacrilegious Insolence

After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, the glory of Babylon was rapidly fading. Nevertheless, this nation continued its high ways as if nothing had happened. In fact, Belshazzar, who had taken over the daily operation of the affairs of state while his father, Nabonidus was away in Tema, Arabia, “gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them” (1).  But suddenly the happy mood of all there turned all of a sudden as Belshazzar ”gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar, his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them” (2, 3).  That is when things got ugly.

Belshazzar defamed the God of Israel by using the sacred vessels that had been looted from the capture of Jerusalem’s temple.  Worse still was the fact that as they took what was sacred and dedicated distinctly to Yahweh as the king, his nobles, with his wives and concubines “praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (4).

Five times in this fifth chapter Nebuchadnezzar is called Belshazzar’s “father” (e.g. 2, 11 [tris], 13, 18) and he is called his “son” (22).  However, we know that Nabonidus was his father.  Therefore, it must be remembered that the terms “father” and “son” are often used figuratively just as Elijah was called Elisha’s “father” (2 Kgs 2:12) and their disciples were called “sons of the prophets.” There is the possibility, however, that Nabonidus married the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar and that Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar.  The term “father” is also used for “grandfather.”

B.  Excursus on Drunkenness (Proverbs 23:29-35)

Belshazzar’s decision to introduce that which had been taken from the sanctuary of Yahweh almost fifty years earlier, and suddenly hand them out to a drunken crowd, must have meant that he too was already deeply intoxicated.  The scene was, as some have described it, “one of ostentatious opulence.” It is very reminiscent of the feast later put on by the Persian king Xerxes as described in the book of Esther (Est1:2-5).  Later banquets, such as this one, were noted for their orgiastic and cultic practices, but regardless whether that was true or not of this Belshazzar banquet, what happened here was a scene that was revolting to say the least.

We are not told what occasioned this banquet, but given how swiftly events moved that same night, it may have been meant to be a morale booster against the impending invasion of the Medes and Persians.  The text specially notes that the Belshazzar was drinking “with” (Aramaic qabel) or “in the presence of” his nobles.  This is most unusual, for normally the king was hidden from the view of the others at the banquet.  Does this suggest then that he was “showing off” in the presence of his wives and concubines?

Not only was the whole scene out of line, so was Belshazzar.  His reckless summons to bring the vessels captured from Jerusalem seems to suggest that he wanted, in his intoxicated state, to blaspheme Yahweh by making him too look common over against what usually was regarded as sacred.   If nothing else, perhaps superstition alone would have dictated that such an act of high insolence should be avoided.

It is not an accident that the warning about drunkenness in Proverbs 23:29-35 is juxtaposed with the warning against the lure of foreign and unfaithful women (Prov 23:26-28).  The charming vixen is placed opposite the charms of the product of the vine.  The teaching in verse 29 begins with a riddle expressed in a six-fold repetition of words, “Who has?” For each of the six questions, in a repeated anaphora (a figure of speech meaning the “carrying back of the idea to a set of words that has already occurred) is answered in verse 31.  While Scripture does not teach total abstinence, but instead moderation, yet it does sternly warn against drunkenness as a sin (Dt 21:20-21;1 Cor 6:9-10; and Gal 5:19-21).

Add to the drunkenness the brash invocation of idol gods, while they are toasting these false deities with toasts lifted from the sacred vessels of Yahweh and you have a recipe for a disaster.

Who, then, has “sorrow,” “strife,” “complaints,” “needless bruises” and “bloodshot eyes” except those who linger over wine, taught Solomon in Proverbs (29-31).  The consequences of lingering over alcoholic beverages is that one will “see strange sights” (33a),”imagine confusing things” (33b), and act like one who is “lying on top of the rigging” of a ship (34), unaware of the danger he is in.

All of a sudden the rivalry was interrupted by “the fingers of a human hand … [which] wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lamp stand in the royal palace” (5).  Archaeologists have uncovered a large throne room, some 56 feet wide and 173 feet long in Babylon. Midway along the long wall, opposite the entrance, was a niche of front of the throne room that was covered with white plaster.  This may have been the very room and same wall where the writing appeared.

This event was enough to alarm the king as “his face turned pale….and his knees knocked together and his legs gave way” (6).  To understand what all this meant, this king called for the same failed “enchanters, astrologers and diviners,” who previously had been unable to deliver (7). If any of these so-called “wise men” were able to interpret the handwriting on the wall, the king promised that they would “be clothed in purple,” and have a gold chain placed around [their] neck, and … be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom” (7b-d). This promise of being “third” confirms the fact that Belshazzar himself was second in the kingdom to his absent father Nabonidus, who was in Arabia for those years.

 I.   Our Response to the Revelation of His Will (5:10-16)

A.  The Setting of God’s Revelation

Alarmed by the fact that the wise men were unable to decipher the writing on the wall, the “Queen Mother” entered the hall unbidden on hearing the commotion caused by the mysterious writing on the wall (cf Est 4:11).  She began by urging Belshazzar to cease being alarmed and to stop looking so pale (10).  This queen could not be Belshazzar’s queen, for his wives and concubines were already at the banquet.  Neither could this queen be the aged widow of Nebuchadnezzar, for whom he built the hanging gardens to overcome her home sickness for the hills of Media, called Amytis. More probably, she is the wife of Nabonidus and mother of Belshazzar, called Nitocris, also a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar.

Her solution is to call attention to Daniel, who “in the time of your father was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of gods” (11).  She refers to “Daniel” by his Hebrew name, for she has lived long enough to have witnessed what Daniel had done in the past.

Daniel was summoned immediately and his past accomplishments were rehearsed (13-14).  He was also told of the failure of the other wise men to interpret what the writing meant (15).  Daniel was then asked to interpret the writing as the list of gifts was once again enumerated (16).  The reply that came from Daniel was unexpected, for he told the king he could “keep [his] gifts to himself and give the rewards to someone else” (17a).  Nevertheless, he would read the handwriting for Belshazzar and tell him what it meant.

 II.  Our Response to the Lessons of History (5:17-31)

ABelshazzar’s Four Sins

Daniel began his interpretation by reminding Belshazzar of what God had done for “[his] father Nebuchadnezzar” (18). God had allowed his father to enjoy “sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor” (18).  He was at once feared and dreaded by all nations, for carried the power of life and death over all (19).

As a result of all of God’s blessing, “his [Belshazzar’s] heart became arrogant and hardened with pride” (20a).  Therefore, God had stripped Nebuchadnezzar of his throne and sent him away for seven years to live with the beasts of the field until  he acknowledged his pride and humbled himself before God.

Amazingly, Belshazzar learned very little from what “his father” had gone through.  “Instead [Belshazzar has] set himself up against the Lord of heaven” (23a).  The prophet Isaiah had used this rebuke for the king of Babylon from that prophet as well: “You have said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God…. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High … But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (Isa 14:13-15).  Was Isaiah pointing to Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar? It could apply to either one or to both.

3.  Profaned the Holy

Daniel went on to rebuke Belshazzar by noting how he had “set [himself] up against the Lord of Heaven” (23a), in that he had taken the “goblets from [Yahweh’s] temple,” as he and his nobles, his wives, and concubines, drank wine from them and toasted other gods (23a-b).  The very verb ”to profane” literally means to take “from” (pro) the temple,” (fanum).

4.  Did Not Honor Yahweh

Even though “God [was] hold[ing] in his hand [Belshazzar’s] life and all [his] ways, there was no recognition of God (23d).  Because all men and women are made by God in his image, he has a natural claim over all their lives.

B.  Belshazzar’s Warning from the Hand Writing on the Wall

1.  Names of Weights or Coins?

Since the king was not honoring the living and real God, this handwriting on the wall was directly from God.  The three terms, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin were not mean to be a code or the like, for the king, no doubt, could probably give a dictionary meaning of each of the terms.  What made it more difficult for us to understand since that day when they were first given, is the fact that the scholars have added to the task by giving their own solutions.   However, the three names are simply the names of three Aramaic weighs: “a mina, a mina, a shekel and a half piece.”  It was as if the writing in modern western terms had said: “a dollar, a dollar, a dime and a penny.”  Or in English terms: “A pound, a pound, a shilling and a pence.”

2. “Counted, Counted, Weighed, and Divided”

These three terms, if read as verbs meant: “Numbered/counted, numbered/counted” (Past participles of mene), “weighed/assessed,” and “shared/divided”(26).  Belshazzar’s kingdom already had had its days of existence numbered.  The weighing of the nation gave the assessment that the kingdom would now be shared as it would be divided by the Medes and Persians.

Daniel did not mean that the Babylonian kingdom would be divided for the Medes and the Persians to each have a share.  The nation of Babylon had been placed on God’s scales and morally had failed to pass the test.  It would, therefore, pass on to the next empire, the Medo-Persian empire.

C.  The Results of Disregarding God

That very night in October of 539 B.C., the end came to the Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Herodotus, who visited this place seventy-five years after the Fall of Babylon, explained that King Cyrus finished what he had begun in the Spring of 539 B.C.  Even though Belshazzar had been defeated in the field by Cyrus, Belshazzar retreated to his famous walled city of Babylon, feeling that it was so unconquerable that he would be safe.  Alas, Cyrus diverted the waters of the Euphrates and he was able to storm the city through the lowered Euphrates River while the banquet was in progress.

In the meantime, Daniel was clothed in purple, given a golden chain and promoted to number three man in the kingdom.  However, it was all in vain, for “that very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians was slain and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom at the age of sixty-two” (30).

Apart from the book of Daniel, the name “Darius the Mede” is unknown to history.  This is unusual, since Cyrus is well known from other places in Scripture as the liberator of the Jews from Babylon (2 Chron 36:22-23; Isa 45:1; Ezr 1:1-8; 3:7; 4:5; 5:13- 6:14).  There was a Darius I Hystaspes, who came later in History (522-486 B.C., so some have assumed that Daniel just confused the later Darius with Cyrus, whom he confusingly and  falsely named “Darius the Mede.”

But there are a number of reasons why such a confusion was most unlikely. Daniel served in both those governments at this time of transition, so a mental confusion is most unlikely.  Moreover, since Darius I Hystaspes served for thirty-six years, as already noted, so this would not match his being aged sixty-two when he began his reign, making him ninety-eight at the end of his reign!

Daniel 6 calls “Darius” the “king” twenty-eight times, yet the chapter ends in verse 28 by equating “the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” Yet Daniel 1:21 claimed that while Daniel remained in his new position he was awarded at the beginning of his time in Babylon with the three other Hebrew captives until the “first year of Cyrus.”

The fact is that “Darius the Mede” remains an historical conundrum, for nowhere outside of the Bible have any of the conservative solutions been verified.  Some harmonizers have posed a set of solutions that makes Darius the Mede an alternate name for Gubaru, a district governor who ruled almost in place of the king – along with a number of other suggested titles.  John C. Whitcomb was one who argued for such a position. However, Donald J. Wiseman argued that “Cyrus the Persian” merely took over the title of “Darius the Mede,” for in 550 B.C. Media ceased to be a separate nation and became the first satrapy, “Mada.” Wiseman would translate Daniel 6:28 as saying, “So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, that is, in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.”  This seems to be the best solution based on all the data we currently possess.  Even while such a solution may be possible, so far we have not had outside verification of this dual identity except in a possible reading of Scripture.

Conclusions

1.  We must always be cautious of using in a profane way things that are sacred and dedicated for holy use.

2.  There comes a time when it is too late for an individual or a nation to respond to the warnings and call of God, for the time for responding to the call of God has expired.

3.  God sometimes sends his warning alarm to a nation as a backup to his written word, but often mortals are so stubborn and bound in their ways that even supernatural events have little or no lasting effect on them.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., PhD

[1] R.P. Dougherty, “Nabonidus and Belshazzar,” Yale Oriental Series, XV, 1929, pp 105-111.  See also James Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, pp 313-14.

Link to Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. website: www.walterckaiserjr.com

The Book of Daniel Lesson 2 Chap 2 by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr

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Daniel 2 is one of the most important as well as one of the pivotal chapters in the Bible. It is also one of the longest. This chapter takes place in the “second year” of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (2:1), so we are somewhere between April 603 B.C. and March 602 B.C. on our Julian calendar. 

The whole story revolves around Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dream, resulting in five scenes:  (1) A king’s dream brings a crisis for the royal wise men (2:1-13).  (2) Daniel intervenes on behalf of the wise men to ask God for the meaning of the dream (2:14-23). (3) Daniel is able to describe the contents of the king’s dream (2:24-35).  (4) Daniel explains what the dream means (2:36-45). (5) The king responds to Daniel’s interpretation.

Nebuchadnezzar was not the first monarch to receive a divine revelation from God by way of a dream, for God spoke to Pharaoh through a dream (Gen 41) and to the Philistine leader Abimelech (Gen 22) and to Pharaoh Neco (2 Kgs 23 and 2 Chron 35; 2:46-49).

OUTLINE:

Title:  “Facing our Fallen Culture”

Text: Daniel 2: 1-45

Focal Point:  vs 44,”In the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people.”

Homiletical Keyword: “Concerns”

Interrogative: What are our concerns as we face our fallen culture?

I.  Of Our Ultimate Questions (2:1-13)

  A.  What Does the Future Hold?

   B.  Where Is History Taking Us?

   C.  Does Anyone Know What Is Really Going On?

II.  Of Our Lack of Wisdom (2:14-23)

  A.  Does the Future Hold a “Mystery”?

   B.  Who Knows What the Meaning of the “Mystery” Is?

   C.  Doxologies to God for Revealing the Future

   D.  Oh, the Depth, Height, and Breadth of the Wisdom of God!

III.  Of Our Limited Power (2:24-35)

  A.  Intellectual Limitations

   B.  Revelational Limitations

IV.  Of Our Hope for the Future (2:36-45)

  A.  Rulers Rule by Divine Permission of God

   B.  Nations Tend to Become More and More Inferior to Their Predecessors in Unity, Worth, Fragility, Divisiveness, and Protectiveness

Conclusions

(STUDY OF TEXT BEGINS…)

I.    Of Our Ultimate Questions (2:1-13)

A.    What Does the Future Hold?

The Aramaic section of Daniel begins in chapter 2:4b, immediately after King Nebuchadnezzar reported to his advisors that he has had a troubling dream, and the Aramaic language continues through the end of chapter 7.  In the chiastic structure[1] already mentioned, this second chapter of Daniel will be balanced off with chapter seven as both chapters speak of four successive earthly empires followed at last by the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.  The use of the lingua franca of that day is an interpretive tool that shows that these prophecies in chapters 2 to 7 were addressed to the Gentiles primarily. 

B.     Where Is History Taking Us?

The plot line of this court narrative takes place on two levels: on the human level there is challenge of the king to his royal advisors to explain the contents as well as the interpretation of the king’s dream; on the spiritual level, there is another contest between the Living God, Yahweh, and the dead idols of the Babylonian pantheon to do the same, but without results for they are “nothings.”  Earlier in the eighth century B.C., the prophet Isaiah had challenged those same idols to do more than just stand there; they were to speak and say something, either good or bad (Isa 41:21-24; 47:9-10; 48:5).

Daniel and his three friends had been under instruction of the Babylonian wisdom guild for three years (1:5).  Whether this means three full years or something less than three years, depending on whether what counted as their first year was a partial (i.e. an accession year that did not start until the New Year began), is difficult to say at this point.  But Daniel and his three friends, whether they had graduated by this time or not, stood just as “condemned” as the rest of their class of royal advisors.  But they had been trained in the literature, lore, and culture of the Babylonians. They were among those professionals here designated as “magicians,”  “enchanters,” “sorcerers,” and “astrologers” (which were also known as “Chaldeans”).

C.     Does Anyone Know What Really is Going On?

The way these alleged experts in dreams operated was that dreams followed certain laws, that once given sufficient data on the dream, the meaning of the dream could be discovered using Babylonian dream manuals.  We have discovered from archaeological sources several of these dream manuals.  However, they became inordinately long, since they tended to hopefully cover every kind of eventuality.

But Nebuchadnezzar had his suspicions: he must have thought these “professionals” were impostors leading him on, and who, furthermore, did not have any knowledge of the future, so he set up a test for them, in which he wanted to have the contents of his dream revealed before he would hear their interpretation of the dream. This put the wise men at a real disadvantage (v.2).  When they protested (v.10) that such a request had never been made of people in their profession, the king took this to mean they were stalling for time (v.8) and that they had conspired to mislead him into hoping the circumstances would change while they were buying time (v.9).  It is also possible that the king’s dream still haunted him, even though he may have forgotten the dream itself, or at least some of the details of the dream.   

Nebuchadnezzar made no bones about his deep anger over the inability of these so-called professionals to do what they pretended to do (v.12), so a royal decree was issued to put all of the wise men to death (v.13).  These so-called “wise men” were, in his estimation, false prophets, for they indeed had not stood in the council of the Lord, nor had they heard his word (Jer 23:28).  It was as silly as comparing straw to grain to compare their prognostications of the future with a word from God, which was like fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jer 23:29).  These astrologers had one part of their theology partially straight: They said in verse 11, “No one can reveal [this dream] to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men.”  However, only the true and Living God would be able to do what the king asked, not the pagan zero-gods.

II.  Of Our Lack of Wisdom (2:14-23)

A.    Does the Future Hold a “Mystery?” 

Apparently, Daniel and his three friends were not aware of the king’s execution decree, for some unexplained reason, nor does this court narrative tell us how Daniel was able to arrange, on such short notice, an audience with the king when he, along with all the others in his class of  pros, were under the threat of death (14).

The commander of the king’s guard, named Arioch (the same name occurs much earlier as a name for the king of Ellasar, perhaps somewhere in southern Mesopotamia, Gen 14:1), apparently had begun to round up the wise men for their fate, when Daniel boldly intervened by asking permission to speak with the king (14).  Daniel used “wisdom and tact,” which spoke of Daniel’s ability to act wisely and to use “good taste” that was appropriate for such a grave situation.  Daniel asked the king for “time” (16). 

B.  Who Knows What the Meaning of the “Mystery Is?

Then Daniel approached his three friends and urged them to “plead for mercy from the ‘God of heaven’” (used 4 times, 2:18-19, 37, 44, possibly as a shortened form of “The God of heaven and earth,” Gen 14:22) concerning this mystery” (17-18).  Note that Daniel used his friends Hebrew names this time (17).

