Wild things

If you’ve spent any time with children, you know how much they love picture-story books. Kids love stories and they love pictures. When you put the two together, the story bursts into life. One picture-story book I loved as a kid was Where the Wild Things Are. It’s about a young boy named Max who, after dressing in his wolf costume, wreaks havoc through his household and his sent to bed by his mother without his supper. Then Max’s bedroom undergoes a mysterious transformation into a jungle environment, and he sails to an island inhabited by malicious beasts known as the “Wild Things.” After the lights were turned off, I would picture these great beasts stomping around my room. And I, like Max, would tame them with a magic trick and they would call me the most wild thing of all.

Daniel chapter 7 has a lot of similarities. Here we have pictures of great beasts rising out of the sea with animal-like features, roaring and thrashing about the place, and a terrifying beast with iron teeth that devoured and crushed. But this is no story-picture book for boys. It is an account of a vision given to Daniel by God. In this vision, Daniel is given an entire panorama of world history from the time of the Babylonian Empire until the end, with the arrival of the kingdom of God.

Understanding Apocalyptic Genre

There are some who approach Daniel 7 (as they do with other prophetic literature) like it’s an end-time jig-saw puzzle and they attempt to chart it all out on a futuristic time-line. But in taking this approach they missed the purpose for which apocalyptic books such as Daniel and Revelation were given. Daryl Block, in Preaching Old Testament Apocalyptic, explains:

“the intention of apocalyptic is not to chart out God’s plan for the future so future generations may draw up calendars but to assure the present generation that—perhaps contrary to appearance—God is still on the throne and that the future is firmly in his hands.”

Who was this written to? Who was Daniel’s immediate audience? God’s oppressed people – the exiles in Babylon. It was written to give them encouragement and hope. Despite everything they saw around them, God was still on the throne. That’s what we’ve been seeing in the first six chapters. The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion’s den teach us that God is in control and is able to overcome impossible odds. Well now, in chapters 7-12, that same theme is pressed deeper. We move from human evil to the spiritual forces that lie behind them.

The Beasts of the Sea (1-8)

Daniel sees the four winds of heaven stirring up a great sea. In the Bible the sea is a symbol for chaos, disorder, and hostility to God. This is a picture of the sea of sinful humanity – unstable, chaotic and in a constant state of unrest and turmoil (Psalm 2:1; 65:7; 93:3–4). Then out of this sea come four huge beasts. Who or what are these? The answer is given in verse 17: they represent four kings who will rise from the earth. So, these beasts represent nations or empires opposed to God.

Back in chapter 2 King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. In that dream he saw a giant statue made up of four different metals: gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Daniel explained to the king that Babylon was the head of gold. But Babylon would be replaced by another kingdom, the Medo-Persian Empire. And this kingdom in turn would be replaced by another, the Greek Empire. And finally, the Roman Empire. Well this dream of Daniel replicates Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2. The two are connected.

The first beast, we are told in verse 4, was like a lion but had eagle’s wings. This represents Babylon, the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Statues of lions with eagles’ wings lined the streets of Babylon. Winged lions also guarded the gates of royal palaces. They were emblems of the Babylonian power. As Daniel was watching, “its wings were torn off” – reminding us of how Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by God in chapter 4. “It was lifted from the ground, set on its feet like a man, and given a human mind” – reminding us of his restoration to sanity.

Then suddenly another beast appears, and it is depicted as a ravaging bear (verse 5). This has reference to the Medo-Persian empire, the chest of silver in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. But there is something odd about this bear. It is lopsided – one side is raised up above the other. Some commentators suggest this has reference to the unbalance of the Medo-Persian empire; Persia being the dominant power. It was commanded “Get up! Gorge yourself on flesh.”

Then another beast appears. It is like a like a leopard with four wings of a bird on its back (verse 6). A leopard, as we know, is one of the fastest animals in the animal kingdom. With the addition of four wings, speed is increased further. This represents the kingdom of Greece, ruled by Alexander the Great. Alexander’s lust for world dominion was legendary. By the age of 32 he had conquered the entire Medo-Persian Empire all the way to India. The four heads could very likely represent the four generals who ruled after Alexander’s untimely death – Seleusus, Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander.

Notice a common theme with all of these beasts – none of them act independently, they are all governed by an external power. The lion was lifted from the ground and given a human mind. The bear was told to feed. The leopard was given dominion. It is God who directs these beastly empires. He removes kings and establishes kings (Dan 2:21). He is ruler of human kingdoms and gives them to anyone he wants (Dan 4:25, 32).

Then, in verse 7 we have the fourth beast, which is the most terrifying of all. Daniel says it was different from all the others and “frightening and dreadful, and incredibly strong.” This beast is unique. It has great iron teeth which it uses to break everything in its path. What is left is stamped and crushed by its feet. If everything else I’ve said so far is correct, this represents the might and power of Rome.

