Posts Tagged 'Prophecy'

Weird Bible Stories, Part 1

You probably saw this on your Facebook news feed a few weeks ago. Britain’s “Daily Mail” loves to hype things like this. But could it be true? Let’s find out.

The Bible is a marvelous book full of inspiring and life changing stories. It also has its share of odd, weird stories. Like the one about the talking snake. And the other one about the talking donkey. Some Bible stories read like a Netflix Original, a show full of liars and cheaters, spies and political intrigue, and even murderers.

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, is a book that is one complete weird story. It is also the most misunderstood, misinterpreted, and abused book of the Bible, so its inherent weirdness is compounded by all the dopey ideas floating around the Internet.

On September 23, 2017, there will be an astronomical event that some people think will be a fulfillment of Revelation 12. That chapter is a fascinating chapter in and of itself, and we’ll take a very close look at it over the next two studies. But to answer the question of whether or not it will be fulfilled on September 23, 2017, the short answer is: “definitely not.”  And here’s why.

There is a persistent desire – a need, really – among Christians to feel vindicated.  Vindication of our faith is a Biblical promise.  Our faith will become sight when our Lord returns, but we want it now. We desperately want our faith, especially in the Bible, to be proven true. We want to be able to say to unbelievers and skeptics, “See? I told you so.” And because of this, we are very quick to latch onto any teaching having to do with Bible prophecy as it relates to the end times.

God’s prophecies come true, man’s do not

Since the beginning, man has been looking for the “signs” of God’s involvement with His creation and of His personal interest in we who take our relationship with Him seriously.  We can think of “putting out a fleece” to discover God’s will. And how many of us have used traffic lights to interpret God’s direction? If it turns red before I get there, it’s a sign that I should do such-and-such a thing. That’s how some Christians use made-up signs on the micro scale. On the macro scale, many Christians through out the 20th and now the 21st centuries have tried to tie certain earth changes – like earthquakes, tidal waves, droughts, etc. – and astronomical events – like the infamous Blood Moons, eclipses, etc. – to the Second Coming and of the end of time. Without exception, all those attempts haven’t worked out well and, in fact, have served to raise the level of skepticism among unbelievers. A very large segment of the evangelical church has an interest in Bible prophecies not yet fulfilled and has a tendency to make certain events happening now fit the prophecies written thousands of years ago. For example, nobody ever saw an atomic bomb in the Bible until after one was used. Nobody saw an airplane in Scripture until one was invented. While we should applaud their Biblical worldview, at the same time, we should all be discouraged from taking “secular liberties” with the Bible.

The truth is, there are many verses in the Bible that speak of “signs” God will use in the last days to get mankind’s attention. God has used all kinds of signs throughout the history of mankind, and they are all over the Old Testament. But the signs pointing to winding up history will be a little different. They will be so obvious; so extreme, that there will be no question.

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25 – 28 | TNIV)

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (Genesis 9:12, 13 | TNIV)

These two examples refer to signs involving the sun, moon and stars and a rainbow, the first time it is mentioned in human history. But what we need to remember is that there were no telescopes or any other kind of visual aid to magnify the sun, moon and stars when Jesus spoke of signs in the sky.  There was virtually no light pollution to block the heavens from view, so when looking up at the night sky, a star gazer could see all kinds of stars and heavenly bodies.  Similarly, a rainbow could be easily seen with the naked eye.  These signs, one from the ancient past and fulfilled and one from the future yet to take place, will be seen by anybody on earth without any gadgets or gizmos.

Astronomers and scientists tell us there will be a unique planetary alignment on September 23 of this year. There is even a web page that keeps you abreast of the countdown. This event is so unprecedented (we are told), that Bible prophecy and end time watchers are convinced that it will be a fulfillment of the signs given in Revelation 12.

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. (Revelation 12:1 | TNIV)

There are basically two reasons why the astronomical event of September 23rd can’t have anything to do with the Bible. First, those claiming it does, resort to using astrology, not astronomy, to make it fit what John wrote in Revelation 12:1. The problem is, God absolutely forbids using astrology for anything.

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. (Deuteronomy 18:9 – 12 | TNIV)

The Hebrew behind “interprets omens” is obscure but important to know. It means “observer of clouds” or “gatherer of clouds.” It pictures a person who looks to the sky – not to God – for direction or guidance. When the Bible speaks of God using the sun and planets as signs for His people, it’s not referring to astrological signs!

Second, if the planetary alignment of September 23rd is a sign from God, who would see it on earth? When Revelation 12:1 was written, there were no telescopes and a sign from God was meant to be seen! Something happening out yonder in the universe that can’t be seen by man on earth can’t be sign be a sign from God. It can be an interesting event, but it has nothing to do with Bible prophecy.

What Revelation is about

So just what is Revelation 12 about? Let’s re-read the first verse again very closely:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. (Revelation 12:1 | TNIV)

John wrote “a great sign appeared in heaven.” He did not write “in the heavens,” but “in heaven.” As John saw this sign, he saw it in heaven because he was in heaven. He wasn’t dead, but God transported John to heaven to see certain things that would take place on earth in the future.  Here’s the verse that tells us that:

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (Revelation 4:1, 2 | TNIV)

I told you the book of Revelation was weird! But John wasn’t the only person in the Bible transported to heaven to be shown things.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. (Isaiah 6:1, 2 | TNIV)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. (2 Corinthians 12:2 – 4 | TNIV)

The prophet Isaiah was allowed a short peak into the Lord’s throne room.  This vision took place “in the year that King Uzziah died.”  It was an incredible thing that Isaiah saw, and it changed his life.

The apostle Paul also had an experience in heaven, and he was nothing if not honest as he recounted it. He’s humble so he refered to himself as “a man” or “this man,” but he made it clear he’s not sure how it happened. Was he in heaven boldly or not? He doesn’t know, but he does know he was in heaven. God allowed him to see things and hear things that, unlike John, he was not allowed to talk about.

So John wasn’t the first person to see into heaven. But he did tell people what he saw. And what he saw was stunning: Before his eyes, the apostle John saw the panorama of history unfold. I say “history” because even though John was given a glimpse into his and our futures, history is what prophecy really is: history written backwards; history written before it happens. God can do that, by the way. Man can’t possibly foretell his or anybody’s future, but God can because He exists far, far, beyond the confines of space and time. That’s what he told John before He gave John the visions that make up the bulk of Revelation:

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8 | TNIV)

God is like the alphabet. He is the A and the Z – His existence bookends the stream of time from beginning to end. Think of the alphabet as time. He existed before the letter “B” and He will outlive the letter “Y.”  He was around before time began and will be around long after it comes to an end.  And because he is the A and the Z, God is able to travel along the stream of time; He is able to see it as it happened and as it happens and as it will happen. To Him, the future is past and the past is present. That’s why we read verses like these:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4 – 7 | TNIV)

Fascinating, isn’t it? God sees you and me – right now, today – already seated with Christ in “the heavenly realms.” But we haven’t even lived our lives yet! We’re not in heaven, yet God sees us there. He sees the future. And He sees us in heaven, where we belong. Think about that the next time you get down and discouraged. Think about that the next time you think God has forgotten about you. He hasn’t. He sees you as you will be, and where you will be. Today you’re stuck on earth, fighting the temptation to sin, struggling with doubts, just trying to keep your head above water, and God sees you in heaven. You just have to hang on and get from “here” to “there.”

