POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Relating to Caesar - Christians and Governments

In the book of Daniel we see our central protagonist serving God and Babylon faithfully under Nebuchadnezzar.  When we arrive to chapters five and six we see that a regime change is brought about and Daniel is now serving under the government of the Medo-Persian Empire.   I thought it might be interesting to discuss a little bit of how Christians are to live and flourish under various governments and systems as the sands of time continue to fall. 

In a previous essay we discussed the role civil disobedience1 in the life of a follower of Jesus.  The Scriptures are clear that we are to relate to government in an orderly fashion and even pray for our leaders.   A quick summary:

  • Government is given by God to give order and punish evil (Romans 13)
  • We are to pray for those in authority over us-even those with whom we disagree (1 Timothy 2)
  • We are to respect and honor those in authority while keeping God as the highest authority in our lives (1 Peter 2:13-17)
  • We are to obey God and not people when human authorities require us to sin against God. In such cases, non violent civil disobedience is our pathway (Exodus 2, Acts 4)

Governments have taken diverse and variegated forms throughout history and it seems some governments might be easier to live under than others.  After all, humans have been governed by monarchies of Kings or Queens, aristocracies where lords and landowners held power, oligarchies where small groups govern the many, socialist schemas where the state owns the means of production, fascist dictators have roamed the earth, communist have offered classless utopias and free market democracies have raced around the world.  Let it be known that I do like freedom, democracy and representative republics; I am not a fan of big brother or a massive centralized government.I am also for the separation of church and state (more on that later) and not for any sort of theocracy until the Kingdom comes and Jesus is the fully reigning King.  In this essay I have no interest in advocating for a particular system of human government.  Furthermore, the question as to how politically involved those who belong to God's kingdom should be I will also save for another time. My goal here is much simpler.  I only want to demonstrate that followers of Jesus can and should seek to follow the above commands of Scripture under whatever government they live.  

Jesus was clear that the human state and the Kingdom are not the same thing when he told his disciples to "give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is Gods."  In other words, we should obey just laws, pay taxes and seek to be good citizens in all the places God sends us.  Furthermore, we should seek to act justly and follow Jesus as the highest authority in whatever circumstance at whatever costs to our lives.  To demonstrate this I want to briefly survey a few different political settings in which God's people have faithfully lived out these principles.  The final government will be our own American situation. In discussing our own cultural situation I want to hit a few issues.  First, an understanding of state/church separation.  Second, some of the deep blessings afforded to us in our historical situation along with some risks we face living under our system in the 21st century.  In closing I want to encourage us in our sojourn here in New Jersey to live in light of the gospel so that God is glorified and our communities are blessed.

Examples of Christians under Governments

Under Roman Imperialism - Perpetua and Felicitas

The person of Jesus was born the son of carpenter in the middle east.  This area of the world was under the vast and powerful rule of Rome and much of early Christianity was birthed in this context.  The gospel took root among both the poor and the titled in the urban contexts of the port cities of the Empire.Both slaves and nobility became worshippers of Jesus and lived gospel life together.  At the dawn of the 3rd century, a noblewoman named Perpetua lived in the North African city of Carthage with her husband, son and a slave who was named Felicitas.  Under the edict of Emperor Semptimius Severus in AD 202,4 Roman power sought to suppress the Christian movement and aimed its efforts at the growing Christian community in North Africa.  Perpetua and several of her friends were cathechumen, new believers studying the faith to prepare to be baptized.  They were arrested and imprisoned under imperial rule and given opportunity to worship the emperor by sacrificing to him.  Her father begged her to say she was not a Christian but she could only confess that she was indeed a follower of the risen Jesus.  Her words to here father are instructional to our understanding of living under oppressive governments:

It will all happen at the prisoners dock [her trial] as God wills, for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power.5

Perpetua and Felicitas were put before wild beasts to be attacked and then ultimately publically executed by the sword.  Under a state that persecuted them, they lived and then died as faithful followers of Jesus.