The Little Horn (15-28)

But then, as the vision progresses further, things tend to become more elusive and obscure. This fourth beast has 10 horns (verse 7). Then suddenly, “another horn, a little one, came up among them.” This horn had “eyes like the eyes of a human and mouth that was speaking arrogantly” (verse 8). So what is this all about?
Well it’s at least comforting to know that Daniel is no less confused than we are. He comes back to it later in the chapter and he asks for clarification. He is given an answer in verse 23,

“The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, different from all the other kingdoms. It will devour the whole earth, trample it down, and crush it. The ten horns are ten kings who will rise from this kingdom. Another king, different from the previous ones, will rise after them and subdue three kings. He will speak words against the Most High and oppress the holy ones of the Most High…” (Dan 7:23–25)

So, the 10 horns represent 10 kings. But which 10 kings are we talking about? There have been many nations and kings since Rome. Some commentators believe the Roman empire is still going. The 10 kings represent the 10 nations in the EU. Except that there are now 28 nations in the EU with one major player – Britain, about to pull out. I don’t think we can really say the Roman empire still exists. Rome, for all intense and purposes fell in 476 BC. Others say the 10 horns represent 10 kings or kingdoms across time, since the fall of Rome. Well, there has been a great number of nations and kings since Rome. Which ones in particular are we talking about? Others say it is the Roman empire renewed. However, verse 11 tells us it is killed, and its body is destroyed while the other beasts live on. So how does that work?

I have another explanation. I don’t think we are supposed to know the identity of the 10 horns and 10 kings. That’s not the point of the vision. Apocalyptic literature tends to work in regular, recurring patterns. Have a listen to another vision in Revelation 13:

“And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads. On its horns were ten crowns, and on its heads were blasphemous names. The beast I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority.” (Rev 13:1–2)

Sound familiar? And yet in this vision, all four images refer to one kingdom. These images – images of evil and rebellion against God, cross barriers of space and time. And so, though these beastly images in Daniel 7 speak to empires in Daniel’s day, they also speak of ungodly empires in every day.

Think about the symbols used by nations today – the Russian bear, the American eagle, the Chinese dragon. Throughout history we have seen evil forces at work and kingdoms rising above one another – each one fighting for position of top dog. Think of the speed of Germany’s tank force in the Blitzkrieg in the second world war. It was unsurpassed. Think of the merciless rule Stalin exerted in the former Soviet Union and the millions who suffered under his reign. When I visited Rome, I saw the remains of the Coliseum and thought about the amount of innocent blood splashed under that regime. Nations in every age seize any opportunity they can to expand their borders, stockpile weapons, encourage economic aggression, crushing anyone who stands in their way.

But it is this “little horn” that troubles Daniel the most – the one with a mouth that speaks arrogantly (verse 20) and wages war against God’s people and prevails over them. Who is this? Some believe this to be Antiochus Epiphanes, Greek king of the Seleucid Empire. He was known for his brutal persecution of the Jews, which precipitated the Maccabean revolt. Some see it referring to Rome’s Caesars and others the rise the Papacy. But most bible scholars today believe the little horn refers to the Antichrist, also known as “the man of lawlessness.” Daniel is told in verse 25 that he, “will speak words against the Most High and oppress the holy ones of the Most High.” In other words, he will attack God and the people of God. Paul writes about him in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2:

“He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s temple, proclaiming that he himself is God.” (2 Thess 2:4)

There’s his attack on God. Then Paul writes,

“The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, and with every wicked deception among those who are perishing.” (2 Thess 2:9–10)

There’s his attack on the people of God. So what Daniel sees in the future is repeated by the Apostle Paul. There will be many who oppose God and oppress His people. They are all forerunners of a final individual who will be the personification of absolute evil – the Antichrist.

So, what are God’s people to do? How are they to respond? With fear and trembling and dread? Are things going to spiral out of control? What would keep Daniel and his fellow exiles from giving up? What will keep us from giving up?  Only one thing: a clear vision of God on his throne overruling all things.

That is the very vision that God gives to Daniel, right in the middle of this chapter. It is thrilling and compelling. We are going to take a look at that next time.

This post was based on a sermon called “The Son of Man” It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

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In the Lion’s Den

The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is one of the best-known and best-loved stories in all the Bible. It is filled with unexpected twists and turns, corrupt bureaucrats, ferocious lions, and a foolish king who ends up making a law he can’t (or won’t) retract. The best part is the ending: the good guy wins, and the bad guys get torn to pieces. “Hurrah for Daniel,” we all say and tell our kids to be good little boys and girls like him. But just as we found in chapter 3, there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Daniel chapter 6 is actually about persevering in the face of persecution. Its purpose is to fortify and encourage God’s people in the midst of opposition. Whether the persecution is overt or subtle, it always comes in the same form: a relentless, persistent pressure to abandon our convictions, settle for a compromise and thereby weaken our resolve and trust in God.

With that in mind let us look closer at this chapter to see what it might teach us.

In Darius’ Den

Daniel, having been brought to Babylon in his teens, is now in his late 80’s. And as in the earlier chapters, he quickly rises to the top and becomes one of three leading administrators or overseers. And he distinguishes himself above the others because of his “extraordinary spirit” (v. 3). His character, his integrity, and his leadership ability were of such calibre that Darius looked at him and said, “You’re the man. I can trust you. I’m putting you in charge of the whole outfit.” That draws attention; some unwanted attention:

“The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom.” (v.4)

Now the muckraking begins. Here are the real lions in the story, circling Daniel and they do what everyone in politics does when they want to take someone out – they go looking for dirt. They go searching through his texts and emails for some evidence of misdoing. They’re scratching through his rubbish looking for something to pin him on. But they can’t anything.