Next time, we’ll put Revelation 12 under the microscope to discover what’s really going on in this weird and remarkable vision John saw in heaven.

 

 

 

 

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JEREMIAH, PART 1

Jeremiah 1:1—10

In 70 AD, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed and its inhabitants scattered to the four corners of the world; the result of a terrible judgment of the Jews’ rejection of the Messiah. But this wasn’t the first time God judged His people, nor was it the first time the Holy City was destroyed. In 586 BC, Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and most of Judah’s population was carried off as captives. For a century Mount Zion was little more than a wasteland, inhabited by a variety people; some Jews left behind by Nebuchadnezzar’s army, other people from other countries destroyed by the mighty Babylonians wandered around, settling in and around what was once Jerusalem. What an odd assortment of misfits; a rag-tag-band of fugitives, that now called the Holy City home.

Yet a scant century later, a remnant of exiles returned to what was left of Jerusalem, eventually rebuilding the city and the Temple. But the glory and splendor that was Mount Zion never returned. It won’t be until the dawn of the Millennial Age that the world will see that splendor and magnificence again.

The books the prophet Jeremiah wrote are key in understanding what happened in 586 BC, for they were composed just prior to and during Jerusalem’s destruction. They give us a glimpse into what his world was like and provide key historical data of the period. As Jeremiah’s book comes to an end, so does the very last remnant of what had been David and Solomon’s magnificent 12-tribe kingdom. Reading this part of Hebrew history brings to mind T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men—

This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.

The book called “Jeremiah” is one of five books in the Old Testament we call “The Major Prophets.” They are “major” because of their length. The book of Lamentations, also written by Jeremiah, is quite short, but it is part of the Major Prophets because it serves a kind follow-up to Jeremiah’s main book of prophecy. The shorter prophetic books—and there are many of them—form “The Minor Prophets,” again because of their brevity, not because they are any less unimportant than the Majors.

Though written in the sixth century BC, the books of Jeremiah are vitally important to those of us living in the 21st century. Though ancient, they paint a picture of a society frighteningly similar to ours. Today is a troubling time of sin and complacency, very much like Jeremiah’s day. Apostasy and hypocrisy are seen in seen in ever increasing frequency, just as in Judah of old. The balance of power among the nations was shifting in the sixth century BC, and today nations once thought unshakable are teetering on the brink of economic and moral collapse. Preachers of righteousness are in short supply today; and during Jeremiah’s day, nobody wanted to hear the truth of God’s Word, either.

It becomes painfully obvious as we read the book of Jeremiah that nations rise and fall, not of their own accord, but according to God’s plan. Our destiny as a people in not in our hands, but in God’s. We are living in the last days, and during these last days the message of Jeremiah is timely and inescapable. Jeremiah is sad book to read, not just because it was written during an extraordinarily sad time for God’s people, but because it forces its readers to confront the state of their own lives before the righteous demands of God. But at the same time, the book of Jeremiah is a book of hope that teaches believers that there are better days ahead; there is a Savior coming and a New Covenant is on the horizon. Jeremiah teaches us that for those who hold fast to their faith and serve God to the best of His ability, there is always hope!

As we begin our study of Jeremiah’s great book, we need to look at the man himself. Jeremiah, like the other Old Testament prophets, knew nothing of human ordination. He did not attend a seminary, take ordination exams, and sit before a denominational examination committee before he began his ministry. He also didn’t rush headlong into it. In fact, Jeremiah often shrank from the message he was compelled to preach. But in this, he was in good company! Moses offered God the lame excuse that he wasn’t eloquent enough to preach and Isaiah famously exclaimed that he was a man of “unclean lips” after God called Him to preach. Jeremiah said:

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” (Jeremiah 1:6)

The great voices for God of the Old Testament were no different than believers today who so often get all tongue-tied as they try to share their faith. Take heart, though, out of our weakness, God ordains strength.

1. Jeremiah’s Call, 1:5

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. 

Jeremiah was born in the small village of Anathoth, about two miles from Jerusalem, in 648 BC. He lived in and his ministry spanned tumultuous times spiritually, politically, and economically. He preached from the days of Judah’s last righteous King (Josiah) to Judah’s last actual King (Zedekiah). He lived long enough to see Jerusalem burned to the ground. All during his life and ministry, Jeremiah came to learn a profound truth: all events on earth, good or bad, are under God’s sovereign control. It is He, not kings or armies, that govern human history.

This sovereign God is also a personal God, and when Jeremiah was about 20 years old, God called him to be a prophet. In fact, in a personal conversation with Jeremiah, God told him that Jeremiah was created and “set apart” before he was born to be a prophet. What a stunning verse: he was called before he was created; set apart before he was even born! God had a plan for Jeremiah just as He has a plan for all of us.

Why did God choose Jeremiah? What was there about this man that set him apart from all others? We aren’t told. God didn’t explain it to Jeremiah and as far as we know Jeremiah never figured it out. God has a sovereign will that makes complete sense to Him, even if it doesn’t to us. Our part is to respect God’s sovereignty, not deny it or frustrate it. We don’t have to understand it to hear it and obey it. Jesus said this:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

Notice Jesus said His sheep “listen” to His voice; we don’t always understand completely what He’s saying! We listen and we follow in faith. We should never worry about God’s sovereignty as it concerns us and our destiny:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

When it came to serving God, Jesus never failed. And neither will you if go with God’s flow for your life!

2. Jeremiah’s excuse, 1:6

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

Like most excuses God hears from any of His children, Jeremiah’s was just as pathetic. Since when is a 20 year old a child? To Jeremiah, he was highly unfit to be a prophet. He came from a small village, born to a humble priest. But in a humorous turn, Hilkiah named his son “Jeremiah,” which literally means “Whom Jah [God] Appoints.” He certainly lived up to his name! God appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet. He didn’t ask Jeremiah or check with him to make sure he had the proper education and credentials! Clearly it is God who does the calling, not any man or organization.

Jeremiah, though he felt under prepared, would come to learn a valuable lesson: our sufficiency is NOT in ourselves but in God:

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. (2 Corinthians 3:5)

3. Jeremiah’s Commission, 1:7

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.”

Though Jeremiah felt inadequate and inexperienced, God knew his man better than he knew himself. Rarely does any of us have an accurate picture of ourselves; God does and it’s His opinion that counts. Verse 7 is a rebuke, make no mistake about it. Jeremiah has ONE master and ONE purpose in his life: to go where he is sent and to speak what God wants him to speak.

