Journey with Daniel
Not everything in the book of Daniel is peachy-keen. In chapters 7-12, there are some real downers. Through Daniel, God reveals colossal events would take place in the world’s history. What Daniel sees is not comforting at all. In fact, when he finally sees all that is about to occur, his mind is so troubled that his face turns white. If these things were to happen, and he did not understand God’s purposes in them, he might well have doubted in God’s love and power. Daniel was allowed to see, that while many things about the future were scary, the people of the Most High had nothing to fear. Because in the end, the true and everlasting kingdom belonged to them.
Much like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter two, Daniel’s dream is about four kingdoms that will all come and go. Each one will be lifted with her own pride and think she is the most powerful, and no king can stand against their rule.
Both Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel received basically the same revelation about the future, but from a different perspective. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the focus was on the power of the various kingdoms that are eventually overpowered by the kingdom of God. In Daniel’s vision, the focus is on the depravity of the various kingdoms that are outlasted by the righteous kingdom of God.
In addition, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream focuses on that fourth kingdom to tell us what God is going to do in the days of “those kings.” In Daniel’s dream, we learn more about the terrible actions of the fourth kingdom that leads to their divine destruction.
So, the two visions taken together provide a more complete understanding of what the future looks like for the kingdom of God and the saints of the Lord. The message still comes through clearly as it did in Daniel 4:17; “Let the living 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.” Daniel also sees a triumphant Son. He will reign victorious and ascend back to the presence of God (Daniel 7:9).
Our take-away is much the same as Daniels. The people of God must never be naïve about the reality, strength, or durability of evil. Daniel’s sense of horror and his resulting concern for God’s people are an example to us all. We may live in a day and a place where life is relatively tranquil for Christians. Do we remember to pray for those who know evil’s full force? Are we concerned for the saints of God in the future who will face such trials? If this vision does not produce this spirit in us, we have not really understood its message.
We must be aware of the suffering in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of suffering. The forces of hell will not prevail against it, but they will do all in their limited power to overwhelm the saints. Suffering of one kind or another is integral to being a Christian.
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (Rom 8:16-17).
One last thing this vision teaches us. The Messiah will be lifted up, ascend back to the Father and His rule will never be defeated. That is reassuring to us!
Bringing it home: We are constantly tempted to live in the present, for the here and now, and when that is our only focus, it’s easy to lose focus on the things that really matter, the things that are eternal. That’s why it’s important that we remind ourselves of the certain promises of Scripture. Because a hope in the future, will be a more fervent work in the present.
This is one of the most memorable stories in all of the book of Daniel. Darius is king. Daniel is an old man at this point – likely in his 80’s. Because of his extraordinary spirit Daniel is promoted over all of the Satraps in the Kingdom. It is a position of honor, of rule and authority. It’s as if Daniel was made number two in the land. Well this caught the attention of the other Satraps and they become extremely jealous. Jealousy can lead one to suspicion, to using their words and their actions in evil ways in order to get what they want.
The problem with Daniel was that he was noble, a man of impeccable character and integrity. That’s a problem if you want to find a weakness to expose and exploit (like these Satraps try – v. 4). If they couldn’t catch Daniel morally or ethically, they had to catch him religiously. They knew about his devotion to his God. So they concoct this statute that all the people are to pray only to the king. This would seem unifying (uniting the people under one god rather than many). It would also seem appealing to the pride of the king (describing him as the equivalent of a god). The punishment for breaking this was death by being cast into a lion’s den.
Notice v. 10 – Daniel knew. He knew about the statute. He knew about the consequences. He knew what would happen if he was caught praying. And yet where is Daniel? He is where he has been, on his knees three times a day in prayer to God. Daniel was a man of prayer. A strong prayer life and a strong faith are closely connected. Right is right, no matter what any man, any king, any law will say. Prayer to God is right. Walking with Jesus is right. Reading and speaking the truth of God’s word is right. We obey God rather than man.
Because of his commitment to God, Daniel broke the law and is punished, he is cast into the lion’s den. But that’s not the end of his story. Just as God saved his three friends from the fiery furnace, God saved Daniel from the lion’s den. Do you see the tough lessons from this chapter? We see that sometimes innocent people suffer for doing the right things. Joseph did. David did. Jesus did. You and I will too. We see that God allowed Daniel to go into the lion’s den. He didn’t stop Daniel from being thrown down. He let Daniel spend a night with lions. He let the three young men be cast into the fiery furnace. If we were writing the story we would want God to stop the pain, to take away the pain, to remove the frightful moments we may face – to keep us from the furnace, from the lion’s den. But that’s not how it works. That’s not how faith grows. Peter reminds us that faith is tried by fire (1 Peter 1:7). Those who give their lives to Christ are not promised a life free from storms. What they are promised is a God who will stand with them through the storm.
