Posts tagged ‘Daniel’

ISIS Takes a Tumble

ISIS’s caliphate has fallen.

This is the news that broke last week when the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are backed by the U.S., finally broke the terrorist group’s last metropolitan stronghold in Raqqa.  The New York Times reports that:

Celebrations erupted in Raqqa, where residents had lived under the repressive rule of militants who beheaded people for offenses as minor as smoking. Fighters could be seen cheering and firing celebratory gunfire in the streets, according to residents reached by phone and text message.

One video shows a woman ripping off her burqa and chanting joyfully, overcome with emotion that her city has been liberated.

Even with this victory, Raqqa is still a plenty dangerous place.  ISIS still probably has suicide bombers in hiding waiting to launch attacks.  The terrorist group has also booby-trapped many areas with improvised explosive devices.  Moreover, the city of Raqqa itself has been devastated.  The New York Times published another article featuring images from cities across Iraq, including Raqqa.  All of them lie in ruins.

Still, this is an important milestone victory against a terrorist group whose territory, at its height in 2014, covered 34,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq and whose tactics against defectors and dissidents were nothing short of gruesomely brutal.  In Paradise Square in the center of Raqqa, later fittingly renamed Hell Square:

Prisoners were tossed from tall buildings, beheaded, lashed or shot while the crowds gathered … Hands and feet were chopped off. Others were stoned to death … Bodies and severed heads were carefully placed around the square by Islamic State militants and would remain there for days. Those who lived and escaped to tell the tale would describe how the bodies were labeled, identifying the victim’s crime in a deliberate warning to others.

Sadly, as chilling as these macabre parades were, we know that, even if scenes like these are in the past for now, they may not be in the past forever.  Wickedness is horrifyingly resilient.  But even if the war against the wickedness of ISIS has not yet been fully won, we can be thankful that a major battle has been.  We can also be thankful that, no matter how brutal a regime may be, we have a perfect Sovereign who, in the words of the prophet Daniel, graciously and often necessarily, “deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:21).

Daniel’s words about God’s power over world affairs come as he is interpreting a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  The king has a dream where he sees his kingdom, the kingdom of Babylon, along with four future kingdoms:  the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians, the kingdom of the Greeks, the kingdom of the Romans, and the kingdom of God.  In his vision, only one kingdom lasts.  Daniel, in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, reveals to the king which kingdom will endure:

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. (Daniel 2:44)

Only the kingdom of God, Daniel says, will endure.  Every other kingdom, including Nebuchadnezzar’s, will fall.

In a world where a kingdom like ISIS’s can have its say, we can be thankful that the kingdom of God will eventually carry the day.  So, as grateful as I am that ISIS’s caliphate is waning, I’m ultimately hopeful for a perfect kingdom that is coming.  For when that kingdom comes on the Last Day, ISIS will not only lose the prospect of further victories like they have now thanks to the brave work of the Syrian Democratic Forces, they’ll lose even their past victories, as the death they have wrought will be swallowed up by the eternal life that Christ, by the cross, has bought.

ISIS has an even bigger loss to come.

October 23, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A County Clerk, Gay Marriage, and What’s Right

Credit: Ty Wright/Getty Images

Credit: Ty Wright/Getty Images

It’s not often a small town county clerk becomes a household name. But Kim Davis has managed to pull of just such a feat after going to jail last week for refusing to issue marriage licenses from her office. The Washington Post reports:

The Kentucky clerk drew headlines for refusing to issue marriage licenses to all couples, gay and straight, after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer that same-sex couples have the right to marry. An Apostolic Christian, Davis has said it would violate her faith to put her name on a marriage license for two people of the same sex.

She was sued by several gay couples and was ordered by [Judge] Bunning to begin issuing the licenses this week. When Davis defied the judge’s order, the couples asked for Davis to be held in contempt and fined.

But Bunning decided to jail Davis, saying fines would not be sufficient to compel compliance because Davis’s supporters could raise money on her behalf.

“The idea of natural law superseding this court’s authority would be a dangerous precedent indeed,” Bunning said.[1]

Not surprisingly, demonstrators, both in support and in protest of Mrs. Davis, gathered outside the courthouse where she was sentenced:

Ashley Hogue, a secretary from Ashland, held a sign outside the courthouse that read, “Kim Davis does not speak for my religious beliefs.”

“This is so ugly,” she said, wiping away tears. “I was unprepared for all the hate.”

Demonstrator Charles Ramey, a retired steelworker, downplayed the vitriol.