Jeremiah’s mission was clear, but he needed some encouragement:

Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (vs. 8)

When anybody declares the unadulterated Word of God, they will face opposition from all quarters. Jeremiah had much to fear, but God would be with him through it all. It is better to obey God and face trouble in this world than to cave into the demands of this world and face a disappointed God! At a young age, Jeremiah learned a lesson he would carry with him for a lifetime: God’s is always with those who serve Him.

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)

There is no way the darkness of this world can overtake any believer while the light of God’s presence is in him!

4. Jeremiah’s equipment, 1:9

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.”

Whom God calls, God equips! This divine touch, which the prophet Isaiah also experienced, serves as a kind foreshadow of the tongues of fire that touched the believers gathered in the Upper Room in Acts. His “touch” and His “words” are vitally connected. With a divine command comes a divine enabling! Jeremiah needed power as all believers need power in order to fulfill God’s purpose for them.

God put His Words in Jeremiah’s mouth, which is very poetic way of saying God would simply speak through His prophet. Now, that sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to become a preacher if God personally said, “I will put my words in your mouth?” As they say, however, the Word of God is a double-edged sword, and in Jeremiah’s case, more so! God’s Words in Jeremiah’s mouth were almost exclusively words of doom, gloom, and destruction. Through most of Jeremiah’s ministry, God’s Word was hard to speak and even harder to hear.

5. Jeremiah’s work, 1:10

“See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Gloomier words cannot be found anywhere: uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. That is not an encouraging message to give or hear. Yet, this was Jeremiah’s message from God. Yes, sometimes God’s Word is a big pill to swallow. Sometimes God’s Word is difficult and seemingly not very helpful or positive. It is, nonetheless, God’s Word.

In Jeremiah’s case, destructive work had to be performed before the constructive work could begin: build and plant. A garden must be weeded before it can be seeded! Sin always has to be be dealt with and put away before godly character can be established in a person. This is as true in the case of a nation as it is of the individual. God is about judge Jerusalem because they had been rejecting Him for years and years. God would restore them in time, but first, they had to be broken. It is the good and pure heart that produces good fruit. Jeremiah could preach and preach, sowing the Word everywhere, but if there were no pure hearts to receive it, no good fruit could be produced. This was the situation in Jerusalem. Hearts were not ready to receive the “good” Word of God. Those hard, dry hearts needed to be tilled up like fallow ground, cleaned out and made ready to receive what God wanted to give. In short, the people needed to be either broken or destroyed before God would be able to do anything in His people.

God gave His people every chance. Jeremiah preached for decades, warning them to get right. And he wasn’t alone; other prophets were preaching the same message! Sadly, the die had been cast. Hard hearts make for deaf ears. But God did His part in making sure Jeremiah would proclaim His Word.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5)

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 6

Jonah and God’s Compassion

Jonah

What we know about the prophet Jonah we find in 2 Kings 14:25—

He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah, son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.

The “he” of this verse is Jeroboam, king of Israel, who reigned from 781—753 BC, so we know the date of Jonah’s ministry. During the Jeroboam years, Israel experienced a time of political and economic revival as the fortunes of Assyra waned.

Even though our glimpse of Jonah’s life is only 48 verses long, they are a powerful 48 verses, full of great spiritual truth. Scholars have found these to be the major themes in the book:

  • The sovereignty of God. God accomplished His plans in spite of Jonah’s failures.

  • Mercy and grace. God is compassionate to whomever He wants to be, whether a sinful nation or a struggling prophet.

  • Responsibility. If we claim to know God, we have a responsibility to serve Him to the best of our ability.

  • Servanthood. Jonah’s disobedience is a classic example of how NOT to serve God.

  • Repentance. God always gives people time to repent.

  • Missions. God reaches out to people everywhere.

1. God’s patience with disobedient believers

You don’t see a lot of missionary activity in the Old Testament. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that “evangelism” is a New Testament concept and activity. The book of Jonah, though, teaches us that even way back in the days of the Old Testament, God was concerned with sinners, those outside of the Covenant.

Jonah is the reluctant missionary. God called him to a task that he wanted to avoid. He was, after all, a prophet. His job was to proclaim God’s Word to his people. Why in the world did God now want this prophet to take God’s Word to other people?

a. The fleeing prophet, 1:1—3, 17

Go to the great city Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

This is God’s commission and call of Jonah. Nineveh is referred to here as “the great city” because at this time it was a world power. Even though the Assyrian Empire was struggling, Nineveh was the seat of power in the ancient world. It may have been a great city, but it was also a wicked city. The fact that God was concerned about this city shows us that God’s concern and even love reached beyond His chosen ones, even though they believed they were only ones He truly loved.

But Jonah, full of fear and apprehension, decided that this mission was not for him. So he boarded a ship that was sailing in the opposite direction. But of what was Jonah fearful? We might think he was afraid of the Assyrians; afraid that they would harm him. But, in fact, he was afraid they would turn and repent and that God would indeed forgive them. It’s not that Jonah wanted people to die in judgment, it was that if Nineveh was spared, then he would appear to be a false prophet in the eyes of his people back home.

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (verse 17)

Jonah was clearly in disobedience to God, and in act of discipline mingled with mercy, God provided a big fish that swallowed up the errant prophet. We aren’t told how big this fish was. Matthew 12:40 speaks of “a whale,” but the Greek word used there means “a huge fish” or even a “sea monster.” For three days and three nights Jonah remained in the belly of the fish. This expression is probably a colloquial expression suggesting a relatively short, indefinite period of time.

This incident brings back to our minds the beautiful words of the Psalmist—

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?…If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7, 9—10, NKJV)

b. The returning prophet, 2:1—10

Jonah knew he was in the wrong and cried out to God for help from within the fish. Jonah was wrong to rebel and run away from God, as if hiding among a bunch of Phoenician sailors would work! Jonah was also wrong about by taking refuge among these godless sailors, because he was implicitly declaring that, for this moment in time at least, he was preferring the Canaanite way of life to that of Israel.

Rather than dying inside the big fish, Jonah called to God for help, and we have recorded for us in poetic form, the prayer he prayed. It chronicles how dumb he was to do what he did. Yet even in his stupidity, Jonah had the presence of mind to remember God and His compassion. The prophet recommits his life to the Lord:

But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.” (verse 9)

On the heels of Jonah’s confession and his recognition that God alone is his deliverer, the big fish pukes up the prophet, right onto dry land. We are not told just where he was deposited, but he was free, once again, to do God’s work. This man of God learned the hard way that fleeing from God’s will in an effort to avoid difficult tasks always results in even greater difficulties.