Standing with God brings friction with the world, but don’t be afraid. Our God has promised victory – not from the pains and sufferings we may experience here in life – but the ultimate victory of life eternal, in His home – free from all pain, all evil, all tears. Do you know what we’ve seen thus far in Daniel? Strong faith, the kind that “shut the mouths of lions” and “quenched the power of the fire” (Hebrews 11:33-34). Faith in a God who is able to deliver His people (Daniel 6:16).
Blessed and holy God, what an honor and privilege to speak to You today. As I’ve read through todays’ reading, men risked death in order to maintain this time of communion with You. It is my prayer today that I can come to see You as Daniel saw You, to trust in You as those faithful Jews in Babylon trusted in You. They faced life threatening moments leaning on You. I know that hardships will arise in my life, that the world will threaten me because I walk with You. Help me in those moments to have a faith and commitment like Daniel to respond with faith, to continue on in what is right, to live a life free from accusation – one that points others to You. You are the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and Daniel; the God who quenches the fire, the God who shuts the mouths of lions, and I know that no problem, no danger, no storm I could possible face today is too great for You to handle. It is an honor to know and serve You. As the culture around me drifts further from Your ways, Father draw me ever nearer to You.
The picture painted for us in Daniel 5 should not surprise us. We see a proud king, drunk and showing off to his visitors. We see a wealthy man who is overly-pleased with himself, taking satisfaction in “his own accomplishments.” We see a son who had not learned from his father’s mistakes. This is the glimpse we see of King Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar.
While feasting and partying with his guests, officials, and women of choice, he calls for the gold utensils which had been used in the Israelite temple so that they may drink from them. While doing so, they worship their false gods of precious metal and other materials. Should it surprise us that the one true God responds? A hand appears and the fingers begin to write in the wall of the palace: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. Belshazzar is quite rightly frightened out of his wits. In a scene reminiscent of chapter two, the king calls for his wise men and promises a reward to any who can interpret the writing. Like the magicians in chapter two, none are able to tell the king the interpretation. Fortunately for Belshazzar, the queen knows of Daniel and has him called before the king to interpret the writing. Unfortunately for Belshazzar, Daniel does not bear good news.
First, Daniel tells the king that he has no interest in the reward. Secondly, he prefaces the interpretation with this observation: The one true God had blessed Nebuchadnezzar. When Nebuchadnezzar had become proud, God had brought him low until he recognized God’s authority. Then Daniel drops a bomb by saying “You his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this. . . And you have praised the gods. . . which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath,. . . you have not honored.” At this point, I can only imagine that Belshazzar feared what Daniel would say next, and rightly so.
Daniel interprets the meaning one word at a time: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom. TEKEL, you have been weighed and found wanting. PARSIN, your kingdom will be divided between the Medes and the Persians. God had been merciful to Nebuchadnezzar, sparing his life and allowing him to rule again once he had learned God’s authority. His son, on the other hand, had witnessed his father’s rule and had not learned. It would seem that this fact is at least part of why God’s judgment was so sudden and complete. Belshazzar was killed that very night and Darius the Mede received his kingdom. Once again, Daniel is there to warn and advise arrogant kings, pointing them to the God who reigns over all. This Israelite of the tribe of Judah, exiled to a foreign land, is an excellent example of teaching the world about the King above all kings.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Hard Lesson
Nebuchadnezzar had to learn a lesson the hard way. He thought he was god. He thought he was the god of all he built and all he conquered. But…, he is about to learn who God Most High really is. The lesson of who God Most High really is will be learned in the school of the hard knocks. He is going to be put out to pasture.
Consider, one of the things the pagans would do to demonstrate the greatness of their god, is they would put their shrines up on the highest hill, as if to say, “Look how high our god is. That’s the only place suitable for him, up here on this high hill. He is a high god.” Nebuchadnezzar did something like this in the last chapter. He built an idol, 90 feet tall, put it out on the plain of Dura and said, “Worship my towering god.” However, what Nebuchadnezzar learns today is that Jehovah’s rule and power is higher than any hill in the world. Further, it is more towering than any idol ever built. He is the Most High God. Nebuchadnezzar is a life-sized model of all sin. At the base of all sin is pride.