“We don’t hate these people,” he said, holding a sign that read, “Give God his rights.” “We wouldn’t tell them how to get saved if we hated them.”[2]

On the one hand, I am somewhat puzzled why Mrs. Davis, if she could not in good conscience carry out one of the duties for which state taxpayers are compensating her, did not simply resign her position.  After all, for Mrs. Davis to refuse to issue marriage licenses not only to same-sex couples, but to all couples, and to make it incumbent on the clerks who work for her to follow suit hardly seems the best way to handle a personal religious objection, as Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, makes clear in this thoughtful article.  Mrs. Davis explains her reasoning in the USA Today article: “‘If I left, resigned or chose to retire, I would have no voice for God’s word,’ calling herself a vessel that the Lord has chosen for this time and place.” Her explanation begs the question: would she really have no voice for God’s Word if she was not a county clerk? Couldn’t she be a witness for Christ in ways that involve less emotional, political, and rhetorical volatility than refusing to issue marriage licenses?  And what does she do when she has to perform other duties that could – and perhaps should – violate her conscience, such as legally licensing divorces for couples who are not splitting for biblically appropriate reasons?  I’m not sure I completely understand Mrs. Davis’ thinking.

On the other hand, I am also not unsympathetic to her plight. Here is a government worker who was thrown in jail because she, in her vocation, was seeking in some way to abide by what God’s Word says about sexual boundaries. A Christian theology of work says that no matter what we do, we ought to view ourselves as “working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).  Mrs. Davis seems to be trying to put this theological truism into everyday practice.  I should also note that she does not appear to have arrived at her practice of refusing to issue marriage licenses lightly. Her conversion to Christianity came on the heels of a history littered by broken marriages and broken hearts. Since her conversion, however, she has maintained a strong stance on biblically informed sexual standards.

This is one of those theologically, ethically, legally, and relationally thorny situations that seems to be increasingly common in our day and age. As Christians, how do we respond? Is Kim Davis right? Or should she resign if she cannot, in good conscience, issue marriage licenses?

In the book of Daniel, we meet a man who, like this county clerk, held a government job. Indeed, he held a very prominent government job. Under the reign of the Persian king Darius, this man Daniel “so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (Daniel 6:3). Daniel’s upward mobility, it seems, was virtually limitless until, one day, as he went about carrying out his duties, the laws of the land changed in a way that violated his conscience:

The administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: “O King Darius, live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered – in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” So King Darius put the decree in writing. (Daniel 6:6-9)

As a worshiper of the God of Israel, Daniel could not, in good conscience, follow the king’s edict to pray only to the king – even though he was serving the king as a public official. So what does Daniel do?

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:10)

I have sometimes wondered why Daniel didn’t try to negotiate some sort of compromise. Couldn’t he have stayed downstairs in a private room to pray to the true God rather than going upstairs and kneeling before an open window so everyone below would know exactly what he was doing? Couldn’t he have simply put off praying altogether in order to comply with the edict without committing idolatry against his God? After all, the edict was only in place for thirty days. In this instance, Daniel, according to his conscience, could do neither. He had to live out his faith, even if his faith was in conflict with his vocation as a public official and his status as a citizen of Persia.

You probably know the rest of the story. Daniel’s sentence was not just a jail cell, but a lions’ den. Daniel was willing to go to his death for his confession of faith. But, miraculously, “God sent His angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions” (Daniel 6:22).

It’s not difficult to draw parallels between Daniel’s story and Mrs. Davis’ story, save that we do not yet know how Mrs. Davis’ story will end. For us who are looking on, there are a couple of lessons I think we can take away from Daniel’s story. First, Daniel’s refusal to obey Darius’ edict had nothing to do with a political victory and everything to do with theological fidelity. I fear that, all too often, we can prioritize the politics of an issue like gay marriage specifically over a biblical theology of what marriage is generally. Any stand that we make must never be simply for the sake of winning a political battle, but for the sake of staying true to God’s Word. If people perceive that our theology is being leveraged merely as a means to political power, they have every right to be cynical of us and even angry at us. I’m fine if people, as I’m sure they did when Daniel was willing to be thrown to the lions, question our sanity, but we must never give people a reason to question our spiritual sincerity. Second, Daniel served and supported his governing authorities in every way he could until he couldn’t. This couldn’t have been easy for him. The Persians, after all, were pagans who shared none of Daniel’s theological commitments. But rather than fighting them, Daniel supported them in his work. He took a contrarian stand only when it was theologically necessary. I worry that, because of the deep suspicion and animosity that plagues our political system, we have become so devoted to fighting with each other on every front that we have lost our ability to take credible stands on the most important fronts. This is not to say that we can never be engaged in the political process – we do live in a democratic republic, after all – but it is to say that our governing authorities are first and foremost gifts from God to be supported by our prayers rather than political enemies to be bludgeoned by our anger.