Under Clans and Kingdoms - Patricus in Ireland

After the sack of Rome by the Visigoths under the leadership of Alaric I much of the western Roman empire was in disarray.  The church brought stability and eventually the barbarian conquerors were converted to the Christianity of those they befell.  Yet in the outlying areas of the British isles, much of the government was based on clan affiliation, power landowners which were small Kingdoms unto themselves.  North of Britain were the pagan Celts of Ireland who were nothing like the "civilized" continentals of the Roman way.  A young 16 year old boy from Wales named Patricus was ripped from his home and made a shepherd-slave by Irish raiders.  For some six years he labored in isolated servitude and it was during this time that he met deeply with God and was formed spiritually.   After such years he escaped back to his homeland only to be called by Christ to return.  Patricus recounts a vision where a man from Ireland appeared to him begging him "to come and walk among us once more."  The visions continued and Ireland would not leave him.  At this point Christ began to speak within him "he it is who gave his life for you, is he that speaks within you."6  Patrick would go establish a mission in Ireland to bring the gospel to the clans and Kingdoms of the Celts.  A barbaric people who once cut their captives heads off to wear them dangling from ropes around their waists, would soon tie books and Bibles to the same.   Patrick brought the gospel to a people who lived under a clan-like government structure brought many into the Kingdom of God.

Under 20th century Communism-Richard Wurmbrand

Communism was founded on the philosophical and historical political theories of many thinkers, most prominently Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  Marx once wrote that religion is the opiate [drug] of the masses7 which kept them subservient to the power brokers and rulers of a culture.  If people only cared for the life to come they would endure any misery in the here and now.  Communism was in no way friendly to the Christian faith.  In fact, communist regimes have systematically sought to suppress and eliminate faith to set about its atheistic, secular agenda to create a classless society.  Dictators of all stripes have never liked followers of Jesus who found his rule and reign higher than that of government commissars.  Jesus told people he would set them free no matter what situation and government they lived under; communists typically did not like this sort of thinking.  Yet as the Soviet power of the 20th century seized power in Romania, one Richard Wurmbrand, would choose the freedom of Jesus in jail cells over the oppression of a godless society.   Wurmbrand was a preacher who continued his work in the underground church in Romanian despite communist oppression.  He was arrested and jailed in 1948 and spent over eight years in various prisons and labor camps.  He resumed his work in the underground church in 1956 only be arrested again in 1959.  During his imprisonments he was tortured and suffered greatly spending years in solitary confinement.  Upon his release he began to speak for the persecuted church and founded Voice of the Martyrs a ministry which continues to this day.  Wurmbrand was a Jewish Christian who knew that Jesus was a good king who would guide him through his darkest hours.  He faithfully served under communist regimes and then lived in freedom before finally going to be with his Lord in February 2001.8

Under American Democracy

Our own situation is one in which we currently have freedom of religion.  We assemble in our homes, rent public meeting spaces and have every right that any one else has regardless of our religious beliefs.  This is a rare occurrence in the history of the world and one for which we need to be thankful.  This country was founded by those seeking religious freedom and many of them argued to keep it by desiring the church to be free from state control.  The first clause of the first amendment to our constitution reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

There is no state church for our country and we have no official religion.  Yet in recent times some have began to interpret this clause to mean that it demands a public square free from all religion and only a strict secularism is to be permitted for citizens when they are relating to "public" issues such as education and law.  Spiritual beliefs and philosophical opinions should be kept a private matter and not be brought up in public company.  It is with great joy that we live in a culture where we have such great freedoms for our faith, yet I'm not sure that we can assume that it will always be this way. 

Today our culture can see evangelism as invasive and intolerant. Today many seek to silence teaching about Jesus and relegate it to the private halls and houses of worship.  It is not by force of arms or rule of law but by intellectual and social pressure and ridicule that Christians are subtly urged to keep quiet in the streets. 

