Thursday, May 31, 2012

finishing poorly

Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in the stocks in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time.
2 Chronicles 16:10

Many leaders in the Old Testament start promisingly but do not end well. Asa unfortunately continues that trend. At issue was the way in which he handled an incursion by Israel. The Northern Kingdom was building a city blocking a travel route north of Judah. Asa used political pressure and bribery with Syria to exert pressure on Israel to stop progress. It worked. Israel abandoned the project and Judah sacked the city in progress to build two protective outposts. But the problem was that Asa never once stopped to enquire of God about the matter.

The Lord sent a prophet to Asa with a simple message. Because he had not sought God, there would be wars fought for all the entire final years of his reign. And Asa did not like the message God gave through His prophet. So he locked the prophet in stocks in prison. He has definitely turned from listening to and following the Lord.

Only the exceptional leader in the pages of scripture stays true to the Lord all of his life. And I find that reality to be a tragic experience among Christian leaders in my lifetime. Ironically, success does not keep a leader true to God. It seems to have the opposite effect, pulling him into pride and self-trust. And that is why I must place careful watch over my soul. I am zeroing in on almost 25 years of ministry experience. And for the most part, it has gone well... much better than I deserve to know. But that does not guarantee that my soul will always go well, which is why I need to keep doing what I am doing right now... reading the truth of God's interactions with humanity and learning from them. Only when I apply these lessons to my own situation do I stand a chance of finishing strong!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

America is not a covenant nation.

And all Judah rejoiced over the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest all around.
2 Chronicles 15;15

King Asa's heart was true in his commitment to serve the Lord. And he led Judah to return with a firm commitment to worship God. The nation once again found identity in the covenant made with God. And the result was a national spiritual renewal that gave the people the experience of peace and all the promised rewards of the covenant. Judah knew peace when the nation returned to God.

The story is fascinating to read. But I believe many Christians mistakenly jump to making a national application out of passages like this one. The reasoning goes something like this... "See, a king turned to God and led a the nation of Israel in reform back to the worship of God. God blessed the nation again. So if America would just elect a resolute Christian as president, we could return to God and be wildly blessed by Him." But this thinking is flawed at several levels. I will point out two of them.

First, America is not the people of Israel, so this in no way is a pattern for us to follow. In the Old Testament God made a unique exclusive covenant with Israel. It is not for us or with us. It is with the descendants of Abraham and specifically with Israel. God has NOT made the same covenant with America. God is not bound to bless us if we bind ourselves in worship to Him. At least not at a national level. This thinking assumes that America is some kind of Christian covenantal nation like Israel was in the Old Testament. We are not.

Secondly, a president in the United States is not like a king in ancient Jerusalem. Asa was a leader who was bound by the Davidic covenant that God made uniquely with David and his descendants. He was bound by it as well as the Law of God for all of Israel. As such, he had a unique relationship and position unlike any political structure we have in place today. We cannot expect presidents to be religious leaders nor should we make our choices based on their beliefs. There is a doctrinal truth operative in the church known as the "priesthood of all believers". Unlike ancient Israel, each individual christian can come to God in prayer, repentance, and sacrificial love without an intervening priest. We do not need a national king to show us how to obey God either. God has blessed each individual christian church with its own qualified leadership (Ephesians 4) and christians are responsible for their own spiritual growth and maturity as well (Galatians 6:3-5).

It saddens me that every four years the christian church in America defaults to this covenantal view during the politics of a presidential election. Yes, our leaders are important in our society. Yes, voting is a privilege each individual should exercise well according to conscience. Christians ought to vote with christian principles in their hearts. I know I will be voting that way. But let's not in any way confuse ourselves with a covenantal mindset. Jesus came to forever change all of that with His kingdom! Our allegiance is to the King of kings. Politics is insignificant to that life arranging priority!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

defensive prayer

And Asa cried to the LORD his God, "O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O LORD, you are our God; let not man prevail against you."
2 Chronicles 14:11

King Asa's prayer is an interesting analysis of faith in action. The situation he faced helps bring understanding to the words of this prayer. Judah prospered under Asa. The nation was committed to the worship of the Lord and enjoyed a long period of peace. During that time, Asa was able to build up more towns in Judah to protect the countryside. But that prosperity did not go unnoticed. Eventually Ethiopia marched one million troops int battle. They intended to invade Jerusalem. That's where Asa's prayer began in earnest. Judah's army was outnumbered nearly 2 to 1, and in an age where warfare technology was limited to hand to hand combat, that was not a good ratio for defense. Asa rallied the troops and prayed to the Lord his God.

