And behold, the Lord passed by, & a great & strong wind rent the mountains & brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: & after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the eathquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: & after the fire the thin sound of silence. 1 Kings19:11 & 12

Monday, October 25, 2010

Last Man Standing: the Laodicean church.

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20
Laodicea.  Last man standing.  The church of the end times. The church that received a scathing condemnation from our Lord.  The church of our times.  And what was Laodicea's great crime?  Lukewarmness. 

We in the west, with centuries of Christianity behind us, are very comfortable with our religion ~ & we don't like to be discomfited but hear what Christ says, "Behold, I stand at the door & knock!"  Spoken, not to unbelievers but to believers, believers who considered themselves spiritually mature, spiritually rich, spiritually wise.

Now it is one thing to know what the bible says.  It is another thing entirely to understand it ~ & it is a third thing altogether to see how the lessons for the Laocidean church apply to us in this present age.  And let's be blunt.  From the Laocidean point of view things looked pretty good.  They belonged to a "rich" church situated in a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city that had benefited from the trade that passed along the 3 major highways. They minted their own coinage, had their own banks.  The city was part of the Roman aqueduct system with schools in medicine & the arts & they had a thriving commerce built around the the exceptionally fine soft black wool for which it was famous throughout the Empire.

Note something else also.  Laodicea does not stand accused of any of the sins of the flesh; not adultery, not fornication, not pornography, not drunkenness nor incest.  They do not stand accused of false doctrine nor of heresy & yet this is the church of whom Christ says he will vomit them out of His mouth!  Because they have no passion.  Because they have no zeal.  Because they have no enthusiasm. This ennui, this smugness  has resulted in something far worse.  This is a church that has forgotten its first responsibility.

 You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? ... You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.[Matt. 5:13 ~ 16]

The Laodicean church is a church that has lost its savour.  Rather than teaching the world to conform to Christ, the church is conforming to the world.    Rather than separating from the world, they embrace it. They are neither out in the world evangelizing, nor are they completely separating from the world.

 The very first thing the church is, if it is anything at all, is a peculiar people set apart for the use & purpose of the Lord God.  That is the meaning of sanctification.  That is why we are told to pursue holiness.  We are vessels of the Living God.  We are temples for the Holy Spirit. We are pilgrims & sojourners.  This is not our home, not our final destination.  We are meant for something else but if we deny our high calling we are fit neither for this world nor for the world to come!  And Christ is very clear; He will spit such a people out of His mouth!  Not if, not maybe; He will do it!

Now this passage of scripture is deep & rich with symbolism so bear with me as we unravel some of the hidden secrets of this passage.

The first thing to deal with is the speaker, whom we know from earlier passages to the other 6 churches is Christ Himself.  Here He identifies Himself as the Amen, the faithful & true, the ruler of God's creation. The Jewish Talmud Shabbat 1196 renders the original meaning of amen as EL MELECK NE'EMAN, an acrostic for God is a trustworthy king.  It refers back to Isaiah 65:16 He who blesses himself shall bless himself in the God of truth.  Christ presents himself as king & ruler ~ a king & ruler who is not very impressed with His subjects!

You say you are: [referring to spiritual riches]
Christ informs them that they are spiritually blind
.........................wretched [in bondage to sin]
.........................miserable [in need of God's mercy, mercy they will not receive]
.........................Poor [lacking in love & power]
.........................naked [a metaphor for unconfessed, unrepentant sin, usually idolatry ~ in this case the worship of man through science & humanism, as was the Greek way.]

Hear what Christ saysBuy from me gold...white clothes...salve. Buy!  This is not *cheap grace*.  The Laocideans are told it is going to cost them ~ & cost them dearly!  They are going to have to get serious about their sin.  They are going to have to get out of their comfort zone & get serious with God.

So what exactly is Christ telling them to do?  Firstly the *gold* is the sort mentioned in 2nd Chronicles, the sort Daniel knew, the sort Christ Himself acquired, the gold of humbleness.  Now humbleness is not, biblically speaking, running round like Uriah Heep.    Humbleness is knowing we can do nothing without God & our acknowledgement of that comes in one simple way: prayer!  When we are serious about prayer we combine it with fasting.  Prayer & fasting, that is to humble ourselves.  That is to put aside our everyday selves to focus on God alone. It is sacrificial & it costs the person who practises it something in terms of time & comfort.  It indicates a commitment to their walk with God.  For a rich church like Laodicea giving alms is often a substitute for sacrificial living & requires very little of the person in terms of personal sacrifice. Not good enough!  Nowhere near good enough.  The first commandment is to love God with all we have & are. That means more than giving out of the largess that is ours from God in the first place!

The second thing that needs to be bought is white garments.  Now remember the Laocidean church is a rich church & it is in the heart of *black wool* country ~ a wool renowned throughout the empire for its exceptional softness & fineness.  Many in the Laocidean congregation would have owned garments from this fine black wool.  Bit like owning a designer dress.  They are being asked to exchange their old *designer* life for the new one, one characterised by a life governed by the Spirit, one wherein they exchange sin for righteousness.

There is yet a third thing they need to buy ~ salve for their eyes that they might see.  Laodicea had a school of medicine & produced many salves.  The one mentioned here is kollourion which was shaped like small loaves. Anoint [egkrisai ~ literally *rub in*] your eyes with the bread (of life).  The symbolism is there.  In other words fill your mind with scripture.  Keep it always before your eyes.  Meditate on it.  This is what will work through your whole body to bring sight & healing!

To this last of churches, so self deluded, so blinded they are completely unaware of their true spiritual condition, Christ says, "I stand at the door & knock..." the 2nd verb suggests a continious ongoing action because despite everything this is still a church Christ loves & thus He also disciplines it. It is there in the name.  Laocidea comes from two Greek words that, as so often happens in scripture, can have two meanings: peoples' opinions [ie a church where each one is doing what seems right in their own eyes & not what scripture deems right] & a people judged.  Says it all really.  When the church reaches this level of self delusion Christ will act to cleanse & purify it. The church brings judgement on itself.

It is no easy thing to be a member of  the Laocidean church. It is difficult to survive in a climate of spiritual apathy.  It is hard to retain your zeal & fire for the Lord when no~one else is at all enthusiastic but Christ exhorts us to be zealous & for those who overcome He promises the right to sit with Him on His throne.

 Laodicea was so self deceived they could not see their way, nor their danger.  As the end times church we are warned to read the signs of the times, to repent, to prepare, to be ready.  Christ will come.  He is hurrying to meet the bride prepared for him from before the dawn of time.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hungering & thirsting after righteousness.