2. God’s compassion for unbelievers, 3:1—10

God is a God of second chances, even in the Old Testament. Abraham, Moses, Saul, and David are among the people in the Old Testament who personally experienced a “second chance” to make it right with God. In chapter 3, Jonah’s story reboots with his “second chance” to fulfil his mission to evangelize the great city, Nineveh and save it from certain destruction.

a. The prophet obeys, vs. 1—4

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I will give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord… (verses 1—3a)

At this point in the story, it seems as though our intrepid prophet has learned his lesson. There is a New Testament parallel in the experience of Peter. His first commission is found in Mark 1:16, 17 and Luke 5:10. After his failure and restoration, Peter was recommissioned as we read in John 21:15—17. How wonderful it is to serve a God that knows us and gives us the opportunity to hear and to respond to His call more than once!

Jonah had been forgiven by God, but he had to take up his cross where he laid it down. He had to go to Nineveh and preach the Word God would give to Him. To keep God’s restored favor and blessing, he, like all of us, had to face up to the same issue we sought to escape. God is compassionate, but He is also firm. Remember what what Samuel cautioned Saul:

To obey is better than sacrifice, to harken than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22, KJV)

Or, as Father Mapple said in his classic sermon:

And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves, and it this disobeying ourselves wherein the hardness of obeying God consists. (Herman Melville’s Moby Dick)

b. A surprising response, vs. 5—10

What an amazing site greeted the prophet as he approached Nineveh. The inner city was surrounded by a wall 100 feet thick, wide enough for 3 chariots to drive side-by-side on. The walls had 1,500 towers, 100 feet in height. Huge lions and bulls carved our of stone guarded its 27 gates. Stunning gardens surrounded the public building, which were ornamented with alabaster and beautiful sculptures. Acres and acres of lush gardens were to be found within the city walls so fresh produce was always available. But, at the same time, Assyria’s national economy was in dire straights. The whole Empire, and Nineveh in particular, was in the grips of a devastating depression. And this could explain their readiness to hear, listen to, and respond to the Word of God as they did.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (verse 10)

God spared the city just as He had spared the sailors. God’s incredible response to sinners in this short book foreshadows Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:4—

(God) wants all people to be saved and to come a knowledge of the truth.

3. God illustrates His compassion, 4:1—11

a. The prophet’s prejudice, vs 1—3

Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live. (verse 3)

Maybe it was his national pride and his self-esteem that caused Jonah to resent the fact that God responded in compassion and forgiveness to the Ninevehites. He may have felt that if Assyria, the promised destroyer of Israel were destroyed, then Israel itself would be spared. This, of course, would have been faulty reasoning, since it wasn’t really Assyria that destroyed Israel, it was Israel’s own sins.

The petulant prophet blamed God for everything from sparing a godless city to his own disobedience. Amazingly, he defended his own failure by blaming God’s loving-kindness!

Jonah felt humiliated and discredited. Overcome with self-pity, he felt it would be better for him to die rather than face embarrassment back home.

Another prophet, Elijah, also got depressed over the outcome of events of which he was a part. He too wanted to die.

He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)

The difference between Elijah and Jonah was that Jonah was depressed because so many sought God, Elijah was hurt on God’s behalf because so few sought God. We could say that Elijah was jealous for god, but Jonah was jealous of God.

b. God’s compassion on Jonah, vs. 4—6

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”

God had rescued Jonah from death when he was in blatant rebellion against Him. But now, the Lord reasoned with him. God wanted to know why His prophet was so angry. God was displeased with Jonah’s attitude, yet He did not openly rebuke Him. Like a parent who practices good parenting skills, the Lord worked with Jonah so that he would see for himself how childishly he was behaving, and then hopefully he would change his attitude.

c. A stern lesson, vs. 7—11

This group of verses is interesting:

  • God provided a gourd.

  • God provided worm that ate the gourd.

  • God provided a scorching wind.

What lesson was God trying to get Jonah to learn?

Jonah was thrilled with the plant, but was angry when it went away. Jonah could see no further than his own discomfort. Then God drove the point home. Jonah had been upset over something insignificant—a plant which he neither planted nor tended. Why didn’t he have the same concern over the eternal destiny of the population? Yes, Jonah’s priorities were completely out of whack.

The book of Jonah ends with God asking his prophet a final question, to which there was no answer recorded:

...should I not have concern for the great city, Nineveh, in which there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals? (verse 11)

God was trying to show Jonah that he was blind; his religious exclusiveness blinded him to the needs of ignorant sinners. Almost all believers, from time to time, behave like Jonah. We overvalue the less important things of life, like the gourd. We also, from time to time, even when thinking about spiritual things, do so in their relation to ourselves, or our own “little world.” However, God’s concern reaches out the last person on earth.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

Studies in Daniel and Revelation

What must soon take place, Part One

That phrase, “What must soon take place,” refers to the future events Jesus revealed to John while John was in exile on the island of Patmos. During his exile, the apostle was given a glimpse of what the world would be like in the future, both his and ours. It is interesting to note that both John and the Old Testament prophet Daniel both saw prophetically the same future time and both men were in exile when they were given their visions.

The future begins with Revelation 4:1, so everything John saw from that point on is what will be happening in the future, even though John writes as though the events were happening at the moment he saw them.

1. The future in heaven, 4:1—5:14

A. The Heavenly Tabernacle. From chapters 4 and 5, we learn that there exists and will exist in heaven a literal tabernacle, after which the on Earth was patterned, Hebrews 8:1—5; 9:1—10, 22—24; 10:1.

  1. The heavenly door, 4:1.
  2. The heavenly throne, 4:2—5. This throne is seen throughout the book of Revelation. It is also described in Daniel 7:9—14; Isaiah 6; Hebrews 8:1; 12:1—2.
  3. The heavenly elders, 4:4—11; 5:8—10; 7:13; 11:16—19; 14:3; 19:4. These elders are redeemed individuals; the word “elder” is never used to describe angels or other worldly creatures. Their white robes represent their righteousness.
  4. The sea of glass, 4:6. This area is located in front of God’s throne and is where the saints and angels gather to worship the Lord at various times (7:9—17; 15:2—4).
  5. The living creatures, 4:6—8. These created beings sole purpose seems to be to declare God’s holiness. They are seen throughout the book.
  6. Worship, 4:9—11; 5:8—14.
  7. The scroll, 5:1—4; 10:1—11. This scroll or book is central to the Revelation for within its pages are contained the events that make up our future. This particular book is not the “Book of Life,” nor does it contain any names or promises or anything other than the Biblical text indicates. The “seals” that secure the scroll are the seals of 6:1—8:1.
  8. The Lamb, 5:5—7. This is the symbol of Christ, the root of David, as taught in Gen. 49:10; Micah 5:1—2; 2 Sam. 7:8—17; Ps. 89:35—37; etc.