The first remarkable insight into this prayer comes in its personal nature. Asa worshiped God. And the Lord was his God in a personal sense. God was not just a national duty or a theological idea. God was the king's God. It only made sense to go to God in prayer. And that informs what Asa believed about God as demonstrated in this prayer.

Asa believed God was uniquely able to save "weak" Judah. He appealed to God to help Judah in the battle. He fully expected to fight in defense of the country. But he fully expected for Judah to rely on God as they entered into this battle. They were coming up against suicidal odds for the sake of God's name. They were defending not just their homeland, but their faith in this defense of Jerusalem. And that is part of the insight into this prayer. This was a defensive war, and not a display of aggression.

Asa knew that the covenant that God made with His people promised His presence in times like these. That is why the army defended Judah in God's name. And he knew Judah would see God's presence sustain them because God was their Savior. He prayed that men would not prevail against God (knowing this was not really possible). He trusted in the strength of God's power and in God's promises in the covenant. God did not disappoint. Israel routed a million man army to the very last man, and in the process, extended defensive positions. God answered prayer with provision. He made His name great among His people by saving.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Civil War

Thus the men of Israel were subdued at that time, and the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the LORD, the God of their fathers.
2 Chronicles 13:18

Take up sides
know you are right
fight the fight

Armies divided
as leaders collided
the battle decided

Much blood was shed
armies wounded and bled
victors exulted -- losers fled

The armies were brothers
but they saw them as "others"
no conscience to bother

So swords were raised
and in battle's thick haze
death was met unfazed

The outcome was done
as victory was won
at the setting of the sun

And in the end
what victor spent
equalled not what victor gets

Thursday, May 24, 2012

difficult circumstances can lead to spiritual growth

When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him.
2 Chronicles 12:1

It is disheartening to read stories of human failure. And Rehoboam's decline is a spiritual failure that nearly led to national collapse. He experienced five solid years of growth and national prosperity. His kingdom was established as he obeyed the LORD. But as his strength grew, evidently his faith and dedication to God began to wane. It is easy to trust in our own efforts when things are going well. And in the case of a leader, those spiritual declines never happen alone. Rehoboam took a nation with him. He led Israel to abandon the law of the LORD.

This series of events was not without consequence. And God has an ironic way of removing our false trust in self. Rehoboam thought that he was strong and established. God brought the powerful Egyptian army to bear on Jerusalem to show him how foolish was his confidence. Shishak's attacks on Jerusalem were devastating. Rehoboam repented with a sincere heart, leading the nation back to God in the process. And the Lord restored Judah again. The nation was not the same though. Rehoboam secured peace by letting the Egyptians plunder gold from the temple. Judah was now a vassal state to Egypt, but God thought it would teach Rehoboam the necessary humility, reminding him to serve God alone (2 Chronicles 12:7-8).

God moved in the big picture of world events to gain back the heart of Rehoboam. Clearly, He has a sovereign purpose even in the wars that men fight among themselves. God used an invasion to bring restoration. The lesson was costly, and permanent. Rehoboam would die in allegiance to Egypt. But Judah was restored to peace and the worship of the Lord was renewed in His temple. That was the best outcome given the circumstances. And the humility it instilled taught a rebellious people to return in a greater humility to worship God. It was one thing to serve Egypt politically. It was another thing... a more important reality... to serve the Ruler of the Universe and worship the God Who saves. Sometimes impossibly difficult experiences are God's way of helping us focus on Him, leaving us with spiritually healthy, permanent reminders of our need for Him.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

listening = obeying

"'Thus says the LORD, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives. Return every man to his home, for this thing is from me.'" So they listened to the word of the LORD and returned and did not go against Jeroboam.
2 Chronicles 11:4

Even though the divided kingdom was a tragic turn of events, it was the act of a sovereign God among His people. Rehoboam put together an army with the attention of restoring the union of the nation. He prepared to attack Jeroboam. And God intervened with a prophetic command that stopped the civil war. The king of Judah checked his pride and obeyed the Word of God.