We saw something like this in the campaign against the leader of the National Party of our country not long ago. The accusation was he’s a crook, he’s corrupt and he handles campaign money illegally. The evidence is all on tapes. They didn’t find that on the tapes, but they found other things. There was other dirt – talking about party members with foul language that he had to publicly apologize for.

When they go looking for something on Daniel, they find nothing. This doesn’t mean Daniel is sinless. But he lives a life of integrity. You can still have sin in your life and live with integrity. You just bring everything out in the open. You don’t hide anything.

“They could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him.” (v.4)

He’s a great model for us, isn’t he? No corruption. No dirt. Nothing the world can sling at us. That’s the kind of testimony God wants for his people.

So, what are these guys going to do now? They say to each other, “We will never find any charge against this Daniel unless we find something against him concerning the law of his God.” (v. 5) They know Daniel is a praying man; he prays regularly and consistently. “OK,” they say to themselves, “let’s get him on that.” They hatch a plan, an evil plan to get King Darius to sign a decree banning anyone from praying to any other god except him for 30 days.

You’ve heard of queen for a day? This is God for 30 days. As one commentator said, when you can be voted to be God, that’s bad theology. And when you’re God for only 30 days, that’s even worse theology! Well, Darius is flattered by this. It panders to his ego. He’s not thinking carefully; he doesn’t think, “That’s strange, why is Daniel missing?” No, he blindly goes ahead with it all and makes a very foolish edict that he can’t – or won’t back down on.

But what I want you to see here is both the source and substance of this attack. It is aimed directly at the heart of Daniel’s spiritual life: his piety. His prayer life. The enemy knows where to get us. He knows what to go for. And he knows if he stops Daniel praying, he cuts him off at the knees. Satan doesn’t care if Daniel is Chief overseer, President or Prime Minister. Satan’s concern is Daniel petitioning the throne of grace.

So what does Daniel do when he hears about this edict? What would you do? Let’s look at verse 10 and see as we move dens.

In Daniel’s Den

“When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” (v. 10)

When Daniel heard about the edict, he went home to his house and went to the window that faced toward Jerusalem – the place his heart longed for, the city of God, the home for the people of God; the place where God would one day raise up the Deliverer, and he got down on his knees and gave thanks to God, “just as he had done before.”

This is where the battle was fought and won – in Daniel’s den. It doesn’t matter what happens to Daniel after this. Because he is completely surrendered to God. He’s in his hands. We now move to final scene: in the angel’s den.

In the Angel’s Den

Daniel’s conspirators meet up again and this time it’s en masse to go and spy on Daniel. And they are delighted – they catch him red-handed. On his knees and all. They snap some pictures on their phones and they’re off to see the king.

Darius was greatly distressed. What a fool he had been. He sets him mind on rescuing Daniel and made every effort to deliver him. But his efforts were in vain. Darius is trapped by the snare he himself has created. He could have reversed the edict of course. After all, he WAS king. But he didn’t.

So, into the lion’s den went Daniel. “May your God, whom you continually serve, rescue you!” the king calls out, as Daniel tumbles down. A stone was brought and rolled over and placed at the mouth of the den. The king then sealed the stone with his signet ring. In doing so he sealed the end of Daniel.

That night another king in Babylon could not sleep nor could he eat. No diversions were brought to him. Cancel the home delivery from the Indian Kitchen. And the Netflix movie. The best man in his kingdom has just been sentenced to death. He wasn’t in the mood to be entertained.

At first light of dawn the king rushes downs to the lion’s den. He reaches the opening and cries out, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you continually serve, been able to rescue you from the lions?” Daniel replies from the darkness beneath,

“May the king live forever. My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths; and they haven’t harmed me, for I was found innocent before him. And also before you, Your Majesty, I have not done harm.” (vv. 21–22)

The stone is rolled away, and Daniel emerges from the tomb – completely unscathed. There’s not a mark on him. Not even a scratch. By faith, Hebrews 11:33 tells us, Daniel shut the mouths of lions. Just as Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah trusted their God and disobeyed the Kings decree, so did Daniel. And just as God sent an angel to the furnace, so he did to the lion’s den.

Conclusion

But it doesn’t always work out like this for God’s faithful, does it? Isaiah believed God, too, but he got sawn in half. Paul believed God and he laid his head on a block, and an axe head flashed and severed it from his body. Peter believed in God, and he got crucified upside down. Believing in God doesn’t mean that the lions aren’t going to eat you. It means God will never forsake you – not ultimately, not eternally. Dying a martyr’s death is not loss. Dying without Christ; dying without hope, that’s loss.

Daniel 6 is not just a nice story on how God is bigger than lions. It’s about persevering in the face of persecution. It’s to encourage God’s people in the midst of opposition.