What the king asked for, Daniel termed a “mystery,” the Aramaic word raz, used eight times in this chapter (2:18-19, 27-30, 47).  It is used here with the word “to reveal,” which made it a technical term for a divine revelation that went beyond human comprehension.  As a Persian loan word, it meant a “secret.” Thus, what had been hidden from the professional wise men was made known to Daniel in a vision that night (v.19).

C.  Doxologies to God for Revealing the Future

This answer from the Lord God to the prayers of the four Hebrews gave vent to their relief and their spontaneous expression of praise in verse 20-24. This prayer is a paradigmatic model for all who have experienced God’s amazing answers to one’s prayers. They express deep amazement that they, mere mortals, should be given the privilege of sharing God’s knowledge of the future. The closing lines repeat many of the thoughts of the first lines, beautifully linking the poetry of this psalm of thanksgiving.  

This doxology, similar to other doxologies in 4:1-3, 34-37 and 6:25-27 distinctively has a four-fold anthem of praise.  God’s name is to be praised for (1) his wisdom and power; (2) for his being in charge of the vicissitudes of world history; (3) for his revealing the deep and hidden things; and (4) for his making known the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar.

III.  Of Our Limited Power (2:24-35)

A.    Intellectual Limitations

Daniel returns to Arioch with the good news that the executions the king had ordered will not be needed, for he has the solution to the details of the content of the dream and its interpretation (v.24).  Arioch took Daniel to the king with the news that he (!) had found a man from among the exiles from Judah who could interpret the dream.  When the king inquired of Daniel, who had also been given a Babylonian name, “Belteshazzar” (v.26), if this was so, Daniel responded by informing the king that “no wise man, enchanter, magician, or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about” (v.27).  One can almost see the wrath of the king momentarily rising once again, but Daniel quickly adds, “but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (v.28a).  And you, Nebuchadnezzar have been especially privileged, because this God has shown you “what will happen in days to come” (v.28b).  He it is who will be able to tell you the dream and the visions that went through your mind as you lay on your bed (v.30c). 

For my part, O king, I can say that this God has revealed to me this mystery (v.30a), “not because I have greater wisdom than other men,” but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may understand” (v.30b).  This type of wisdom cannot be achieved through reason, conventional insight or anything like that; it can only come from the Living God.  There is no one like him who can foretell what is to come (Isa 44:7).

Try as we may, using human research, group therapy, professional consultation, or even any kind of wizardry, we are unable to say what the future holds unless God makes it known to his servants.  Just as Marathon runners “hit the wall” around mile 20 of the some 27 miles in the race, so we too hit the wall in interpretation unless God reveals to his apostles and prophets what we are lacking in such difficult questions.  It is his word and his alone that we depend on hearing in situations like this one.

B.     Revelational Limitation

Daniel now begins to unfold the dream the king had (v.28).  As the king was lying in bed wondering what would become of his kingdom, he saw an immensely large statue, such as is usually erected to represent gods or kings, but this one was awesome in its appearance (v.31).  It took a human form, but it had an extraordinary size and a most startling brilliance (v.31b).  The head of this statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms were made of silver, while its belly and thighs were of bronze and its legs were partially made of iron and partially of baked clay (vv.32-33).

While the king was taking in the form of this statue, suddenly a “rock” was cut out of the mountains, but not by human hands (v.34).  This rock struck the statue on its legs, smashing the whole image reducing it to smithereens (vv.34-35), so that the wind was able to blow it away, not even leaving a trace of it behind (v.35c).

The rock that struck the statue, however, “became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (v.35d).   The fact that the rock had been formed “not by human hands” (v.34b) indicated that it had originated as a result of God’s own will and not as a result of human engineering.  This feature of the prophecy reminded us of Isaiah 41:15-16, where those nations who oppressed Israel would be changed into chaff and eventually blown away.

The fact that the rock became a “mountain” that filled the whole earth was right in line with those previous predictions that mentioned that the “mountain of the Lord’s temple,” which pointed to the temple in Jerusalem, would be exalted and raised up in the later days as a place where all the nations would travel yearly to be taught by the Lord and to worship the Lord as king (Isa 2:2-5; Mic 4:1-4).

IV.  Of Our Hope for the Future (2:36-46)

A.    Rulers Rule by God’s Permission.

Daniel had revealed the content of the king’s dream; now it was time for this Hebrew captive to reveal the meaning of this royal dream.  Daniel pointedly announced: “You, O king, are the king of kings.  The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air.  Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all.  You are that head of gold” (vv.37-38).   Even though Nebuchadnezzar had soared to unheard heights of sovereignty, nevertheless, there was a God greater than he, who had bestowed all of this on this monarch.  There could be no doubt; Nebuchadnezzar had enjoyed spectacular unity (symbolized by the single head), unrivaled value (gold) and unprecedented lordship (head) over most of mankind, including the animal world and even the birds of the air.

B.     Nations Tend to Become More and More Inferior in Unity, Worth, and Divisiveness.

Once Nebuchadnezzar’s time had expired, deterioration would set in as another kingdom (v.39), that followed his own, would be made of “silver” and not gold. That second kingdom would deteriorate further into a third kingdom, for it would be composed of “bronze,” only to be succeeded by a fourth kingdom made of “iron and clay.”  None of these four kingdoms would last forever; only the one set up from the “rock,” that would fill the whole earth in the final day of our Lord Jesus Christ’s second coming would last eternally.

True, that fourth kingdom would possess the strength of iron, but it also had internal weaknesses, for just as iron and clay do not easily mix, or bond together, so the unity seen in that head of gold would be impossible for this fourth kingdom, as it was composed of elements that did not coalesce.  These two parts “will not remain united” (v.43b).

Interpreters usually only agree on their identification of the head of gold as the Babylonian Empire, but after that a confusion sets in among many of the mainline critical interpreters. Some want to say the chest and arms of silver represents only the Median Kingdom, but that interpretation fails to adequately account for the fact that there are two arms along with the chest, and this fits more naturally, both in history and in interpretation of the Medo-Persian Empire.  This also allows for the third empire, according to the traditional interpretation then, to be the Greco-Macedonian kingdom represented by Alexander the Great and later by his four generals who divided up his kingdom after he died, having conquered all the known world of his day.   

The fourth kingdom, then, is the Roman or western empire with all of its strength (iron) and all its divisiveness (2 legs) and its non-coalescing parts of iron and clay.  The “rock” that smashes the four preceding empires, however, brings all these four kingdoms to an abrupt end as it takes the place of all of them and itself stretches on out into all of eternity.

C.     The Kingdom of God Will Erupt into this Present World System to Last Forever. 

“In the days of those kings,” taught Daniel, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people” (v.44).  What a contrast!  Whereas one king and kingdom had succeeded one after the other, a day was coming when God would establish his kingdom with a rule and a reign that would never be ceded to any other earthly or worldly power, for his would last for an eternity.  While the preceding kingdoms were overtaken by storm, this fifth kingdom would never be overridden by any other power or storm.   It would be the rule and reign of Messiah forever and forever.

This narrative ends with Nebuchadnezzar falling on his face in deep reverence before Daniel and his God, whom he exclaimed was, “the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries” (v.47).  Consequently, Nebuchadnezzar lavished all sorts of gifts on Daniel as he made him “ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men” (v.48).  Neither did Daniel forget his three friends as he requested that they too be recognized (v.49).  Therefore they were made “administrators” over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court” (v.49b-c).  Nebuchadnezzar honored Daniel and his friends because of what God had done through them, not because of their own abilities.

Despite Nebuchadnezzar’s high praise of Daniel’s God, there are no signs in this chapter that he was “converted” to the God taught in the Bible; it appeared that he merely added another god to his polytheistic pantheon.

Christ himself is that “Rock” or “Stone,” mentioned as the head of that fifth kingdom, which is the Kingdom of God announced by John the Baptist and Jesus (Mt 3:2; 4:23; 12:28; Mk 9:1; Lk 9:1-2).  In fact, Jesus refers to this passage in Matthew 21:44 after quoting Psalm 118:22-23, as “The Stone the builders rejected,” which has now become “the capstone.”  Jesus went on to say, “He who falls on this Stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (cf. Lk 20:18, which all manuscripts have, but some do not have Matthew 21:44).  The in-breaking of Christ into history will bring devastating judgment; but it will also bring a rule and reign that will last forever.

Conclusions:

1.      What is this Colossus but the worst, as well as some of the best, of everything in the succession of the empires in the history of the world?

 2.    Sometimes a religious experience can stimulate an impressive response at an artificial level without its touching the depths of our being.

3.    Such a response from an impulse of the moment is no substitute for real repentance and actual faith in God, for even Pharaoh of Egypt gave glory to God at several points in the midst of the plagues only to renege later on.

4.     God’s kingdom will triumph over every obstacle or challenge put to it in the history of this world.

5.    God will continue to be sovereign and the wisdom and revelation of all mysteries will remain in his hands.

By Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., PhD

[1] “chiastic structure.”  As cited in Lesson 1, a chiasmus is when grammatical constructions, or concepts, are repeated in reverse order in the same, or a modified, form; e.g. “Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.”

Link to Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. website: www.walterckaiserjr.com

The Book of Daniel Lesson 4 Chap 4 by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr

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This chapter of Daniel is the fourth in a series of six court narratives from Daniel 1-6.  Some have discovered some nine scenes in this passage, but we think a better analysis traces some five different scenes: (1) Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation and doxology (4: 1-3);  (2) Content of the king’s dream (4: 4-18); (3) Daniel’s interpretation of the dream (4:19-27);  (4) Fulfillment of the dream (4:28-33); and (5) Epilogue and doxology (4:34-37). 

Characteristically, some of the older scholars found the unity of this chapter hard to believe, especially since it shifts from the first person in the first 18 verses, then moves to the third person in verses 19-33 and returns to the first person in verses 34-37.   But to expect the description of the king’s madness to be told in the first person by the king himself would be to expect a primary witness from an insane person.

This account is not dated in the Scriptures, but based on verse 30, as Nebuchadnezzar struts on the roof of his royal palace and admires all the work of his hands in the past, it would appear proper to say this event took place towards the close of his reign. This monarch ruled from approximately 605-562 B.C. for a 30-35 year reign.  Therefore the events in this chapter must have come somewhere around 570 B.C., for two years prior to 570 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar ended his long siege of Tyre (Ezk 29:17-18).  However, God gave to Nebuchadnezzar the gift of the land of Egypt, as the prophet Jeremiah had predicted (Jer 43:10; 44:29-30).  A fragmentary tablet discovered by archaeologists says that it was in the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar [which began about April 23, 568 B.C.] that Nebuchadnezzar marched against Egypt.[1] It would seem our chapter fits right into this time in history. 

Nebuchadnezzar himself appears to add a moral to his own story after he has been restored. It is this: “And those who walk in pride he [God] is able to humble” (v.37c).  Surely such a conclusion is not far at all from what the Apostle James taught: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and he shall lift you up” (Jam 4:10).

But the focal point or big idea of the text is the one that is repeated three times in this chapter: “The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men” (3:17, 25, 32).  Therefore, while the mantra of our day is that our favorite sports team is “great” or that something else in the world is “great,” this text, as illustrated through the life and experience of Nebuchadnezzar, teaches that “only God is great!”

OUTLINE:

Title:  “Concluding That Only God Is Great!”

Text:  Daniel  4:1-37

Focal point: vv. 17, 25, 32 “…. The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.”

Homiletical Keyword: “areas”

Interrogative:  What are the areas in which God shows his greatness?

I.  In All God’s Actions (4:1-3)

A.   Addressed to All peoples, Nations and Languages

B.    Composed of His Signs and Miracles

C.   Demonstrated in the Eternality of His Kingdom

II. In God’s Interruption of a Prosperous and Contended Life (4:3-18)

A.   An Easy Lifestyle

B.    A Troubling Dream

C.   A Messenger from Heaven

III. In God’s Revelation of the Meaning of the Dream (4:19-27)

A.   The Tree is the King

B.    The Messenger is From Heaven

C.   He Calls for Change and Repentance by the King

IV. In God’s Patience with the King (4:28-33)

A.   God Waited for Twelve Months for Repentance

B.    God Carried Out His Threat

V. In God’s Restoration of the King’s Senses (4:34-37)

A.   The King Looks to Heaven

B.    The King Glorifies God

C.   The King’s Doxology

Conclusions

(STUDY OF TEXT BEGINS…)

I.  In All God’s Actions (4:1-3)

The narrative told in this chapter really begins back in 3:31-33. However, the chapter divisions made in the thirteenth century were adopted into the Latin Vulgate Version and used in the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Greek Septuagint.  This present chapter division is to be preferred over the Aramaic text chapter divisions, which Aramaic form failed to see the literary structure of ABBA, i.e. 4:1-3 (A), English text, matches 4:34-37 (A) which in turn contrasts with the two B forms in 4:4-18 and 4:19-33.

A.  Addressed to All Peoples, Nations, and Languages          

King Nebuchadnezzar begins this chapter by sending what appears to be an open letter to all who were “in all the world” as a sort of sovereign Aramaic Encyclical or Edict addressed to all peoples, all nations and to every different language speaker.  In this way, he also indicated the importance of what he had to say while also exhibiting a certain sense of his own authority and importance. 

However, there was also a certain sense of humility about it as well, for the letter reflected negatively on his own demeanor and past haughtiness in his kingdom when placed over against the divine kingdom of the only true sovereign in the universe.

Previously in Daniel 3:4, the Babylonian king had addressed all the “peoples, nations and men of every language.”  But now he expanded that reference to all “who live in all the world” (4:1), which appeared to be a hyperbole for the full scope of Nebuchadnezzar’s realm.

The salutation, “May you prosper greatly” (1c), or “Peace be multiplied to you!” is a rather typical greeting in Aramaic letters.  However it is also found in some of the epistles of the Bible, e.g., 1 Peter 1:2 and 2 Peter 1:2.

B.  Composed of God’s Signs and Miracles

Nebuchadnezzar had already experienced enough of the work of God to have brought a change in his heart. The “signs and wonders” he referred to were not those the Israelites had experienced when God delivered them from Egypt.  Instead, they were those wonderful miracles this Babylonian king had witnessed, such as the revelation and interpretation of the great image he had seen in Daniel 2, and the miraculous deliverance of the three men from the furnace. It is not that miracles were simply a thing of the past, for God was still showing his mighty power, even before the eyes of this gentile monarch.  These miracles had been performed especially for Nebuchadnezzar and his nation.

C.  Demonstrated in the Eternality of God’s Kingdom

This Gentile king offers a doxology, both at the beginning of his story (v.3) and at its conclusion (v.35).  His words are almost verbatim for those of Psalm 145:13, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and your dominion endures through all generations.” However there is no evidence that he was aware of the Psalms or any of the other Scriptures of the Jewish people.  But his praise for the eternal dominion of God certainly is on the main track of why this chapter was included in the Bible, even though it is mostly about the testimony that comes from a pagan king.   This was in a way a “public confession” that Yahweh had an eternal rule and reign that superseded all other dominions and powers.

II.  In God’s Interruption of a Prosperous and Contented Lifestyle (4:3-18)

A.     An Easy Lifestyle

The king continued in the first person reporting and explaining how the circumstance of this dream arose.  He was at home in his palace “at ease” and luxuriating in all he had accomplished.  The two synonymous terms, “contented and prosperous” (4) formed one idea (a figure of speech called a hendiadys, i.e., “prosperous contentment”) for all his potential opponents had been reduced to submission, including Egypt; there were no real threats to his rule in all of the ancient Near East! That was indeed a great accomplishment, given the extent of his rule and the fact that he had none of the modern means of communication such as a telephone or cell phone, or weapons that could have instantaneously delivered destruction over hundreds of miles away as we have in the modern world.

B.  A Troubling Dream

The only problem he had was a “dream that made [him] afraid” (v.5a).   Many a monarch would have loved to exchange their list of worries for Nebuchadnezzar’s single problem: a dream!   In that world and in those times, however, dreams experienced by a king could be very portentous indeed.  Thus, the easy and carefree existence of this monarch was suddenly shattered by this dream.  The king had to know what this dream meant.

Once again, the king turned to his class of wise men, including his “magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners” (v.7), who on a previous occasion had failed him so miserably (Dan 2:2-3); they were nothing but charlatans and frauds.  However, Daniel and his three friends had received scholarships to study with these so-called wise men, which must have made the rest of the class look either pretty good or really bad.

Disappointingly, these wise men were not able to solve the meaning of the dream, which in itself is amazing since they possessed (as we know from archaeology) tablets full of rules for interpreting of dreams of all sorts.  Did they, perhaps, realize it was a negative meaning that would humiliate the king and therefore they held back?  For some reason, they said they could not interpret this dream.

“Finally, Daniel came into my [the king’s] presence and I told him the dream” (v.8). Why Daniel was belatedly called, we do not know. Perhaps he was attending to other duties at the time.  However, the king called Daniel “Belteshazzar, after the name of his god,” as he declared, ”the spirit of the holy gods is in him” (v.8b-c).  As Daniel listened to the king describe his dream (previously he had ordered his wise men to remind him what the contents of the dream were before they would tell him what it meant, Dan 2), Daniel was “greatly perplexed … for a time and his thoughts terrified him” (v.19a-b). 

The king had complete confidence in Daniel, for he said “no mystery is too difficult for you” (v.9c).   Daniel had previously told the king that interpreting dreams was not a gift inherent in himself, but it came to him as a revelation from God (Dan 2:11).

Nebuchadnezzar then began to describe this dream that had so troubled him.  As he watched, he said a tree stood in the middle of the land with a height that was so enormous that it was visible to the ends of the earth (vv.10-11).  It had beautiful leaves and its fruit was so bountiful that it fed all, including every creature (v.12).  The animals found shelter under it and the birds of the air lived in its branches (v.12).

C.  A Messenger from Heaven

However, as the king watched, “a messenger, a holy one, [came] down from heaven” (v.13) and ordered in a loud voice, “Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze” (vv.23 and vv.14-15).  The hyperboles in this description are numerous: the height of the tree was unprecedented; its bulk was massive; with branches extending far enough to shelter all the animals and birds of the air; its leaves were healthy and beautiful, and its fruit was abundant.  In fact, the Greek translation (LXX[2]) made this tree cosmic, for even the sun and the moon dwelt in its branches, but the Aramaic text did not support those readings.