The rest of 2 Chronicles 11 details the blessings that followed in the wake of obedience. Judah was secured. Instead of attacking his fellow Israelites, Rehoboam fortified his holdings. He built strong cities all around Judah and Benjamin. He stocked those fortresses from the royal storehouses and the people prospered. God granted Judah success as the king trusted God and followed His commands. This is a good period of time despite the divided nature of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

I love that the scriptures give us insight into what it truly means to "listen" to God's Word. Truly listening to God, hearing from Him, yields full obedience to Him. It is not enough to have knowledge of the truth. To be blessed, we must obey. And that principle carries forward today. In order to truly be "people of the Word" we must DO what God calls us to do. It isn't enough to locate chapter and verse... we must live out its meaning!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

the wrong counselors

But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him.
2 Chronicles 10:8

The people of Israel forever divided at this point in their history. Solomon's son, Rehoboam, is the king at this crossroads. And his decision to ignore the good advice of his father's counselors was crucial in the loss of the northernmost ten tribes of Israel. There were many factors at work in this revolt. Those ten tribes were clearly disgruntled with the way the Jerusalem administration had handled their affairs. They were heavily taxed and conscripted to labor for Solomon's many building projects. Since these projects primarily centered around Jerusalem in Judea, they felt unfairly burdened. Judah thrived while the north remained less developed and less protected. They demanded that Rehoboam lighten the load. It was a reasonable request given the king's need to unify the people at his coronation.

But Rehoboam took counsel with proud young men who advised him to be macho and to threaten the tribes of Israel with even harsher treatment. The result of this browbeating was division and rebellion. And Rehoboam was all fluff and bravado. He did not have the power or the means to stop them from leaving the "union". He was helpless as ten tribes seceded from the kingdom, and then he barely escaped Shechem with his life.

Of course, God was not surprised by any of these events. In His sovereign purposes, He had prophesied and hand prepared Jeroboam to take control of the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Chronicles 10:15). But it does not change the fact that Rehoboam lost the majority of his father's kingdom in less than a week's time, just be choosing to follow the wrong counsel. Our relationships and who we choose to shape our thoughts and actions can impact our lives dramatically both for good, and for bad.

Monday, May 21, 2012

a pagan's worship

"Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on his throne as king for the LORD your God! Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness."
2 Chronicles 9:8

This blessing from the queen of Sheba speaks for the many gentiles who came to Jerusalem by the lure of Solomon's fame and the draw of the wondrous temple of Yahweh. She is drawn to make a statement of worship of God. That was exactly what the temple worship was meant to inspire among the nations. And to this pagan queen, it was clear that the blessing of God was upon Solomon and his kingdom. It was in this way that Israel was to bless all nations.

There are several observations that the queen of Sheba made that are insightful. You can see them in the blessing she proclaims to Solomon. The first is the sheer grace of God. Solomon and Israel enjoyed this time of prosperity because God delighted in them. The queen saw the unmerited favor of the Lord showered upon Israel and she blessed God for His grace. She also acknowledged the awesome stewardship Solomon administered in Jerusalem. The king was ruling "for the LORD". God was the true king of Israel and Solomon was His servant. It took a pagan woman to praise God for this truth.

She marvels at the love of God displayed in the covenant. Somewhere in her journey in Jerusalem, with all the questions she gave to Solomon, she realized the unique covenantal relationship Israel had as Yahweh's people. She saw the current prosperity as the blessing of this covenant. The questions she had for Solomon must have been deeply spiritual. I am inclined to think the queen of Sheba converted and became a gentile proselyte follower of Yahweh as a result of this encounter.

Finally, she blessed God for the way in which Solomon fulfilled the Davidic covenant. She saw how God filled Solomon with wisdom so that as king, Solomon might execute God's justice and righteousness in his rule over Israel. She connected all the dots of the covenant and God's sovereignty. She understood God and His dealings with His people. She worshiped the Lord.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Thus was accomplished all the work of Solomon from the day the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid until it was finished. So the house of the LORD was completed.
2 Chronicles 8:16

What Solomon accomplished was nothing less than the complete establishment of temple worship in Israel. It was not that he simply built the temple. He provided an outrageous number of sacrifices... enough to keep the daily sacrifices going for a number of years. He also oversaw the development of the priestly orders and duties so that the worship of the Lord could be organized among the people God had set apart to perform those duties.