As I think about Mrs. Davis’ predicament, I can appreciate her stand.  My prayer for her, however, as she remains steadfast in her opposition to a Supreme Court ruling, is that she also proves stalwart in her commitment to love those with whom she disagrees. A strong stand may be good in the face of a morally untenable court decision. And she has decided to take one. But love – even when it’s love for the gay couple that comes walking through the door of the county clerk’s office – is absolutely necessary for Godly, gracious relationships.  I hope she’s decided to give that.

______________________________

[1] James Higdon and Sandhya Somashekhar, “Kentucky clerk ordered to jail for refusing to issue gay marriage license,” The Washington Post (9.3.2015).

[2] Mike Wynn and Chris Kenning, “Ky. Clerk’s office will issue marriage licenses Friday – without the clerk,” USA Today (9.3.2015).

September 7, 2015 at 5:00 am 3 comments

When A Little Is A Lot

Mustard SeedIt has long struck me how God can do so much with so little.  A little bit of water and the name of God spoken over us in baptism – and we are brought into the family of Christ.  A little bit of bread and a little bit of wine – and we receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  It doesn’t take much for God to do great things!

I was reminded of this point once again as I was teaching Daniel 10.  In this curious chapter, Daniel receives a vision of “a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around His waist.  His body was like chrysolite, His face like lightning, His eyes like flaming torches, His arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and His voice like the sound of a multitude” (Daniel 10:5-6).  The characteristics of this man are strikingly similar to those used to describe Jesus in Revelation:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me.  And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest.  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (Revelation 1:12-15)

Daniel, it seems, is having an encounter with the pre-incarnate Christ.

What is Christ doing before His incarnation?  What He does after His incarnation:  fighting the forces of evil.   He says, “I will return to fight against the prince of Persia” (Daniel 10:20).  Many scholars take this reference to “the prince of Persia” as a reference to a fallen angel and not to the human leader of Persia at this time, Cyrus.  After this prince of Persia, Jesus says, will come the king of Greece.  And then, Jesus ends the chapter by saying, “No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince” (Daniel 10:21).

It is verse 21 that especially struck me.  It is just the Son of God and His archangel Michael against the many and varied forces of darkness and evil.  Daniel 11 goes into detail concerning those many and varied dark forces.  It’s two forces for good marshaled against a countless number of forces for evil.  It’s a little against a lot.  And yet, good carries the day:

At that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:1-2)

Evil is consigned to everlasting contempt.  The redeemed of the Lord enjoy everlasting life.  The seemingly little forces for good defeat the massive forces of evil.

Throughout the Bible, evil constantly seeks to gain power using sheer numbers.  The Psalmist writes about how “the kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One” (Psalm 2:2).  But no matter how many forces evil may be able to marshal, evil is no match for the goodness of God.  The quantity of evil foes is no match for the perfect quality of God’s goodness.   As Luther writes in “A Mighty Fortress” of God’s power against the devil and minions:  “One little word can fell him.”  One little word of God can destroy vast army of evil.  And that little word has already by spoken from the cross:  “It is finished” (John 19:30).  From the cross, Jesus sealed Satan’s fate with just a little word.  For “It is finished” means “Satan is finished.”  This little word defeated great evil and saved us.

So never overlook the little things of God.  A little can do a lot.  After all, what the world thought was nothing more than an insignificant execution on a cross wound up offering salvation to all humanity.  From a little cross flows big hope.

February 18, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter To Jesus

Last week, I stumbled across a blog post by Matt Chambers that struck me:

Could you imagine what Jesus’ ministry would have looked like if after giving “The Sermon on the Mount” He immediately checked social media to see how many retweets He got, or if #beatitudes was trending?

Or, before riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, He sat down with His creative team to map out exactly how to create a moment people would remember for thousands of years. (#TriumphalEntry, anyone?)

I wonder what opinion polls would have looked like after the crucifixion…or a big throw down with Pharisees…or a mass healing session.  What if He healed certain people more than others because data showed healing someone with leprosy went viral (heh, viral) faster than healing the blind?[1]

As we enter into the home stretch of yet another presidential election, it’s important to value and pray for our leaders, for they are given to us by God as Romans 13:1 so aptly reminds us.   But it also doesn’t hurt to chuckle a little at the human avenues and inroads that our politicians regularly leverage to try to garner and sustain power – opinion polls being one of them.