2. The Lesser Tribulation, or the first half of Daniel’s 70th Week, 6:1—9:21

The seven seals and the first six trumpets take place in succession during the first half of the Tribulation. The seventh trumpet introduces the second half of the Tribulation, also known as the Great Tribulation.

A. The First Six Seals, 6:1—17.

  1. The first seal, 6:1—2. The rider of the white horse seen as this seal is opened in represents the rise of the Anitchrist at the beginning of the Tribulation. The events of this seal fulfill the prophecies of Daniel 7:8—9, 23—25; 8:8—10, 20—23; 11:35—45.
  2. The second seal, 6:3—4. This is picture of the war that will result following the rise of the Antichrist, Dan. 7:24; 11:40—45.
  3. The third seal, 6:5—6. This symbolizes a great famine following the war.
  4. The fourth seal, 6:7—8. Death and Hell are symbolized by riders on horseback. Death and Hell are always the result of any war. See also Matthew 24:6—7.
  5. The fifth seal, 6:9—11. Here is a picture of the first martyrs of the Tribulation. These are people who will find the Lord after the Rapture and during the Tribulation. They will be killed sometime between the Rapture and fifth seal.
  6. The sixth seal, 6:12—17. This seal introduces the time of God’s wrath. The first five seals describe the wrath of man, which will be bad enough but nothing compared to the misery that many will face when God pours out His wrath because of the persecution of His people. There will seven horrific events that happen under this seal: an earthquake, the dimming of the sun, the darkening of the moon, a meteor shower, and cataclysmic events in the sky and changes in the geography of the earth.

Parenthetical Passage, 7:1—17

Chapter 7 is the first of several “parenthetical passages” in the book of Revelation. These are so named because they contain additional information about events just revealed. They are a pause in the action that gives the reader an expanded view of particular events or persons that will help them to understand what John saw.

This parenthetical passage sheds some light on events in-between the 6th and 7th seals that will be happening concurrently during the main events of those two seals. These two events are as follows:

  • The sealing of the 144,000 Jews, 7:1—8. We know these people will be Jews because they are taken from the tribes of Israel. They get saved after the Rapture and will be sealed or marked by God as they pass through the coming trumpet judgments so they would not be harmed (9:4). The 144,000 will be caught up to heaven under the 7th trumpet. The seal will be the name of the Father written on their foreheads.
  • The Tribulation saints, 7:9—17. These Gentiles will find the Lord, like the 144,000, after the Rapture and will die for Christ, the majority of them slain by the Antichrist.

C. The 7th Seal, 8:1

The 7th Seal, 8:1. The 7th seal seems pretty mild; silence in heaven.

Parenthetical Passage, 8:2—6

This is the second pause; it explains the work of the priestly angel and the preparations for the upcoming trumpet judgments. These are events that will happen after the 7th seal and just before the first trumpet.

The following trumpet judgments are literal; they are just as literal as the plagues upon Egypt and will be for the exact same purpose: to protect Israel during the first half of the Tribulation.

D. The First Four Trumpets, 8:7—12

  1. The first trumpet, 8:7. Hail, fire and blood, the destruction of a third of the earth.
  2. The second trumpet, 8:8—9. One third of the sea turned to blood.
  3. The third trumpet, 8:10—11. One third of the fresh water rivers poisoned.
  4. The fourth trumpet, 8:12. Destruction of one third of the planets.

Parenthetical Passage, 8:13

The third parenthetical passage is a brief one, a single verse; a pronouncement of three woes.

E. The Final Two Trumpets, 9:1—21

  1. The fifth trumpet, also known as “the first woe,” 9:1—12. Demonic creatures will be let loose upon the Earth. They will torment human beings but will not kill them.
  2. The sixth trumpet, or “the second woe,” 9:13—21. Two hundred million supernatural demonic creatures will be freed from the Abyss and will proceed to slay one third of all human beings.

This event will conclude the first half of the Tribulation. The worst is yet to come.

Studies in Daniel and Revelation

Daniel, Part Two

Daniel chapter 2 is, perhaps, in terms of Bible prophecy, the “crown jewel” because it contains the most complete and simple picture of God’s plan for the nations of the world in the whole Bible.

1.  Preliminary Observations

My first observation about chapter 2 concerns the first three verses and is not readily apparent in our English translations.  The first three verses of the chapter are written in Hebrew, but the language switches to Aramaic in verse 4, then switches back to Hebrew with chapter 8.  As to why the change in language, we may only speculate.  The Aramaic chapters, 2:4 to the close of chapter 7, deal with things of major concern to Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, while the Hebrew chapters, 8-12, the future destiny of the Jews is given the emphasis.

My second observation is about Nebuchadnezzar.  At this time in his life, he was in his prime.  He had ascended to the throne as a young man, and his power had been accumulating at an astonishing rate.  Nebuchadnezzar was young and intelligent and thanks to an unusual and imaginative “urban expansion” program in his cities, he had won the favor and the enthusiastic support of religious leaders and the masses.

But Nebuchadnezzar was much more than his accomplishments would suggest.  At this moment in his career, the king of Babylon showed his true greatness by doing something never done before.  Instead of continuing to expand his boarders, Nebuchadnezzar stopped all his military campaigns to consider the meaning of his life and the why he was having so much success.  He was considering his destiny and the future of the empire he had built.

My final observation is that even though this heathen king was in no way a believer in Yahweh, he was God’s chosen instrument to discipline His people, and so God made Nebuchadnezzar the repository of the history of the Gentiles and of God’s entire plan, yet God did it in such a way as to make Daniel, not Nebuchadnezzar, the whom the Lord acknowledged and who enjoyed His divine favor.

2.  Nebchadnezzar’s strange offer

In ancient times it was not unusual or uncommon for kings to attach great importance to dreams.  In fact, ancient man in general was fascinated by the mysterious meanings of their dreams.  Common man had to figure out what they meant on his own, but kings and wealthy men had magicians and diviners who claimed they could interpret dreams.  These were actually professional offices in the courts of pagan nations, and Nebuchadnezzar had many such men at his disposal who could offer some “pre-Freudian” dream analysis.

Naturally, Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men could not interpret his dream, nor could they recount his dream to him.  We cannot be sure if he forgot the dream or if he was testing his wise men, although my feeling is that he genuinely forgot it, but the fact remains that because he could not find the answers he was seeking, the king fell into utter despair.

The first part of chapter 2 is amazingly similar to the story of Joseph.  In both stories, the  king’s dream is interpreted by a king’s prisoner, but in Joseph’s case, the king remembered the dream.  The dream of the Pharaoh concerned the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine in Egypt, whereas Nebuchadnezzar’s dream concerned the nations of this world and the Kingdom of God.  But in each case, the dreams involved the salvation of God’s people from extinction.

