Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Living in an Alien Culture: Daniel 5

Living in an Alien Culture
Daniel 5

·     Belshazzar: historical information

o   The events of Daniel 5 occur about 23 years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar

§ Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 BC

§ Cyrus of Persia conquers Babylon in 539 BC

§ “Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 BC and was succeeded by Amel-Markuk 562-560, the Evil-Merodach of Jeremiah 52:31 and 2 Kings 25:27.  He was in turn succeeded by Mergal Shar-usar (Nergal-Sharezer)in 560-556. After him came his son Labasi-Marduk who was overthrown after six months by a group of conspirators including Nabonidus, who was to be the last actual Chaldean king.

“Nabonidus made his son Belshazzar co-regent, entrusting the kingdom to him during a ten-year absence in Arabia; so that Belshazzar was technically the second ruler of the kingdom.  This is why Belshazzar was only able to offer the position of being the third ruler in the kingdom to anyone who could read the writing on the wall.  The description of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 5, as the ‘father’ of Belshazzar, is consistent with ancient Near-Eastern usage, signifying ‘ancestor’ rather than immediate progenitor.”[1]

·     vv. 2-4

o   “vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple”

§ Links to chapter one—1.2

“The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god(s), and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god(s).”

§ Treating holy things of the Lord as common

o   Belshazzar used Yahweh’s holy items to praise the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone

§ Blasphemy and idolatry 

o   Nebuchadnezzar had not treated the vessels of YHWH according to God’s standards but note two things:

§ This was God’s judgment (1.2)

§ They were put in a place of honor—idolatrous context, yes, but still a place of honor

·     Belshazzar treats the vessels with contempt and actively uses them in idolatry

·     This administration moves further into idolatry and blasphemy 

·     “While repeating his predecessor’s sin of arrogance, Belshazzar takes it to a new level of offense against Yahweh.  He expresses his superiority not by taking inordinate pride in his own achievements, but by profaning the things associated with God.”[2]

·     v. 6—God shows up and crashes the party!

o   From a blasphemous party to fear and uncertainty

·     v. 7—“third ruler” see quotation above

·     vv. 10-12

o   Queen: probably not Belshazzar’s wife—see 5.3

§ Queen mother[3]

o   She knows Daniel

§ She knows her history but Belshazzar doesn’t

§ Q: How quickly do we forget the Lord’s work?

§ Q: Will your children know of the Lord and his ways?

·     See Deuteronomy 6.4-9; Exodus 10.1-2; 12.24-27; Judges 2.10; Psalm 71.17-18

·     vv. 13-16—Disrespect to Daniel

o   “ A close reading of the text reveals a condescending attitude by Belshazzar toward this man who played such a significant role in Nebuchadnezzar’s life, a role concerning which he is fully aware (cf. v. 22).”[4]

o   Way he refers to Daniel—“one of the exiles” (v. 13)

§ “Such an address intends to remind Daniel of his place before Belshazzr.  Belshazzar is king; Daniel is his captive.”[5]

§ Compare to Queen’s words in v. 11

o   Language—“heard about you” (vv. 14, 16)

§ Why does he not “know” about Daniel?  Has Daniel been “side-lined” over the years?

·     v. 17—Daniel’s humility and wisdom

o   Kingdom is going down; no sense is accepting a position in upper management!

·     vv. 18-21—Daniel rehearses Nebuchadnezzar’s rise-fall-rise

o   Issue of pride

·     vv. 22-23

o   Belshazzar held accountable for what he knows

o   He has manifested the same pride as Nebuchadnezzar

§ But it is worse in light of the revelation given to Nebuchadnezzar

§ “Belshazzar knew about the transformation of Nebuchadnezzar’s life; and yet he had chosen to publicly insult and dishonour the God who had been responsible for it. In an act of suicidal defiance Belshazzar had decided to use God’s sacred vessels in the service of the very idolatry that he knew God hated.”[6]

§ Matthew 11.20-21

o   Comparison of false gods to the true God of Daniel

§ False gods—do not see, hear, or understand

§ True God—“the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways”

·     This one is worthy of glory and worship!

o   See Acts 17.22-31 for similar theology set in a New Covenant context speaking to pagans at Athens

o   “you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven”

§ Q: How might our (or other) political leaders do this today?

