Thursday, August 7, 2014

"A truth to remember: the Sovereign God rules over the affairs of the nations …"

Day #223:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 8th

Scripture Reading:  Daniel 1 - 6 …

Attempting to cover six chapters in Daniel at one reading is a difficult task at best, but the application of these six chapters to those of us who live in this world today is obvious:  in spite of the pride and arrogance of the rulers of the world around us, the God who delivered Daniel and his three friends and who humbled Nebuchadnezzar and his son is still on His throne and He still rules over the affairs of the nations.  As Paul explained to the men of Athens in Acts 17:26:  "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth … From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and HE determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live."  That was true then and it is true today!

The circumstances surrounding Daniel's presence in Babylon with his three friends were themselves orchestrated by God as He brought judgment upon the kings and people of Judah because of their own idolatry.  They had mixed the worship of God with the worship of idols after repeated warnings.  Through the prophet Jeremiah God had foretold seventy years of captivity in Babylon and then restoration through a king named, Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28).  Daniel and his friends were taken to Babylon as a part of a plan to provide the best servants for the king.

God's providential care over them began even with their provisions, as God showed that those who are faithful to Him are marked out for a special purpose:  to testify to who He is!!  What was true of them is true for all who know the true God and who worship Him.  We are not called to simply soak up God's blessings, but to testify that He alone is God!  Daniel and his friends would get the opportunity to do that in a big way!!

The first opportunity came to Daniel as the king desperately looked for someone among his wise men to interpret his dream.  He made it more challenging by not telling them what the dream was.  He decided that if they couldn't tell him what the dream was, how could he trust their interpretation?  But the astrologers and other wise men declared, "There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks!" (2:10).  Of course, they were right.  But when Daniel heard that he and his friends, along with the wise men of Babylon, were going to be put to death because no one could interpret the king's dream, he and his friends began to pray for God to reveal the dream and its interpretation to them … and God did.

When he came before the king Daniel displayed his humility and his reverence for God when he took no credit for his interpretation but said, "There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.  HE has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come … As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation …" (2:28, 30).  We must have that same humility as God reveals His wisdom to us through His Word, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ today.  It is not OUR wisdom that we share with others, but that which God has revealed to us by His Spirit … the same Spirit who revealed these things to Daniel.

God revealed to Nebuchadnezzar through Daniel that there would be an end to his kingdom and that there would be another kingdom that would rise up, then a third and then a fourth.  During the reign of the kings of the fourth kingdom, he says, "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 endure forever" (2:44).  All of this points to the coming of Jesus and the establishment of GOD's kingdom through His death, resurrection and ascension.

The four kingdoms were Babylon, the Medes and Persians, Greece and Rome.  And it was during the time of the Roman Empire, the fourth kingdom, that Jesus came and preached the kingdom of God, saying, "My kingdom is not of this world!"  WE who believe live in God's kingdom today and when Jesus returns His kingdom will come in its fullness and He will reign over the kingdoms of men.  ALL nations will bow at His feet … without exception.  Until then, kings and rulers will continue to be as foolish as Nebuchadnezzar and his son and those who would follow them.   Those who attempt to set themselves up by their own power and who do not acknowledge the God who created the heavens and the earth and His Son Jesus Christ, whom He has anointed as King of kings and Lord of lords, will be humbled.

Nebuchadnezzar was given every opportunity to avoid such a fate.  When Daniel's three friends were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace, they testified (as we are called to do), "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (3:17-18).  And when they came out of the furnace untouched by the flames, they testified again and Nebuchadnezzar even praised their God for saving them and declared that "his" people should serve and worship only THEIR God.

But apparently, Nebuchadnezzar was not born again by the Spirit of God.  In Chapter 4 we actually find a letter, written by King Nebuchadnezzar, of his experience that resulted from his continued unbelief and pride.  God sent him a dream to show him what was going to happen, and once again Daniel told him the meaning.  Nebuchadnezzar was about to be humbled.  God predicted that he would go mad and would be driven away from his people (put away) for "seven times" "so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men" (4:17).

Daniel advised the king to "renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.  It may be that then your prosperity will continue" (4:27).  But twelve months later Nebuchadnezzar was on the roof of his palace and bragged, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built … by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" (4:29).  God's prediction went into effect immediately and Nebuchadnezzar recounts his experience and the result in verse 37:  "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all His ways are just.  And those who walk in pride HE is able to humble."  How true!!  And it seemed like he had learned his lesson … bur apparently he didn't pass it on to his son.

Chapters 5 and 6 record the end of the Babylonian empire as Nebuchadnezzar's son, Belshazzar, offended God by taking the gold and silver goblets that had been removed from the temple and defiling them as he and his wives and others praised the gods of gold and silver and bronze and iron and wood and stone.  God wrote a message for him on the wall and once again Daniel was called in to interpret the message from God.  As he was brought in, the king tried to give gifts to Daniel and promise him a high ranking, but Daniel told him to keep his gifts and explained that as God had humbled his father, he was about to do the same to him.

"You … have not humbled yourself though you knew all this.  Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven" (5:22-23).  Not a wise thing to do.  The rulers of the nations today who spurn God should take note.  Daniel interpreted the message, which revealed that God had numbered the days of his reign and his kingdom would be given to the Medes and Persians.  Belshazzar tried to bribe Daniel, unaware that the day he was living would be his last.  That very night he was killed and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, just as God had predicted earlier in Nebuchadnezzar's dream.  Truly, only GOD knows the future, so only God can predict it with 100% accuracy.

Now it was time for the next step in God's plan, as the time came near for Him to begin to restore a remnant of the Jews to the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants until the Messiah would come.  Darius appointed three administrators over all the land and Daniel was one of them.  Because of Daniel's wisdom from God (remember Joseph?), he excelled in all he did.  When the other two administrators realized that the king was going to promote Daniel above them they convinced the king to issue a decree that anyone who prayed to anyone, god or man, except the king for the next thirty days should be thrown into the lion's den.  The foolishness of men who do not know the true God knows no bounds.

The king did what was suggested and of course Daniel did not comply.  He continued praying as he had before and the men reported him to the king.  Trapped now by his own laws, the king was forced to follow through with Daniel's punishment, even though by this time he didn't want to do so.  Remember, we are called to testify to our God, to make Him known, no matter what our circumstances.  As his three friends had done before him, so Daniel now testified.  In fact, the king himself prayed that Daniel's God would rescue him!!!

God sent the "angel of the Lord" to protect Daniel by shutting the mouths of the lions and the king then ordered that those who had accused Daniel be thrown into the lion's den along with their families.  Their fate was different.  So it will be with all those who accuse believers of wrong-doing in testifying to God's sovereign character.  Their time is short … God will reward those who testify to Him, but those who ignore their testimony will face God's judgment, either sooner or later ... or both!

All of this points to a truth that you and I need to remember:  the Sovereign God rules over the affairs of the nations ... then and now.  Those who arrogantly proclaim their power and prestige will be humbled in due time.  God's principles never change:  the humble will be exalted and those who exalt themselves will be humbled, for "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble!"  And believe that God is at work among the nations of the earth.  Man is NOT in control; the sovereign God rules over the affairs of men and nations.  Trust in the Lord and do not be afraid.  His kingdom WILL come and His will shall be done ... on earth, as it is in heaven!

"Almighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, in Your sovereign power You have established the nations of the earth and set the rulers in place for Your own purposes, whether for judgment or for blessing.  All who trust in You need not fear, for You rule over the affairs of the nations.  Help me and all who know You to testify to the world that our God reigns as we stand firm against the threats of those who do not know You.  To You alone I give my praise, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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