Initially, the king did not invite Daniel or his friends to interpret his dream; it was only after he issued a decree that all the wise men in the land were to be killed that the situation came to Daniel’s attention, who by his training was now part of the “wise men” class.  The wise men claimed that only “the gods” could tell Nebuchadnezzar what he wanted to hear.  Daniel volunteered to interpret the dream to the king but first went into prayer to the great Source of all wisdom.   God answered the prayers of Daniel and his three friends and revealed His secret to them   Three things happened to these Hebrews that night:

  • They sought the Lord in prayer, but not before Daniel in faith claimed that he already had the answer or that the answer would be forthcoming.
  • God responded to their earnest prayers and answered them by revealing all in a vision.
  • They responded to God’s response in worship.  This should always be the the result of God’s ministry to the hearts of His people.  In our modern church, we talk a lot about worship and we claim that everything we do is worship to God.  But here we see that prayer is not worship and God’s ministry to us is not worship.  Prayer is asking of God, and ministry is when God gives something to us.  Worship comes after we have asked, and after God has given and our hearts are overflowing with praise and adoration.

With seemingly unlimited confidence in his God, Daniel went to Arioch and promised that he could deliver what the king needed.

3.  Observations about the dream, 2:31-35

“You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance.  The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.”

In looking at this dream, I make the following general observations.  First, the Gentile nations from Babylon onward are seen by God as a whole unit, that is, they form one statue, they are not seen as individual nations.  All the successive Gentile nations form but one “person” before God.

Second, four imperial powers were to succeed each other, but Nebuchadnezzar, the head of gold, received his authority immediately from God Himself.  All the other nations that followed Babylon were allowed to do so by God’s sovereignty.  The fact that Nebuchadnezzar is seen as the head of gold, the fact that he was given his authority on earth by God Himself is highly symbolic, for in the Babylonian king we see God replacing His authority on earth.  Babylon was the authority on earth established by God.

My third observation is related to the phrase “The God of Heaven,” in verse 37.  God is not seen as the God of Earth, but of Heaven.  In Israel God was the God of the Earth because He dwelt among His people, and He will again be the God of the Earth at the restitution of all things.

That phrase, “the God of Heaven,” is used in only three books of the Old Testament and one in the New Testament:  Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Revelation.  Each of the OT references refer to the exact same period of history when God had scattered His people among the nations.  God had forsaken His throne in Jerusalem, the Shekinah glory had gone, never to return again.

But for now, during the time of the Gentiles, God acts sovereignly as the God of Heaven, setting up man in His place on the Earth:

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.  (verses 37b-38)

Finally, an observation about man’s dominion of the earth.  The Gentiles, embodied in Nebuchadnezzar, have been given dominion over the earth, similar to the dominion Adam had.  It is, however more limited, since man is not given dominion over the sea.

4.  Daniel’s interpretation, verses 39-45

“After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth.  Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others.  Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay.  As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle.  And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.

“In the time 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. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.  This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.

“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”

The very first thing I notice in Daniel’s interpretation is this exchange:

The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”  Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.”  (verses 26-28)

This speaks volumes about Daniel’s character; he is giving his God the credit.

The second thing I notice is that while God gave this awesome and far reaching dream to Nebuchadnezzar, He promptly made the king forget it; in fact, God drove the king to the very end of his resources because, after all, had Nebuchadnezzar been able to recall the dream, he would never have realized God’s role in it.  This is always the way God deals with human beings.  We have to be brought to the very end of our resources; we are made to realized our awful sinfulness before God saves us.

Ironside remarks that each one of us meets Jesus at the place He was crucified:  Golgotha, the place of the skull.  We all find salvation at the place of death.

As soon as Daniel related the dream to the king, the king realized it was indeed the dream he had forgotten.

Daniel then proceeded with the interpretation, which is covered in verses 39-45.  The image of the statue represents the whole period of the Times of the Gentiles from Daniel’s time to our future.  To Nebuchadnezzar this interpretation must have been somewhat startling as he learned he was merely the first in a long succession of empires that would rise and fall.  The end goal of each Gentile empire was dissolution or destruction under the dominance of the Kingdom of God, which itself can never be dissolved, destroyed or dominated.

In the time 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. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.  (verse 44)

There are a total of 5 kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and there is some difference of opinion on the identity of some of them.  The traditional conservative, evangelical view is as follows:

  • The first empire, verse 38, is stated in the text as being the Babylonian empire;
  • The fifth, verse 44, is just as clear; it is the kingdom of God;
  • The second, verse 39a is almost probably the Medo-Persian empire;
  • The third, verse 39b is likely Greece under Alexander the Great;
  • The fourth, verse 40, is generally regarded to be Rome.

5.  Ten toes, verses 40-43

Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others. Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay.  As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle.  And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.

Verse 43 has been interpreted as either the weakness of mixed marriages or the rapid decline of society in the collapse of the fourth kingdom (Roy Swim and Birk).  It should also be noted that the statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s vision of chapter 7 are parallel, so that the interpretation of this dream must be determined by the content of that vision.

Up to the toes is past history.  The fourth empire will be another version of the old Roman Empire, which is in abeyance at the present time.  The ten toes of the feet of the statue represent ten kings who will rule at the same time, but who will form a confederacy that will occupy roughly the same territory as the old Roman empire.

Though some commentators see this part of the interpretation in history, a ten-nation confederacy such as Daniel saw has never existed before, especially in view of Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 concerning the ten horns.

The fate of this final Gentile empire is striking:

In the time 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. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.  This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.  (verses 44-45)

The “rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands” is, of course, Jesus Christ (Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; Zechariah 3:9).  Some scholars see this fulfilled when Jesus came the first time, however, the phrase “In the time of those kings” points to a future fulfillment; in the time of ten-kingdom confederacy.  This rock, Daniel said, will fall from heaven, this cannot refer to the baby Jesus being born, but to the glorious Second Coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

God has been calling out from these nations a people for Himself–the Church–in advance of the coming of the Rock since the beginning of the “lasts days,” when Jesus returned to be with the Father.  The wrath of God during the Tribulation will be nothing compared to the awful events that will befall those who reject Christ when He literally and physically returns.  No believer will be present on the earth when this event  occurs because Jesus, on the Cross, suffered all the wrath of God in our stead.

Studies in Daniel and Revelation

Daniel, Part One

The book of prophecy and history that the prophet Daniel wrote, that bears his name, has been called one of the most thrilling books in the entire Bible. Despite the fact that we know more about the man Daniel than any of the other prophets, his book has become a lightening rod for debate between conservative and liberal scholars. The prophecies of Daniel that have been fulfilled in history were fulfilled so accurately that liberal scholars, in their blatant attempt to strip the Bible of the miraculous, conclude that the book called “Daniel” is, in fact, a hoax; that somebody concocted an elaborate fiction masquerading as supernatural prophecy. It is not my intention to give more than a passing mention of this; I have studied all the arguments for and against the authenticity of Daniel and I accept the findings of conservative scholars that Daniel, the man and the prophet, was a real man, that he was not a hoaxster, and that his book is not a forgery or a work of fiction. On the point of the liberal abuse foisted upon Daniel, I agree with Pusey:

The rest which has been said is mostly mere insolent assumptions against Scripture, grounded in unbelief.