§ Q: Do they become more self-conscious in their rebellion?

§ Q: Is there intensification of sin and rebellion?

·     vv. 24-28—Judgment pronounced

·     vv. 29-30

o   Belshazzar carries on; no repentance

o   Perhaps Belshazzar thought he had time; Nebuchadnezzar had a year (4.29)

·     vv. 30-31

o   Judgment and regime change happens quickly

o   Consider one year before this episode… did they have any idea?

§ Cf. Mark 13—“Be on the alert”


·     Daniel is maintaining consistency of theology and public stand for Yahweh across the decades and changing political rulers.

o   Q: How many Christians, churches, and leaders changing their theology and public stance on sexual ethics in the face of cultural and political pressure?

o   We must choose to cast our lot either with a society that admits only private faiths, and then simply add another idol to modernity's expanding God-shelf, or we must hoist a banner to a higher Sovereign, the Lord of lords and King of kings.  Just as the Christian witness to "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" invited unrelenting persecution by Roman authorities, so also Christianity's reiteration of a universal validity-claim still invites and will continue to invite the entrenched hostility of modern intellectual authority.”[7] 

·     The judgment of God on cultures and nations is real—and we face the judgment of God.

o   Francis Schaeffer

“Finally, we must not forget that the world is on fire.  We are not only losing the church, but our entire culture as well.  We live in the post-Christian world which is under the judgment of God.  I believe today that we must speak as Jeremiah did.  Some people think that just because the United States of America is the United States of America, because Britain is Britain, they will not come under the judgment of God.  This is not so.  I believe that we of Northern Europe since the Reformation have had such light as few other have ever possessed.  We have stamped upon that light in our culture.  Our cinemas, our novels, our art museums, our schools scream out as they stamp upon that light.  And worst of all, modern theology screams out as it stamps upon that light.  Do you think God will not judge our countries simply because they are our countries?  Do you think that the holy God will not judge?”[8] 

     [1]John C. Lennox, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Monarch Books, 2015), 174-175.
     [2]Tremper Longman III, Daniel—NIVAC (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999), 145.
   [3]“This queen is most likely to have been the wife of Nabonidus and mother of Belshazzar.” Joyce G. Baldwin, DanielTyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1978), 122.  Although Tremper Longman suggests it may have been Nitocris, the wife of Nebuchadnezzar “still exerting her influence more than two decades later.”  Tremper Longman III, Daniel—NIVAC (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999), 139.
     [4]Tremper Longman III, Daniel—NIVAC (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999), 140.
     [5]Tremper Longman III, Daniel—NIVAC (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999), 140.
     [6]John C. Lennox, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Monarch Books, 2015), 182.
     [7]Carl F. H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization: The Drift Toward Neo-Paganism (Crossway, 1988), 181.

     [8]Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster[1984] in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer (vol. 4),p. 363.   For a more sustained meditation on the wrath of God in regards to nations see my blog post “Newtown, CT: God’s Judgment?” White Rose Review(December 26, 2012)—online: https://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2012/12/newtown-ct-gods-judgment.html.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Living in an Alien Culture: Daniel 4

Living in an Alien Culture
Daniel 4

·     Some Summary Thoughts on Daniel 1-3

o   Public faith and theology—not merely a privatized faith

"Daniel's story is one of extraordinary faith in God lived out at the pinnacle of executive power in the full glare of public life.  It relates pivotal events in the lives of four friends--Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah--who were born in the tiny state of Judah in the Middle East around two-and-a-half thousand years ago.  As young members of the nobility, probably still teenagers, they were taken captive by the empereor Nebuchadnezzar and transported to his capital city Babylon in order to be trained in Babylonian administration.  Daniel tells us how they eventually rose to the top echelons of power not only in the world empire of Babylon but also in the Medo-Persian empire that succeeded it....