Solomon also set up administrators in charge of the temple treasuries to ensure proper maintenance and management of the temple complex and personnel. He set up storehouse cities through Israel, not just for the protection of the nation, but to also distribute and collect the funds for the temple worship, a concept similar to not keeping all your money in one bank. He provided for every contingency and resource that was needed for temple worship.

Only when all these details were completed over a twenty year period could the work of establishing the house of the LORD in Jerusalem be considered complete. It was not enough to have the temple standing complete in structure. The work of the worship of the LORD by his gifted servants had to be organized, provisioned, and protected. Only then could the project be marked "Done".

This insight into wise administration of ministry is instructive. Often leaders are great at big picture enthusiasm. It is rare for a leader to follow up with excellent administrative commitment. But Solomon did both in terms of the temple project. And for that achievement, he is worth learning from and it is worth applying his principles of biblical project management to our own experience.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

a simple, stripped-down worship

When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever."
2 Chronicles 7:3

This was quite the worship experience. It is the sort of moment in scripture that I wish I could have seen "live"! The dedication of the temple kicked off a weeklong celebration. Jerusalem was filled with travelers. The temple and its courts were packed with jubilant Israelites. God was being worshiped in a big way.

The joy of the LORD filled the hearts of the people just as the glory of the LORD filled His temple. Again, the thick cloud of God's presence was so overwhelming that the priests could not minister in the temple for a time. God's fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifices. And His glory filled the temple mount. The result was this reverent worship.

There was a worship response worth thinking about as it is displayed here in this text. It was physical. The people fell to the ground in humble contrition, bowing low after God has so visibly demonstrated His power and His glory. And they worshiped the Lord in this way. They were filled with thankfulness and expressed it to God. This was a thanksgiving at its most essential. They were just thankful to God for His presence among them. And their worship involved a compact expression of theological creed. They acknowledged God's goodness and His faithful covenant love for them.

I like seeing the wonder and the fresh simplicity of this moment of "stripped down" worship. We humans tend to complicate worship. We have made it about an ornate setting. We have to be dressed up, or for some, completely casual and barefoot. It must be liturgical (or definitely not!). It must come with a musical preference. But none of that matters in a moment when God's glory invades our lives. Instead, worship is about bearing witness to the glory of God, responding humbly, worshiping, and in thankfulness, declaring the truth about God. How I wish the church today would keep this unadorned, simple worship at heart!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

praying to a really, really, big God

"But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!"
2 Chronicles 6:18

Solomon knew the immensity of God for whom he had built a temple. He knew the temple could no more contain God Who was so big the universe could not contain Him! God was not to be considered localized. The entire universe is something that He spoke into existence. A small stone temple on a hill in one tiny bronze-age city on a little blue planet in one small corner of the spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy which is one of millions of galaxies in a vast universe could in no way house a God this big!

The prayer of Solomon is full of theological understanding. And with that understanding, Solomon explains that the temple was a place to localize the worship of Yahweh. It could not contain Him. But as a center of worship, it focused Israel on the worship and service of God, helping them to obey His commands. It was a center for spiritual practice and understanding. It was a place to make God's name great among the peoples of the earth.

Solomon repeatedly focuses on prayer and relationship with God through temple worship. He sees the temple as a place to come to God to resolve relational conflicts between fellow Israelites (2 Chronicles 6:22-23). It is a place to confess national sin (2 Chronicles 6:24-27). It is a place to endure the judgments of God (2 Chronicles 6:28-31). It is a place where gentiles will discover God (2 Chronicles 6:32-33). It is a place where Israel will go in times of national crisis (2 Chronicles 6:34-35).

The deep personal aspects of prayer emphasized by Solomon in this prayer should not be overlooked. He makes no mention really of sacrifice or priestly practice, but instead emphasizes the personal aspect of relationship with God through prayer at His temple. The temple gave the right and the location for the privilege of prayer and access to God for all God's people. And in Solomon's heart, this was the greatest action of all temple worship. So do I see prayer as just as vital?

Monday, May 14, 2012

an impenetrable cloud of glory that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.
2 Chronicles 5:14

The dedication of the temple that Solomon built was quite literally a glorious event. The temple was filled with the glory of the Lord as a thick cloud rolled in over the temple mount. The fog was so thick that the priests could not do their duties. Temple operations were suspended as God took up residence in the temple, demonstrating His glory in a unique and very powerful way. Just as a cloud had led Israel day by day in the wilderness, so now, in the new temple in Jerusalem, God celebrated by this display of His presence with the people. He made Himself know through this very memorable manifestation of His glory.