In 2nd Chronicals we read: if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves & pray & seek my face & turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven & will forgive their sin & heal their land. Scripture doesn’t get much clearer than that. The very first step always begins with ourselves. We, the ecclesia, the church, the body of Christ, the people of God are partakers in a process of sanctification that will fit us for heaven. Remember, without holiness none of us will see God & on our own merit we have nothing to recommend us. All our righteousness is as filthy rags.

This message is for those who bear God’s name. Christians very identifiably bear God’s name. It is a hard message when we look at the world around us but some of the hardest messages in scripture are not for the ungodly who are behaving as their worldly nature dictates but for God’s people who are not behaving according to their new nature. All around us we see the results of a world deep in sin. I have heard the hunger in people’s hearts to make a difference, to reach out & minister, to bring the gospel light into hearts drowned in darkness ~ & these are good desires, Godly desires. Only one thing impedes us: ourselves. I will tell you plainly, God will not use a dirty vessel. In the world we have rules & there are consequences to breaking them. Science is governed by a set of laws & you break them at your peril. The same is true of spiritual matters. There is a sequence to be followed. God is not addressing just anybody. He is addressing His people. If you call yourself a Christian then you are very particularly God’s child. He knows your name & he has a purpose for you that no~one else can accomplish so when he speaks specifically to His people you had best prick up your ears & listen.

One of the hardest things I think for any Christian but especially for one who has been a Christian for a number of years is to remember that they are a sinner saved by grace. Now I do not mean this in the theological sense. We all know that if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us. Satan is much more subtle than that. How fatally easy it is to compare ourselves to our unsaved neighbour & subtly think ourselves better than they are. The truth is we are not & there but for the grace of God go you or I. I mention this because the first spiritual perquisite is humbleness. A humble & contrite heart God will not despise. Humbleness allows us to see ourselves as we truly are. Only then can we move to the 2nd step & pray with a genuine heart, an honest heart, a heart that will break for its own lack of purity.

Prayer is a seeking God’s face & when we do this truthfully our sinful state is revealed to us. Painful as it might be it is necessary in order to accomplish the third step, which is to turn away from our wicked ways. Sin blocks us from God’s grace & blessings. Only when we see sin as God sees it can we turn from our sin, repent, and enable God to act effectively in our lives & the lives of those we seek to reach.

God is under no obligation to hear the prayers of sinners & unbelievers so if His people will not stand in the gap & intercede on the world’s behalf then no~one will. If we are not prepared to cleanse ourselves then our prayers are of no avail. How much hangs on our obedience! Look at the little word then. It is only after we have humbled ourselves, only after we have prayed, only after we have sought God, then, & only then does God act. Then he hears from Heaven. Then he offers forgiveness. Then he heals. We in Australia have been abundantly blessed by the Lord with material things ~ & in many ways that is a great pity because we have not so much desired spiritual blessings. Can it be said of us, ‘I know your works. You are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm I will spew you out of my mouth. The word spew is emeo ~ to vomit, as in to heave out violently. It speaks of utter revulsion. In short, lukewarm Christians make Christ sick. Remember this admonition was given to believers, believers too who thought that they were spiritually rich.

Friends, the time for complacency is long past. The time for hankering after the things of the world is past. We have prospered materially but have we prospered spiritually? The very first commandment is to love God. This is not the sort of spirituality we have grown accustomed to, the sort that says moderation in all things & discourages passionate people as zealots. That is worldly thinking. Our standard is to be a scriptural standard & what does scripture say? To love God with ALL our heart, & ALL our mind, & ALL our strength. Scripture is clear that there are no unregenerate hearts in heaven. All who enter therein are there only by the grace of God & the shed blood of Christ in whom they have trusted. God wants our passion & why not? He is very passionate about us.

We must be very clear as to what the scriptures say for "not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into Heaven.’’ Again this is an admonition that was addressed to those who identified themselves as God’s people. And what does God say? "Depart from me for I never knew you.’’ These were people who might have expected to find themselves in the kingdom. They were exercising spiritual gifts. They were acting in God’s name. They caste out demons & performed miracles but they had unregenerate hearts.

Now I have not brought these scriptures to your attention to point fingers or sit in judgement. Scripture says we are to search ourselves before God & assess our spiritual condition. Some of the tools for doing this are to be found in the first epistle of John & I shall address those 11 points in the 2nd half of this message. I admit to a weakness for the writings of John but then I’m a lit major & the beauty of the language makes the difficulties of the epistle irrelevant so I am much indebted to John MacArthur who has helped me categorise & clarify this wonderful little book that addresses the issue of how to assess our spiritual state & know that we have been truly converted. God, in his grace & mercy, doesn’t want us floundering around fretting as to whether we are saved or not. He wants us to have complete assurance, as those first apostles did, & so John sets out a list of attributes of the person who has experienced genuine salvation. Jonathon Edwards calls these attributes ‘holy affections’.

Now I am going to be brief so earnestly encourage you to study this for yourselves. So what are these holy affections? You can follow through in the epistle starting with Chapter 1 verses 2 & 3 where John speaks of fellowship with Christ & the father. All true believers evidence love of God & his son Jesus Christ. In Galations Paul describes it thus: It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. Is it Christ who lives in you? Are you drawn into communion with the one who loved you enough to die for you?

Two. Are we sensitive to the sin in our own lives. Not other people’s sins but our own & the sin in the world around us. If Christ lives in us then our sin grieves the Holy Spirit & we will be impelled to address our sin, confess it & seek God’s cleansing. Do we look forward to that time when Christ will completely free us from the burden of sin?

Three. Chapter 2. By this we know we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. God desires our obedience. It is tangible proof of our love for him. This is obedience of the heart & mind, a gracious surrendering of the self to Christ & not legalism.

Four. 2:15 defines the world. It & everything in it belongs to Satan. The Greek term for the word world is kosmos & it implies false religion, errant philosophy, immorality, crime, materialism & all the rest of it. You see & hear it all around you on R------ Island on any day of the week. Christians do not love the world, nor do they love the things that belong to the world. The regenerated man hungers for the things of God.

Five: Do you eagerly anticipate Christ’s return? 3:3 ‘We know we will be like Christ, changed in an inkling.’ True believers long for this, hope for it know it for our true destiny. We know our citizenship is in heaven.

6: Chapter 3: moving on from verse 3. Sin is complete lawlessness. The Greek term is anomia & it means to live as if there were no law, no absolute right or wrong. That we have been saved from the bondage of sin does not give us license to sin. Rather it creates a desire in us for holiness. A decreasing pattern of sin coupled with an increasing desire for holiness is a sign of the new life, of Christ abiding in us.

7: Our love for our fellow believers is another sign of the new life in us. Jesus himself said that this is how we will know that we are the redeemed ~ by the love we have one for another.