If you are a Christian, there is much to encourage us in this story. In the days to come we will all face hostility in one form or another because of our faith. “All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” Paul says to Timothy (2 Tim 3:12). Those who serve the Lord never have an easy road in this world. But be of good cheer. If we will be faithful, God can use us to touch many people, including some in high places.

This post was based on a sermon called “In the Lion’s Den.” It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

Lessons from Africa

It’s not often that I come away from an event so enriched, so convicted and so full of hope and expectation of what God could do in the future all at the same time. But that is exactly how I felt on the return trip from the ADVANCE conference in Auckland a couple of weeks back.

What was it that made such a deep and lasting impression on me? Answer: two speakers. Two simple and humble men from different sides of the world – one from Africa and the other from Sydney, who at the beginning of their ministry put their energies into training labourers and planting churches. They are not big names, they have no worldwide following, and they do not come with bodyguards and request high-end hotels. They are just ordinary men who have accomplished extraordinary things because they have been faithful.

Paul Dale lives in Sydney and is Lead Pastor of Church on the Bridge. He started with a small group of people who believed in the power of the gospel and were keen on reaching lost people in their area. They now have multiple congregations in and around Sydney, with a preaching ministry that engages both the head and the heart and as a result, they are seeing people come to know Christ.

Oscar Muriu is from Kenya, Africa and pastors Nairobi Chapel. In 1991 it started as a small congregation of just 10 people. He now leads a network of over 200 churches with over 25,000 worshippers gathering weekly. The key to this great growth has been discipleship and training. It is an integral part of the DNA of his churches. It is remarkably simple and pretty much resembles exactly what Jesus did.

I’ve never really been a big promoter of church-planting. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a good idea – I do. And I support those who are committed to it. It’s just that I don’t think it’s for me. But now I’m having a serious rethink about that.

And it was what Oscar Muriu said that did it.

He began by telling us some things about Africa. For a start, it is the second most populated continent in the world with a population of 1.2 billion. Its birth rate outstrips just about every other country so that in the year 2050 one in every three people on the planet will be African. Furthermore, it has the largest church on the planet with over 600 million Christians. The church is vibrant and alive and is sending out missionaries all over the world. More than likely, you will see one come to your town soon.

Oscar shared with us four things that they have learned over the years as they watched their church planting network grow:

1. Don’t let the smallness of your vision limit the greatness of God.

Our vision for what God can do is often too small. The things we ask God for he could do without blinking. What we need to do is enlarge our vision. “Ask yourself,” Oscar said, “what am I praying for that is hard, that makes God sweat?” That stunned a few people in the audience! (including me). Some might read that and find it irreverent. But Oscar is far from irreverent. He’s just a man with a great heart and great faith which enables him to have a great vision for what God can do. He quoted from Isaiah 54:

“Enlarge the site of your tent, and let your tent curtains be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your ropes, and drive your pegs deep. For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will dispossess nations and inhabit the desolate cities.” (Isaiah 54:2-3)

Now I have never considered that as applying to gospel mission but when you think about it, it fits. I thought about my own vision of Grace Church and saw a pup-tent. I’m not really asking God for anything big. And I get all hung up on the “how” – how are we going to do this and how are we going to do that. Oscar said, “leave the HOW for the WOW.” God will help you work out the how later.

2. Don’t send out church-planters; send out sons.

Our mindset here is the west is to seek out and recruit the “experts” in church planting; those who have the expertise . Don’t do that, said Oscar. Train those within your organization and send them. Paul referred to Timothy as his “dearly loved son” (2 Timothy 1:2). He’s speaking in spiritual, not natural terms. Timothy was his disciple. He personally trained him. Paul wanted to get to the church in Corinth, but he was prevented. So he sends Timothy instead – “He is my dearly loved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you about my ways in Christ Jesus, just as I teach everywhere in every church.” (1 Corinthians 4:17). That’s the kind of people we want heading up church planting teams. They will be faithful to the DNA of our churches and our mission.

This next one was my favourite:

3. Breed Rabbit churches, not Rhino’s.

This was an African analogy if ever there was one. But it worked. Rhino’s are big, REALLY big – everyone knows their presence. They consume a lot of food and need huge steel cages to contain them. Furthermore, Rhino’s give birth to one calf which takes 3 years to raise. And even then, many of them die. Rabbits are very different. Rabbits consume very little, move around the place very quickly and adapt to their environment. The average litter for a Rabbit is 12. Put a male and female rabbit together and within one year it is possible (with zero death rate) to produce 4 million offspring.

Oscar then applied the analogy to churches. We are all familiar with Rhino churches. They are big, they consume a lot of resources and they are expensive to run. Every now and then they might give birth to a new church which struggles to survive. Rabbit churches are small. They are quick to plant and are cheap to run and don’t consume a lot of resources. And they grow quickly, because new churches reach new people.

95% of the churches in the world are 100 or less. Anything over that and you are not the norm. Mega churches are a tiny minority on the world stage. Yet every church wants to be like one.

Our church is 250-300 in size and sees an average of 2-3 people come to Christ each year. I wonder how different things would be if instead we were a network of 3 or 4 churches spread around the Nelson area, sharing resources and instead of trying to keep a big machine going, we concentrated on wining people to Jesus. How many more could be entering the Kingdom of God – in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years?