God is pleased when His people worship Him and obey Him. When Israel sacrificed to build for Him this temple, God responded with the blessing of His presence. He is near those who worship Him. He will make Himself known to those who obey, follow, sacrifice, and worship Him.

I think the way this passage parallels Israel's history shows us something. God will make Himself known in familiar ways. To those Israelites in Jerusalem, this was the historical display of His glory. They knew from Torah that God led from a cloud. And now the new temple is filled with an impenetrable cloud of His glory as the ark is brought to the Most Holy Place. Just as the wilderness generation was aware of God's presence by the cloud, so the First Temple generation would be confident of God's presence through this manifested display of His glory. God confirmed His word and their work through showing His glory at the temple.

Friday, May 11, 2012

No price too high

Solomon made all these things in great quantities, for the weight of the bronze was not sought.
2 Chronicles 4:18

when God is the object
the value doesn't matter
because infinite worth
is in His worship
and what I give
will never match
His priceless grace

why does my heart object
to sacrificial matters?
I cry and give birth
to excuses and let slip
hoarding hands won't give
what little I have
I negotiate

but giving means letting go
of my material possessions
things that seem to matter now
are not comparable
to eternal life
the joy of my Lord
and all He bestows

I need to stop counting so
much... stop the obsession
with the cost and just bow
to my incomparable
Savior... end strife
trust His true word
and all that He shows

Thursday, May 10, 2012

intricately exquisite worship

He made chains like a necklace and put them on the tops of the pillars, and he made a hundred pomegranates and put them on the chains.
2 Chronicles 3:16

In this chapter a detailed description of the temple is explained. It deals mostly with how the interior rooms appeared and it goes to great lengths to explain the craftsmanship that went into the interior layout and finish of the temple.

People have taken the biblical descriptions of Solomon's temple (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, by the way) and created computer generated walkthroughs of the finished product. The text is almost as detailed as a photograph. We can see it that well. It is pretty amazing that we can do so.

The pomegranates on the chains on the pillars were part of what greeted all visitors to the temple. And the commandment against "graven images" was generally understood to mean that plant life could be represented. That is where the pomegranates and the palm trees factor in to the decorations. Also, since God explicitly commanded that the ark of the covenant be covered with carved representations of cherubim, Solomon used that as a visual clue to set off the holiest places of the temple. Enormous standing cherubim were carved across the room by the doorway to the most Holy Place. And angelic representations were woven into the curtains hung in that doorway.

Many archeologists believe that an ivory pomegranate that came on the antiquities scene a number of years ago MIGHT have come from this temple. It appears to date from the correct period of time. Such a piece would fit with this description and ivory would have been reserved for a royal project. If so, it is all we have of Solomon's temple today.

The intricate and exquisite detail in this description shows how seriously the worship of the LORD was taken as the first temple was built, and it motivates me to consider what sacrifices I need to make to show God's name and fame as beautiful in my own life.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

bigger than the universe

The house that I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him?
2 Chronicles 2:5-6

Solomon's work defined Israel's history. He built the first temple of God in Jerusalem. Archeologist's designations reflect this as important, as those specializing in Middle Eastern archeology still use this temple as a benchmark by designating events with the term "First Temple Period". It was a momentous occasion for Israel to build this temple. And Solomon's words to Hiram, king of Tyre, show us just how seriously he took this task.

The letter to Hiram was a trade negotiation. Solomon was generous in sending food and trade goods to Lebanon. In exchange, Hiram agreed to ship the finest Lebanese cedar for the temple's interior and to provide skilled workers for the stonework and construction of the temple. The finest craftsman in wood in all the Middle East was from Tyre. He would render his services in the work of the temple on behalf of Tyre to fulfill Solomon's request.

There is awesome theology in this diplomatic request. Solomon admits that his call is difficult. This temple would have to be great because God is great. But that physical grandeur of the temple would still be a far cry from displaying God's glory. The temple could not house God. Solomon acknowledged that nothing in all the universe could contain Him. God is bigger than the universe. The temple could only serve as a locus for mankind to worship this great God.

Solomon's theology is true. But it is an affront to the naturalistic worldview so pervasive today. Current thinkers would scoff at the thought of anything existing beyond our universe or above it. But Solomon's work and the biblical worldview both required that God be the transcendent being that He is. otherwise it frankly made little sense to go to all the trouble to build a place to worship Him.