8: Are you experiencing answered prayer? Remember we discussed earlier that sin blocks our communication line to God. If we are experiencing answered prayer we can be assure our communication is free from sin. Psalm 66: 18 tells us that God doesn’t even hear the prayers of those who don’t know him.

9: 4:13 Then there is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He illuminates scripture, brings scripture to mind when we need it, leads us into praise & worship, points us towards Jesus. John actually calls the 10th sign a test. The church’s lack of strong teaching & deception into worldly thinking & relativism on this point is responsible for much trouble amongst Christians but the sheep know the shepherd’s voice & are able to discern spiritual error. For us, with so many lay preachers up the front, this is a primary concern. The spirit of God helps us discern error & false teaching. People, it is imperative you know your scriptures & discern the teaching & leading you hear from up here.

Lastly, have you suffered persecution for your devotion to Christ? Even in a world sliding fast towards the gates of Hell we in the west are unlikely to be martyred for our faith but there are plenty of subtle ways we may be persecuted. Are you mocked for refusing to party to excess with friends or neighbours? For not participating in certain activities? For attending church each week? This is as it should be. Those who belong to the world live & act according to the world & because they love the darkness they hate both the light & those who belong to the light. If you are persecuted, rejoice! It is Godly assurance of your salvation.

It is really very simple in the end. Those who belong to the world are like their father, the Devil, & their character & behaviour reflects to whom they belong. The flip side of this is that those who belong to God are also marked with the characteristics of their Heavenly father. Dearly beloved, may I encourage you today to seek a more passionate walk with our Lord & Saviour, a greater personal holiness, a deeper commitment. Why? Firstly because God desires it & that should be all the requirement we need but secondly it is mesmerizing. Jesus is the holiest man who has ever lived & sinners flocked to him like moths to a candle flame. They couldn’t resist him. If we truly desire to reach the unsaved we don’t need more programmes, more outreach, more anything except more personal holiness. Only Christ can make us more holy but we must actively thirst & hunger after that righteousness for then all else will be added unto us. That is the promise.

Considering Job.

This study opened with an Erma Bombeck quote. A version of the story can be found here: - 21k -
Let us just rest quietly in the presence of the Lord & prepare our hearts & minds that we might truely focus on the Lord our God..Reading Job 38:4 ~ 83It is of that tear I wish to speak

.My face is red with weeping & on my eyelids is deep darkness.The night is long & I am full of tossing till the dawn.I am allotted months of emptiness and nights of misery are apportioned to me.Let the day perish wherein I was born.My heart faints within me.My soul is poured out within me!The night wracks my bones and the pain that gnaws at me takes no rest.

When we are deep in the dark night of the soul, in anguish & grieving so deeply we feel as if our flesh is being rendered, as women we tend to let our emotions rip. It hurts is our natural response. We want to be made better. We want the hurt to go away.

Now I grant you a study on the book of Job is an odd choice for Mother’s Day but it is not only what the Lord has laid on my heart to share but so many of us are walking the deep valleys at the moment. Our hearts ache. Some days it is hard to get out of bed let alone function like a normal rational human being. When we come to Job we see our pain articulated & we find answers. That is one reason. The second is a little odd but we aren’t so far from Easter & one of the many stories of Easter is the story of women, of Mary the mother of Jesus of whom it was said, ‘a sword shall piece your heart.,’ of the women grieving at the tomb. We are an emotional lot & because we care deeply for those we love we rarely find grief an easy burden to bear. Job helps us understand how to carry the burden of grief.In studying Job the mind is instructed, the heart is encouraged & the will is made strong. It is immensely valuable to us. Job shows suffering as it really is. It honestly records a sufferer’s doubts & fears, pain & anger. It removes common ideas about suffering & it suggests the right attitude with which we should face our suffering.

Suffering is the common lot of all mankind. Sooner or later we all face grief & pain. Saying we don’t deserve to suffer only brings despair. Facing it & accepting it when it is incomprehensible can strengthen our faith if we allow it too. Doing it is never easy but that is where Job can help us.

Now before we start I just want to set the background a little for you. Job was possibly the first book of the bible to be written, some time between 600 & 400 BC. Suffering was that important & it has been around since Eve started chatting with snakes in the garden. The name Job may mean enemy or the Penitent. Job was a contemporary of Abraham & was thus a real man. He is mentioned by Ezekiel (14:14.20) as one of the 3 great men of the Old Testament along with Noah & Daniel but he was not an Israelite. He did not live in the Promised Land. He lived in a land of which we know very little referred to here as Uz, possibly a city of Ancient Edom on the SE part of the Dead Sea. Job was possibly written by Moses as were the first 5 books of the Old Testament & Job begins the poetical books of the bible ; it is rightly admired as one of the greatest poems ever written.A brief out line shows a prologue where we are given an insight into the courts of heaven & information that Job does not have. Then Job suffers a series of calamities which leave him in an agony of grief. His ‘Job’s comforters’ each argue with Job three times producing a series of 9 arguments in total, as Job pleads with his friends to understand because God won’t listen to him. There is a 4th , younger debater who tries to summarise things up making Job feel mocked. Chapters 38 ~ 41 are the climax. Here God speaks. The epilogue sees Job restored, a much wiser man than he was before his troubles.

Now the first point about suffering that is made in Job is that we usually don’t have all the facts. Job is completely unaware that God & Satan have this little bet going. All he can see is that his once perfect life has been destroyed & amidst the ruins he has been left nothing. He is clinging on to God by his fingernails.Friends, this is exactly the position we find ourselves in when we stop warming the pews & actively engage in the spiritual battle we have been enlisted to fight in. We will often find we are in a direct attack by Satan. Too often we forget we’re in the middle of a war & drift along cosily until something tips us out of our comfort zone. How we respond is of utmost importance. We will discuss why a bit later on.

The bad news is we are not here to have a good time, an easy life, no troubles or worries. We are here to fight a battle against darkness & bring glory to our Lord & Saviour.

The second point that evolves through the course of this book is the nature of sin. Job reveals the heart of sin in every man, not just the expressed sin of rape, murder, theft etc but the attitudinal sins that lead to expressed sin. As we study this book we begin to notice how much Job glories in his position as ‘the blessed of God.’ What is revealed when the blessings are stripped away is not very pretty.

Thirdly Job teaches us about the nature of faith. Faith is not just about obeying God & doing what is right when it is in our best interests to do so. That is weak faith & it is Satan’s accusation against Job. We learn from Job that great faith, the kind that draws the attention of the world, is revealed when we serve God when it is difficult to do so, when serving Him is the hardest thing we are asked to do.Job, like every single one of us, does not have the resources within himself to handle life & its problems. When the book opens Job is highly respected, honoured, sincere, moral, devoted, selfless & godly. What do we find when he can no longer walk into his community with honour & dignity? A querulous, angry old man who is upset with God & revealed as loving prestige & status. In his heart of hearts Job was serving God for his share of God’s glory. When this is taken from him he is left with his puny, whining pussey little self.