4. Plant pregnant

This one was simple, yet ingenious. With every church-planting team they send out, they ensure that a trainee goes with them. This person works under the leader (the pastor), helps to get the work going and then after a period of time is sent out to lead the next church plant. That way, with every new church that is planted, there is the embryo of the next church that goes with it. They not only plant churches in Kenya; they plant churches that will plant more churches. It’s the 2 Timothy 2:2 principle applied to a church; not just an individual.

I came away from the ADVANCE conference with a lot to think about. And a week later, I’m still thinking about it. I guess that means something got through! Well done to the team at MULTIPLY (Dave Giesbers, Nick Duke and Rowan Hilsden) for making all this happen. It may bear fruit in our country down the road that will turn heads and inflame hearts. Wouldn’t that be wonderful.

Here’s hoping and praying – for the sake of this nation.

Oscar and his wife Bea with Dave Giesbers

 

The Writing on the Wall

The picture you see is by Rembrandt, a famous Dutch artist in the 17th century and hangs in the National Gallery in London. It depicts King Belshazzar in the book of Daniel. Belshazzar decides to throw a feast and invites a 1000 of his nobles to attend. And what is the occasion? So everyone can see how manly he is, out-drinking everyone else in the room without falling under the table. And then, when he’s well and truly sauced, he gives orders to bring in the sacred vessels that were taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, fills them with wine, and offers a few toasts to his pagan gods. It’s a blasphemous act of arrogance and defiance that would cause his grandfather, king Nebuchadnezzar, to turn in his grave.

It’s an act however, that doesn’t go unnoticed. Heaven is watching. Suddenly the blood drains from Belshazzar’s face as he sees a hand appear out of nowhere and begins to write on the wall. It spells his judgment. Before the night is over Belshazzar will be dead.

The lesson is a simple one and is made clear by a simple reading of the narrative: God will not be mocked. He will not allow any human power to exalt itself above him. For any human government, institution or individual that exalts itself above God, the writing is on the wall. Its days are numbered.

The setting: party time!

Some time has passed since the end of chapter 4. Nebuchadnezzar has been dead 23 years and it is nearly 70 years since Daniel was deported from Babylon. Daniel is now an old man in his 80’s. Babylon is only a few hours from enemy invasion and collapse. The Medes and the Persians are just outside the city gates, ready to breach the city wall. We can even precisely date the events because Persian military records tell us that Darius’ armies marched into Babylon on 16 Tishri (October 12), 539. According to Daniel 5, the king’s banquet occurred the very night the city fell to Darius. Belshazzar, in his drunken partying state, has only a few hours to live.

“Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar gave orders to bring in the gold and silver vessels that his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, wives, and concubines could drink from them.” (Daniel 5:2)

Nebuchadnezzar had at least a measure of religious respect to recognize that these were sacred objects. After capturing them he put them in the temple of his own god. Belshazzar has no such respect. He’s in charge now and will do whatever he jolly well likes.

What happens next causes Belshazzar and everyone with him to turn cold.

God crashes the party

“At that moment the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the king’s palace wall next to the lampstand. As the king watched the hand that was writing, his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that he soiled himself and his knees knocked together.” (Daniel 5:5–6)

There’s humour here and it’s not accidental. The Aramaic literally says that the “knots of his joints were loosened.” This could refer to his legs giving way but it more likely means a loss of control of bodily functions as the CSB renders it – “he soiled himself.” With the appearance of God’s fingers on the wall a dark patch appears under Belshazzar’s chair.

Lord Byron, a famous 19th century poet, put the stuttering of the king to verse in Vision of Belshazzar:

The King was on his throne,
The Satraps thronged the hall:
A thousand bright lamps shone
O’er that high festival.
A thousand cups of gold,
In Judah deemed divine —
Jehovah’s vessels hold
The godless Heathen’s wine!

In that same hour and hall,
The fingers of a hand
Come forth against the wall
And wrote as if on sand:
The fingers of a man: —
A solitary hand
Along the letters ran,
And traced them like a wand.

The monarch saw, and shook,
And bade no more rejoice;
All bloodless waxed his look,
And tremulous his voice.
“Let the men of lore appear,
The wisest of the earth,
And expound the words of fear,
Which mar our royal mirth.”

But as the passage reads, no one could. No one, that is, until the Queen mother turns up. She reminds Belshazzar of one in his kingdom who has, “an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and intelligence, and the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems” (Daniel 5:12). Literally – to “loosen knots”; it’s a pun on Belshazzar’s loose bowels. Daniel has the ability to solve messy and knotty problems. “Therefore,” she says, “summon Daniel, and he will give the interpretation.”

And with that Daniel is called in. Belshazzar promises Daniel great rewards if he is able to give the interpretation, but Daniel waves him off.

Instead Daniel reminds Belshazzar how God dealt with his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar. He had absolute power and he did whatever he pleased. He gave life and he took life. He promoted whom he chose and demoted whom he chose. But when his heart was lifted up he became arrogant. God brought him crashing to the ground. Then he chides Belshazzar for not doing the same. It’s a very bold move that could have ended up with his head rolling to the ground. But that’s the kind of man Daniel is.