Oh, what a dream! He dreams of a tree. It grew tall and strong, but it will be cut down. All that will be left is a stump. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that is him. Furthermore, it does not stop there. He will also have the heart of an animal and live on the grass for a period of time. Nebuchadnezzar is going to learn the hard way that Jehovah is God Most High. However, there is some good news. After that period of time, God will restore his sanity. Nebuchadnezzar has reason to be terrified.
Let’s learn the lesson from Nebuchadnezzar. Pride is repugnant to God. Pride is a kind of plagiarism. It attempts to grasp for ourselves the glory that belongs to another. The king took all the glory for the greatness of his kingdom. He did not give the glory to God, who was the one who gave it to him in the first place. Pride denies the truth that prosperity comes from God, as a gift of His grace.
I believe one of the most telling signs of what God thinks of man’s pride is the punishment God chose for this proud man. He humbled him by taking away his sanity and making him like an animal. Also, I believe the message God is wanting us to get is pride is a form of insanity. Insanity is a condition in which one loses touch with reality. When we are proud, living as if there is no God, and no judgment, and we are in control, we are living out of touch with reality. Our pride is a form of insanity.
When we refuse to submit ourselves to God, as creatures made in His image, we are in grave danger of descending to the level of an animal. They have no consciousness of God. They are incapable of worship. They are not destined for eternity. And when we are proud, we are not conscience of God, we will not worship Him, and we are living like beasts that do not have an eternity.
Why does God hate pride so much? Because it brings such untold pain, suffering and destruction on those who live by it. Peter put it this way, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6).
Bringing it home: One lesson this story teaches us is that God desires our reaction of praise. When the king gave up on his pride and saw God for who He is, the reaction was one of praise. Notice, it was not that he just praised God behind closed doors, but he used his position to make sure his praise of God was heard throughout the world.
Today’s chapter is a memorable story of conviction and courage. We’re not exactly sure how much time has taken place since chapter 2. The Septuagint states that 18 years have passed between chapter 2 and chapter 3. In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar is shown a statue made of different elements – the head was made of gold and represented the Babylonian empire. Here in chapter 3 Nebuchadnezzar has made a statue out of gold. Perhaps this is his way of saying that he didn’t believe in that dream. He didn’t believe there would be other nations that would come after him. Instead he believed that he would be the sovereign ruler and Babylon would stand forever.
This chapter focuses on the three friends of Daniel. Though we’re given their Jewish names in chapter 1, in this chapter they are only referred to by their Babylonian names – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. One of the questions we have from this is – where is Daniel? Was he away on business? Was he not invited? We simply don’t know. What we do know is that if he were present, he would have been standing with his friends.
Nebuchadnezzar has this statue built, and orders for all the people to bow down and worship this image. It seems to be his way of unifying the people under his rule (v. 4). This posed an immediate problem for these Jewish young men. God’s law stated that His people were only to worship Him. Nebuchadnezzar placed some extreme warnings on this worship (v. 6) – those who didn’t worship when it was expected were to be immediately thrown into the fire. He ruled with force, with dominance, with fear. The time comes, the horns sound, the people bow – all except the three Jewish young men. When they are reported to the king, he gives them another chance – perhaps because he saw such value in them.
Here are young men, who are far from home, who are facing this trial alone, and yet notice their response (v.16-18). Our God can save us, and even if He does not we will not bow down and worship you. What courage! What conviction! They were willing to face the furnace, to lay down their lives demonstrating their faithfulness to God.
These kind of moments will happen. Culture will draw a line. If you see like they see, speak like they speak, stand for what they stand for, then there will be some consequences. Perhaps the loss of a friend. Perhaps socially shunned. Perhaps slammed on social media. It could be more severe – fired, threatened, wounded physically or emotionally. It’s the test of fire. It’s one thing to be faithful to God in the green pastures, but what about when we face the valley, when there are risks and dangers on the line?
These young men stood for God, and God stood with them. God had noticed their faith. And from this miraculous event Nebuchadnezzar notices too. Never underestimate the difference your example can make in the lives of others. Even when its hard – even if you’re the only one – even if it brings consequences – we face the fire and stand with God.
Oh God most High – glory and honor and praise be given unto Your name. I thank you for the inspiring example of these young men. From this reading today I am reminded that though these men were tempted to compromise on their convictions, though their faith was tested, though they stood alone – You were there. You were with them. You saved them from the fire, and proved to that pagan nation that You are the one true God. Help me to have that same kind of steadfast faith and commitment to You. Help me to trust that there is no pain, no punishment for following You that could possibly compare to pleasing You on Earth, and living with You in Heaven. May my life and my devotion to You be a light in this world and lead others closer and closer to You!