Suddenly a “watcher” or “a holy one,” which the LXX rendered as “an angel,” appeared with orders to chop the tree down.  Angels, of course, are not effeminate creatures with an impossible number of wings, but they are primarily God’s messengers who perform God’s will and carry out his word.  As God’s lieutenants, they restrain the Prince of the Power of the Air (or Satan) and are assigned to specific posts, such as the Prince of Persia, or the Prince of Greece.  These angels attend church meetings and are most curious and desire to look into the redemption mortals experience as a result of Jesus’ death on the cross (1 Pet 1:12).

But then abruptly, the messenger’s declaration changed from referring to the action on the tree, with neuter pronouns such as “it,” its,” to refer what was taking place in the tree, over to the masculine pronouns such as “him,” and “his” in verses (vv.15c-16).  This change is very much like the change that comes in the prophecy against Tyre in Ezekiel 26:12, where it referred by a masculine singular pronoun only to change abruptly to the masculine plural pronouns, indicating a switch from talking about Nebuchadnezzar to an event 200 years or more later that would come in Alexander the Great’s day. It is this clue in this context, as in the Ezekiel reference, that tells us that the tree, as used here, was used figuratively.

Not only were the leaves stripped off this tree, but so was it fruit scattered and the animals and the birds deserted the sanctuary it had previously provided.  Then the dream added, a male person was to be “drenched with the dew of heaven” (v.15c) and he was to live with the animals and the plants of the earth (v.15d).  His mind would be “changed from that of a man” to “the mind of an animal till seven times pass[ed] by for him” (v.16).  This “verdict” was given for one set purpose: “that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men” (v.17).  Those were the contents of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar.

III.  In God’s Revelation of the Meaning of the Dream (4:19-27)

A.  The Tree is the King

Daniel at first was bewildered by the dream (v.19a), but then he politely began to say, “If only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries” (v.19c).  However, the truth was that Nebuchadnezzar was that tree (v.22).  It was not aimed at the king’s enemies or his opponents, but the king himself, for he was that tree in the dream.  Trees often were used in Scripture as symbols of rulers or their kingdoms.  For example, the “shoot” from the cedar tree symbolized David’s royal house/dynasty (Ezk 17:22-24), or it symbolized Israel (Ezk19:10), just as Pharaoh was regarded as a cypress tree in Eden (Ezk 31:1-9).  So that part of the dream had revelational roots.

Daniel had to have the same courage that the prophet Nathan required to tell David that he, David, was “that man” he had just described in his little story about how the rich man took the poor man’s one little sheep to sacrifice for a guest that had come to his palace (2 Sam 12:7).  Nebuchadnezzar had “become great and strong” (v.22b). His “greatness had grown until it reached the sky, and [his] dominion extend[ed] to the distant parts of the earth” (v.22c-d). Indeed, the Aramaic word for “great” (tqp) appears six times in this passage (vv. 3, 11, 20, 22, 30).  However, it will become clear to this king and all others that only God is great.

B.  The Messenger is from Heaven

As for the “cutting down” of the tree announced by the messenger (v.24), Daniel avoided the additional words in verse 14 that spoke of trimming the tree’s branches, the stripping of its leaves, scattering of its fruit, and the mind change that had been ordered for the male person the tree represented. But the essentials of the interpretation were just as clear: Nebuchadnezzar would be “driven away from people” and he would “live with wild animals” and “eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven” for “seven times” (v.25).  The Aramaic word “times” (Aramaic `iddanin) appeared in Daniel 2:8; 3:5, 15; 4:16, 25; 7:25) and represented “years,” or as here, “seven years” (vv.16, 25).  All this seems to be called for by God, since Nebuchadnezzar may have become cocky, proud, boastful, self-filled with himself, so that God had to bring him low, just as he is able to bring any person low who likewise begins to exalt himself over God (Prov 29:23).

Patiently God waited for any change in the king’s demeanor tor “twelve months” (v.29).  But on the very night when Nebuchadnezzar strutted on the roof of his palace, one of the seven wonders of the world, and claimed, “is this not the great Babylon I have built by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty” (v.30), God’s judgment swung into action while these very words were still on his lips (v.31).

There is no doubt that Babylon was an enormously wonderful city.  It was the largest and finest city of the world in that day.  It had some eight major gates, including the famous Ishtar Gate on its north side (now rebuilt in the Berlin Museum to half its original height).  Its Processional Street ran 1000 yards long, decorated on either side with 120 lions and 575 dragons representing the gods Marduk and Bel.  There were over 50 temples inside the city gates with the grand temple of Marduk at the end of the Processional Street along with the imposing ziggurat of Enemenanki.  At that time the Euphrates River ran right through the city, dividing the city into east and west with a suspension bridge in the middle of the city measuring 30 feet wide and 600 feet in length, while ferries operated at the northern and southern end of the city.  According to the Greeks, the Hanging Gardens of the Palace were one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Indeed, Babylon had an aura of splendor about it rarely seen in the ancient world.

A.    Daniel Calls for a Change and for Repentance from the King

However, no fault could be attached to Daniel for his failure to do the work of missions or evangelism with this monarch.  Good preacher that Daniel was, he pressed home the point that the king should “Renounce [his] sins” and “[his] wickedness” and “do what is right” (v.27). God had not only wanted full repentance, but he also wanted to see real evidence that the king had been changed inwardly in real repentance by the king’s outward marks of “being kind to the oppressed” and “do[ing[ what was right.”  Some have incorrectly taught on the basis of this verse in 4:27 that sins can be atoned for by good works and by giving alms to the poor, as the Apocryphal book Tobit urged (Tob. 12:9; 14:11; Ecclesiasticus [not: Ecclesiastes] 3:29-4:10).  For example, the Jerusalem Bible rendered this passage unhelpfully by saying, “May it please the king to accept my advice: by virtuous actions break with your sins, break with your crimes by showing mercy to the poor and so live long and peacefully.” The 1970 New American Bible, otherwise often very well translated, rendered 4:27 as “Therefore, O king, take my advice: atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your prosperity will be long.”  This translation is accompanied by a footnote that states boldly, “A classic Scripture text for the efficacy of good works.”  This verse, however, was at the center of the controversy in the Reformation times as to whether merit could be earned towards one’s salvation by doing good works. 

However, to translate the imperative “renounce” (Aramaic, peruq) as “atone/redeem” for your sins,” as the Latin and Greek translations did, is unwarranted, for this meaning never occurs in Aramaic or in the parallel Hebrew word until post-Biblical times.  Moreover, the actual meaning of this word can be gained from the cognate Hebrew word in Exodus 32:2, where Aaron instructed those who wanted a visible god, “to tear away,” or “to break off” their golden ear rings so they could build the golden calf.  The imagery is one of breaking, releasing, or snatching a yoke from the neck of an ox.

 IV.  In God’s Patience with the King (4:28-33)

A.  God Waited Twelve Months for Repentance

Daniel’s urgings went unheeded by this proud king.  Therefore, the dream was fulfilled.  Surely the lapse of an entire year before God acted in judgment speaks volumes for how long-suffering and patient God is, and that he is not willing than any should perish.  Even as the king was in the very act of boasting about all he had accomplished, God brought about what he had warned would happen. 

B. God Carried Out His Threat

His demise began with a “voice from heaven” (v.31).  This voice is not identified in this text, but there can be little disagreement that it was a voice from God, or one that he authorized.  But even more to the point, the time for Nebuchadnezzar’s sovereignty and authority was to be suspended for a period of seven years, which had now begun (v.31c).  He had brought on himself all this trouble because of his stubbornness to repent and turn towards God.

He was “driven away from [his] people” and he began to “live with the wild animals (v.32a).  He now ate grass as his food and such would be his lifestyle until a full seven years had passed (v.32c). Only then would his senses be restored to him when he would “acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone [God] wishes” (v.32d).

V.  In God’s Restoration of the King’s Senses (4:34-37)

A.   The King Looks to Heaven

In this final section, as in the first three verses, the literary form returns to the first person narrative.  This makes a fine inclusion or bracketing of the whole narrative.

Finally the king “raised [his] eyes toward heaven” (v.34a).  Then his sanity was restored as he “praised the Most High” and “honored and glorified him who lives forever” (v.34c).

Even though the extant records of Babylon say nothing about this seven year hiatus in Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (Near Eastern records rarely, if ever, noted their losses or any negative happenings), which absence in the record is an argument from critics that want to rule this episode as being mythical, but that is an argument from silence and so should be treated in just that manner—with silence.

B.    The King Glorifies God

The song of praise sung by this monarch reminds us of the words found in Psalm 145:13; 115:3; Isaiah 40:17; 44:27.   Nebuchadnezzar exalted God, ”because everything [God] does is right and [God’s] ways are just” (v.37b). 

Furthermore, he was restored to his throne once again and he enjoyed the honor and splendor he and his kingdom had enjoyed previously (v.36). His advisors and nobles sought him out once more and he possessed all that he had had before this sad event. He even warned others “that those who walk in pride [God] is able to humble” (v.37c).

Conclusions

1.     God can bring down proud nations and leaders in our day just as he has done in the past.

2.     We must not substitute the greatness of ourselves, our Churches, or our nations for God’s greatness; he will not allow any competition with himself.

3.     It is the Lord who is great and greatly to be praised (Psalm 48).

4.     Let us take heed to ourselves and where we need to repent and to renounce our sins, let us do so.

5.     We must say to ourselves and to the world: “Behold your God!”   


By Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., PhD

[1] James Pritchard, Ancient Near East Texts (3rd ed.) Princeton Univ. Press, 1969, p.308.

[2]For LXX, see note in previous chapter.

Link to Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. website: www.walterckaiserjr.com

The Book of Daniel Lesson 3 Chap 3 by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr

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All too many interpreters have been tempted to interpret this narrative, about the enormous size of the golden image, the intense heat of the furnace and the miraculous deliverance of the three Hebrew captives, in a metaphorical or mythical manner, rather than treating it as an historical event, as it should be handled. But as Proverbs 29:25 taught, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever puts their trust in the LORD shall be safe.” This is why it is possible that the three Hebrew captives may have been the very ones the writer of Hebrews had in mind as he went on to list those additional heroes of the faith as those “who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenchedtheviolenceoffire” (Heb 11:34; emphasis mine) .

Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar’s ragtime band struck up the music for a hot time for the three Hebrew nonconformists that would end up in the king’s furnace (including: Hananiah [“Grace of the LORD”], Mishael [“Who is like God?”], and Azariah [“help of the LORD”]. All three of these Hebrew captives defiantly said in effect something like, “It’s cool to be in the furnace for the Lord’s sake!”

This narrative’s plot-line seems to be laid out in seven scenes: (1) Nebuchadnezzar issued a decree to worship the golden image (3:1-7). (2) An accusation was made against the Jewish captives (3:8-12). (3) The Jews are threatened and given a second chance to bow down to the image (3:13-15). (4) The Three Hebrews confess their faith in God (3:16-18). (5) The three captives are cast into the furnace (3:19-23). (6) God delivers the three from the overheated furnace (3:24-27). (7) Nebuchadnezzar honors the three Jewish young people and their God (3:28-30).

Usually it is best to recognize each narrative scene in a sermon or lesson with a major point in the message outline or teaching block, but seven points ordinarily are too many for the length of most class time, therefore we have combined the first three scenes and the last three scenes together, each as single points in the teaching outline, since they are so closely related in action and since it also keeps our session to a more manageable time limit of three major points in our teaching or preaching outline.

OUTLINE:

Title: “Experiencing God’s Deliverance”

Text: Daniel 3:1-30

Focal Point: vv. 17b-18b “…The God we serve is able to save us from [the furnace], and he will rescue us from your hand… But even if he does not,…. we will not serve your gods or worship the image…”

Homiletical Keyword: “Facts”

Interrogative: What are the facts on how we can experience God’s deliverance?

I. Our Faith May be Tested (3:1-15)

A. By a Challenge: What God is Able to Rescue You?

B. By a Forced Pluralism or Eclecticism

C. By an Enticement to Sin

1. To pervert One’s Faith

2. To Compromise One’s Faith

3. To Conceal One’s Faith

II. Our Answers Should be Readily Available (3:16-18)

A. We Do Not Need to Defend Ourselves

B. Nothing is Too Hard for God

C. Faith Has Four Elements

1. Full Commitment

2. Full Confidence

3. Full Resolution

4. Full Knowledge

III. Our Persecutors Must Acknowledge God’s Deliverance (3:19-30)

A. In Spite of Their Anger

B. In Spite of their Unbelief

C. In Spite of One’s Self

Conclusions

(STUDY OF TEXT BEGINS…)

I. Our Faith May Be Tested (3:1-15)

The absence of Daniel from this episode of the court narratives in Daniel 1-6 has occasioned lengthy discussions among interpreters as to why nothing is said about Daniel, but it is to be noted that Daniel was sometimes ill (Dan 8:27), and that his office as President of the Learned Societies of his day (2:48) may have excused him from such ceremonies as this day occasioned, or even that he may even have been out of town on royal business. We cannot say for sure, but it is clear that his three buddies were caught in a trap that may have been especially set for them, knowing the jealousy of the other wise men, who were not able to solve the content and meaning of the king’s dream as Daniel had done.

Nebuchadnezzar had made an image some ninety feet in height and nine feet wide and had set it up on the Plain of Dura. For those who charge that ninety feet is too high for such a statue, let them remember that the Colossus of Rhodes, built around 300 B.C., was 105 feet high – fifteen feet taller than this golden image! Others have incorrectly charged that the fact that this image was set up in the “Plain of Dura” shows the legendary nature of this account. However, three such localities bear this name “Dura” in the archaeological tablets from Babylonian era. In fact, the name “Dura” means “an enclosing wall,” and it is also used to refer to a rectangular mound some 45 feet square and 20 feet high, as it appeared in one case as a possible base, or pedestal for an image. It is impossible to point to the precise place indicated here this late in time, but the name and meaning are well-attested from archaeological references.

A. By a Challenge: What God is Able to Rescue You?

The Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint (LXX1) dated this incident in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar (apparently borrowing this date from Jeremiah 52:29). Nevertheless, all officialdom was invited to the “dedication” (verses 2-3 uses the same word in the original text, “Hanukkah,” meaning “dedication” as appears in the Feast of Hanukkah, commemorating the “rededication” of the temple in the time of the Maccabees) of this golden image. Whether this was a representation of the king himself, inspired by his dream of the head of gold (as in chapter 2), or an image of a god, is not known. But the ceremony had the effect of pledging an oath of loyalty to the king, even though it clearly had an aura of worship along with it.

The role of the herald as a public crier or announcer of all royal edicts and injunctions is well illustrated in the times of the Bible. Failure to fall down in worship at the proper moment was subject to the penalty of death by being thrown into the flaming furnace (v.6).

The key statement in this section comes from the end of these three scenes, in verse 15, where the king asked: “What god is able to rescue you from my hand?” The form of this question is emphatic: “What [at all] god is there?” This pointed to the fact that the image may well have been a representation of a false god, as well as to the fact that Nebuchadnezzar assumed he had absolute authority over the lives of all those who were under his control. Judah had heard such vaunted questions previously, such as when the Assyrian King Sennacherib of Assyria proudly threw in the face of the king of Judah, Hezekiah, the question, “Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria” (2 Kgs 18:33; Isa 36:18)?

B. By a Forced Pluralism or Eclecticism

The new rule was that as soon as the six types of musical instruments began to play (rhetorically repeated to create some type of dignity and stateliness to this dedication scene in verses 5, 7, 10, and 15), all were to fall down and worship this image of gold. There may have been a bit of mischief behind this whole affair, for in verse 8 “some astrologers (Chaldeans) came forward and denounced the Jews.” Thus, the idol-image became the occasion for forcing uniformity among all the people and leveling all faiths into one grand pagan scheme. In fact, those bringing the charges especially mentioned the fact that the insubordinates were “some Jews whom you [O king] have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon” (v.12). It is easy to detect the feelings of envy, jealousy, and competition shining through these words!

Evil persons may be able to harm our bodies, but God alone has control over both our bodies and our souls. No wonder our Lord warned us not to fear what men can do (Mt 10:17, 28).

C. By an Enticement to Sin

This was a test for the three Hebrew captives. Its main feature was an enticement to sin. Such testing was not from God, for God never directly tempts anyone (Jam 1:13-14). James clearly taught that God cannot be tempted, nor does he tempt anyone. All who yield to temptation are those who are led away by their own desires. It is only when desire has conceived that it gives birth to sin and sin, warned James, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

My teacher, Robert D. Culver, found three temptations here. They were:

1. The Temptation to Pervert One’s Faith

This temptation played on the naturally healthy desire for a visible manifestation of the Godhead. Philip illustrated that affliction in the Gospel of John when he demanded, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied” (Jh 14:8). This same demand appeared earlier in Israel’s history when Israel demanded of Aaron, after the prolonged absence of Moses, that Aaron make for them a god, for they feared Moses was now gone forever after forty days of absence from the camp. Unfortunately, he obliged their request and made the golden calf as he announced, “These are your gods, O Israel that brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Ex 32:4). What makes polytheism so popular is that it widens our choices and makes few, if any, real limitations imposed on our freedoms. On the other hand, monotheism gives us only one choice; therefore, once we have made that choice, we must leave all other gods or anything that would compete with the One and only true God.

2. To Compromise One’s Faith

James once again warns us in 4:4 that we must beware of forming friendships with the world, for friendship with the world is hatred towards God. This is because we compromise and try to walk two paths simultaneously.

Of course, the three Hebrews could have agreed amongst themselves that this golden image was nothing, so it would not hurt them if they went along to keep up the appearances of persons who were loyal to the throne. But such an accommodating action would violate the second commandment. Deuteronomy 5:8-9 clearly stated that such actions would provoke the Living God; mortals were not to bow down to an idol in heaven above, on the earth, or anything beneath the earth.

3. To Conceal One’s Faith

Even King Nebuchadnezzar wanted to know from these three men, “Is it true? (v.14). In a situation such as this one, do we try to conceal what we really believe or do we say what is the truth? This narrative wants to teach us that there is no other option but to tell the truth.

II. Our Answers Should Be Readily Available (3:16-18)

A. We Do Not Need to Defend Ourselves

The men declared that they did not need to defend themselves. This was not the answer of arrogance, but the answer of lives that had been clearly observable and under scrutiny from all the time they had been in Babylon. In fact, there was nothing more to say, for what they had said was true. They were confident that the God they served was able to deliver them (v.17).