Now I ask you to bear with me & listen carefully as we come to the heart of this great & glorious book that has rightly been called the book that addresses the problem of suffering. I am not going to address the problem of suffering when justice is meted on wrongdoers. Nor do I wish to discuss in any depth the problem of unmerited suffering. Why? Because that’s not the point. It never was. The point of suffering in Job is that it forces our attention back on God. That is the first thing. The second thing is that there is glory in suffering & these are predominantly the types of suffering that are revealed in Job.

Oh~oh, Devorah’s finally lost it you may be thinking. How can there be glory in suffering? And here is where it is important we approach suffering with the right attitude. Because when we bear our suffering with a right heart attitude our suffering reveals that Satan is a liar & a cheat. You see Satan is out to make us distrust God, the goodness of God, the promises of God & see ourselves as unfairly treated. This is Job’s temptation. Why me? I’ve been a good boy. I deserve to be blessed. None of us are good except God. God deserves to be served just because He is who He is & worthy of all praise & honour. That is why Job suffered. It is why Jesus suffered. It is why we are asked to suffer. It is the means by which evil is answered & God vindicated.

Unmerited suffering can be a ‘high & holy privilege’ as Stedman calls it. Why? Because we then share in the sufferings of Christ. Philipians 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. When suffering comes, as it does, we can demonstrate that God’s strength, love & grace continue unabated despite all outward circumstances. With his dying breath Jesus demonstrated that belief, commending his soul into his father’s hands despite the mockery that had been his share on the cross for still trusting in God. Here too as we think on the cross & the resurrection we are reminded of Thessolonians 4:13, that we are not to grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope should be in Christ our Saviour & our trust in the God who made heaven & earth. Remember, Satan’s attack on Job was limited so we must keep before us the greatness & glory of God. Satan is limited according to what God knows we can bear.

Here too in Job we find one of the greatest & most glorious passages in all of scripture. It is great & glorious because it reveals something of the glory of God & something of His nature as well. Here’s poor old Job sitting in the dust not getting much comfort anywhere & scraping away at his boils with a shard of pottery, having a good old whinge about how God won’t even give him an explanation as to what’s going on. I can sympathise. I like explanations too. And God deigns to answer Job. ‘Ok’, He says, ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?’

We read a large chunk of this section earlier but I would like us to pause here for a little & meditate briefly on just what this passage is implying, & implying for our day & age too. Consider the implications of some of the issues God raises with Job. Did you know that scientists still don’t know how light is produced? What makes it up, yes, but not how.V16 Even now we know almost nothing about the deepest depths of the ocean. We know that water is made of 2 invisible gases that liquefy into water when they combine but no~one knows why that is so. When water freezes it expands, the only substance on the world that does this. Everything else contracts but that simple inconsistency makes life on earth possible. V6. How did God hang the Earth upon nothing? Well you say, gravity keeps it all there. So it does…but do you know what gravity is? Scientists don’t. They can describe how it acts but not what it is.

These are deep & profound issues. Put in the simplest terms we have no idea of the depth & breadth of the knowledge of God. We need to remind ourselves daily of just who God is. It has a way of putting our puny selves in perspective. I like the way Deuteronomy 29:29 puts it: The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us & to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. Some things are for God alone to know. All our demanding curiosity has no part in the secret things of God. I think some aspects of suffering fall into this category. Only God knows & He has chosen not to share his why with us.

A biologist studying the DNA of field mice & peat bog was obviously struck by something mysterious in the nature of his research. For those who like their sources quoted I apologise as I’ve retained the oddity of this quote, not the source. He decided to put the DNA to music. The result apparently sounded something like Chopin or Bach. What struck me was not that someone would be mad enough to do something like that but that even our DNA has been programmed to sing & glorify God.. It speaks of an enormous love for His creation. It speaks of something incomprehensible. Much as I should like too I have as much chance of comprehending that as I have of grasping quantum physics.

And that really is the point, isn’t it? All around us we can see the results of that. It is a very wonderful thing, God’s glory & majesty & nearly all of it is beyond our minds to grasp. But, and it is a very wonderful thing, we have been given God’s promises. Those have been revealed to us & when we are faced with troubles & grief those are promises we can cling to. We have tasted of God & know that He is good. In our suffering that is our witness to a world that does not know the goodness of God. It is our testimony that no matter what we can say with Job, ‘ Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him.’ Amen. Now Lord let thy servants depart in peace according to thy word; for their eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to thy people Israel.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Problem with Gomer.

Sow for yourselves righteousness,
       reap the fruit of unfailing love,
       and break up your unplowed ground;
it is time to seek the Lord,
       until he comes
       and showers righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12
Gomer.  Mention Gomer & you probably immediately think, "Oh yes, Hosea's harlot."  And everybody is so busy knowing all about Hosea acting out Israel's apostasy in his marriage they completely miss the point. I mean, it's a great story, isn't it?  We all know it ~ or think we do; the man of God allying himself to a strumpet & thundering at Israel.  And we leave it at the church door with the biscuit crumbs & used tea bags. But the story of Gomer & Hosea is more than an old testament story that has no relevance for us because all of scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness [2Timothy3:15~17]

Now I guess you know where I'm going to start.  Sorry people but this really needs to be put in context because without the context you may miss the slow slide into apostasy that brought about Israel's downfall & which has such frightening parallels for our own age.  Besides I do so love history!

Hosea ministered to the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the last decades of its existence during the 8th century, somewhere between 750 BC & 722 BC, Israel having divided into 2 kingdoms after the death of Solomon under the rule of his son Rehoboam.  Rehoboam ruled the old kingdom of Judah.  Jeroboam ruled the new kingdom of Israel but there was a problem.  Jerusalem lay in the old kingdom & the Israelites were obligated to go  down to Jerusalem for the great feasts.  You can imagine, I'm sure, Jeroboam's paranoia & insecurity at having most of his subjects packing up to trek down to Jerusalem several times a year, so Jeroboam devised a solution ~ & not one that pleased God .  Enter in the worship of Baal ~ again!

Now under Jeroboam's rule Israel flourished.  It was a powerful military state with considerable wealth [remember the Queen of Sheba travelled to see Solomon in all his glory & marveled at it & Israel was still experiencing God's favour].  It influenced International affairs.  However it was in internal disorder & with Jeroboam's death in 746 BC it erupted into civil war.  Over the next 10 years Israel was ruled by 5 different kings with tenuous claims to the throne.  Some only ruled for a matter of weeks, some for a few months, each successive ruler slaying the one who preceded him.  Utter chaos.  This was Hosea's world ~ & Amos' ~ & Jeremiah & Micah's!