First Daniel translates the writing on the wall: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN.  Then he gives the interpretation:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

Sorry Belshazzar, but it’s all over. You won’t be here in the morning. Goodbye.

That very night Darius the Mede took over the kingdom and king Belshazzar was killed. And history records how they did it. The walls of Babylon were massive and considered impenetrable. The Babylonians had also stock piled up to 20 years of food so there was no starving them out. But they had an Achilles heel. The river Euphrates ran underneath the wall giving the city a constant source of fresh water. So what the Medes and Persians did was dig up river an alternative channel for the water to flow. This reduced the amount of water flowing under the walls enough so that they could simply walk in under the walls of Babylon and take it over without firing a shot.

Conclusion

What can we take away from this chapter? What is it that God would have us learn? I think there are two ways in which this can be applied.

The Global Application

There is a message here to nations. There is a message to kings and presidents and prime ministers of every age. Any human government or institution that tries to exalt itself above God will be called to account. The writing is on the wall. Its days are numbered. What would it take, do you think, to bring any one of the world’s super-powers of our day crashing to the ground? What would it take to bring the powerful Kim Jung-un and his regime to its knees? The very one who says, “We don’t do God here.” What would it take?

Four words.

And it is the same for every other superpower, regime and institution in the world.

The Personal Application

What about personal application? There is a warning against complacency. Of thinking we are safe when we are not. Of thinking we are good with God when we are not. “Consider the kindness and severity of God,” Paul warns in Romans 11:22. We must not presume on the mercy of God. We must not be deceived into thinking that because God showed grace to our parents or grandparents, that he is indebted to show grace to us also.

Heed God’s warning from his Word, before it’s too late. Everyone who comes to God, recognizing that they have nothing to offer him in return, crying out to him for mercy and grace that is found in His Son Jesus, will find it. They will cross over from death to life. And they will eat one day at a great banquet God will hold for all those who believe. The only writing on the wall there will be, “Salvation is of the Lord.”

This post was based on a sermon called “The Writing on the Wall.” It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

A Stinky-Leg Story

The title will get you if nothing else will. This post isn’t a thriller, so if you’re not into children’s books and family farm stories you might want to skip this. Otherwise, read on!

I grew up on a dairy farm in Central Hawkes Bay along with my five sisters. There are a number of memorable stories that we share whenever we get together. A few years ago, my sister Jenny decided to capture some of these and put them into children’s books. Another sister, Margery, put her hand up to do the illustrations and her daughter Ezra took over the design work. The result was a series of books called “Tales from the Farm” which have won a number of awards.

Margery, Jenny and Ezra

The first book, The Day Dad Blew Up the Cowshed, is still my favourite, mainly because I can still see the concrete blocks raining down from the sky from the hill we were standing on. This was followed by The Old Truck, The Eel Hunt, and A Very Greedy Tale, a story about Jenny’s pigs escaping and going wild in mum’s vege garrden. Anyway, last weekend a number of us went to support Jenny in her latest book. It’s called Uncle Allan’s Stinky-Leg.

Yes, I know. The mind boggles.

Allan was an in-law to my brother John and would come and visit our farm from time to time from Wellington. He broke his leg one day playing rugby and was off-work and bored to death. What better way to pass the time than visit the farm? He turned up in his little Mini (an iconic NZ car from the 70’s and 80’s) with what looked like the front seat removed (it was in fact just moved back to allow room for the cast on his leg).

Soon after he arrived he hops on the motorbike behind my brother John and they roar off across the paddocks for some fun. Well, if you’ve ever been on a dairy farm you would know that cow paddocks are filled with cow muck. And when you ride over a paddock at high-speed you end up with a fair bit of muck all over you. So, you can image what Allan’s cast looked like when he got back.

Later, Allan started to smell – really bad. So he hopped in the bath and tried dealing to it. But plaster casts and water just aren’t a good mix and it wasn’t long before Allan had an even bigger mess on his hands (or his leg). Now he had a very messy, stinky leg. And no one wanted to get close to him. After a few days he thought perhaps it would be best, in order to keep in good standing with the family (please excuse the pun), to get back to Wellington and sort this stinky leg problem out.

When Allan turned up at hospital the nurses were less than impressed, and gave him a jolly good telling off. They recast his leg and sent him home. But it wasn’t long before Allan got bored again and you can guess what happened next…

All of this was put into a story for kids by Jenny and Margery. And they launched it at Jenny’s home town in Oxford, Canterbury last weekend. Jenny read a good part of the story and then Margery explained the process of how a children’s book is illustrated and put together. It’s quite a business, and needs a few good heads giving objective feedback. I shared a few of my memories of the day and then we sung a song that Rene (Margery’s husband) wrote on the story. Like I said, it was a bit of a family affair!

The book team

The last thing I’d like to say is how amazing it was seeing people from the community appear from nowhere to help set up the room, serve food and drinks and all the rest. As one person remarked, “who are all these people and where did they come from?” They are the Christian community in Oxford and friends of Jenny and Ken. They are always around when help is needed.