B. Nothing is Too Hard for God

This principle had been taught in the question asked in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Jeremiah 32:17, 27 would repeat the same teaching, “Nothing is too hard/difficult/ marvelous for the LORD.” Zechariah 8:6 raised the point again: “It may seem too marvelous/difficult/hard to the remnant of this people at his time, but will it seem marvelous/too hard/too difficult to me? declares the LORD.” Jesus had to teach this principle to the boy’s father, whose son was possessed by an evil Spirit, “Everything is possible for the one who believes” (Mk 9:23). Jesus himself laid claim to this same truth in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, everything is possible for you” (Mk 14:36).

These three men were sure God would be able to deliver them out of the hand of the king and his golden image, but their chief concern at that moment was the glory and vindication of God’s name and reputation.

C. Faith Must Show Four Elements

Even if God’s will and action in this particular case might be different than they wished for and would find pleasant, their obedience would not be contingent on God’s answering their prayers in the way they hoped would happen. After all, while 100 prophets of the Lord were spared in the days of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (while Jezebel killed off many prophets of the Lord) by Obadiah, who was a sort of Secretary of State for that corrupt government, godly Uriah was not spared from being executed even though Jeremiah was so spared (Jer 26:20). Again, godly James was not spared King Herod’s sword, while Peter did experience his own deliverance (Acts 12:2). Herein lies part of the mystery of God (Dt 29:29). Why does God rescue some and not everyone all the time? The answer lies in the mystery of his perfect will, which when we see our Lord, it will become plain for all to see.

The faith of these three men, however, did exhibit four elements:

1. True Faith Has Full Commitment

These men saw no need for further talk, therefore they were not choosing their words carefully so that they could escape by virtue of their wordsmithing (v.16b). Instead, they were fully committed to the Lord regardless of the outcome of the trial they would be forced to undergo.

2. True Faith Had Full Confidence

This did mean, however, that they had no reservations on God’s ability to save them or to be with them even in the midst of the fiery furnace (v.17). To deny God’s omnipotence was to deny God’s very existence. How could God be any less God than One who could act in such a situation as this?

3. True Faith Has Full Resolution

These three Hebrew captives were determined to disobey the command to fall down before this golden image, no matter what consequences might incur. They resolutely affirmed, “Even if [our God] does not [rescue us], we want you to know O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (v.18).

4. True Faith Has Full Knowledge

As Hebrews 13:6 would later say, “The Lord is my Helper and I will not fear what man shall do to me.” Their understanding of who God was did not rise or fall on any one incident that may not for the moment have seemed to fall within an expected deliverance pattern. God would still be God and his will would still be the One that was being worked out.

III. Our Persecutors Must Acknowledge God’s Deliverance (3:19-30)

A. In Spite of Their Anger (vv.19-23)

Nebuchadnezzar was angry in verse 13, but that anger increased in verse 19. Now his anger becomes almost irrational as he orders the furnace to be made seven times hotter than usual (v.19). Likewise, he ordered ”some of the strongest soldiers in his army” (v.20a) “to tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and throw them into the blazing furnace” (v.20b). It is not clear why he wanted a show of this sort of strength, unless he was now fearing that there would be a show of divine force on behalf of these men. Perhaps the boldness of the captives was beginning to get to him! However, the fire was so intense that the flames leaping from the furnace killed the strong men who merely tossed the three bound men into the super heated furnace (v.22).

B. In Spite of Their Unbelief (vv.24-25)

Amazingly enough, the more Nebuchadnezzar persecuted, the more he confirmed their witness. For when the three captives fell into the scorching heat of the fire (apparently from above the oven), all securely tied up, suddenly Nebuchadnezzar can hardly believe his eyes. Instead of three men in the furnace, he now counted four in the furnace (v.24)! To make sure his eyes and memory had not failed him, he asked his advisors, “Weren’t there three men we tied up and threw into the furnace? (v.24). Naturally, their response was, “Certainly, O king” (v.24c); there had been only three!

Interestingly enough, it was the king who exclaimed, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods” (v.25). Surely that must have been a real eye-popper for this monarch. His questions must have come one after another. How did the men get loose? Why are they not burning up? Why are their clothes not on fire? Why are they walking around in the oven? And who is that fourth one with them? Why does he have an angelic or divine appearance?

Had not the Lord himself promised to be with his people in such circumstances as are cited in Isaiah 43:1-2? “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you [Israel] by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you … When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, and the flame will not consume you.”

That fourth person was no one less than a pre-incarnate appearance of the second person of the Trinity. Apparently, only the king must have seen this fourth person in the furnace, which is most fitting indeed, since he was the one who dared to raise the question as to whether there was any god who could rescue these men from the fire, or from the edicts given in the name of this king. Now he is the one to realize that there was exactly one such God, the One who was now with the three men, who were at this moment walking around in the fire as if it were an afternoon stroll. In the mouth of this royal polytheist, his description of Christ is more fitting to match an “angel,” or one from the pantheon of gods – though false gods never showed such power as this! But for those who have read the Scriptures, this One is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Mt 16:16). Too bad Nebuchadnezzar would not cry out like the disciple Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (Jh 20:29). But for those who were in the furnace, the reality of the presence of the Son of God was affirming by their experience of the real presence of the Son of God.

C. In Spite of One’s Self (vv.26-30)

It is now Nebuchadnezzar’s turn to act, for he now approaches the opening of the furnace on its ground level and he cried out, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” (v.26). This is the second time this monarch had been given more than enough reason to drop his worship of all his idols and worship the true and Living God (cf. Dan 2:47). And he will be given one more opportunity after he recovers from his insanity (4:34), but there is no evidence in the Bible that he ever was truly converted.

Four sets of royal advisors (satraps, prefects, governors, and royal advisors) crowded around the three men who had been set for incineration (v.27) only to find, as they themselves took note: (1) the fire had not hurt them; (2) their hair was not singed; (3) their robes were not scorched; (4) there was no smell of fire on them (27b-c); and (5) they were unbound (v.25). The only thing that the fire was able to affect was the king’s rope that bound each man.

The trust of these three men and the power of their God really affected Nebuchadnezzar. Almost involuntarily he rendered praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (v.28). He thought that God had sent his “angel” to deliver the men, but he realized that these three had trusted in this Lord and they had defied the royal command of a mortal king as they chose to worship only this one God (v.28c-d).

The king therefore issued a decree that anyone of any nation or language who dared to “say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach or Abednego [would] be cut into pieces, and their houses [would] be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way” (v.29). Notice that, if no one could detract from God’s greatness, even though they were pagans, how much more care should be taken by God’s own children who unwittingly, and sometimes deliberately, often steal glory from the majesty and power of God? Defiance of a Babylonian king was put into direct juxtaposition with the full trust in the real God. Note which had the greater effectiveness!

The king then promoted (v.30) the three men in the province of Babylon. I wonder how that was received by those who had raised the trouble for these men in the first place? Had they not hoped these three men would be gone and some of them would have been promoted instead? This is nothing but high irony: the people had been gathered to worship the golden image, but were treated instead to personally witness how God will personally intervene to rescue those who bow down to him and worship him. Surely this was missions in action in the Old Testament, and in Babylon itself, by three witnesses for the truthfulness of the Lord they served. Therefore, once again, all the nations of the earth were blessed by the seed of Abraham (Gen 12:3). So committed were these three, that they would rather suffer death than bow down to another (pretend) god.

Conclusions

1. Our Lord can be depended on to either deliver us or to see that right is done.

2. We must decide to serve him even if God’s will is not to deliver us.

3. By faith, we and these men, can quench the violence of fire.

4. By faith (we and) they were loosed from their cords that bound them.

5. By faith (we and) they were comforted in their trials as the Strong Son of God stood right beside them.

6. By faith God was glorified and by faith his servants were rewarded as they were willing to be faithful to death and thereby to receive a crown of life (Rev 2:10).

By Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., PhD      

1.The Septuagint, often referred to as the “LXX” (the Roman number for 70), was a Greek version of the Jewish Scriptures translated from the Hebrew by approx. 70 Jewish scholars in 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C. that was later adopted by early Greek-speaking Christians.

Link to Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. website: www.walterckaiserjr.com

The Book of Daniel Lesson 1 Part B by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr

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Lesson 1b (the second half of Lesson 1: Dan. 1:3-21)

II.  When Pressured to Compromise  (1:3-8)

 A.  Our Spiritual Heritage

The four young Judean captives are identified by their Hebrew names: Daniel (“God is my judge”), Hananiah (“Yahweh is gracious”), Mishael (“Who is as/like God?”) and Azariah (“Yahweh has helped”).  They were described as being from “the royal family and nobility” (1:3).  Note that all four had theophoric names (i.e., they were all compounded with God’s name plus a verb or noun).  That would seem to indicate a godly heritage and upbringing while they had lived in Jerusalem.

These young men stood out in other ways as well.  The fact that they had naturally good looks and general physical prowess suited them well for leadership in the civil service of Babylon. Furthermore, they had “an aptitude for …learning, [were] well informed, [and were] quick to understand” (1:4). 

The four were turned over to “Ashpenaz, chief of [Nebuchadnezzar’s] court officials” (1:3), who was given the oversight of the men with authority to respond to the requests of those under his tutelage. The name “Ashpenaz” is attested as an Aramaic name in an incantation bowl from around 600 B.C.  His name may mean “lodging” or perhaps “Innkeeper,” but his title is even more significant in that he could make decisions on his own without appealing to a superior.

Ashpenaz began his reprogramming education of these four Jewish youths by changing their names.  Accordingly, Daniel became “Belteshazzar” (“Bel [i.e., “Marduk,” the supreme god of the Babylonians] “protects his life”), “Shadrach” (“command of Aku” [i.e. Sumerian moon god]), “Meshach” (perhaps: “who is like/as Aku?”), and “Abednego” (“servant of Neg[b]o,” i.e., Nabu, the son of Marduk).

It was stipulated that their training period would last three years (1:5b).   After the triad of training years, they were to enter the king’s civil service.  Babylon was noted for being the center of wisdom.  The men would learn the Akkadian cuneiform (wedge-shaped signs standing for multiple syllabic values), the Babylonian literature, along with the polytheistic worldview contained in what they were taught.  But God protected their minds and hearts. 

B.  Our Resolve to Remain True

These men were up for the challenges of such an intensive learning curve, but they were not about to say “yes” to any compromise demanded of them.  There came a place where they felt they they could go no further.  Verse 8 declared that “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.”  It was not that these men just were teetotalers; instead, what is indicated here is that they, by a deliberate act of their wills, “drew a line in the sand” and said they could not participate in what was required of them; for the Hebrew text said, “Daniel set his heart” (1:8) “not to defile himself.”  In their case, the royal food posed a problem for Daniel and his friends. 

Just what the difficulty was is not easily determined, now that we are so far from the culture of that day.  We can, however, make a number of suggestions as to what might have been troubling these four Hebrews.  First of all, the law of Moses prohibited the conscientious Hebrew from eating certain types of food (Lev 11; Dt 12:23-25; 14).  Since they could not be assured in advance as to what would be offered at their meals, this could have been a reason.  However, wine was not prohibited by the law, so the inclusion of the wine along with the royal food in verse 9 does not make sense as the operating cause of their distress.

Another cause might have been that the food had been offered to an idol prior to its being served to them.  But Daniel and his friends would accept vegetables, which also might have been offered to the idols along with the meat and wine.  Certainly Daniel would have mentioned the issue of idols had that been the heart of their objection.

Therefore, it must have been the fact that Daniel interpreted the partaking of the royal food as a mark of formal allegiance to the Babylonian king, whereas Daniel’s friends show later in the narrative in chapter 3 that they accepted only the lordship of Yahweh and not that of the Babylonian king! However, even this reason is not as clear as it might at first seem, for Daniel and the other three accepted the king’s vegetables.  That would lead us to refine this argument by saying that perhaps the four Hebrews wanted this trial by vegetables to be a means of demonstrating to the king that their physical stamina and appearance was due to the miraculous work of God and not the quality or the power of the royal food from the Babylonian palace.  These men wanted it known that their reliance was on Yahweh for their nurturing and support even though some might wrongly conclude that Yahweh was no longer effective, since he had not kept these Hebrews from the horrors of captivity and subjection to a foreign political power. 

This is an interesting case of how to relate our commitments to the Living God and yet be minimally involved in the culture.  These men did not decide to simply adopt everything in the culture.  However, they would make no fuss over the pagan names given to them, or over the studies they had to engage in; in fact they excelled in their studies over all their classmates.

III.  When Pressured to Conform  (1:9-16)

It is not always easy to determine what is trivial and what is of central importance for one’s own testimony. For example, during World War II, the wearing of a yellow Jewish Star, or the giving of a Hitler-salute during a parade, would not be classified as “trivial” in retrospect.  Daniel and company accepted re-education, a re-naming, and the training in all the Babylonian curriculum, even as Moses did when he was in the palace of Pharaoh, but in this cross-cultural situation he knew he had to draw a line in the sand (much as the United States had to draw a line in the sand in the First Gulf War for the freedom of Kuwait) when it came to stating the One on whom each placed his dependence.  These men resisted the temptation to go along with the crowd. 

To demonstrate that God was still at work on behalf of these non-conforming men, for the second time the text says in verse 9 that “God had caused the official [Ashpenaz] to show favor and sympathy to Daniel.”   Thus, God was not only demonstrating his rule over nations; he was also providentially ruling in the lives of individuals as well.  Therefore, just as earlier in Israel’s history, Joseph “found favor” in Pharaoh’s eyes (Gen 39:4), and later in Israel’s history, Esther “won … favor” in her royal beauty contest (Est 2:9), so Daniel and his three friends found the same to be true here.  God’s divine intervention on behalf of individuals is just as much part of this story as it is in his rule over Judah and the Gentile nations.

A.  A Dare to Compare

The test was to last for “ten days” (12). This may have been a round number, but it certainly was for a fairly short time in which the suspicions of Ashpenaz’s superiors would not be aroused, yet it would supply enough time for any positive results to be observed.  This test was indeed evidence of non-conformity at some level that affected the testimony of these four Hebrew captives.

Notice how careful the men were, so as not to show any open defiance of the king, yet they did not buckle-under and comply with most other aspects of the new culture into which they had been cast.  Thus, the alternative to sustaining themselves off the king’s menu was to feed on a diet of vegetables and water, hence the “trial by vegetables.”

Daniel was polite and asked, “Please test your servants for ten days” (12).  After these ten days had passed, Ashpenaz was to “compare [their] appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food” (13).  This test would mark the separation of the four Hebrews from the otherwise prevailing Gentile culture.  In this way, a “Diaspora theology” emerged as the Hebrews would distinguish themselves from the influences of a Gentile culture as advocated by the Babylonians, Medo-Persians or the Greeks in later years when the scattered Israelites found themselves in exile in foreign lands.

B.   A Result to Acknowledge

God’s providential care was evident in their individual lives just as surely as it was seen in his rule over nations.  God caused Ashpenaz to show favor (9) to these men as he had in the past shown favor to Joseph, who also “found favor” in Potiphar’s eyes (Gen 39:4), and Esther later “won…favor” with Hegai, as he instructed her how to prepare for her visit with the Persian king (Est 2:9). God’s intervention on behalf of the four captives was not a sidelight to the story, but it was the same theme that Daniel had established in his opening verses in this chapter.  The four men emerged from their test of trial by vegetables “healthier and better nourished” than their competitors (15).   So Daniel and his friends won their point and demonstrated the providential working of God on their behalf.

IV  When Pressed to Produce  (1:17-21)

A.  Human Wisdom

For the third time in this text, it is emphasized that it was God who once more “gave” (17) something; this time it was: “knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.”  “Knowledge” pointed to academic learning and “understanding” suggested both an aptitude for study and an insight into exercising sound judgment in what they were learning.   Here was living proof of the fact that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7).

B.  Spiritual Discernment

When it came time for graduation of the four Hebrews, all of them were found to be “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (20).  The number “ten” is no doubt used here as a hyperbole, rather than an exact mathematical score (e.g., see Gen 31:41; Num 14:22; Ne 4:12).  But the impression they made was certainly clear enough for them to merit introduction into the king’s civil service, for each received an administrative appointment in the “king’s service” (19).  Out of the mercy and goodness of God, these men so excelled that they beat the other apprentices in the Babylonian arts and sciences” as they choose to depend on God and not on the occult arts of the non-gods and certain demons found in the Babylonian religion and used by the other classmates who were magicians and enchanters. 

A final note appears in verse 21 illustrating the “staying power” of Daniel, for he came to his royal office in Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar and remained in office even after the government changed into the hands of the Medo-Persians in the first year of King Cyrus in 539/8 B.C.  This meant Daniel held his office for over sixty years in the royal courts.  His longevity meant Daniel outlasted the Babylonian Empire, and it extended into the first king of Persia.   Surely, God is the one who is sovereign over men and nations all over the world.

Conclusions:

1.  God can be trusted even when the circumstances appear to turn sour and not exactly what we would have planned for our lives.

2.  To those who are faithful to their Lord, he has the power to grant knowledge, understanding and the ability to use that knowledge wisely.

3.  Daniel 1 is about how God can work both within the lives of a few individuals as well as he can work in the history of nations.

4.  Are our inner convictions strong enough to overcome the outer pressure to compromise and to conform to a hostile culture?

5.  There is great value in pledging ourselves in advance to God and his kingdom so that we act on principle and not just on the spur of the moment.

6.  When taking such stands on principle, we must do so gently, courteously and appealingly so as to win over the opposition rather than being merely confrontative in our stand.  

7.  Those who honor the Lord will be like a tree planted by the stream of water  (Psalm 1:3) outlasting even whole empires.

By Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., PhD 

Link to Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. website: www.walterckaiserjr.com

[I, the (usually) faithful Editorial Assistant, apologize to our readers, to Old Testament scholar Dr. Kaiser, and Tom Bradford for delay in bringing you the rest of these profound lessons—not published elsewhere—on the book of Daniel.  The fault is mine.  Our intention forthwith is to regularly provide lessons for the entire book, which will be archived for free use and study by visitors to our website.  In the future, whole chapters of Daniel will be presented as single lessons.  This lesson finishes the discussion of chapter 1 of Daniel already presented along with an excellent introduction to the book (taking issue with some contemporary interpretations).  Point I has been already presented.]