Into this fevered political mix add Tiglath~Pileser III, who became ruler of Assyria in 745 BC with the stated purpose of restoring the Assyrian Empire!

This was also Gomer's world & the thing to note, because it is easy to miss in translation, is that the word for prostitute is also the word for one who has offered herself to Baal in worship.  That is, she was a temple prostitute, or perhaps, more likely, an ordinary Israelite matron who had partaken of the sexual aspects of worshipping Baal ~ as so many others did.  She was not an anomaly.  She was a perfectly ordinary Israelite woman of her time who saw nothing wrong with what she was doing.  Now, having waded through a series of commentators, I know that is not everyone's viewpoint but it is mine & I will tell you why. When we come to Daniel we run up against exactly the same thing & remember I am an English major, not a theologian!  God is absolutely consistent with His symbols!  Idolatry is a particular beef of His, starting with the commandment to have no other gods but Him, working it's way to forbidding David from building the temple because not only was he a man of war, but for his sexual sin with Bathsheba, all the way into the New Testament where He declares our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit & not to defile them!  Absolutely consistent.  If she was just a prostitute that is one thing, & she should have been stoned to death for it.  If she was a temple prostitute or one who has partaken of Baal's fertility rites, that is something else, something different & it implies far more than just the selling of her body.  It implies that she has sold herself to another god.

Now the thing with immorality is that it coarsens our sensibilities.   Abuse of love diminishes the ability to love deeply.  Over time many gentler attributes are lost & people become brazen & proud ~ & so we see with Gomer.  She is used to a variety of sexual partners & the novelty that would heighten her sexual experiences ~ & you see it all about you today.  Sex sells ~ everything from toothpaste to luxury apartments, deodorant to porches.  You see it in the trampy clothes the girls wear that are too short & too tight & highlight all their selling points ~ & make no mistake, whether they know it or not they are selling themselves in the sexual market.  You see it in the way the boys talk to the girls.  There is no respect.  Our world is very like that of 8th century Israel.  The political climate is uncertain. War lurks on the horizon. In so many churches Christianity has been compromised.  The whole face of Europe is likely to change in the next 30 years & it will become part of the wider Islamic territories.  How have we come to such a pass?  The answer is in Hosea.

As Christians, as a people who have been grafted into the root & branch of  the people of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we are in a peculiar position.  Much of what was originally directed to the Hebrew tribes also pertains to us because God does not change & His expectations & directives to His particular people are the same yesterday, today & forever.  So what Hosea has to say pertains to us, to our nations, to our churches, to our personal walks with God.

"Well", you say, "I'm not into worshipping idols".  Really?  Are you sure?  I am going to highlight some of the main themes that run through Hosea because we need to be vigilant & make sure that we ourselves are not on the wide road to destruction.

Firstly I want to point out the nature of the man who originally made these claims against Israel.  His nature tells us whether his testimony is trustworthy or not.  Hosea was a man whose walk with God was so intimate that he not only heard but clearly understood what God was saying to him.  Having heard he obeyed!  I imagine that was no easy thing given what he was asked to do.  He was asked to obey by his actions before he was called to speak out so God could speak through Hosea's life.                

Hosea is an anthology, a collection of sayings gathered together but orbiting around 2 main themes: the judgement of God & the love of God.  There are approximately 150 statements concerning Israel's sin & more than half of those deal with her idolatry though she is also upbraided for lying, murder, insincerity, ingratitude & covetousness.  The judgement of God moves inexorably from a condemnation of the Royal household, who instigated the Baal worship , to the religious leaders of the time who have failed in their responsibility as teachers, who have encouraged the apostasy & profited from it & practised the false & syncretistic rites of their times & seduced the people into the same, to the nation as a whole. 

There are consequences to this sorry state of affairs.  Hosea's first born son is named Jezreel.  Jezreel was the place recorded in 2 Kings 9~10 where the Royal House of Omi was exterminated by the House of Jehu.  It is a pronouncement of judgement on the Royal household of Israel, a warning of what is to come.  Hosea's second child, a daughter named Ruhamah [not pitied]  is a warning that God has run out of patience with His stubborn people, to the point that by the third child, Lo~Ammi [not my people] God has rejected them. 

Through Hosea God makes a pronouncement that has held true down through the ages:  My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.[4:6]  Wherever a nation has backslidden [ 4:16]  & the priests blame others while no longer being concerned with God's work [4:4] the people have become like a dove, easy to fool & stupid. [7:11]  It is frighteningly simple.  If the teachers do not teach the people become lazy & spiritually weak & flabby, unable to resist temptation when it arises, unable to tell right from wrong, unable to discern the truth, mistaking wrong for right, each doing what seems good in their own eyes.  Where there is a lack of the knowledge of God in the land a lack of faithfulness, kindness & social order follow.  Look around you today; tell me what you see.

The problem with Gomer is that she's not the point.  She never was.  We have Hosea, as the prophets tend to, ranting & raving about the people's sin & warning of the judgement to come.  If that was all then we are all without hope but there is a wonderful image in Hosea 13.  God is still telling Israel what is about to befall them & says I will meet them like a bear deprived of her cubs.  Remember God is a jealous God.  If we say we are His He has a particular & vested interest in our well being & He has all the protective instincts of an enraged mother bear who finds her cubs gone from her.    However harsh the pronouncements they are always done out of a spirit of love to bring God's people back into alignment with the will of God.    Yes, God loves us but His is not an easy wishy~washy love of the sort Hollywood is so good at dishing up for God is also Holy;  God is just ; God is righteous.  God loves us enough to want to grow us up, to develop our spiritual backbone & moral fibre.  He loves us enough to tell us the harsh truths. What we do with the truth is up to us.                                                                                                                                                        

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Solomon's Song of Songs

During the days before the protestant reformation when John Huss led his small bands of Christians into Albania & the Covenanters were being persecuted in Scotland, one bible book was read, referred to, memorized & loved more than any other. No, not psalms. That book was Solomon’s Song of Songs.

Why this book? Why a book that is a blatant love song, sensually delighting in love & the things pertaining to love? Why is this book even included in the cannon & part of our scriptures? It is short, only about 117 verses. It is the last of the 5 wisdom books: Job, proverbs. Ecclesiastics, some of the psalms & Song of Songs. That it is listed among the wisdom books should immediately tell us that it contains gems of wisdom we would do well to heed. In a wider sense it belongs to a far different theme that runs throughout scripture: the marriage agreement between God & his people.
In Deuteronomy we have the marriage contract. In Hosea we see the adulterous, unfaithful wife & in the Song of Songs we see the fulfilment of love in marriage.