Margery, Jenny and the real Uncle Allan

Jenny’s faith is central to her life and central to her books. She prays over every decision and asks God to open and close doors and bless the sale of her books. Well, from what I can see, that prayer is being answered as momentum is growing and she is getting more requests to go into schools and read her books to the children. She often has the kids acting out parts of the story which they always enjoy. I’m looking for a way to get her up here into the Nelson area.

If you are interested in this book or any of the others in the series (they are only $22.00 and make great Christmas gifts), you can purchase them online at their website here: http://www.talesfromthefarm.co.nz. You can also check out their Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/talesfromthefarm. If you’re a teacher reading this and are interested in a school visit, you can find all the information you need here.

I’ve leave you with a little clip from the launch day. It’s Rene singing the song he wrote about Dad blowing up the cowshed. It’s a little over 3 minutes and I think you might enjoy it.

The Insanity of Pride

People who are in positions of power have a habit of making bold and arrogant statements that they often regret. Whether it’s a case of overstating things, exaggerating the facts, slighting the truth or just plain lying, sooner or later the facts are revealed, and they find themselves with egg on their faces. And we don’t have to look very far to find examples of those kinds of individuals today. Presidents, Prime Ministers and Politicians are notorious for this behaviour.

But they are not the only ones. We all tend to overstate things, talk about our accomplishments, and claim we are the authors of our own success.  When we do this, we are putting ourselves in the place of God, declaring we can do what he can. God is the only One who can rescue us from ourselves, by humbling us until we recognize that he alone is King, and we are not.

King Nebuchadnezzar is a perfect case in point. God has to teach him a very hard lesson – a lesson we can all benefit from. It is all recorded for us in Daniel chapter 4.

I. The Dream Described (1-18)

You will remember that Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in Daniel chapter 2 which greatly troubled him. Well, this one terrifies him. As in chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar calls in his wise men to come and interpret the dream for him. But they are incapable of doing so. Finally Daniel appears.

The king then tells Daniel the dream. He saw a great tree, with leaves and branches stretching as far as the eye could see. Birds nested in the branches and animals found shade under its leaves. But then the tree was suddenly cut down and stripped and the stump bound with iron and bronze. Halfway through it switches from the tree that would be cut down to a person who will be brought down.

The beautiful, great, strong tree represents a powerful person. He will be cut down—just a stump left. He will completely lose his mind and become like an animal, exposed to the elements. The message concludes with these words, which we find repeated throughout the chapter.

“This is so that the living will know that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms. He gives them to anyone he wants and sets the lowliest of people over them.” (4:17)

II. The Dream Explained (19-27)

Then the king looks at Daniel and says, “Now Belteshazzar, tell me the interpretation.” Daniel, with some reluctance summarizes the content of the dream and then gets to the bottom line:

“This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree of the Most High that has been issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals. You will feed on grass like cattle and be drenched with dew from the sky for seven periods of time, until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and he gives them to anyone he wants.” (4:24–25)

Then Daniel implores the king that there is a way out; divine judgment can be avoided. “Separate yourself from your sins by doing what is right, and from your injustices by showing mercy to the needy. Perhaps there will be an extension of your prosperity.” (4:27)

III. The Dream Fulfilled (28-33)

We are not told in the text how the king responded. We know that he highly respected Daniel – perhaps he listened. Perhaps he amended his ways and bought himself more time. All we know is that 12 months later the King is walking on top of his palace declaring to the world that he is God.

“Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built to be a royal residence by my vast power and for my majestic glory?” (4:30)

Nebuchadnezzar, at this point, has completely lost his mind. He’s speaking like a madman. Wait a minute, you say, didn’t Nebuchadnezzar oversee the building of Babylon? Wasn’t he responsible for many of its beautiful temples and huge walls and its famous hanging gardens? On a small-scale, perhaps yes. But when we step back from it all, the answer is no.

Think about it: where did Nebuchadnezzar get his wisdom and his abilities? Where did he get his great leadership skills? Did he choose to be born into a royal bloodline? Did he choose to be the son of a great King at the height of the Babylonian empire?

Pride blinds. Pride warps our thinking. Pride looks at our success and achievements and says, “I’m the author of that.” But we’re not – God is. It is God who created us and gave us intelligence and skill and ability to reason. He chose the country we were born in and the century we were raised in. He gave us the opportunities for our talents to grow and flourish in. He determines our appointed times and boundaries of where we live in (Acts 17:26). Pride overlooks all of his and says, “No, it’s all because of me. I’m the author of all this.”

That’s insanity, to any sane person.

Imagine if I went around today and claimed that I discovered electricity because I turned on the light. You’d say that is insanity. Yet we do the very same thing when we claim to be the author of the gifts God has given us.

So what did God do in Nebuchadnezzar’s case? He humbled Nebuchadnezzar by making him less than human. He turned him into an animal.