The Book of Daniel Lesson 1 Part A by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr

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INTRODUCTION:

Few books of the Old Testament are as hotly contested in its date, authorship, and interpretation as the book of  Daniel.  On its own, the book does pose some unique characteristics: for example, it is written in two languages (Hebrew and Aramaic), and it is narrated in two voices (third person for the court stories of Daniel 1-6, and first person embedded in third person narration of the visions in Daniel 7-12).   

But there are several other issues that face the interpreter.  There are two basic interpretations of this book: one is labeled the “traditional” interpretation, which understands the book as a sixth century B.C. composition written by the prophet Daniel, and the other is labeled the “critical” or “mainline” interpretation, which sees Daniel largely as a second century B.C. work.   The latter group say that the “traditionalists” fight a “rear-guard action” when they defend Daniel’s historical reliability and argue for the earlier sixth century B.C. date.  However, the voices of conservative scholars, such as E. J. Young, K. Kitchen, D. J. Wiseman and J. G. Baldwin, continue to present good evidence for the traditional view and a sixth century date.

In most of the centuries past, traditional Jewish and Christian scholars ascribed the book of Daniel as written by a Hebrew who was taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C., and who continued in the royal courts of Babylonian, Median and Persian Kings until at least 536 B.C. The Neoplatonist Porphryry (A.D. 233-304), however, placed the book as having been written much later in the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (who ruled 175-163 B.C.), claiming that the writer was reporting history as if the events mentioned were still in the future. Critical scholars began to take the same line of argumentation beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Today, that same line of specious (bad) reasoning is found among non-traditionalists, and even among some evangelicals.  However, the historic details of the book, its chronological accuracy, and its prophecies, have been shown to be accurate in case after case and truly predictive and given in the sixth century B.C.

STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK:

The fact that the book is given to us in two languages, Hebrew (1:1- 2: 4a; 8:1-12:13), and Aramaic (2:4b- 7:28), points to the fact that Daniel addresses his own people in their native Hebrew tongue at the beginning and at the end of his book and the Gentile nations he addresses in the central section of his book in the Aramaic language, which was the lingua franca of the day. This, then, becomes an interpretive clue as to whom Daniel is primarily addressing: Gentiles in the Aramaic sections and the Jewish people in Hebrew.  Moreover, the chiastic¹ arrangement of the subjects treated in the Aramaic section from 2:4b to 7:28 is further evidence of this bifid structure (a,b,c, c’,b’,a’) within this book.

A.   Four World Empires to be Replaced by the Kingdom of God – 2:4b-49

B.   Suffering via the Threat of the Fiery Furnace – 3:1-30

C.   Daniel Interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream – 4:1-47

D.   Daniel Interprets the Handwriting on the Wall – 5:1-31

E.   Suffering the Threat of the Lion’s Den – 6:1-28

F.   Vision of four World Empires Replaced by the Kingdom of God – 7:1-28

THEOLOGICAL EMPHASES:

The book of Daniel is governed by a “Theology of History,” in which the person and work of God the Father and the Son of Man remain in charge of all events and nations, even though the Israelite exiles have been dealt an intense shock in the sack of Jerusalem.  But the Promise-Plan of God is still operative, despite the strangeness of a new land, customs, culture and religion.  God’s promise is still irrevocable (see later in Rom 11:29). God still owns the land of Israel, God’s covenant with the patriarchs and David is still in force, God is God of gods, Lord of lords, and the decider of a nation’s destiny.

There will be more to say, when we take up each of the chapters in Daniel, but it is time to get into the text itself.

“KNOWING WHERE AND WHEN TO ‘DRAW THE LINE’”

Text:  Daniel 1: 1-21

Focal Point:  vs 8, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…”

Title: “Knowing Where and When to ‘Draw the Line’”

Homiletical Keyword: Situations

Interrogative: When? (Do we face those situations in which we are called upon to take a stand?)

OUTLINE:    

  I.   WHEN OTHERS JUST PLAIN GIVE UP  (1:1-2)

        A.  IN TIMES OF WAR AND CONQUEST

        B.  IN TIMES OF EXILE AND QUESTIONING

II.    WHEN PRESSURED TO COMPROMISE  (1:3-8)

         A.  OUR SPIRITUAL HERITAGE

         B.  OUR RESOLVE TO REMAIN TRUE

III.    WHEN WE ARE PRESSURED TO CONFORM  (1:9-16)

          A.  A DARE TO COMPARE

          B.  A RESULT TO ACKNOWLEDGE

IV.    WHEN PRESSURED TO PRODUCE  (1:17-21)

          A.  HUMAN WISDOM

          B.  SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT

CONCLUSIONS

I.  WHEN OTHERS JUST PLAIN GIVE UP  (1:1-2)

The book of Daniel opens in the first chapter (1:1-21), with the first of six narratives that come from life in the court of Babylon (1:1- 6:).  It relates the story of Daniel and his three friends who were carried off into captivity from Judah to Nebuchadnezzar’s court in Babylon in 605 B.C. The Judean king, King Jehoiakim (609-597 B.C.), who replaced his father (the noted young and good King Josiah), had been installed as a “puppet king” by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt (2 Kgs 23:30-34).  But by the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar had laid siege to Jerusalem and had carried off many of the treasures in the Temple and palace. Thus it happened in 605, that Nebuchadnezzar took Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Dan 1:6) as captives from Jerusalem to Babylon.  This date of the third year of Jehoiakim agrees with the accession year method of reckoning time in Babylon (computing the first full year of one’s kingship beginning with the New Year’s Day after the king had ascended to the throne).  Some critical scholars argue that there is a chronological discrepancy in the Biblical record, because Jeremiah 25:1 declares that the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign is the “fourth year” of King Jehoiakim’s reign and not the “third year” as Daniel 1:1 places it.  However, if one realizes that Jeremiah’s date is based on the non-accession year principle (beginning to number the king’s years from day one of his reign), the difficulty disappears.²

Others worry about the historical veracity of this 605 B.C. incursion into Judah, since there is no separate account of a Babylonian invasion into the land of Judah on that date.  But even in this case there is indirect evidence of a Babylonian campaign into Judah in 605 B.C., for the Jewish historian, Josephus, in his Contra Apion, 1:19, cites a Babylonian priest-historian, named Berossus, who claimed that Nebuchadnezzar was engaged in campaigns in Egypt, Syria and Phoenicia at the time when his father, Nabopolassar, died.  And additional evidence is now supplied by a cuneiform tablet found in 1956 that Nebuchadnezzar had “conquered the whole area of the Hatti-country” shortly after his Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C.  The term “Hatti” embraced the whole of Syria and Palestine.³  Thus the report is correct.

A.  In Times of War and Conquest

All too many tend to argue that in times of war and national distress, the normal way of life is forfeited.  Ethical decisions are no longer made on the bases of right and wrong, for the feeling seems to take over that most everyone is going to die anyway; so why not live life up to the hilt and forget about divine standards and acting in responsible ways as each was taught to live in the Torah.

The tragic events of the death of good King Josiah, killed at Megiddo by one of Pharaoh’s soldiers in 609, followed by the king of Babylon’s invasion of the country in 605 and again in 597, and finally the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., provided a feeling of despondency for those who despaired of life as they had known it, and might have called for a change in their faithfulness to God.  How was God going to be able to work out his purpose in history and in the life of the nation Judah, now that tragedy had struck these three times?  How could the glorious day of the new David, their coming Messiah, be effective now that the Temple was gone, the Davidic king would soon be gone, and all seemed to run counter to God’s ultimate triumph over evil?

B.  In Times of Exile and Questioning

The siege of Jerusalem in 605 B.C. would be the first of three major incursions into the land of Judah.  Verses 1-2 do not claim that there was armed conflict at this time, but merely states that the country was “besieged,” suggesting more of a threat of a battle.  It appears that the Judeans thought it the better part of wisdom and valor at this time to hand over the valued articles of gold and silver in the Jerusalem temple and palace.

Later, when Nebuchadnezzar was in a position to check the disloyalty of his Judean vassal, Jehoiakim, he returned to Jerusalem, after being preoccupied with revolts in other parts of his empire.  But by the time he reached Jerusalem, Jehoiakim had died and his son, Jehoiachin, had been made king in Jerusalem (2 Kgs 24:8).  However, Nebuchadnezzar deposed Jehoiachin, and exiled him along with ten thousand Judeans, this time including the prophet Ezekiel (2 Kgs 24:10-17; Ezk 1:1-2) in 597 B.C..

The third time the Babylonians invaded Judah, Nebuchadnezzar’s patience had been exhausted as he initiated a long siege of Jerusalem beginning in 588 B.C.  Finally the city fell, Yahweh’s Temple was razed and burnt to the ground and the Davidic kingship in Judah was ended for the time being (2 Kgs 24:18-25:21).

But notice that “the LORD delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand” (1:2).  Therefore, instead of this being a capricious, or random, event in history, what happened here was not the work of the Babylonians, but was under the aegis of God’s sovereign rule over all of history. The Hebrew verb rendered “delivered” is simply the verb “to give.” This verb appears in each of the three scenes narrated in this chapter: vss 2, [“the LORD delivered [gave] Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand”] 9 [“God had caused the official to show [give] favor”], and 17 [“God gave knowledge and understanding”]. 

None of what had happened in this tragic turn of events was a surprise to Judah, for embedded in the Promise-Plan of God were the warnings of the curses that would come (just as surely as the promises) if they turned away from the Lord.  The decisive factor for deliverance would be Israel’s obedience and faithfulness to God’s call on their lives.

—to be continued—

By Walter C. Kaiser, Jr, PhD 

 NOTES

¹ “chiastic.”  A chiasmus is when grammatical constructions, or concepts, are repeated in reverse order in the same, or a modified, form; e.g. “Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.”

² Donald J. Wiseman, Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon.  Oxford Univ. Press, 1985. Pp. 16-18. 

³ See Donald J. Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings.  London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1961, p.69.

Link to Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. website: www.walterckaiserjr.com

(Walter C. Kaiser Jr. is a former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a prominent Biblical scholar with dozens of books, including The Archaeological Study Bible which he edited, and hundreds of articles on Old Testament subjects.  Subsequent lessons in this new series specially made for Seed of Abraham Ministries, when posted, will be numbered and appear in the Torah Class archives, making easy access of these articles for future study of the entire book possible.  Other of Dr. Kaiser’s articles have already been posted on this website and may be found in the archives here.)

Thirty-Three Minutes to Live by John Knapp II

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(“faction”¹ with footnotes)

(In the Bible, believers are commanded to make and sing hymns and songs, as well as to listen to stories and consider parables.  This short story, with notes to aid discussion, is offered in that spirit.)

Day 1

I approached the monastery with hope.  My hidden mike was on.  The dark brown-robed figure at the base of the tower smiled and tilted his head down in welcome.

“May I ask a question?”  I paused.  “A serious question?”

“Of course.   That’s why I’m here,” the stout man replied.  Then eyeing me more carefully, “I’ll do my best,” he added, probably suspecting something.  “Come on in.”  He pulled back the scarred door, took me up a flight of winding stairs, seated me in a worn but comfortable chair while he pulled up a wooden chair with wooden armrests and descended upon it.  We each half-faced a middle-sized window, its top arched into the stone layers above it and half-faced each other.  The sky over the pasture below was pewter gray.

“I came here with only an hour to live,” I said.  “And”—I glanced at my watch—“it’s taken me 25 minutes to get from my car, to find you and end up where we’re sitting.  I have only one question:  “What must I do to be saved?”

“Saved…” he returned, seeming to evaluate the word’s number after carefully placing it on a balance pan.

“Yes, ‘saved.’  You see, I know little about God, or what may be thought of as ‘God,’ and I’ve been led to think that the stuff I learned years ago is childish superstition that I should have outgrown.  But when I look outside even in dim light and see the beauty of this field, and I look at the stars at night, I feel…there has to be something more.  This just can’t have happened all by itself.  There must be some kind of God and, if so, maybe a hereafter.  That makes me uneasy.  Can you tell me what I’m missing?”

“You’ve seen our chapel?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“And our bookstore?”

“Yes.”

“I see,” he replied.

“And, yes, I’m playing a game with you, but I’m really trying to understand.  I’m not really going to die immediately, at least I don’t think so”—I glanced again at my watch—“and by my count I have only 33 minutes left!”

Silence.

Minutes ticked away on the tall clock next to the wall behind us across the room.  Slowly, the man, balding and somewhere in midlife, stood, adjusted his robe, and walked to the window and slid the short curtain further to the side admitting more afternoon light.  Without a glance at me he returned to his seat, and appeared to stare far away as if I weren’t in the room.

I remained in my seat, letting my gaze pass side by side to his through the glass.  At last I broke the silence that I refused to be embarrassed for causing.

“Say…say, just for example, I’m back from the battlefield and have been attended to, but I know I’m dying.  I’ve spent nearly all my life looking after my family and myself, and not much else, and I recognize that you, however, have devoted a sizable chunk of your time to prayer and meditation, so please help me.  And I’m not asking you to put any special oils or water on my head. What must I do in the time I have left to prepare for the neverland of death?    Aren’t there some basics like what Jesus told the criminal who was dying on the cross beside him?”

Again, he stood and shuffled to the window.  Turning, this time he glanced at me before going back to his seat.  I envied his patience.

“I…I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean to be offensive .  This is just the way I am.  I should know better.”  I stood and turned to leave.

“No, no, it’s okay,” he said just above a whisper.

We returned to our original positions.

Minutes passed.

“I have just 4 minutes left? What must I do?”

The final minutes passed.

“Time’s up,” I said, glancing at my watch. “My legs will carry what’s left of me out.”  I stood and walked to the stairway.   After taking one step down, I turned.  “There’s nothing, nothing at all you can tell me?”

“Repent,” he said just loud enough to make me hear.

I descended the stairs alone and left².

Day 2

A week later I approached the base of a second tower.  This one was connected to a house and was the home of an alleged writer who was the friend of a good friend.  Since he’d probably seen me from his third floor window coming up the driveway, he met me at the door before I knocked.  This time he glanced at his watch first.  I suppose I looked a little surprised.

“Eric said you might be coming,” he offered.  Coffee appeared after I followed him up the steps to another floor.  Together we sat again facing a window, much as the monk and I had earlier, though this time we looked out at the dock at the edge of the lake.  How far the lake went was cut off by the trees.  My host’s thick hair was prematurely gray.  With his hand he pushed it back from his forehead.  A small table was positioned between us where we could unload our mugs.  A thick, worn Bible lay on the windowsill.

“Is it okay that I’m interrupting your day?” I asked.  “Eric did say that you were serious, and that you did have rough edges, which don’t bother me, and that you were old-fashioned about some things, but still up to date about science and Bible things.  And that you could listen.”

“My, my!” he returned.  “ ‘Up to date?’  Hmm.  I must warn you that I haven’t yet checked news online this morning”—his eyes were deadpan though his lips betrayed a smile—“because I’ve been working upstairs.  But I could use a break—a short one.”  Then came what could be interpreted as a warning look before he glanced at his watch again.

“Fine with me!” I said, “almost ‘prophetic’!  Can I be honest and speak freely, and spare us the small talk?”

“Of course,” he replied.  “Of course, too, some things I should never hear, some things I’m pretty naïve about.  And I can get embarrassed—or, yes, even bored.”

“Uh what?”  I set my cup on the table and leaned forward.

“Sorry, you said ‘speak freely’ and I have an active imagination!”  He chuckled and, suddenly smile lines appeared around his eyes.  He glanced at his watch still again before continuing.  “So you want me to truly honest and open?”

“Absolutely!” I said.  “Please be my tutor and tell me what I need to know.”

“Your tutor?”

“Yes, and tell me what I need to know in the time we have left.”  It was my turn to inspect a timepiece.

“I see,” he said.

“I’m going to die in 31 minutes,” I said.  I’ve been encouraged to doubt much of what very religious people say today.  But when I look out this window here and see the beauty of this…this lake, and look at the stars at night, heavenly bodies so far away, I feel…there has to be something more.  But it’s almost embarrassing to admit this out loud.  The world must be more than a bunch of random events that happened by accident without some outside ‘help.’  There must be some kind of God somewhere, and maybe even a hereafter.”

I stopped to catch my breath—and give my new tutor a turn.

“ ‘Thirty-one minutes, now 30’ ?   Are you sure those minutes you have are guaranteed?” he replied.  “I laugh about many things but I’m not sure I’d joke about that.  God just might be listening.  Now if I’m to be your tutor for—thankfully—only the next half hour, I’ll have to use my lips far more than my ears, and that’s not easy on the brain.”

Or the heart, I decided.  His words actually startled me and I felt a tiny twinge in the left side of my chest.  So much for the power of suggestion!  I determined to ignore it.  As if reading my mind, my new tutor smiled, softening my brain further.  He reached for his coffee mug so I reached for mine, wondering if caffeine was the best thing for me now.

I refocused.

“What I’m saying is simply this: I’ve hardly been what you call wicked, or bad in a way that would attract anyone’s attention.   I’ve done pretty much what I wanted, looking after my family and friends.  I’ve guarded myself from being deceived, being careful not to be taken in by warnings about hell-fire and superstitious nonsense about a wrathful God like you sometimes hear on the radio.  Often friends have reminded me that God, or the God idea, is all about love and that the true Gospel about God is simple to understand and receive very quickly.  Does God really exist?  If so, can he be real to me?”

“Yes and no,” he replied, almost automatically.

“Yes and no!   How can you say that?”

“Well, you’re talking a lot, but only you only asked two questions:  ‘Does God exist?’  Yes, I’m convinced he does.  As to your second question, ‘can he be real to me?’ your tutor says ‘No.’ ”

“ ‘No’?  Is God then a respecter of persons?”

“Since you put it that way, Yes, he is.  He’s not going to force you or anyone to see things or do things his way.  But He’s promised to save those who recognize their helplessness and truly ‘draw near’ to him, accept him completely, and do things his way.  When people who’ve ignored God all their lives become as old as we are, they usually have to suffer, become very sad, or be terrified by something in order to turn completely around, regardless of the bright light that might suggest the possibility of Heaven.  You, on the other hand, you don’t seem to be broken at all.  But let’s set that aside so I can do the job you gave me, okay?”

“Uh…okay.  So I’m not ‘truly’ whatever you said?”