This book is usually attributed to Solomon, David’s Solomon, the live born child of David & Bathsheba. He was not the oldest son. His parents’ relationship was conceived in great sin but he is the first Jewish ruler to inherit the throne of Israel as a birthright. His name is related to the Hebrew word for Peace, Shalom ~ peace arising from harmony with God & man. David chose him to be king over his older sons despite what the Mosiac law said.

Solomon came to the throne in 961Bc, before his father, David, died & reigned for 40 years. It was during his reign the Jewish monarchy gained its highest splendour.Now the seeds of Solomon’s destruction are inherent in his choices. The child of a polygamyous household (David had 18 wives) Solomon took for himself 700 wives & 300 concubines (1 Kings 2:1~3. )I think it is fairly safe to say Solomon liked women. He liked Moabites, & Ammorites. Edomites, Sidonians, Hittites & definitely Shulamites! Famous for his wisdom, he is notorious for his polygamy.

Solomon’s wisdom seems to have been a worldly wisdom. He was aggressive in his foreign policy ~ hence the number of women in his life (he married them to seal arrangements with other rulers) ~ & it was not all plain sailing in the Solomon household. This was the man who said better a dry crust on the rooftop than a brawling woman in a wide house. Perhaps he was something of a henpecked husband & a coop of hens can be particularly vicious. In Deuteronomy (17:16~17)we also find the law explicitly saying not to multiply horses, silver & gold or…wives!

Solomon’s sin in this area lead to his apostasy. His rule was dominated by the conflicting tensions between faithfulness to God & yielding to the foreign influences his marriages brought into the kingdom.The bible is particularly explicit about sexual sins. Solomon’s sin in this area destroyed the house of David. He forsook his first love for God & under his wives influence followed after other gods. I find this particularly interesting scripturally because it is Solomon who built the temple to the Lord to house the ark of the covenant & when we come into the New Testament the scriptures say 1 Cor6:18 shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you that you have from God. From old testament to New God’s temple has been defiled by sexual immorality.

When we read through Solomon’s song of Songs we read a love poem that shows us how to love in a morally correct way on the human level & the spiritual level.That is all background information but bear it in mind as we come to the song itself. Let’s face it, in the area of love Solomon had some idea of what he was talking about.

Kings also tells us Solomon wrote 1005 songs; this is the only survivor. It is, unashamedly, a love song: sensual, sensuous, the portrayal of a man & a woman falling deeply, passionately, irredeemably in love. In the rabbinical view it is a portrait of Gods love for Israel. It was meant to be performed, perhaps something like an ancient musical or opera, theatrical in style, an Eastern love song between bride & groom, God & Israel, Christ & his church.

Now when we come to the scriptures we bring our cultural biases with us so I’d like to pause here & just clarify by giving a little background material on how a traditional Jewish wedding occurred because the song of songs arises out of this Eastern tradition & we miss many of its subtleties if we ignore the Eastern traditions which have little resemblance to our Western ideas of love & romance. Many of the Parallels with our relationship to Christ I’m sure you can draw for yourself. There are 7 main points to consider.

1.The groom’s father made & approved the choice of bride. God has made & approved us as His choice of bride for his son.

2. A contract was drawn up (remember Deuteronomy) & wine was drunk to seal the covenant. The groom pays a price to show his intent is serious & promises his bride he will come to claim her soon. I think we all get the parallel for that one!

3. The groom prepared a bridal chamber where he & his bride would stay for 7 days. He works until his father releases him to go & claim his bride.

4. While the groom is busy preparing the new home the bride waits wearing a veil. This shows she belongs only to the groom. She prepares for her wedding by making blankets etc, shows her family her gratitude for raising her, mends damaged relationships. She had to be ready for whenever her husband came to claim her. Her groom would come for her at night & she would not be told the hour of his coming.

5. Unmarried friends would attend the bride & provide light for the groom when he came.

6. Groomsmen would run ahead of the groom & shout that he was coming. While the father’s head was turned the groom would steal the bride & the wedding went back to the groom’s house to meet the guests.

7.The bride & groom enter the bridal chamber & the marriage is consummated. The party waited outside for this announcement & the guests celebrated for 7 days.

I have spent a lot of time on the background because what I want to discuss with you today is not the Song of Songs per se, though I love the song & think it one of the most beautiful of the many lovely scriptures. It’s central theme is far too important for us to dismiss this book as merely a very lovely love poem, exquisite, but not overly important. Rather by asking ourselves what this theme is we begin to grasp why it has been so loved & why it has remained in the cannon all down the centuries.

The main theme as I see it is loving God. Now scripture says over & over we are to love God. We are to love God first. We are to love God with Heart & mind & strength. We are to love God before mother, father, sisters, brothers, children, husband. I think many of us struggle in this area. We know what we’ve been told to do but we do not know how to do it. How do we love God with all our heart & all our mind & all our strength?

Scripture begins with the heart so that is where we will begin too. Scripture says to guard our hearts with all diligence because the heart is where the issues of life (thoughts, emotions, desires) originate. Proverbs 4:23 There are 4 types of hearts ~ the unregenerate, the hardened, the clogged & the pure. The pure heart, the one God desires for us & for himself, is attuned for the faintest promptings of the Holy Spirit. Sin makes us insensitive & resistant to those promptings.

There is a whole list in Galatians 5:19~21 of the sins of the flesh & I am betting most of us would run down that list going nope, nope, nope, not guilty of that one either. But what about a list like this: grumbling (philipians2:14 do everything without grumbling), self~seeking (phil2:3 let each esteem others better than himself) criticalness, disorderliness & being busybodies ~ There are some who walk among you disorderly, being busybodies (2nd Thessalonians) ….You get the picture I am sure. Sin is pride & put simply pride is not loving God; it is loving ourselves first ~ & that my friends is idolatry!

The word for mind is dianoia. Translated literally it means willpower or volition. When we are born again in the Holy spirit we are enabled to will as God wills. Aligning with the Greek word dianoia is the word exousia ~ it is permitted. That is, it is permitted for us to override our natural desires & inclinations & act in accordance with the spirit of God. It is not permitted for the unregenerate heart to do this. The unregenerate heart is governed by the sinful lusts & desires of the flesh. We are not. We can choose to act in a Godly way because the spirit of God resides within us.We are made in the image of God.

God has 2 sorts of will, the emotional (thelo) & resolve (boule). Our natural inclination is usually to go with the emotional but it is the disciplined choice based on the known will of God as revealed in his scriptures that God desires of us. That is the love response. Ephesians: grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. We grieve the spirit by not following His promptings to walk in the Godly pattern he enables us to walk & instead following after our own desires. When we choose our own way we choose to be ruled by the sin Christ died to free us from.