I especially appreciate Matt’s reference to Jesus’ Triumphal Entry (cf. John 12:12-15) and trying “to create a moment people would remember for thousands of years.”  This year, both political parties tried – using plenty of opinion polls about their presidential candidates’ relative strengths and weaknesses – to do exactly that at their conventions.  Though only time will tell, I doubt memories from these conventions will last thousands of days, much less thousands of years.  Jesus, as Matt so wryly notes, took no opinion polls, yet Christians across the world still celebrate Palm Sunday to this day.  Apparently, Jesus can create a long-lasting moment without consulting polls on what people think of Him.

Currently, I am teaching a Bible study to a couple of different groups on the Old Testament book of Daniel.  In chapter two, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has a dream where he sees a statue made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron mixed with clay.  Nebuchadnezzar knows his dream is of consequence, but his astrologers and soothsayers are not able to offer any interpretation of his dream.  But Daniel, a Hebrew exile to Babylon, can.  Daniel explains that the different materials in the statue represent different kingdoms – the gold being the Babylonian Kingdom, the silver being the Persian Kingdom, the bronze being the Kingdom of Alexander the Great, with the bronze and clay finally signifying the Roman Empire.  Most important to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, however, is what happens to all of these kingdoms:  “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:44).

Human kingdoms, no matter how many opinion polls their leaders may consult, never manage to endure.  The Kingdom of God, ushered in by Jesus, crushes them all, itself enduring forever – even without the benefit of opinion polls.  In fact, it endures in spite of really bad opinion polls – opinion polls so poor, in fact, that they got Jesus nailed to a cross.

As Election Day draws near, we’ll watch kingdoms be built and coalitions of constituents be congealed.  But in the midst of all the political intrigue,  let’s not forget to which Kingdom we pledge our ultimate allegiance.  For that Kingdom has staying power that will last far beyond November 6.  That Kingdom will last forever.


[1] Matt Chambers, “First Church of Public Opinion,” www.outofur.com (9.25.12).

October 1, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Resurrection! It’s Not Just for Jesus


One of my favorite parts of Holy Week is the music.  Last night in Maundy Thursday worship, we sang of Christ’s body and blood, given for us sinners to eat and drink.  I’ve been singing the words to this hymn this morning:

God’s Word proclaims and we believe
That in this Supper we receive
Christ’s very body, as He said,
His very blood for sinners shed.

Today, as we reflect upon the cross of Christ, we will sing another of my favorite songs:

Mighty, awesome, wonderful,
Is the holy cross.
Where the Lamb laid down His life
To lift us from the fall.
Mighty is the power of the cross.

And then, on Easter, will come this powerful anthem:

I know that my Redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever-living head.

The words of this final song, of course, are taken from the book of Job where, even after Job has lost everything, he declares his faith in God and his desire for an advocate to plead his case to God:  “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me” (Job 19:25-27)!  These words have long been taken by Christians as a foreshadowing of Christ’s resurrection.  Hence, the reason we sing these words on Easter!  Interestingly, however, it’s not just Christians who have found hints of a resurrection in Job’s story, the ancient Jews did too.

In the third century BC, a Greek translation of the Old Testament was commissioned.  Because of the rampant Hellenization of the ancient world, many Jews could no longer read Hebrew, the language in which the Old Testament was originally written, and so this work  of translating the Bible into Greek was undertaken so that people could read the Bible in their language.  The Septuagintal translation of Job is especially interesting because whoever translated it seems to have a love for resurrection!  Consider these passages:

  • Job 14:14:  Hebrew – “If a man dies, shall he live again?”  Greek – “If a man dies, he shall live!”
  • Job 19:26:  Hebrew – “After my skin has been thus destroyed…” Greek – “And to resurrect my skin upon the earth that endures these sufferings…”
  • Job 42:17:  The Greek Septuagint adds a line to this verse not in the Hebrew text:  “It is written of Job that he will rise again with those whom the Lord will raise.”

Clearly, the translator of Job believed in the resurrection!  Thus, the book of Job not only foretells Jesus’ resurrection in that famous line from Job 19, it foretells the resurrection of Job and all the faithful as well.  For because Christ has risen, we will rise!  In the words of the prophet Daniel:  “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).  For those who trust in Christ, we will be raised to everlasting life.  Because Christ has risen, we will rise.  The translator of Job knew and believed this.  I hope you do too.  For if you know and believe that your Redeemer lives, you can know and believe that you will live…forever.

April 22, 2011 at 7:36 am Leave a comment


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