“ ‘Truly drawing near,’ Yes, but I can be wrong.  Does ‘I doubt it’ sound better?   He glanced at his watch.  “Before you came you had years to face yourself in the mirror and ask important questions which you don’t seem to have done, and now by my count, we have only 27 minutes to attempt what you’re asking.”

“Then let’s start.  Where do we begin?”

“With God.  We’ll start at the beginning with God.  He reached for his Bible on the windowsill.  The first verse in here says, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’³  Everything—matter and energy, space and time—begins with God.”

“But can we prove this?” I ask.

“Let me be brief and say only this:  Almost all scientists who carefully examine the evidence admit that everything we know about had a beginning with the Big Bang billions of years ago.  If everything ‘began,’ then some thing or some entity that’s beyond scientific understanding, and beyond time itself, had to start things off.  Everything we know, every effect in time has a cause.  Also, as star “furnaces” burn out, everything ends and disappears, even time itself.”

“Into a black hole, I suppose,” I interrupted, attempting a smile.

“Aha! I see you have done a bit of homework!  But please realize not all scientists agree with this—even if they know about it.  Now your tutor wants to inject a story—a brief one, but it includes you.  You see that little sailboat with the sail that’s tied to the dock down there?”  He pointed to the window.

“Yes.”

“Do you swim?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know how to sail?”

“No.”

“Do you know how far it is to land on the other side?”

“No, I cannot see because trees block the view.”

“Do you know the depth of the water?  Places where boulders rise to within inches of the surface where you could tip over or break your centerboard? ”

“No to all these,” I said.

“Well, I don’t have perfect knowledge about all these, but I and several of my friends can confidently take this boat across the water to land at the other side with great satisfaction…but not with complete safety…or by the clock.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because of the wind,” he replied, “or the lack of wind.  And the invisible wind always matters.”

“And how does that affect me?” I asked.

“Oh it does in every way!” he replied.  “You see, a raging wildfire has forced you down the hill to the dock.  And your only hope of escape is the sailboat tied there.”  He glanced at his watch.  “And you have 24 minutes to get away.”

“Okay, okay, I get it.  I see the world and see myself and things around me changing.  What about God?  If the Big Bang has driven our molecules to the point of our having this conversation then—”

“Quite an imaginative generalization!” my tutor interrupted.  “But for the sake of time, I’ll not challenge it.  Go on.”

“What about God?  What caused God?”

“That seems like a good question, but it’s irrelevant.  We can guess, speculate, and ‘suppose’ all we want, but unlike the ancient Greeks, and the opinions of many scientists as recently as a hundred years ago, all our present scientific data strongly suggest that ‘time’ itself came from somewhere and eventually is going to end and disappear, perhaps in a black hole.”  He paused and smiled.  “So God, the ‘shaper’ of everything from the beginning, would, logically, have to exist ‘outside’ of time—or before and after, as well as during time—which the Bible, alone among ancient religious documents, actually seems to suggest.  Am I going too fast?”

“But don’t scientists who are atheists say something else?”

“Yes, many do.  But there’s pretty much agreement that time as we know it ‘ends.’  Just how—if you carefully read the fine print—is based on so much speculation that even scientists who ‘want’ to avoid a beginning and an ending like I’ve mentioned are hard-pressed, disagreeing among themselves , about ways to describe the data better.  At least that’s the case so far.”

“But I—”

“But nothing!  Please let me do what you’ve asked.  Add to what I’ve said three assertions that science can neither prove or disprove:(1) God created people, people in his own image—and let’s not bog down here on just how; and (2) because of this, people ‘feel’ (wonder, sorrow, hope, rejoice, etc.), think, ‘rearrange matter,’ and make historical records on a higher, radically different level from any other species regardless of similarities of  our DNA to that of those species; and  (3) from the Bible, we learn, and rightly so, that disobeying God—his laws and commands, lying and stealing, hurting other people so that we can get more—is called sin, a word describing evil that’s very out of fashion.  God hates sin.  Most important, it breaks fellowship with him; it also causes personal grief, separation from others, all kinds of sadness, despondency, and sometimes illness and death.   God commands people who care for him to repent of their sin.”

“Somewhere I’d heard that word before,” I mumbled.  “But doesn’t everybod—”

“But nothing!”

Suddenly my new friend stood, now towering over me.  “Aren’t you and I supposed to be ‘dead’ serious now?  I’m doing my part and now I’m running out of time!  Now, put on your boots and get ready to walk the ‘Romans Road.’”

Again he picked up his Bible and turned pages until he was three-fourths through the volume.

“But,” I implored, “doesn’t context matter here?  You just can’t pull words out of somewhere and make bumper stickers out of—”

“Oh I can, and I just did, though I doubt if your bumper will be big enough!  For your purposes now, I am the context!  Of course you can leave and find another tutor who’s wiser.  But while you’re here you have to trust me, at least hear me!  Why?  Because—and I’m using your own words—you’re going to die and I’m the best one nearby to trust.  Didn’t your friend send you here?”

“Yes, but—”

“You trusted him.  Now let’s walk the ‘Romans Road.’ ”

“Why?”

“Because the Bible record is very helpful here, revealing certain things that science can’t tell us about, things that we feel to some extent but can’t easily explain.  For example:  “First, Rom. 3:10 says ‘There is no one righteous, not even one.’  That means that everyone sins and is a sinner.  And God, the one who made us, hates sin.”

“But, but…but what about small—”

“Second, Rom. 3:23 says ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’  And God is in charge.  That’s not hard to really believe, but understanding it may take more time than you’re willing, or able, to give.  Third, Rom. 6:23 says ‘For the wages of sin is death,’ and that means an eternal death,” one that only the death of a sinless substitute, as Jesus was, can erase.”

“Wait!  Wait!  Wait!  You’re just grabbing pieces here and there and arranging them the way you want.  Is that fair?   What about the thief on the cross?  Didn’t he just offer a few sentences to Christ, who was being crucified beside him, and didn’t he right on the spot, as a God of love, promise him eternal life?”

“Context, context.  I thought that bothered you!  Now I’ve got a hammer and nails just outside because I’m repairing a shed.  Are your hands and feet ready to be pinned against a tree so you can feel enough pain to give God what the thief did?  I can provide a context to help you!  I believe that Jesus’ words to him (in Luke 23:43) were the greatest promise made to an individual in the Bible.  He said, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise,’ while the crucified criminal on the other side of him mocked, and the religious people watching all the gory detail called for more evidence before they would believe—”

Suddenly, my tutor glanced down at his watch, his finger tapped the glass, and beads of sweat suddenly rose on his forehead.  His eyes grew large. “There’s also Rom. 10:9-10, but let’s skip that and leave the Romans road by an exit ramp to John 3—

“But, but, but believe in what and how?  Don’t most already believe to some extent?  Then, oddly, my tutor’s hands began to move…and his lips continued as beefooore but I culd heeear no soooun

—The End—

Author: John Knapp II

¹ I invite you to consider the second dictionary definition of “faction” which is “a kind of fiction based on… real events, real people, etc.” (emphasis mine).  Of course, not all the events here did—or could—happen just this way as a later note will clarify.

² This was a Christian monastery, but not a Roman Catholic one.  Certain details have been deliberately rearranged.

³ It’s very easy to overlook the very significant fact that the first sentence of the Bible declares that God “was” before everything else.  This statement is unique for commonly recognized religious, and mythological, accounts that go back thousands of years.

 “describe the data better”— The issue here is not “how many ways we can come up with,” but rather, With the data we have, what explanation makes the most sense?  To examine seven alternative ways that scientists speculate time may end, see “Could Time End?” Scientific American (Sept. 2010).  Of course, if we limit ourselves to ‘science’ to explain everything, we limit our confidence about much we do in our lives.

 Our teller of the story makes an excellent point here.  “A bumper sticker” Gospel can lead to more questions than answers.  And, on the one hand the description of what is, or what God wants, can be easily distorted.  There are a lot of words and important teachings in the Bible between Genesis 1:1 and the “Romans Road”!  On the other hand, some who don’t have nagging difficulties in understanding can connect the dots more easily than others, especially if a couple of lifetimes of detailed study are not possible and, to mix a metaphor, the unpredictable wind might rise enough to fill the boat’s sails to send the sailor and his craft practically and safely out of harm’s way.

 The skipped-over text of Romans 10:9-10 is as follows:  “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

 In the first part of John chapter 3, Nicodemus, a caring religious intellectual of the day, encounters Jesus to find out what truly matters.  In the conversation, Jesus introduces the term “born again,” and experience which the man needs, and here the much-quoted formula of salvation, John 3:16, is presented—in an important “context,” of course.

 The fictional, and amateurish, part of this “faction” betrays itself here!  Sadly, there’s no way the first-person narrator of this story could have reported what happened on Day 2—especially the distorted words of the last sentence!

Addendum:  Those interested in following some of the arguments and reasoning in this story might enjoy reading the Bible between Gen. 1:1 and “The Romans Road” (and beyond it), as well as exploring these websites:  www.reasons.orgwww.reasonablefaith.org,  or www.johnknapp2.com.

The Doctrine of Election Part 4 by Rabbi Baruch

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In this section Paul brings up Elijah the prophet who cried out to HaShem that he alone was left (of the prophets) and they (Israel) sought to kill him as well. Even though Elijah felt he was the only one who walked in faithfulness to G-d, Paul quotes from I Kings 19,

I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men which have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  I Kings 19:18

This verse is pivotal in understanding the primary issue of our discussion, election. The matter that must be understood is the proper meaning of the verb which states that G-d “has reserved“. Reformed theology asserts that HaShem, in His sovereignty, caused seven thousand men to remain faithful. It is important to note that no one is saying that HaShem did not move and act in the lives of these seven thousand men. The question is whether these men had any chance of being like their fellow Jews and turning to Baal or did G-d mandate these seven thousand men and there was absolutely no possibility for any of these seven thousand to turn to idolatry?

It is not a coincidence that in the next verse Paul speaks about election.

Therefore, thus also in the present time, a remnant, according to election of grace exists.” Romans 11:5

The word translated “election” is the Greek word ekloghnThe literal meaning of this word is “to speak out”. The word has a prefix “ek” meaning “out” and the Greek root is “legw” having to do with speaking. Hence the word translated “election” here is not some mystical term, but simply relates to “speaking forth”. The same prefix “ek” is used in the word “ekklhsia” which literally means “the one who was called out” which is normally translated with the word “Church”. In the Septuagint the same word is used to describe those who came out of Egypt by keeping the Passover. This group was composed of both Jews and Gentiles who all had one thing in common— they utilized the blood of the lamb as HaShem spoke and therefore were redeemed. It was no accident that Yeshua died on the 14th day of Nisan (Passover day) and was called the Lamb of G-d, as what occurred in Egypt helps one to understand the redeeming work of Yeshua on the cross.

It would be accurate to translate Romans 11:5 in the following manner,

Therefore, thus also in the present time, a remnant, according to speaking forth of grace, exists.”

Hence, this mystical doctrine of “election”, which is rooted in the selection of certain individuals by G-d to be the absolutely compelled recipients of His grace, while others are predetermined to hell without any means to utilize G-d’s grace and be saved, is difficult to arrive at from the term “to speak forth”. To most the idea of speaking forth grace seems to be more closely united with the presentation of the Gospel, rather than a predetermined and mandated selection by G-d.

In the next verse Paul places the concept of grace in contrast to the performing of works as the basis of salvation. If the grace which is being referred to in Romans 11:5-6 is irresistible, and only limited to the “elect”, why is there any need for Paul to devote three chapters to the issue of Israel’s spiritual condition? He simply could say, most of the Jews were not chosen by G-d; yet this is not what Paul states at all. Rather, he never alludes to some sovereign plan of G-d to exclude a large majority of Jewish people, rather he states they were ignorant of G-d’s righteousness and sought to establish their own righteousness based in works (See Romans 10:3). This is what Paul continues to state now in Romans 11 which he strongly states is contrary to the message of the Gospel which is rooted in grace.  It is vital that one pays careful attention to verse 7.

Therefore, that which Israel seeks after, this he (Israel) did not obtain, but the speaker out (the elect) obtained; but the remaining ones were blinded.” Romans 11:7

Context demands that the reader conclude that Israel, for the most part, did not obtain the status of righteousness, i.e. redeemed, not because Israel was uninterested in it, but because Israel sought it incorrectly; that is, they did not utilize grace. Would it not be against the character of G-d to state that Israel sought righteousness, but did not obtain it simply because only “the elect” could obtain it? Is the proper interpretation of verse 7 that HaShem did not choose the vast majority of Jewish people and the rest He blinded?  Obviously, no.

I translated the word which most Bibles render as “the elect” in the literal fashion by rendering it “the speaker out”. I have no problem with the term “the elect” as long as the reader realizes it has to do with those who have responded in faith to the grace that was spoken out by G-d and established by Messiah Yeshua. This is similar to the fact that I have no problem with the term “the Church” as long as people understand it has to do with those who were “called out” by G-d by means of the blood of the true Passover Lamb (Yeshua).

I strongly object to the notion that G-d elected a unique group of individuals based solely on His sovereignty and the rest He blinded. In fact, it is exegetically incorrect to assert that it was the ordained decision of G-d simply based on His sovereign will to blind most of Israel. The reason that it is exegetically invalid to assert that G-d alone blinded the majority of Israel is found in the examples that Paul offers the reader in verses 8-10. Paul uses Deuteronomy 29:3 in teaching about the blindness that has been brought upon Israel.

Just as it has been written, G-d gave to them a spirit of dullness, eyes which were not to see and ears which were not to hear.”

The fact that Paul placed the verb “ἐπωρώθησαν” from verse 7 in the aorist passive clearly informs the reader that someone or something caused Israel to be made blind. The question that has to be answered is what or who caused this? Reformed theologians are quick to assert that is was the Sovereign G-d. However, when one pays close attention to the context in the two following verses, a different cause for the blindness is revealed. In the Deuteronomy passage Moses is not espousing that Israel did not know how G-d had moved in her history due to HaShem keeping her from knowing this by blinding her. The Hebrew word “to know” is an experiential word; what Moses is simply stating is that HaShem would not allow the Israelites to experience Him. Why was this? The answer is found in the content of Deuteronomy 28:15-69. These verses contain the curses Israel would receive if she did not listen / obey the voice of HaShem. In other words, G-d would not permit Israel to experience, i.e. to know Him because of her disobedience. Hence, it was not some mandated blindness that HaShem chose to sovereignly place upon Israel, but rather the outcome that He withheld because He does not bless with His presence disobedient people. This interpretation is supported by the next two verses where Paul quotes from King David.

And David says, ‘Let their table be made into a snare and into a trap and into a stumbling block and into punishment unto them. Let their eyes be made dark (blind) that they cannot see; and the backs by means of all their bowing down.'”  Romans 11:9-10

These two verses are from Psalm 69. In this Psalm David is speaking about his enemies who were persecuting him. Who were these enemies? David states later on in this same Psalm,

They shall be erased from the book of life, and with the righteous ones they shall not be inscribed.” Psalm 69:29

These words have led some to rightly conclude that David is referring to some of his fellow Jews who were persecuting him. David was praying that HaShem move against them by making them unable to see. Why would G-d do this? The answer is not simply because they were persecuting David, rather as the verses clearly allude to, because they were worshipping contrary to the word of G-d. Most scholars understand the reference to “table” as pagan (the partaking of meat sacrificed to idols). Hence, Paul is revealing in this section that the reason that Israel has had her eyes blinded from responding to the Gospel is because of her own sin. A person’s sin does indeed cause him to fail in perceiving spiritual truth.

Therefore, the idea that G-d simply chose to blind Israel based upon the fact that He is the Sovereign G-d, is an improper conclusion based upon Paul’s choice of providing both Deuteronomy 29 and Psalm 69 as aids to assist the reader in understanding the meaning of his statement in verse seven. In light of this, a concept of Divine Election, which is grounded in an “unconditional election”, i.e. without any factor other than G-d choosing some and rejecting others apart from any other aspect, is without Scriptural foundation.

In the next section of chapter 11 Paul states firmly that although Israel has stumbled in regard to the Gospel, the Sovereign G-d has used this to accomplish what Israel’s call and existence was about— to bless the Gentiles. So, the will of G-d was not thwarted by Israel’s disobedience, but rather HaShem used Israel’s disobedience to accomplish His purpose of bringing salvation to the Gentiles (Nations). There are two important truths that must be stated at this time.

1.  G-d did not desire, call, or influence Israel at all to disobey His word. It was Israel’s disobedience that resulted in her blindness.

2.  Although G-d used Israel’s disobedience, i.e. sin for good, it would have been better had Israel not disobeyed. This is clearly seen in Paul’s statement that since Israel’s being temporarily cast away means the reconciling of much of the world, how much more will Israel being received back mean. Paul states that Israel getting right with G-d, which will take place at the end of the age, will result in “life from the dead” (See Romans 11:11-15). This phrase “life from the dead” is a clear reference to the resurrection which will precede the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom.

Paul is simply pointing out that G-d’s will to bring blessing, i.e. salvation upon the Gentiles was not blocked by Israel’s sin, but one should not ignore the fact that many Jews and Gentiles were lost because of this sin. It is vital that one understand an important distinction related to the will of G-d. G-d’s will mandates, that is demands, that a Kingdom be established; and although HaShem always knew who would be in this Kingdom and who would not, does not mean that G-d mandates every individual to either be the “elect” or the “reprobate”. Simply stated, a sovereign G-d does not need to eradicate free will from man. This point is nicely taught by Yeshua’s parable of the “Great Supper” (See Luke 14:16-24). In short, Yeshua taught that there was going to be a great supper, that is, this supper was going to take place. It was also mandated that the banquet hall was going to be full, but what was not mandated was who was going to be present. It is most significant that the stated purpose of this parable was to provide greater understanding of the Kingdom (See the end of verse 15 for the fact that the context for this parable was indeed the Kingdom of G-d).  In other words, we learn from the parable that the Kingdom will be established, it will be full of humanity, but although G-d knows who from humanity will be in this Kingdom, each individual had to respond to the invitation.