“While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared that the kingdom has departed from you. You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals, and you will feed on grass like cattle for seven periods of time, until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and he gives them to anyone he wants.” (4:31–32)

Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity is actualized. One moment he is surveying his royal kingdom, the next he is ripping off his clothing, making strange snorting noises, and running on all fours, totally naked and stark, raving mad. But God was gracious to Nebuchadnezzar. His insanity was only temporary. It was only for a season – to teach him a vital lesson. Eventually, he came to his senses:

“But at the end of those days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned to me. Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified him who lives forever” (verse 34)

The once proud and prosperous pagan king now openly praises the Living God. The chapter concludes with these words:

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of the heavens, because all his works are true and his ways are just. He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” (verse 37)

This story serves as a warning for us all. Pride affects our ability to reason. Pride distorts our perspective of the world. It prevents us from seeing clearly and thinking objectively. And once we have succumbed to it, we are completely at the mercy of God to be rescued from it. We can’t repair our own pride. God must do it for us. Humility must be given to us.

But there is a part we can play in it. We can avoid the path of Nebuchadnezzar. And that is by simply accepting, with gratitude, everything we have as a gift of God. We were nothing until God made us something. And we only got to the place where we are because of God good provision and kindness. We did not earn nor deserve any of the good gifts that we have. They came to us purely by grace.

Let us learn from the pride of Nebuchadnezzar. It would be insane to do otherwise.

This post was based on a sermon called “Nebuchadnezzar and the Tree of Doom” It is part of a series at our church on the book of Daniel.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

Spitfires, future sons-in-law’s and male friendship


Finally, a movie has come out for men, or at least, something that men admire and appreciate. There’s been a steady stream of (excuse the term) ‘chick-flicks’ over the past few years that leave guys like me wanting. Some of them are bearable and one or two of them have actually been quite good. But if it wasn’t for my wife I wouldn’t bother.

So when the movie on the Spitfire was released from the UK a few weeks back I knew I had to find a way to see it. My wife was scheduled for an overnight surgery this past week (nothing too major, just a fix-up on a bike injury a few months back) which meant I had a free night. And what better way to spend it than invite my future son-in-law to go and see it.

It was about a 25-minute drive to the cinema. Now some might consider this a great opportunity for me to talk to Shea about his soon-to-be role as a husband or how the wedding plans are going or perhaps draw out some detail on how he intends to provide for my daughter.

But we didn’t talk about that. Instead, we discovered to our surprise, that we had a common interest in World War II aircraft and in particular, the Spitfire. Well, that lit up the conversation real fast. All the way there we talked about the Spitfire engine, the Spitfire design and what the Spitfire had over its German counterparts. On the way home, we talked about the Spitfire’s remarkable speed, some Spitfire design faults and the Spitfire pilots. And in between, we watched 100 minutes of pure Spitfire flying bliss, with the roar of the v-12 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine reverberating around the theatre walls. I was definitely in my happy place (and so I think, was Shea). When we got back to my home we said our goodbyes, and both agreed that it was indeed, one excellent night out.

You say, “That’s just nuts. Women would never do that.” No, they wouldn’t. And that’s the difference between men and women. Men, when they are simply enjoying time together, don’t tend to talk about other men or women and their relationships or things of that matter. And they don’t tend to talk about ten different things, as women often do. They are happy to talk about two or three things – or preferably one thing that really interests them both.

Like the Spitfire. Now that’s really interesting.

This is the stuff that builds good male comradeship and companionship. Shea and I will talk about personal things and marriage plans and duties of the husband and all that stuff. When we need to. We’ll do it properly and we’ll do it well. But it won’t take two hours. It more likely might be ten minutes. As our friendship grows and the comradeship deepens we might spend longer.

My male colleague in pastoral ministry is Sean. We meet every Wednesday for mentoring and support. Much of our talk IS about people and relationships and the difficulties in some of those relationships. That’s because we have to. It’s part of our job. But when we’re off duty we are more likely to talk about our favourite preachers and theologians or what we’ve been reading lately. While we drive we like to laugh about bad drivers on the road and Sean tells me about some of his interesting episodes he experienced as a Cop.

That’s what male companions do. They talk about things that interest them and things that make them laugh. It’s a way of de-stressing. And I believe every man needs that.

C.S. Lewis said this regarding companionship:

“Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”

So, find another guy who shares a similar interest with you – preferably something you don’t share with everyone and go spend some time together. It’s good for your mental, emotional and in many cases, spiritual health. Aside from that, you’ll find it immensely refreshing. It’s the way God has wired you.

I recommend the Spitfire movie as a good place to start. But that’s just me.

Afterthought: World War II planes have been an obsession for me since childhood. I spent hours pouring over books and magazines, learning about their design and fighting capabilities. There was something about the Spitfire that captured my imagination (as it did countless thousands of others, as the film reveals). Its speed, its power and its elegance – there was really no match for it. I often wished I was born a few decades earlier so that I could have been one of those young pilots who would take it into the skies. The reality was many of those young pilots were shot down and killed on their first few sorties. Some of them never even got close enough to see an enemy plane, let alone shoot it. It was a dangerous game.

Now I fight a war of a different sort – a battle over the souls of men and women. The enemy is far worse than Adolf Hitler and its weapons are far deadlier than an enemy fighter plane. There isn’t a whole lot of glory in this fight and nor is there a home crowd to cheer you on. But the future rewards are far greater, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, or even for that matter – a seat in a Spitfire plane.