I worship a God that is bigger than the universe. And I find that awe-inspiring. The universe is after all a REALLY BIG place. Modern physicists and astronomers are just beginning to understand the speck of it that is our home galaxy, the Milky Way. And God is beyond even the millions of galaxies our most scientifically advanced telescopes can peer into. This vast universe is just one of God's thoughts. That is why I am compelled to accept that God must be worshiped.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

the two things necessary to lead

God answered Solomon, "Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked long life, but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king,
wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like."
2 Chronicles 1:11-12

It is amazing that young Solomon makes this request of God. After preparing to reign in Israel by offering 1000 burnt sacrifices at the tent of meeting, Solomon is approached by God, Who offers to give to Solomon anything he would ask of Him. Solomon calmly asks for the wisdom and knowledge to lead God's people. And God is impressed with the quality of Solomon's request. God is so impressed that he blesses Solomon far greater than the young king asked. He is given wisdom and knowledge, along with riches, possessions, and honor that exclusively mark his reign.

The character with which Solomon begins his reign is impressive. Nothing compares to his story. He is cognizant of the deep spiritual duties of organizing and leading Israel's kingdom. And he also knows that the kingdom ultimately is not his, but instead belongs to God. It is that conviction that drives Solomon's request of God. And that is what God rewards in the young king.

Solomon ruled a kingdom so blessed with wealth and honor that the ancient world flocked to Jerusalem to see what it was all about. But Solomon in all that glory was only a steward over the True King's realm. That principle captures my imagination at the moment. All authentic Christian ministry is also a stewardship. And in what we do in service to Christ today as Christians within His Church, we are only serving God and His "great people". In that sense, Solomon's humble submissive request should well up in our yearnings. The church needs people who are humbly committed to wisdom and God's knowledge to lead her forward. Anyone can pick up a book on organizational tips and tricks. Almost anyone can write one too. But only God can tell me what I need to know to serve Him and His people. Only God can help me live out the gospel in this needy world and live God's saving purposes out to all people. And He will still give wisdom and knowledge to those who seek Him.

Monday, May 7, 2012


He said, "Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end."
Daniel 12:9

This is the final instruction God gave to Daniel. He does not get to interpret all the details revealed to him in Daniel 11 and 12. Instead, he is instructed to let the revelation stand as is, and to seal up the scroll. There was not an interpretation by God ready to be given. There would be a time when the vision's truth would be sought and interpreted. But until that time, the book was meant to be "shut up and sealed".

I wonder how the great interpreter of dreams and visions, Daniel, felt at this command. He must have longed to know its meaning. Yet God commands him twice in the book not to sweat out the details at that time. God wanted this prophecy to be preserved uninterpreted, for a future time. And the great interpreter obeyed God. He shut up and then "shut up and sealed" the scroll. He did not bother trying to inform the reader what it all might have meant. We are left with the same sense of wonder that Daniel himself must have felt upon receiving this revelation.

This command was counter-intuitive to everything else that Daniel had done with his life. But he obeyed God in it because that was God's will. And he did not hesitate. He followed God's instruction. Daniel was faithful to God even when God asked him to do what seemed totally out of place for Daniel. The prophet was content to just record the revelation, to obey the command to avoid interpretation, and to trust that God had a purpose in a vision left for readers to ponder until the end of days.

Friday, May 4, 2012

difficult prophetic details

He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.
Daniel 11:32

All throughout the history of Israel there have been a faithful few who were part of the remnant who kept to the covenant. Daniel was living proof of this during the captivity. And now he is receiving remarkable revelation about the future of his people. And they will still suffer under invasion and persecution.

The text has two futures in view. One is clearly descriptive of the events we now know as the Maccabean Revolt. In this series of events the Greek overlords led by Antiochus Epiphanes (who believed himself to be a god manifest on earth) resulted in the temple being defiled as Antiochus brutally tried to eradicate Judaism and the worship of Yahweh.