Lastly there is the soul. I think many of us in the West confuse spirit & soul. Our soul is our conscious thoughts, emotions, desires. Here we see why obedience is of such vital importance. There is a line of progression here. Guard our hearts ~ the things we put into ourselves. Bring captive every thought. Give authority to the Holy Spirit to exercise God’s will in our lives. No matter how we feel, act in accordance with what scripture says & lastly believe that God is acting in our lives as he has promised!

We have been made in Gods image to be an exact likeness of his son, Jesus Christ. We have been given free will which gives us the choice to choose to love & obey God. To do this we need to catch negative, ungodly thoughts before they stir up our emotions, catch negative, ungoldly emotions before our fleshly desires are stirred up, catch our desires before we are stirred to action, catch our actions before we do indeed act upon them in the flesh!

When we choose our own fleshly desires we are allowing Satan to use us to take revenge on God. This is not the action of a loving child of the father’s. If we delight ourselves in the Lord he is able to give us the desires of our hearts because they are the desires he has placed there & they will be in accordance with his will.

Most of us know something of love ~ the desire to be with the beloved, the way our thoughts return again & again to those treasured memories of times we’ve spent together, the anxious waiting for our beloved to be with us again, the way we know their thoughts without speaking, the hours we have spent peacefully in each others company without words. We know what it is to love our partners & our children, our siblings & our friends but far to many of us don’t know what it is to love God ~ to love as the Shulamite loves. And this is why this little book, Solomon’s glorious Song of Songs, is so important & why it has been so loved.

Let me paraphrase for a moment:
Jesus, your love is more delightful than wine.
The fragrance of your perfume is intoxicating;
Your name is perfume poured out.
No wonder we adore you.
Take us with you~Let us hurry.
Oh, that the king would bring us to his chambers!
Or this...

Jesus, You have captured my heart,
my brother, my groom.
You have captured my heart with one glance of your eyes.
With one jewel of your necklace.
How delightful your love is, My brother, my groom.
Your love is much better than wine
& the fragrance of your perfume than any balsam.
Your lips drip sweetness ...

And so scripture comes full circle for psalm 119 verse103 says; your word is to my taste ~ sweeter than honey to my mouth. Friends, let us keep our hearts with all diligence & bring every thought captive that the words of our mouths & the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to the Lord our God & our lives, pure & holy, be reflections of His love that resides within us.

references: Song of Solomon: a love song & a hymn ~Ray C. Stedman
The Way of Agape ~ Chuck & Nancy Missler

Lessons from Daniel.

Blessed be the name of God forever & ever,To whom belong wisdom & might.He changes times & seasons;He removes kings & sets up kings;He gives wisdom to the wise & knowledge to those who have understanding.He reveals deep & mysterious things;He knows what is in the darkness& the light dwells with him.To thee, oh God of my fathers, I give thanks & praise, For thou hast given me wisdom & strength For thou hast now made known to me what we asked of thee.

Tucked between Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel & the 12 minor prophets that conclude the old testament we find the book of Daniel. Most of us will feel we are very familiar with the book of Daniel. The story of Daniel in the Lion’s den is a favourite Sunday school story but Daniel is not a children’s story. There are important lessons inherent in Daniel for every believing Christian.

First, as usual, we will delve a little into the historical background of both the book, the period & the man so we may better understand the context in which this story is set.Liberal theologians suggest the book of Daniel was written sometime during the Maccabean wars of 167 ~ 164 BC but there is enough internal evidence to support the more conservative view than Daniel was indeed written during the Jewish exile into Babylon by one familiar with both Hebrew & Aramaic.

The ins & outs of that argument are not pertinent here but the original book was written in Hebrew & Aramaic, as would be expected of someone conversant with both languages.Prior to 721 BC Israel was divided into 2 kingdoms. The northern kingdom of Israel had its capital at Samaria while the southern kingdom of Judah’s capital was Jerusalem. In 721BC the northern kingdom fell to Assyria. Judah, guilty of paganism, idolatry & witchcraft, was attacked 3 times by Babylon (605, BC 597BC, when the royal household fled Jerusalem & finally in 586BC when Judah fell to Babylon) The prophet Jeremiah was in Jerusalem when it fell, the city was destroyed & the Israelites were deported to Babylon. It seems Daniel was taken captive in the first attack on Judah in 605. He was a young man who was probably born sometime about 623 BC during the reign of Josiah & as a member of the royal household was a valuable hostage.

At this time Babylon was considered the most beautiful city of the known world & famous for its hanging gardens, built by king Nebuchadnezzar for his Medean wife, Amytis. It was a walled city neatly divided in 2 by the Euphrates River. So what, you’re probably thinking. Who cares? What has Amytis to do with anything? Quite a lot actually, from a spiritual point of view. Even the very name of Babylon from Babilu means ‘gateway of the gods’ & it was considered a holy city.The marriage of Nebuchadnezzar & Amytis united the Median & Babylonian kingdoms, a move that freed Babylon from dependence on Assyria, who’s capital, Ninevah, Babylon laid waste.

Remember Jonah? What was he preaching against when he went to Ninevah? The deity Istar, goddess of fertility, sex & war, personified in the planet Venus & whose worship included sacred prostitution.

Now the wall around Babylon was 90m high, 24m wide, buried 10m into the ground & 97K in circumference ~ think a small great wall of China. The biggest & most impressive of its 12 gates was the Istar Gate, dedicated to the Assyerian goddess. It was exceeding beautiful & very impressive as can be seen from the various reconstructions. It was the main gateway into Babylon & it was probably through this gateway that the Israeli hostages were led. I will discuss the symbolism of this a little later. Bear in mind too that Babylon practised astrology, a practise expressly forbidden in the old testament. This is the world that surrounded Daniel on a day by day basis. It was a world of political intrigue, power struggles & paganism. It was a world of hedonistic luxury. Ringing any bells? Its belief system was the antithesis of everything a practising Jew would hold dear.You can read in the opening chapters of Daniel the care that was taken to systematically eradicate the hostages’ Jewishness. Please read carefully. They were placed under the jurisdiction of the chief eunuch, which suggests they survived a castration. Their names, all of which contain a reference to the one true God, are replaced with Babylonian names containing mention of Babylonian gods with the suggestion that they who were once the servants of El now serve another god. They were given Babylonian food, taught the Chaldean language, Aramaic, trained in Chaldean laws, manners, customs so that they might better serve their new master. They were young, impressionable, probably homesick & heart weary, surrounded by a secular lifestyle & submerged in Babylonian culture. Think Hitler or Stalin. Nebuchadnezzar certainly knew what he was doing when he took the best & brightest of Israeli youth & began his brainwashing process. He made it fatally easy for them to abandon their faith & their culture.