Incidentally, no less an expert than our Lord, Jesus Christ, believed what Daniel wrote to be true and trustworthy (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14). So, who is fool enough to question the intelligence of our Lord? Only a liberal would have the arrogance to do such a thing.

1. Daniel, the man and his place in history

Understanding who Daniel was can help us understand the things he saw and wrote. Three key words characterize this man: purpose, prayer, and prophecy (McGee).

1. Daniel was a man of purpose, 1:8; 6:10. Despite being in the minority, Daniel maintained his integrity. Not once, even when faced with death, did this man forsake his faith or his God.

2. Daniel was a man of prayer, 2:17-23; 6:10; 9:3-19. Prayer was a big part of Daniel’s life. Even though prayer got him tossed in the lion’s den, Daniel never stopped.

3. Daniel was a man of prophecy. The entire book of Daniel is one long prophecy, some fulfilled, some not.

Daniel, both the man and the book, are also fulfillments of an earlier prophecy. In Isaiah 39:1-8, we read a prophecy given some 100 years before it came to pass in Daniel 1:

“Hear the word of the LORD Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (verses 5-7)

At the time that prophecy was given, it seemed highly unlikely. But because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people, it came to pass. God’s instrument of judgment was the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, and Daniel 1:1 sets the historical context.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.

This king of Judah, Jehoiakim, succeeded his brother Jehoahaz to the throne. Both of these men were the wicked and vile sons of Josiah, a very godly king who was responsible for bringing a religious revival to the nation as recorded in 2 Kings 23:31-37. The year was 606 BC, and Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem. Although not destroyed at this time, he did carry of its treasures and thousands of its citizens. Included in the first group of exiles was Daniel and his three friends.

When Jehoiakim died, his son Jehoiachin took the throne. He fought against Nebuchadnezzar and lost. The Babylonian king, once again, stormed into Jerusalem in 598 BC and took another group of captives back to Babylon with him, including the king and his family. The prophet Ezekiel was among the captives according to 2 Kings 24:6-16.

Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, assumed the throne and, like his nephew, made war against Nebuchadnezzar. This third time was enough for the Babylonian king, who marched into Jerusalem and leveled the temple and burned much of the city. Zedekiah’s sons were slain and the kings eyes gouged out. The blinded king, along with the final deportation, went into captivity around 587 BC, in fulfillment of Jeremiah 25:8-13.

The rest of Daniel’s history is given in chapter one.

It should be stressed that everything that happened to the Hebrews at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar was really a judgment from God upon their stubborn and rebellious hearts. For generations before their Babylonian captivity, God warned His people to shape up and repent. They turned a deaf ear to the prophets and as a result, God chose to use a pagan king to execute His divine judgment on a backslidden people.

2. Israel and its place among the nations

The only nation ordained of God is Israel. Much of the OT is taken up with the building and the establishing of Israel as a nation, it’s rebellion against God, and it’s judgment by God because of its unfaithfulness to Him. Much Bible prophecy concerns either the judgment of Israel or its restoration. The ultimate restoration of Israel, which will occur at the Second Coming of our Lord, is future and yet to be fulfilled. The judgment of Israel at the hands of nations around it is, for the most part, a record of history, though prophetic at the time the OT was written.

Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the Babylonian nation, is spoken of like this by the Lord, who chose him to be His instrument of judgment:

I have given him Egypt as a reward for his efforts because he and his army did it for me, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 29:20)

Up until Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian captivity, Israel had been the center of a system of nations, peoples, and languages that had been the result of God’s judgment at Babel. The nation of Israel was separate and distinct from all the nations around it. Deuteronomy 32:8 gives us an inclination of how special and unique Israel was among all the nations of the earth:

When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.

In executing God’s judgment on Israel, God’s people lost their distinctive place among the nations and the “time of the Gentiles,” the time of Gentile dominance on the earth, began with Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon.

This is not to say that God has done away with Israel as a nation, for it will be restored according to the words of many prophecies and promises that have never been revoked:

The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. (Deut. 28:13)

Though Israel has been judged severely for her apostasies, there was and is a faithful remnant that God will build upon in His restorative work. In fact, that remnant becomes the special object of the thoughts and plans of God revealed by His Spirit throughout the book of Daniel.

It is not an exaggeration to say that in a general sense, God’s plan for the world throughout all of its ages and dispensations has been with one goal in mind: the restoration of Israel, both as a nation on Earth and as a special, sanctified group of people. In fact, the whole purpose of the Tribulation period is to bring the Hebrew people to the place where they will finally and at last recognize Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as their Messiah.

3. Daniel’s reward for his faithfulness

Daniel and his three friends, taken captive in the first Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem, remained steadfastly devoted to Jehovah, yet at the same time they were given special privileges by the Babylonians and were given positions of trust and leadership in their government. Because of their faithfulness to God, they were not only blessed in the material sense, but also in the spiritual:

To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. (1:17)

This is the special privilege of all believers in all dispensations, as is clear from what the Psalmist wrote:

The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him. (Psalm 25:14a KJV)

The fact that so many Christians today seem to be so ignorant of “the secret of the Lord” may very well be caused their lack of respect for the Lord.

In this regard, we see in Daniel the same character we saw in Joseph, who was able to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh to the benefit of the Hebrews. Similarly, the dreams Daniel will interpret will concern, not the dreamer, Nebuchadnezzar, but rather Daniel’s people, the Hebrews.

This is the first great lesson for us from the book of Daniel, and it has nothing to with any prophecy! Purity of heart and faithfulness to God must always precede any revelation or illumination of His Word. Putting head-knowledge ahead of heart-purity will result in a cold and shallow understanding of God and His Word. Trying to grasp the truths of Scripture without being in God’s presence will always disappoint.

This very first chapter of Daniel,then, reminds us that if we want to go on to penetrate and discern all that God has revealed to us the following chapters, we have to make sure that our hearts are right with Him.

4. The beginning of the parade of nations

In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. (2:1)

And so begins the the first major division of the book of Daniel. The book naturally divided into two main sections, three if chapter one is considered a separate section on its own, for it concerns the personal history of Daniel. At any rate, the first division ends with chapter six, and the second division ends with the close of the book.

· Division One, chapters 2-6: Gentile dominance of the world. This first section concerns itself with the various Gentile nations that will dominate the world from Daniel’s day until the very end of days yet in our future. We learn that what moves these nations is not the will of God but human vanity and pride. This parade of nations is revealed to Daniel through the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar.

· Division Two, chapters 7-12: The heads of the Gentile kingdoms. This second half of the book concerns direct revelations from God to Daniel. These visions reveal the character of the rulers of the Gentiles in relation to the people of God.