But there is a more distant frame of time in mind as the text keeps referring to the mysterious and ominous "appointed time of the end". In fact, all the details mesh with Maccabean history as we know it until we get to Daniel 11:40-45. And then we are clearly looking at an event unknown yet in Jewish history. That is why plain hermeneutics conclude that this passage must be paralleled in events yet to come in Israel. And that is what dispensationalists attempt to explain. I think it is the plain way that best understands the text. And I also think there is no way I fully understand all the details stated here. As yet we cannot identify the key players in these events. But I am convinced it will all come into fruition just as God has said that it would.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

the vision

And he said, "O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage." And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, "Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me."
Daniel 10:19

Once again a visit
from an angel
and fear
overwhelming dread
attend this visit
at every step

A man of God
glowing white
bringing news
yet filled with fright
and falling down I
cannot stand the sight

Strengthened by God's Word
I can stand
hear the news
as the angel's words sound
I am strengthened
lifting my body from the ground

God is great
and in control
of all events
when angel swords cross
to do His will
human power is at a loss

Another world
behind the scenes
directs events
by God's sovereign decree
nations emerge to rule
over you and me

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

how to confess sin

I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules."
Daniel 9:4-5

This prayer helps us understand what confession of sin ought to look like when godly sorrow is attached to it. Daniel is being confessional for an entire nation. In his personal study of the prophets, he realizes that the current captivity was slated to last seventy years. At the end of that time, the Jews would be able to return to Jerusalem. He then confesses sin in an act of repentance on behalf of the exiles. And Daniel's insights into God and the way in which we understand sin are very enlightening.

How did Daniel see God? First, he acknowledged Him as Lord. He lifts up God's greatness in worship. He extols the faithfulness of God, praising Him for His faithfulness to keep covenant with His people in steadfast love. He acknowledges that because of Who God is, the Jews should have loved God and kept His commands. But they did not do so and that leads us to see Daniel's insight into confession.

First, Daniel was willing to pray this prayer on behalf of the nation. He includes himself in the "we" that have sinned. Even though Daniel was a mere boy when God's judgment came, he realized that he was guilty of what the nation of Israel had done. And Daniel describes that activity that the Jews performed against their faithful, covenant-keeping God in five ways.

Daniel called it sin. He did not gloss it over with excuses or re-branding. He took the blame with the generation of the exile. Secondly, he stated it was wrong action. They had "done wrong" against the standards of a holy and faithful God. Thirdly, Daniel describes that sin and wrong action as severe: "acted wickedly". Their disobedience was sheer wickedness of the worst degree. And fourthly, all that sin, wrong, and wickedness was rebellion against a faithful God. The final fifth observation was that this was evidenced by the rejection of God's Law which he describes as "turning aside from your commandments and rules."

Real confession of sin rests on a correct, worshipful understanding of the nature of God. It also rests on a robust and broken confessional understanding of the magnitude of our sin against a great, holy, faithful, and loving God.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

waiting for "the appointed time of the end"

He said, "Behold, I will make known to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation, for it refers to the appointed time of the end."
Daniel 8:19

Daniel's visions of the empires of the Middle East just keep coming from the Lord in this book. And the visions get stranger and stranger with each new one. The vision of the ram and the goat is at first almost cartoonish in its imagery, until the deadly serious nature of it subject matter and meaning starts to emerge in its explanation.

The ram has one horn longer than the other and represents the Median/Persian empires that Daniel helped administer. This empire would be toppled by the swift single-horned goat that ran so fast its feet did not touch the ground (the empire of Alexander the Great from Greece). That empire would topple Persia, but at a price. Alexander died and his empire was divided among four of his generals. One empire would control Jerusalem... the Seleucids. This is where the vision focuses its attention. From that empire would arise a ruler who would dramatically persecute the Jews and who would desecrate the temple and threaten to wipe out the worship of the Lord.

These interpretations do not however explain Gabriel's caveat in verse nineteen. He makes it none to Daniel that what is being revealed has to do with "the appointed time of the end." This is much more serious than just the Persians, Greeks, or Seleucid rulers playing out their game of thrones. There is more fulfillment then in this passage yet to come, and that is why Daniel is instructed to "seal up the vision" in Daniel 8:26. This has to do with what God has in mind as human history unrolls to its end. And in that sense it has a deeper impact and requires very careful examination and understanding of the biblical texts that specialize in prophecy.

I am not at all an "end times" expert. I do however have enough respect for the authority of the plain reading of God's Word to trust that this passage informs a yet final set of future events. And I will respect it as such. Any hermeneutic that limits it only to the events of the Persian or Greek empires is choosing to disregard the clear claims of the text. I would reject any such interpretation in favor of one that respects what the passage simply claims for itself.