Well, Nebuchadnezzar could change their names but not their hearts.This is the first lesson we learn from Daniel. He resolved that he would not defile himself. 1:8 This seems such a small thing but in essence we are witnessing a man who has resolved to be holy, set apart for his God, devoted to God, offering God his service, being of one mind with God & wanting only God’s will. Too often we forget that Daniel & his friends were not the only hostages trained in the Babylonian court. What happened to the others? I would suggest that they did not resolve not to defile themselves & were swallowed by the vast Babylonian Empire & sank without trace.

Now the story I want us to focus on is Daniel in the lion’s den. It is one thing to be on fire for the Lord when young & vigorous. Youth tends to think it is invincible. It is another matter entirely as we age. Often times we feel we lack the strength & energy, that we have done our bit or are just too plain tired. We have done what we could & it has made no difference. We become discouraged, disillusioned, even defeated. This should not be so.

When this story opens Daniel is in his mid 80’s ~ not a young man. He has lived a long, healthy life & been greatly blessed by God. He has been successful in his career under different rulers. Here we find Darius, the Mede, ruling Babylon. He is something of an innovative ruler. He appointed satraps & presidents over them to rule the kingdom. Daniel distinguished himself so much that Darius planned to have him rule over the whole kingdom.

We know from our own experience how much strife & envy this would have caused amongst his co~workers. They began to talk. They began to plot & plan & here is the 2nd lesson we can learn from Daniel; he had lived his life in such a way as no fault could be found in him! He has an excellent spirit, is faultless in his business dealings & faithful in his duties. Isn’t that a wonderful thing! What an amazing testimony. In order to bring Daniel down his enemies had to fabricate an artificial environment.

Frankly I don’t think Darius was any too bright. His courtiers manage to snare him in a trap of his own making through subtle flattery. ‘O king Darius, live forever.’ Hm? Unlikely wouldn’t you say, but Darius plays along. ‘Anyone who makes petition to any god or man for 30 days, except to you oh, king, shall be cast into the den of lions.’ Tempting to be as a god. Look at what the courtiers are in essence saying. You are the provider of every good thing. You take care of the people’s needs. They should look to you for their providence. These are things that are the providence of God & Darius is about to try & usurp that position. What pride. What folly! He becomes stooge for a day, not god for a month & he is trapped by his own folly.

Under the Hammurabi, the Babylonian legal system, it was legislated that once a judge had pronounced his verdict he did not have the power to revoke it. His courtiers must have been mighty pleased with themselves. Problem solved in their eyes. They knew Daniel’s habits & here is the third lesson we can learn from Daniel. It was his habit to pray 3 times a day. He had been doing it every day for 85 odd years. We need to make the practice of Godliness a habit.

Daniel was an experienced courtier. He would have known immediately what this decree meant & understood the plotting that lay behind it. A worldly man might have argued for discretion. After all there was no need for Daniel to flaunt his beliefs via his open window. He could have pulled the shutters & done whatever he pleased & no~one would have been any the wiser ~ whatever they might suspect but there is a principle involved here. We find it in Mark 8:38. For whoever is ashamed of me & of my words in this adulterous & sinful generation, of him will the son of man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels. Daniel was not ashamed & he was not prepared to abandon the godly habits of a lifetime just in order to preserve his own skin. I would bet the courtiers were counting on it.

For the same reason Daniel was not prepared to let his devotions slide for a month. You can bet Daniel knew his scriptures. He knew whence his help came. This meant he was able to act with confidence & assurance. Unlike Darius Daniel perceived the spiritual struggle that was taking place & as a true warrior of God he took his stand. What he knew he practised openly.He was a brave man.

There is no mention here of Hananiah, Mishael, or Azariah. Daniel had to stand alone. He was elderly. He was vastly outnumbered. He knew the fate that awaited him. Finding himself trapped by his own decree Darius laboured till the sun went down to find a loophole but the conspirators had made jolly sure there wasn’t one so it was dark when they came to take Daniel away. Troubles are always more frightening & harder to bear at night. Again we can draw parallels to our recent history & how often political agents burst in on their target after dark & dragged them away: Nazi’s hunting Jews, Stalin & Mao hunting Christians, country after country violating human rights agreements. We read about it yet somehow miss the point that this was also the reality for Daniel. Yet when they come for him they find him praying, asking God for help. Daniel’s faith & trust do not waver. This is the result of a lifetime in the service of God. Daniel knows whom he is dealing with.

The last part of this story is very familiar to us. Daniel is thrown to the lions. Now this is fascinating for 2 reasons. Firstly kings collected lions as symbols of their own majesty & the Hebrew word seems to indicate they were neither young, nor old nor female so these would have been mature male lions forming an artificial coalition. Typically males will not tolerate outsiders so this will have been a family group. A fully grown lion weighs as much as 225 kilos. If you looked closely at the picture of the gate of Istar you will have seen that one of the mosaics is of a lion. This is the ‘striding lion’ of Babylon. More to the point it is the emblem of Istar. Daniel is literally being thrown to the pagan goddess.This pit would have been lined with rocks & divided into 2 sections with a door between. The door could be operated from above so that food could be thrown in to one section & when the lions moved for the food, the door was shut & the keeper could have cleaned out the other section.

When Daniel is thrown in with the lions Darius goes to the extreme of sealing the pit with a stone & his signet. Scripture doesn’t record what sort of a night Daniel had. I don’t think I would have been comfortable spending a night with lions like that. Certainly Darius didn’t have a good night. He was not happy about being tricked into losing his best & most able advisor. At first light he rushed back to the pit & the most extraordinary conversation takes place. Did your God save you? Darius wants to know. And calm as you please Daniel answers. And just to drive the point home that the lions were ravenous when Darius rounds up the conspirators, their wives & children & sends them to the same fate they had planned for Daniel the lions attack before they even reach the bottom.

You know as well as I do that God does not always intervene in the lives of his people in such an extraordinary way. He did not deliver Abel from Cain, John from Herod, Stephen from Paul, or Jesus from the cross. Yet we are called to be his people in an idolatrous & sinful generation just as God’s people have always been called down all the generations of man. Our first obligation is to God. Not our employer. Not our family. Not our church. God. The world notices when God’s people lead lives that are holy & different. We are meant to lead such lives. The world is meant to notice.We must, as Peter says, obey God rather than man & learn to seek first the kingdom of God & his righteousness. We must, as Daniel teaches, resolve not to defile ourselves. We must live our lives in such a way that we can’t be defamed. We need to make the practise of godliness, of holiness, a habit. Why? Because this is sure evidence that we have a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus says it in John 14:15 If you love me you will keep my commandments. Without it we will not see heaven. Hebrews12:14 Daniel is given to us for an example that we might know how to stand alone for God when all those around us are following after a world that knows not God. And this is the blessing given unto Daniel: Go your way till the end; & you shall have rest, & shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days. May it also be yours.