"What makes the story of their faith remarkable is that they did not simply continue the private devotion to God that they had developed in their homeland; they maintained a high-profile public witness in a pluralistic society that became increasingly antagonistic to their faith. That is why their story has such a powerful message for us today.  Strong currents of pluralism and secularism in contemporary Western society, reinforced by a paralysing political correctness, increasingly push expression of faith in God to the margins, confining it if possible to the private sphere.  It is becoming less and less the done thing to mention God in public, let alone to confess to believing in anything exclusive and absolute, such as the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Son of God and Saviour.  Society tolerates the practice of the Christian faith in private devotions and in church services, but it increasingly deprecates public witness.  To the relativist and secularist, public witness to faith in God smacks too much of proselytizing and fundamentalist extremism.  They therefore regard it more and more as a threat to social stability and human freedom.

"The story of Daniel and his friends is a clarion call to our generation to be courageous; not to lose our nerve and allow the expression of our faith to be diluted and squeezed out of the public space and thus rendered spineless and ineffective. Their story will also tell us that this objective is not likely to be achieved without cost."[1]

o   Bringing value to an alien culture andchallenging idolatry 

o   Creative resistance for the honor of God

o   Focus, Dependence, and Worship in regards to the Sovereignty of God

o   Both daily faithfulness over years andmoments of public confrontation and manifestation of God’s power

o   Prayer: a great view of God should lead to great, empire-shaking prayers

Daniel 4

·     Sovereignty of God

o   Book-ends the chapter: vv 1-3 and vv 34-37

o   Deep theology expressed by a pagan ruler

o   “Nothing is more important, especially at this point in the history of theology, than for God’s people to be firmly convinced that Scripture teaches God’s universal control over the world, and teaches it over and over again.”[2]

·     v. 8: “… Belteshazzar according to the name of my God…”

o   “Nebuchadnezzar’s polytheism is still not far from the surface.  He is a man on a journey: still confused, but wishing nevertheless to testify to what Daniel’s God has done for him.”[3]

·     Imagery of the tree: vv. 10-12, 20-22

o   Imagery of kingdom 

§ See also: Ezekiel 17.22-24; Matthew 13.31-32

·     God’s action against Nebuchadnezzar: to humble and instruct him

o   v. 17: “… in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whom he wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men.”

§ in order that” speaks of purpose; the reason why God does this

§ know” speaks of knowledge; God wants to impart an accurate knowledge of himself and reality

§ ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whom he wishes

·     God is powerful

·     God is active in human history (not Deism!)

§ the lowliest of men”—even the greatest of rulers are considered lowly in light of God!

·     Isaiah 40.23-24  23He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.  24Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but he merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble.

·     v. 19—Daniel is disturbed; not rejoicing at the news of Nebuchadnezzar’s judgment 

o   “The dynamic between Daniel and the king is a remarkable one, considering that this is the king who destroyed Jerusalem, but God’s prophet shows concern for the well-being of the king, not vindictiveness.”[4]

o   Q: Why does Daniel respond this way?    

·     Judgment pronounced on Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 23-25, 32-33)

o   Becomes like an animal—not fit to rule (cf. Genesis 1.26-28; Psalm 8.5-8)

§ Something distinctive about humanity in comparison to animals[5]

§ Some comments from Wesley Smith’s book A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement (New York: Encounter, 2010).  

1.     “…the term ‘animal rights’ actually denotes a belief system, an ideology, even a quasi religion, which both implicitly and explicitly seeks to create a moral equivalence between the value of human lives and those of animals.” (p. 3)

2.     Ingrid Newkirk (the head of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—PETA) in 1986: “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.  They are all mammals.” (p. 3)

3.     Alex Pacheco (cofounder with Newkirk of PETA): “The time will come when we will look upon the murder of animals as we now look on the murder of men.” (p. 36)
4.     Peter Singer in his 1976 book Animal Liberation speaks of “speciesism” as: “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species.” (p. 19)