The details of God’s dealings with His people at the end of the age are revealed in the final chapter. Chapter 7 gives essentially the history of the western powers, chapter 8 that of the eastern–the two horns. Chapter 9, although the emphasis is on Jerusalem and its people, concerns the western power that has invaded them. Chapters 10 to 11 focus on the east with the judgment of the nations there and the establishment of the remnant of Israel.

Next time, we will look at Nebuchadnezzar’s amazing dream and Daniel’s inspired interpretation.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Studies in Daniel and Revelatition

Intro to Bible Prophecy

Before beginning our study of the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation, we should first learn how to read and understand prophecy.

1.  Why studying Bible prophecy is important

Revelation, the work the apostle John produced while in exile on the isle of Patmos, is the only book in the entire Bible with a special blessing promised to those who study it!

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.  (Revelation 1:3)

For this reason alone it is imperative for believers to read and understand what the prophecies in  Revelation are all about.  But there are other good reasons for studying Bible prophecy.  However, rather than list the reasons why it is important, let’s approach this from the negative side.

Many Christians bristle at the thought of studying prophecy.  For a variety of reasons, prophecy is the the most neglected, most misunderstood, and most abused form of Biblical writing.  Christians neglect it because:

  • they don’t understand it;
  • they are afraid of it;
  • they feel as though a knowledge of Bible prophecy is unnecessary.

In dealing with each of these reasons individually, we will gain an understanding of why we should, in fact, not neglect prophecy, but understand it.

It’s too hard to understand

As a Bible teacher, I hear this all the time and I could not disagree more!  If a person can understand the words of history, then they can understand the words of Bible prophecy.  History is simply a record of things that happened, and prophecy is simply a record of things yet to happen.  The reasons people find prophecy and the prophetic books of the Bible hard to understand are many. One reason is that they find it hard to harmonize the words of prophecy with various teachings they have heard from pastors and Bible teachers.  A great many Christians are able to merely parrot the things they have heard other people say about the Bible and prophecy, and about what they think it means, but they have no first hand knowledge of the Book itself.  And so the words of prophecy seem foreign and mysterious to them.

Something very helpful for all serious Bible students to keep in mind is the following list of common sense “rules” for interpreting Bible prophecy, adapted from the work of Finis Jennings Dake, God’s Plan For Man, pages 773-777.

  • Give the same meaning to the words of prophecy that are given to words of history.  In other words, forget the idea that just because a word is used in a prophecy (or in the Bible itself) it automatically has a mysterious or hidden meaning.  God chose to communicate His message to man in the form of words because words are concrete things; they mean something.  Take Biblical words literally, exactly as they were written, unless it is clear from the context the writer means something different.
  • Do not change the literal to a spiritual or a symbolic meaning.  Never change God’s plain, literal meaning into something else.  If John or Daniel wrote about an earthquake, for example, why change that event into something spiritual, like “the breaking up of society” as some Bible teachers have taught?
  • Do not look for hidden meanings or secret codes in the words of Scripture.  God has revealed to man all man needs to know in a language man can understand.  Be satisfied with that.  We have no warrant or right to “read between the lines” or to add to Scripture in order to understand it.  For example, some students of Bible prophecy desperate to find the United States of America in the Bible managed to find it, hidden in the word Jer-USA-lem.  Still others have used mathematical gymnastics to discern that various political leaders, usually Russians or Democrats, are the Antichrist because the letters of their names add up to “666.”  That kind of Bible interpretation is embarrassing to the Church and is just plain silly.
  • Do not interpret God’s own interpretation of any  symbol or prophecy or change God’s meaning from that which is plainly and obviously clear.  God always interprets His own symbols.  Consider the following references:

Daniel 2:38-44; 7:17, 23-26; 9:20-27; 11:2-45; 12:1-13; Revelation 1:20; 12:9; 13:18; 17:8-18; etc.  Understand the Scripture interprets Scripture and we must learn to “rightly divide the word of truth.”

  • Assign one meaning to a verse or a passage of Scripture:  the plain, literal one, unless it is made clear that a double meaning should be understood.  There are three “laws” that need to be understood when interpreting certain passages of Scripture and passages of prophecy:
  1. The Law of Double Reference.  This law states sometimes, in rare circumstances, two distinct persons are being addressed in a passage of Scripture.  For example, note these two references:  Matthew 16:23 and Ezekiel 28.
  2. The Law of Prophetic Perspective.  This law states that the prophet saw future events as “mountain tops” off in the distance; he did not see the valleys below.  A good example of this law is Isaiah 9:6-7.
  3. The Law of Dual Fulfillment.  This law says that one prophecy may have more than one fulfillment, or several “partial fulfillments” in history before its ultimate fulfillment.  Some examples: Isaiah 7:14 was immediately fulfilled in 8:1-4 then ultimately in Matthew 1:22-23.  Also, Daniel 9:26 was partially fulfilled twice, first in 168 AD when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple in Jerusalem, then again in 70 AD when Titus and the Romans destroyed both the temple and the city, but the ultimate fulfillment will occur during the Tribulation when the Antichrist will desecrate the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.

It’s scary

People are afraid of that which they don’t understand, this is certainly true in the case of Christians who think  they know what the Bible teaches because they heard a sermon or saw a movie about the Second Coming.  Often these end-time movies or sermons are not correct or they embellish the truth with man’s ideas and the result is that people have a concept of the end times that is more science fiction than Biblical fact.

God has given us an idea of what the future holds, not to scare us, but rather to comfort us and to encourage us.  Recall what Paul wrote to the nervous and fearful Thessalonians:

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

I know Jesus, and that’s all I need to know!

Some Christians think they  just don’t need to know about prophecy and so they feel they can just ignore it.  The problem with this thinking is that it ignores that fact that Jesus, Paul, the disciples, and the men who wrote many of the epistles all had a working knowledge of the Old Testament prophets.  Are we better than Jesus?  Are we better than Paul?  Indeed not.  Don’t forget what Paul himself wrote:

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  (Ephesians 6:11)

The “full armor of God” refers to the “whole word of God.”  Paul did not say “put on some armor,” he told his readers to put it all on.  Why?  Simply this:  so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  We must have an understanding of the whole the Bible so that the devil cannot outwit us, so that we will not believe every word a false teacher may say.  Paul also admonished Timothy:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  (2 Timothy 3:16)

Again, the word used is “all,” not  just some or “most,” but “all.”  Even prophecy is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  If all Scripture is useful, then we should endeavor to know and understand it all.

Finally, how we view eschatology, the end times, determines how we live out our Christian  lives today.  If we believe that time is short and that Jesus could return at any moment, we would be compelled to spread the Gospel; we would sense the urgency of the hour.  Knowing that the rapture could occur at any moment, we would take more care in how we live, talk and spend out idle moments.

For a good definition of “eschatology,” go to our sister website, Don’t Ask Me.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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