In the closing section of Romans chapter 11 Paul makes his strongest claim for the future salvation of Israel. In verse 25 he speaks of a partial hardening and blindness that has happened to Israel (Partial because there were Jews who had responded to the Gospel in obedience throughout the Church age) and the Gentiles coming to faith as a result of this as a “mystery“.  What the reader can be assured of is this: G-d is holy and righteous and is full of mercy. He does not sin nor does He influence others to commit sin. This is the G-d that Scripture reveals. This G-d has a plan to create a people, i.e. Israel to bring blessing into the world (Salvation). For this is the crux of the Abrahamic Covenant. It is ultimately Messiah Yeshua Who entered into this world through Israel Who is the only One who can mediate salvation to both the Jew and the Gentile. Although HaShem called Israel to be the ones who proclaim this message of salvation, i.e. the Gospel, Israel to a large part failed in this assignment. Why did Israel fail? The answer is sin and disobedience. This sin and disobedience caused Israel to grow hard and blind in regard to the Gospel. Yet the Sovereign G-d used this failure of Israel to nevertheless move among the Gentiles.

Paul states that when the fullness of the Gentiles has entered then HaShem will move once again to turn away the sin from Israel and “all of Israel shall be saved” (See Romans 11:25-27). Does this phrase, “all of Israel”, mean that every Jewish individual will be saved? Absolutely not; any more than the phrase “the fullness of the Gentiles” means every Gentile will be saved. The idea that is being expressed is that the Kingdom will be populated by a great number (which no man could count) of people from all nations, tribes, and languages. In other words, no one will be able to say that G-d loved one nation more than another nation; simply HaShem is not a respecter of persons. It will be most evident that the love of G-d and His desire that all men come to repentance and accept the Gospel by faith was intended for all people, regardless nationality, race, language or any other distinction. It will be furthermore evident that Israel was indeed the instrument that HaShem used in her obedience and even in her disobedience to bring this about.  This point is strongly attested to by Romans 11:29.

For unchangeable are the gifts and the calling of G-d.”

ἀμεταμέλητα γὰρ τὰ χαρίσματα καὶ ἡ κλῆσις τοῦ θεοῦ. 

This verse makes it quite clear that HaShem in a sovereign manner equipped Israel (gifts) and called Israel to be used in a major way in the establishing of His Kingdom. The word “ἀμεταμέλητα” attests that nothing is going to change this. Perhaps Replacement theologians would be well advised to pay close attention to this verse and the meaning of this word “ἀμεταμέλητα”. This word also appears in Hebrews 6:17-18 speaking of that which is immutable.  The context for this statement is the fact that G-d cannot lie. It is also very important to see the context for Paul’s use of this verse. For in the previous verse which until now I have ignored, Paul writes,

According to the Gospel, enemies for your sake; but according to the election, beloved ones for the sake of the Patriarchs.” Romans 11:28

All scholars understand that the context demands this verse to be referring to Israel, i.e. the Jewish people, who by and large have not responded in faith to HaShem’s plan of salvation. Hence the Jewish people, in regard to the Gospel, are enemies. It is most disturbing that the English Standard Version renders the verse,

As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.”

The phrase “of God” does not appear in the Greek and it is for this reason that it should not be included in any translation. If the source language does not have the phrase “of G-d“, then why would anyone render it into a translation? The answer is obvious; it serves the anti-Israel and largely anti-Semitic tendencies of some of those within the Church. Although John Piper speaks of (in his article entitled “Are There Two Wills in God” that I have responded frequently to in this paper) the importance of using “careful exegesis” in order to arrive at the proper message of a Biblical text (See page one of Piper’s article), Mr. Piper, when writing about Romans 11:28 uses the ESV and states,

Because verse 28 says, for now “they are enemies.” Verse 28a: “As regards the gospel, they [Israel] are enemies of God for your sake.” In other words, they are rejecting their Messiah and thus putting themselves against God. This is what Jesus said to Israel in John 8:42….”

(From the sermon and article entitled Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East March 7 2004 which can be found on the website www.desiringgod.org)

Please notice how Mr. Piper takes a biased and errant translation, failing to do any exegetical examination of the text, and runs to the conclusion that Jewish individuals are the enemies of G-d.  The passage from Romans 11:28 only asserts that Israel is an enemy of the Gospel.  Furthermore, in regard to Piper’s use of John 8, he errs when he fails to point out that there were many Jews who believed upon Yeshua, (See John 8:30-31).  The Jewish individuals who rejected Him in John 8 were a small group of religious leaders; hence, it is most improper to label the Jewish people as enemies of G-d, when the passage that you are using speaks of many Jewish individuals who believed upon Yeshua.

The fact that the phrase “of God” does not appear in the text is because this verse is not asserting that the Jewish people are somehow uniquely “enemies of G-d”, different from any other people who have not accepted Messiah. Rather, this verse simple means that Israel, i.e. the majority of Jewish individuals and Judaism stand in opposition to the message of the Gospel.  Furthermore the verse reminds one that in spite of this fact, still G-d’s election of Israel stands. What does this phrase mean? Namely, that HaShem has in the past and will continue to use the Jewish people uniquely, based upon His sovereign choice of them. His election to use a specific people did not come in a vacuum. In returning to Romans chapter 9, the example that Paul gives is HaShem’s choice, based in His foreknowledge, that Jacob would desire and be moved to respond to the covenant to which Abraham and Isaac had also responded.

Once again, for Reformed theologians G-d’s foreknowledge is left out of the equation. The fact that one would choose to respond to divine revelation and the bidding of the Holy Spirit is a violation of Reformed theology’s view of grace and the depravity of man. In the next article we will look at the doctrines of Irresistible Grace and the Total Depravity of Man.

By Dr Baruch Korman

The Doctrine of Election Part 3 by Rabbi Baruch

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Did you hear that? G-d’s sovereignty allows G-d to make sure that bad events, i.e. sinful acts happen! Be it known this is heresy! The proper understanding is that HaShem is so sovereign that even the bad events do not hinder His Holy will; in fact, He can use even sin to accomplish His Holy will. Why do Mr. Piper and some other Reformed theologians believe such things about the character of G-d? Often the reason is they rely on faulty translations that were influenced by other Reformed theologians. For example, in this same article by Mr. Piper, he cites Proverbs 21:1 stating,

The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hands of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wishes.”

If one pays close attention to the Hebrew, he would see this translation is faulty. The Hebrew text has the following:

פַּלְגֵי-מַיִם לֶב-מֶלֶךְ בְּיַד-יְהוָה    עַל-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יַחְפֹּץ יַטֶּנּוּ׃”  “

Channels of water are a king’s heart in the hand of the L-rd, concerning all which He will delight He will turn it.” Proverbs 21:1

Please note that Piper’s translation, or the one he chose, adds the word “like”, which is not found in the Hebrew and he pluralizes the word “hand” which is singular in the Hebrew. Finally, Piper’s translation renders the two verbs that conclude the verse in the present when, in fact, they are in the future.

The point the Hebrew text makes is that “channels of water”, which is a phrase that is also found in Psalm 1, should be understood as an idiom referring to an abundant resource which is foundational for a good and timely outcome. For clearly this is its use in Psalm 1,

For if in the Torah of the L-rd is his delight and in His Torah he meditates day and night; he will be as a young tree that is planted by channels of waters which its fruit it gives in its season and its leaves will not wither ” Psalm 1:2-3

It is also vital that one understands that the phrase “with the hand” to mean “under the authority of”. Often in Hebrew the word “hand” has to do with “power” and / or “authority”. The Hebrew phrase בְּיַד   appears 288 times according to “A New Concordance of Old Testament” by Even-Shoshan. In this construction the definition provided by Even-Shoshan is “with authority” or “by means of”. Therefore the idea of Proverbs 21:1 is that when a king’s heart (thoughts) is under the authority of the L-rd, then all which is pleasing to HaShem, He will turn. Please note that it is what is pleasing to HaShem, He does through the king who has brought his thoughts under the L-rd’s authority.  The frequent understanding of this verse by Reformed theologians is to assert that whatever a king does is G-d’s will.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Once again, the point here is simply that when a king places his thoughts under the authority of G-d, G-d will use that king to do the very things that are pleasing to HaShem.

Mr. Piper understands the sovereignty of G-d as allowing G-d to desire sin not to be restrained.  Mr. Piper states and I quote the same article,

Which is to say that sometimes God wills that their sins be restrained and sometimes he wills that they increase more than if he restrained them.”

In supporting this point, Piper refers to the wicked sons of Eli concerning whom he wrote,

For example, God meant to put the sons of Eli to death. Therefore he willed that they not listen to their father’s counsel:…”

It is hard for me to imagine that one would assert that HaShem wills people not to listen to sound Biblically based counsel so that they will sin and He can slay them. Piper, knowing how wrong such a statement sounds, offers 1 Samuel 2:22-25 as support for his position. He writes concerning this passage,

“But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired to put them to death.”

Piper assumes that the sovereign G-d would not allow the sons of Eli to respond to their father’s counsel, because He desired to put them to death. First of all, the sons of Eli had already committed much sin before this account and HaShem would have been justified in slaying them. In other words, He did not need them to disobey their father Eli this time so G-d would be justified in punishing them with death. The intent of this verse is to show that even under the counsel of Eli the leading Priest, they still would not repent, for this was why HaShem was moved, i.e. desired to slay them.

In order to bring home his point, Mr. Piper adds Deuteronomy 28:63 to the discussion. He quotes,

“And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you.”

Obviously for Piper, he understands this to mean that the sovereignty of G-d allows G-d to rejoice over the death of the wicked or in their repentance as Ezekiel 18:23 states, whichever HaShem desires the most, He brings about. I suggest that once again such an understanding of this text and its utilization in Piper’s article represents a gross error on his part.

The proper interpretation is that the Holy and Righteous G-d is free to influence people to repent and when they do, He rejoices in this as do the angels of heaven. HaShem absolutely never moves to influence one to sin. HaShem may allow Satan to influence one to sin, but our L-rd is never a partner in sin. Does not James state clearly,

Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted by G-d: for G-d cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt any man. Rather, every man is tempted when he is led away by means of his own lusts and is tempted.” James 1:13-14

What the Deuteronomy passage is upholding is that G-d delights when righteousness is administered. Sometimes righteousness is maintained by G-d when His mercy and grace are received and forgiveness placed upon the guilty and other times His righteousness is maintained when He judges sin. I rest fully in HaShem’s perfect wisdom and knowledge to administer His standard of righteousness. I feel no need nor do I see any basis in the Scripture to state that the sovereignty of G-d demands that HaShem is the cause or influence of all things, both good and evil.

More will be said concerning this issue at the conclusion of this article. For now let us return to the end of Romans chapter 10. Once again, Paul is consistent to stay on message and speak about Israel’s spiritual condition. In speaking about the fact that Israel, to a large degree, has seemed to miss out on salvation, Paul reveals that this is not what G-d caused to happen, but what G-d used to fulfill His call upon Israel. The first point that Paul makes as he concludes the tenth chapter is that Israel is without excuse for he writes,

But I say, ‘Have they not heard? Rather to all the land went forth their sound and into the ends of the world (inhabitable) their words.'” Romans 10:18

Paul makes it most clear in this verse that HaShem informed Israel properly, the problem was that Israel to a large degree simply did not respond. In the next two verses Paul provides two quotations from the Hebrew Bible to assist the reader in understanding how to perceive Israel’s failure. Paul asks once more, “Did Israel not know?” To this Paul provides the reader first with a verse from the book of Deuteronomy,

I will make you jealous with a non-people; by an unintelligent people I will anger you.” Romans 10:19 (Deuteronomy 32:21)

It is imperative that one understands the context of the Deuteronomy passage. It is an error to simply read the citation and attempt to comprehend Paul’s intent without a thorough understanding of the text in its original context. In Deuteronomy Moses is speaking about how Israel has fallen into idolatry, desiring to be like the Gentiles. These Gentiles were not a unified people that were achieving great things; rather Israel was enticed by sinful abominations and empty promises. In pursuing the behavior of the Gentiles, Israel ignored HaShem, the Rock, Who had brought them out of exile. Therefore Moses emphatically states that HaShem will hide His face from Israel. In other words, Israel will receive punishment as HaShem turns away from her, but at the end of the chapter from Deuteronomy, the reader learns this is not forever. HaShem hiding His face from Israel is temporary and will serve to cause Israel to ultimately repent. HaShem desired Israel to obey Him, but because Israel did not, does not mean that G-d’s purposes will be thwarted.

In the next verse the reader encounters the second quotation. Here Isaiah states boldly,

“(I) was found by those who were not seeking Me, I have become manifest to those (who) were not asking for Me.” Romans 10:20 (Isaiah 65:1)

Here Isaiah is always referring to Gentiles, who even though they were not seeking or praying to find the One True G-d, they did; while to Israel Paul states in the next verse ( which he also quotes from Isaiah 65:2),

All day I stretched forth My hands to a people disobedient and denying.”  Romans 10:21

This verse makes it absolutely clear that it was not because HaShem did not try to present His message to Israel that they missed out; rather it was due to their disobedience and denying nature. The word which I translated “denying” is ἀντιλέγω. Other possible renderings are, “to speak against“, “to oppose one’s self to another“, “to decline to obey“, “to declare one’s self against another“, and finally “to refuse to have anything to do with another“. These meanings make it very clear that it was not based on some failure upon G-d’s part that Israel to a large degree did not respond obediently to the calling which HaShem placed upon her.

In the next chapter, Romans 11, Paul reiterates once more a common explanation of why Israel did not respond, when he asks, “Did G-d cast away His people…?” To this question Paul answers in the strongest language, “by no means“. Paul points out that he is Jewish and from the tribe of Benjamin and is responding to the call HaShem gave to Israel. Paul continues and states,

G-d has not cast aside His people whom He foreknew…” Romans 11:2

It is very important that one pays attention to the fact that Paul used the phrase, “whom He foreknew“. As was also said in part one of the article, the foreknowledge of G-d is a very important aspect of understanding the Doctrine of Election. In this section Paul brings up Elijah the prophet who cried out to HaShem that he alone was left (of the prophets) and they (Israel) sought to kill him as well. Even though Elijah felt he was the only one who walked in faithfulness to G-d, Paul quotes from I Kings 19,

I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men which have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  I Kings 19:18

This verse is pivotal in understanding the primary issue of our discussion, election. The matter that must be understood is the proper meaning of the verb which states that G-d “has reserved“. Reformed theology asserts that HaShem, in His sovereignty, caused seven thousand men to remain faithful. It is important to note that no one is saying that HaShem did not move and act in the lives of these seven thousand men. The question is whether these men had any chance of being like their fellow Jews and turning to Baal or did G-d mandate these seven thousand men and there was absolutely no possibility for any of these seven thousand to turn to idolatry? It is this question that we shall begin with, in the fourth and final section of this article.

By Dr Baruch Korman

The Doctrine of Election Part 2 by Rabbi Baruch

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In the second part of this article we will continue in our examination of Romans chapter 9. In verses 24-26, the Greek verb “καλέω” appears three times. Although this word appears in different grammatical conditions in each of these verses, the general idea relates to G-d calling. As it has already been pointed out, this verb can have a meaning of calling in the sense of inviting, or calling in the sense of naming. In other words, in the first usage there is an intrinsic aspect of a desired response from the one who is called or invited; however, in the second usage there is a proclamation which is not dependent upon a response from the one who is named.

In verse 24 the subject is established in the previous verse. There, the context is those to whom HaShem will make known the riches of His Glory. As the verse states, these are the vessels of mercy. There is a very important grammatical difference between verse 22 and verse 23. In verse 22 the word “καταρτίζω” appears as a perfect passive participle. As we learned, the perfect aspect relates to something that was established in the past and continues into the present and beyond; whereas the passive voice relates to an exterior action causing this condition. The intent of this construction is to show that the vessels of wrath were demonstrated over time to be appropriate for HaShem’s wrath as He endured their disobedience and by their disobedience were made objects of His wrath.  Hence, it was their disobedience which caused them to be objects of wrath.

If one interprets the verse to mean that G-d Himself made them to be objects of wrath (the position of Reformed theology), then the idea of HaShem enduring their disobedience loses much of its meaning. HaShem would become a type of sadomasochist Who created certain individuals and then withheld His mercy from them, thereby causing Him to endure much suffering from the very behavior that they were unable to cease doing without His mercy.  If HaShem withheld His mercy so that in the end He could judge them, thereby manifesting His glory by means of His wrath, would this then not mean that to a certain degree HaShem is a partner in sin, G-d forbid?  Rather than understanding that the proper intent of verse 21 is as the verse states, HaShem utilized some from humanity for honor and others from humanity for dishonor. In other words, it is an incorrect understanding of this verse to assert that HaShem withheld mercy from some, instead of simply realizing that those who did not receive mercy, naturally became the objects of His judgment and the righteous administration of G-d’s judgment reveals His righteousness.

Verse 24 states,

Which also He called us not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles.”  Romans 9:24

How one handles this verse is critical in arriving at a proper understanding of the Doctrine of Election. Reformed theology, in order to maintain its major tenets, must understand this verse to imply that HaShem has called both a portion of Jews and Gentiles to salvation in a manner in which they are unable to reject this call. Although numerous Scriptures could be offered to challenge this interpretation, let us consider such an interpretation in light of Paul’s quote of the Prophet Hosea in the next two verses.

Please note how Paul introduces the quotation from Hosea.  He writes, “As also in Hosea it says….” This phrase leaves no doubt that in order to understand the intent of Paul’s statement in this section one must first understand what HaShem said in the prophecy of Hosea.  First of all, Paul is quoting from the LXX and not the Masoretic text.  He writes,

“…I will call not My people, My people and the one who was not beloved, beloved;”  Roman 9:25

It is very important for the reader to realize that Hosea is dealing with the divided monarchy. During his days it was the Northern kingdom, called Israel, which had played the spiritual harlot and had embraced idolatry. As a result of this, Hosea was commanded to take a wife of harlotry and even though he loved her faithfully, she returned to her harlotry. It is without question that HaShem was depicting His relationship with Israel through the marriage between Hosea and the harlot, Gomer. Before Gomer returned to harlotry she had three children. The children’s names symbolized what was going to take place between HaShem and Israel. In spite of HaShem’s judgment of Israel, and that He would not have mercy for them and He disowned them saying they were not His people, Hosea reveals that in the future He will indeed have mercy for them and He will call the very ones whom He said, you are not my people, “My people are you and he (Israel) will say my G-d (Hosea 2:25). Hosea makes it most clear that although Israel will go through a time of separation from HaShem, there will be a future time when Israel will return to HaShem. The same idea that concludes chapter two also began this chapter,

And the number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered and not counted; and it shall be that in the place which it was said to them, not My people are you, it shall be said to them, children of the living G-d.” Hosea 2:1

What will cause Israel to return to HaShem? The answer to this is found in the next verse.