5.     “To avoid speciesism we must allow that beings who are similar in all relevant respects have a similar right to life—and mere membership in our own biological species cannot be a morally relevant criterion for this right…. We may legitimately hold that there are some features of certain beings that make their lives more valuable than those of other beings; but there will surely be some nonhuman animals, whose lives, by any standards, are more valuable than the lives of some humans.  A chimpanzee, dog, or pig, for instance, will have a higher degree of self-awareness and a greater capacity for meaningful relations with others than a severely retarded infant or someone in a state of senility.  So, if we base the right to life on these characteristics we must grant these animals a right to life as good as, or better than, such retarded or senile human beings.”  Peter Singer (p. 27)

6.     R. G. Frey (bioethicist at Bowling Green University):

“I know of nothing that cedes human life of any quality, however low, greater value than animal life of any quality, however high.  If, therefore, we are going to justify medical/scientific uses of animals by appeal to the value of their lives, we open up directly the possibility of our having to envisage the use of humans of lower quality of life in preference to animals of higher quality of life.” (p. 29)

“If ... not all human life has the same value, then the possibility arises that the quality of life of a perfectly healthy baboon can exceed that of a human.  So, if one is going to appeal to human benefit to justify animal research, and if the benefit in this case can be realized either through experimenting on the baboon or the human, then why use the baboon in preference to the human?  A quality-of-life view of the value of a life gives a consistent answer over taking a life and saving a life; so, if either the baboon or the human has to be used in order to realize the benefit, the human must, all other things being equal, be used.  Clearly, my view on the value of life is not speciesist.” (p. 30)

7.     “[I]n 1991, David Larson, the co-director of the Center for Christian Ethics at Loma Linda University, suggested taking the hearts of disabled children to keep monkeys alive.  Asked about the ethics of the Baby Fae case, the first human to receive a heart transplant from a baboon, Larson replied, ‘If a primate’s capability was higher than that of the human—say a severely mentally handicapped child—I think it would be appropriate to support the opposite approach of a Baby Fae, a transplant from a child to save the life of a healthy baboon or chimpanzee.’”  (p. 30)

o   New Testament: 2 Peter 2.12, 16, 22; Jude 10

·     v. 27—Daniel’s counsel to Nebuchadnezzar in light of the coming judgment

o   Break away from sins and iniquities (negative)

o   Do righteousness and show mercy to the poor (positive) 

o   Issue of pride

§ Daniel 4

·     v. 26—“after you recognize that it is heaven that rules”

·     v. 30—“Is this not Babylon the great which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?”

·     v. 37—“… and he (God) is able to humble those who walk in pride.”

§ Nations and national leaders

·     Obadiah 2-4

·     Acts 12.20-23

o   v. 23—“And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

§ Individual life

·     1 Peter 5.5 (quoting Proverbs 3.34)

·     James 4.6 (quoting Proverbs 3.34)

·     1 Corinthians 4.7

·     vv. 34-37

o   “my reason returned to me” (vv. 34, 36)

§ Living with the grain of God’s reality: Proverbs 1.7; 9.10; 21.30; 28.4-5

§ Living against God and his reality brings intellectual darkness: Romans 1.21-25; Ephesians 4.17-19

o   Sovereignty of God

§ Q: How does the sovereignty of God affect our view of our nation and its political rulers?

§ Q: How does the sovereignty of God affect our prayer lives?  Does it dampen it or enflame it with passion?

     [1]John C. Lennox, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Monarch Books, 2015), 1-2—emphasis added.  Also see my essay “Courts and the Cause of Christ: Why Christians Need to Care”—online: https://www.academia.edu/37984947/Courts_and_the_Cause_of_Christ_Why_Christians_Need_to_Care.
          [2]John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 76.  For a listing out of some of the biblical material on the sovereignty of God see my blog post “God’s Comprehensive Control” White Rose Review(December 8, 2015)—online: https://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2015/12/gods-comprehensive-control.html.
     [3]John C. Lennox, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Monarch Books, 2015), 154.
     [4]Tremper Longman III, Daniel—NIVAC (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999), 120.
     [5]See my blog post “Animal Rights: Some Quotations and Resources” White Rose Review(January 7, 2014)—online: https://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2014/01/animal-rights-some-quotations-and.html.