The Children of Judah and the Children Israel shall be gathered together and there shall be set upon them One Head and they shall go up from the earth for great is the day of Jezreel.” Hosea 2:2

Please note that I capitalized the phrase “One Head“because most commentators understand this to be a reference to the Messiah. Hence it will be during the last days that Israel, both the Northern kingdom (Israel) and the Southern kingdom (Judah) will be united as one people and return to HaShem, the living G-d. Hosea uses the phrase Jezreel to refer to the valley where Messiah will come and deliver His people in the last days. The Jezreel valley is also known by the hill that overlooks it, Har Megiddo or Armageddon. According to not only Hosea, but all the prophets who write on this subject, the Jewish people will return to the Land of Israel in the period known as the last days and this period will end with Messiah’s return and He will deliver His Old Testament people. Zechariah describes this event in the twelfth chapter of his prophecy and clearly teaches that at this time, Israel will finally recognize Yeshua as her Messiah. It is vital that HaShem’s acknowledgement once again of Israel as His people is dependent upon Israel accepting Yeshua.

Paul’s purpose for using Hosea’s prophecy is to present a Biblical basis for the Gentiles, who were not HaShem’s people, to be brought into G-d’s family. In other words, if the Gentiles respond to HaShem’s call, i.e. the Gospel, they too can receive the same salvation as Israel, who by her disobedience was called not the people of G-d for a season.

It is important to remember the primary theme of Romans chapters 9-11, Paul’s explanation concerning the spiritual condition of the Jewish people. It is in regard to this primary theme that Paul continues and quotes from Isaiah,

But Isaiah cried out concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the Children of Israel are as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved.'” Romans 9:27

It is very significant that in this text the definite article appears before the word remnant “τὸ ὑπόλειμμα”. Paul wanted to emphasize that not a remnant will be saved, but the remnant will be saved. The use of the definite article informs the reader that it was not some haphazard random occurrence that resulted in a portion of Jewish people being saved, but rather a specific and well defined act that resulted in a specific and well defined portion of the Jewish people being saved. This concept is further defined in the next verse. Concerning the next verse there are two primary manuscripts. The first is from Nestle-Aland which has,

For a word He completes and cuts short, the L-rd executes upon the earth.” Romans 9:28

Obviously this translation is so literal it is difficult to understand. The idea here is that the L-rd makes His word complete and decisive upon the earth. The Greek verb which was first translated “to cut short” contains the idea of doing something in a very decisive manner.

The second is from the Textus Receptus.

For a word He completes and cuts short in righteousness, because he has made short a word, the L-rd executes upon the earth.” Romans 9:28

In examining these two texts and comparing them with the Hebrew, the best rendering of the verse is,

The L-rd makes His word complete and (it is) determined in righteousness, for the word has been decreed upon the earth.” Romans 9:28

Paul uses this verse to support his position that HaShem, according to His word, is faithful to finish or complete what He has determined based on His righteousness. What is this word which is decreed upon the earth? The latter verses of chapter nine and most of chapter ten focus upon the Gospel; therefore, the vast majority of scholars understand the reference in verse 28 to the “word” “λόγον” as referring to the Gospel. It is by means of the Gospel that disobedient Israel can be saved and how the Gentiles, who were once far off, can likewise find salvation.

Next Paul points out that Israel, based upon her deeds, deserves the same punishment as Sodom and Gomorrah; yet because HaShem provided a “Seed” (Messiah), Israel, i.e. the remnant, will experience a very different eternity. Paul once again quotes Isaiah and states,

“…Unless the L-rd of Hosts left us a seed, as Sodom we would have been and as Gomorrah we would have been like.” Romans 9:29

There is no doubt that Paul understands the word “seed” as a reference to the Messiah in a like manner to what he taught the Galatians,

“…And to your Seed which is Messiah.” Galatians 3:16

Such an understanding fits perfectly with how Paul concludes this chapter. Remembering once again that the primary theme of this section is the spiritual condition of the Jewish people, Paul explains how the Gentiles have obtained righteousness while the vast majority of Jewish individuals have not. The reason for this is because the Gentiles (an ever increasing number of them) had responded to the word, i.e. the Gospel, by means of faith, while Israel to a great degree, has stumbled over the Gospel. Why was this? Paul explains because of Israel’s wrong understanding of the Torah.

Israel incorrectly believed that the Torah, i.e. works of the Law, brings about righteousness; rather than understanding that although the Torah defines what is righteous and what is unrighteous, it is not the instrument that can be utilized for making one righteous. In other words, the Jewish people, to a large degree, missed out on the prophetic truth that HaShem would send the Messiah to do the work of redemption and suffer for sin. The idea of a suffering Messiah was offensive to most of Judaism 2,000 years ago, as it is for much of Judaism today. Yet it is this offence that Israel has stumbled over that is the reason for Israel’s spiritual condition. As Paul states in concluding this chapter,

Just as it has been written, ‘Behold I lay in Zion a stumbling stone a rock of offence but the one who believes in Him will not be ashamed‘”. Romans 9:33

This verse makes it most clear that there is an inherent relationship between the call of election and the Gospel. To this point there is no disagreement; the conflict is whether G-d determines the grace of the Gospel to be irresistible only for a certain group of people and He equally determines that His grace must be resisted by the rest.  Or, do all people maintain a free will which in theory can submit to the Gospel?

This issue is not only foundational for understanding election, but is paramount in understanding the primary tenets of Reformed theology. Although in another article the issue of Irresistible Grace will be addressed in greater detail, let us now touch on this issue as it relates to this section of Romans.

In moving into chapter ten Paul emphasizes once again the heaviness of his heart for the spiritual condition of the Jewish people and his great desire for Israel’s salvation. If Israel is the Church as Replacement theology wrongly asserts, then this statement is meaningless. Paul clearly understands the use of Israel by the Textus Receptus as referring to those Jewish individuals who have not believed in the Gospel of Messiah Yeshua. Paul writes that not only has Israel failed in a proper understanding of righteousness and thereby has established her own terms of righteousness; she has also missed out on the purpose of the Torah / Law. Paul asserts,

For a goal of Torah is Messiah, for righteousness to all who believe.”  Romans 10:4

Many translations incorrectly render the Greek word “τέλος” which should rightly being understood as “goal” as in the primary objective. There is no definite article which would mean that one would have to render the verse as “For an end of Torah is Messiah….” The problem is what is “an end”? The confusion is alleviated when the word “the” is inserted. The forced translation is based upon the predominant Christian doctrine that the Torah is outdated for a believer in the Gospel. Rather, the proper understanding of the Torah, leads one to understand his need for a redeeming and suffering Messiah. Paul discusses the righteousness of the Torah in verse five. He states that the Torah teaches how a righteous one lives, but not that by doing these things one is made righteous or justified. This same point was made in Romans 8:4 as well where he states that it is believers who walk according to the spirit and not according to the flesh that fulfills the righteousness of the Law. Paul reveals that it is faith which leads to righteousness! This is why Paul states it is the word of faith that he and the other apostles preach (See Romans 10:8).

In verses 9-17 of this tenth chapter of Romans, Paul unites three foundational concepts to a proper understanding of Biblical Election— “faith”, “Gospel”, and “call”. In this section, when Paul speaks about man exercising faith, i.e. believing the Gospel, he places the verbs in the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood, as we have already learned, is the mood of possibility or contingency.  The subjunctive mood is used to reveal to the reader that it is uncertain what each individual will do with the Gospel. This uncertainty is of course not from G-d’s perspective, for HaShem knows all things from eternity past. Rather, the subjunctive mood is utilized to emphasize to the reader that each person has a real decision to make.

The Reformed theological doctrine of Irresistible Grace says that although people may and do resist G-d’s grace, it is only until the time that HaShem decides to end this resisting. John Piper, an Evangelical Neo-Calvinist, puts it this way,

Whenever G-d pleases He overcomes your resistance… Whenever He decides no longer, He triumphs.” (From the sermon “The Free Will of the Wind” preached by John Piper on April 26, 2009.)

This statement supports the position of Reformed theology that G-d alone chooses, i.e. mandates, those who will believe and when they will believe. Hence, the world can be divided into two groups, the elect and the reprobate. Each group therefore, is determined by HaShem solely, apart from nothing but G-d’s sovereign will. If Reformed theology is right, then what can be done with Peter’s statement?

The L-rd does not delay a promise as some regard delaying, but suffers long for you not wanting some to perish, but all to repentance to move.” 2 Peter 3:9 

This is one of the most common verses used to undermine the understanding of Reformed theology concerning the Doctrine of Election. In the spirit of fairness and honesty one must understand how Reformed theology interprets this verse and only thereafter is it appropriate for me to present my view concerning it.

Please notice that I used a text which uses the phrase “εἰς ὑμᾶς” which is properly understood as “for you” while other manuscripts have the phrase “eiV hmaς” which is properly understood as “for us”. The issue here is to whom does the pronoun refer? Undoubtedly Peter is addressing believers, and he is teaching them why the Return of Messiah has not yet happened, namely for more people to be saved. John Samson, a Reformed pastor, understands this passage in the following manner,

The reason Jesus did not return to earth yesterday is because there were more of His elect to come in to the fold today. He is not slack concerning His promise though – He will return, but in the meantime, He is not willing that any of His elect perish but that all of them come to repentance. Far from being an unnecessary statement, it is a source of great comfort to know that God has not forgotten His promise, and that He will accomplish all He desires in the saving of His elect people.”

(November 23, 2010 blog entry on the blog Effectual Grace.com by John Samson)

In other words, Mr. Samson is stating that Messiah’s return has not yet happened, only for the sake of the elect. More individuals who G-d has chosen for salvation need to be born or need more time to respond to HaShem’s “irresistible grace”; then G-d the Father will give the command for G-d the Son to return. There is a major problem with such an interpretation. Why does not the Sovereign G-d move in such a way to have all the elect born in a few generations and place His “irresistible grace” upon them at an early age and hasten the Kingdom and minimize sin and suffering?  The percentage of believers in a given generation is relatively small. Why did not HaShem make the percentage of believers to be the vast majority of the population? According to Reformed theology’s view of the sovereignty of G-d, He is solely responsible for creating the large number of the reprobate, the very ones who carry out the wicked deeds that HaShem must endure (suffers long) prior to Yeshua’s return. Hence, it was G-d Who is responsible for prolonging the time and thereby increasing the amount of sinful acts that take place. Why? Because this is part of His sovereign will. Therefore, Reformed theology implies that G-d is a kind of “partner” in sin and suffering. This sounds at first like an unfair statement to make until one considers the words of some Reformed theologians.

John Piper,  in dealing with his understanding of 2 Peter 3:9, states that at times G-d wills sin to come to pass. Mr. Piper offers what he calls the most compelling example of this is G-d willing the death of His perfect, divine Son. Allow me to quote Mr. Piper,

The most compelling example of God’s willing sin to come to pass while at the same time disapproving the sin is his willing the death of his perfect, divine Son. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act inspired immediately by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet in Acts 2:23 Luke says, ‘This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan (boule) and foreknowledge of God.’ The betrayal was sin, and it involved the instrumentality of Satan; but it was part of God’s ordained plan. That is, there is a sense in which God willed the delivering up of his Son, even though the act was sin.”

This quotation and those which follow from John Piper are from his article entitled “Are There Two Wills in God? –Divine Election and God’s Desire for All to Be Saved” January 1, 1995 available on www.desiringgod.org

Mr. Piper’s language is simply insulting towards HaShem. He fails to make a distinction from what G-d knows will happen and Him using it within His will and what G-d mandates or ordains to happen. It is most significant that in the Acts passage from which Mr. Piper cites, the phrase “and foreknowledge of G-d” is mentioned. Let us examine this verse a bit closer. Luke states,

This One according to the ordained will and foreknowledge of G-d was delivered by means of a hand of lawless (deeds) was affixed and you lifted up.”

Please note that Mr. Piper did not provide all the words contained in the verse, nor make reference to this fact. Why was this? I cannot answer for him, but his failure to do so or understand this verse in light of the context is most telling. From his citation the reader of his article would be led to conclude that it was the outcome of G-d’s will to preordain Judas to commit this sinful act of delivering Yeshua. However, when one examines the context of Acts 2:23, the reader finds that Peter is addressing a large crowd of Jewish individuals who had gone up to Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost). This is most clear from verse 22 when he states, “Men of Israel”. The point is that Peter is informing his fellow Jews that Yeshua’s death was not a surprise to G-d the Father, for He knew beforehand that His Only Begotten Son Whom He sent into this world to redeem the lost would be rejected by the world. This fact did not cause the Father to withhold His Son from this world, but rather He used the sin, according to His perfect foreknowledge, and commanded Yeshua to submit to the sinful acts of Herod, Pilate, the chief priests and all others involved in the crucifixion. It is important that one realizes that G-d did not ordain sin, but used the sinful behavior to accomplish His will.

Many have seen the similarities between the account of the binding of Isaac and the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua. Avraham submitted to HaShem’s will to sacrifice his son, having brought him to the place that HaShem commanded, and bound him to the wood and finally raised the knife to slay him; when at the very last moment the angel stopped him. It is clear from the text that Avraham intended to carry out this service and HaShem acknowledged Avraham’s willingness as full obedience. Hence, what if Israel received Yeshua and recognized Him as the Messiah. Could not the very ones who conspired to crucify Him, instead have offered Yeshua up as a sacrifice in obedience to G-d, as Avraham was willing to do? The point is that yes, Messiah had to die for sin, in order to do the work of redemption; and the fact that He would die upon the cross HaShem foreknew, but did not necessarily cause.  In other words, G-d’s will commanded His Son to enter into this world to die for sin.  The crucifixion was used to accomplish this, but is not what HaShem desired or mandated.  HaShem simply foreknew this would be the outcome of sinful man’s response to His sending of His sinless Son into the world as an atonement sacrifice.

It is most interesting that the word which I translated as “ordained” and in Mr. Piper’s citation is rendered “definite” is the Greek word “ὡρισμένῃ” which is from the Greek root “ὁρίζω”. This word is related to the Greek word “ὁράω”, which means “to see”. Therefore it is vital that the Bible student understand the Scriptural concept of “to ordain” in light of the Scriptural meaning and not as the English word implies.

Luke 22:22 speaks to the same issue and the same word appears. In this verse one reads,

And the Son of man, according to that which has been determined goes; great woe to that man through which He was delivered.”

A proper understanding of the participle “ὡρισμένον” is necessary to arrive at the Scriptural perspective for the concept of G-d ordaining. Once again the root is derived from the Greek word meaning “to see”. Hence one could properly render the verse as follows:

And the Son of man, according to that which has been seen goes; great woe to that man through which He was delivered.”

The implication of the verse is that Yeshua will obey His Father’s will and submit to death, even death on the cross; in light of the fact that G-d, having seen from His eternal perspective, the sin of Judas. The meaning of G-d ordaining something is rooted in the fact that HaShem transcends time and sees all things and knows all things at all times, even from before He laid the foundations of the earth.  In other words, there was never a time that the Living G-d did not see all and know all.

There is a very important question that must be asked.  This question is, “Is the sovereign G-d able to use His omniscience and foreknowledge when establishing His will?” Certainly one must answer in the affirmative. Hence, HaShem willed for His Son to die and the events of the cross accomplished His will, yet He did not cause these sinful events; rather He only utilized them for His glory. The Holy and Righteous L-rd is free to turn the sins of man into good, but He is neither the cause of sin nor does He will one or influence one to commit a sin!

Mr. Piper, in contrast to this, does not see G-d’s foreknowledge at work in the issue of G-d ordaining. Piper offers an example from Revelation chapter 17 to support his point. In this passage there are ten kings mentioned who desire to serve the beast and make war with the Lamb. Piper writes,

Waging war against the Lamb is sin and sin is contrary to the will of God.”

Well said Mr. Piper.  I agree fully. It is sin for the ten kings to wage war against the Lamb. So if verse 17 of this chapter says, as Piper states, “God gave into their [the ten kings’] hearts to do his will, and to perform one will, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled (v.17)” it would indeed support Mr. Piper’s argument. The problem for Piper is that verse 17 is not in reference to these ten kings waging war against the Lamb, but rather what they did in verse 16. This verse states that these ten kings will hate the harlot and make her desolate and naked and she eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. Hence, the verse that Mr. Piper states as relating to the kings waging war against the Lamb is not the subject for verse 17 at all.

This is a prime example of one simply choosing a verse and ripping it out of its context in order to support one’s doctrine. It is odd that Mr. Piper quotes verses 16 and 17, but instead of applying verse 17 to what is said in the previous verse, he violates careful exegesis and rips it out of its immediate context and applies it to what is said in verse 14. How could a trained theologian make such an elementary mistake? May I offer that Mr. Piper, in rushing to find a text that supports his views, failed to do the necessary work in examining the entire passage sufficiently. It was this error that allow him to proclaim,

Therefore God willed (in one sense) to influence the hearts of the ten kings so that they would do what is against his will (in another sense).

In other words, for Piper, the sovereignty of G-d allows a Holy and Righteous G-d to influence peoples’ hearts to sin. This is a blasphemous statement. Equally as blasphemous is his statement,

It implies that (at least in John’s view) God’s prophecies are not mere predictions which God knows will happen, but rather are divine intentions which he makes sure will happen.”

For Piper, when G-d prophesies that a sinful act will take place, it is not rooted in the fact that HaShem knows it will take place, but rather G-d makes sure it will happen even if He must influence an individual to carry out sin.

Again Piper states,

This means that God intends to bring about events that involve things he forbids.”

In speaking about the sinful acts of the antichrist and the beast and those who follow them, Piper writes that John the author of the book of Revelation has the following intention,

John is exulting not in the marvelous foreknowledge of God to predict a bad event. Rather he is exulting in the marvelous sovereignty of God to make sure that the bad event comes about.”

Did you hear that? G-d’s sovereignty allows G-d to make sure that bad events, i.e. sinful acts happen! Be it known this is heresy! The proper understanding is that HaShem is so sovereign that even the bad events do not hinder His Holy will; in fact, He can use even sin to accomplish His Holy will. Why do Mr. Piper and some other Reformed theologians believe such things about the character of G-d? I will answer this in the next installment of this article.

By Dr Baruch Kornab

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