Our freedom also brings great risks as we live under our current government.  It is easy to value Americanism and its values over the Kingdom and what Jesus wants for his people.  We can value riches and political influence over the gospel and loving others.  We can be seduced to thinking that America is somehow a divine nation rather than simply a nation that God has ordained for this time and place.  Please don't misunderstand me, I love this country and our systems of government.  Yet America ≠ The Kingdom of Heaven.  Nancy Pearcy, in her book Total Truth, even has a chapter with a revealing title "Christianity met America and Guess Which Won?"We must not confuse Christian faith with a particular political party, system of human government or nation.  We must always remain citizens of two realms, our own nation and the Kingdom of Heaven.  As Paul told the Christians in the ancient city of Philippi our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Our call has been clear in sojourning in Babylon with Daniel and his posse.  They lived in a culture in which the structures of power were profoundly not in submission to the creator God.  Their media, art and educational systems were in honor of false gods and human potentates.  Yet like Daniel, we too can walk with Jesus, remain faithful to God, be humble in our service to others and work diligently for the transformation of our culture.  We are not called to be powerful oppressors pushing our will upon others, but citizens of an in breaking Kingdom where we stand for justice, seek mercy and hold out the saving gospel of God as the only hope for all people.  Jesus suffered unjustly under a governor named Pontius Pilate even though he was the rightful ruler of the universe.  As we follow him we are reminded that our weapons are not of this world but rather comes through the powerful truth of the gospel.  God forgives, makes new and justifies the wicked through the work of Jesus Christ.  All who come to him are set free from sin, death and hell and will inherit eternal life.  We now live as sojourners in light of the cross, living for the glory of God and the good of others.  This is our way.

Notes

1. Essay on Civil Disobedience available online here: http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/2009/02/to_obey_or_not_to_obeythat_is.html

2. UVA Sociologist Brad Wilcox recently discussed in the Wall Street Journal how a growing state usually corresponds with a shrinking church-http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123690880933515111.html

3. For more on the early spread of Christianity see Rodney Stark, Cities of God-The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (HarperOne, 2006).

4. Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity (HaperSanFrancisco, 1984) 83.

5. Perpetua, in Mark Gali and Ted Olson 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Broadman and Holman, 2000) 363.

6. Summary of the account in Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization (Anchor Books, 1995) 105, 106.

7. In the introduction of Marx's Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, 1843.

8. An interesting historical video on Wurmbrand is actually online at http://www.persecution.tv/media/tfc/player.html

9. See Chapter 10 in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Crossway, 2004) 273.

Who is in Charge around here?

As human beings we are in love with the idea that we are in control of things.  I think it is an especially acute problem for human beings in America. We think we can make it happen, win the day, command our destinies...it is a fun ride until reality smacks us around a bit.  The truth of the matter is that much of life is utterly out of our control.  We did not choose where we would be born, who would be our parents and a myriad of other things about our lives.  Yet we want to be in control and we know that our choices do matter greatly in how our lives turn out.

In Daniel chapter four we witness the final chapter of God's education of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar.  The lesson which is taught is quite clear: God rules in the affairs of people and nations on the earth.  Theologically we use the term Sovereignty to describe God being the highest rule and authority known.   There is simply no throne or power above that of the creator God. Yet this does bring questions.  If God is Sovereign and is accomplishing his purposes how do my choices affect the outcomes of life?  Are my choices subject to God's direction as well?  How free is my free will? If God is Sovereign, then why does he permit certain things to go down?

In a previous junk drawer we discussed God's sovereignty and rule over both good and evil.  You can read that online if you like. This week we want to do something just a bit different; we want to discuss the relationship of God's Sovereignty and our responsibility.  In other words, how does God's rule over all things interact with my choices to do some things.  To do this I want to begin by defining what we mean by these two terms.  I will then discuss the scope of these and how we avoid any sort of contradiction by setting one authority above another.  Next I want us to chew on the nature of our free will and several philosophical definitions.  Finally, we will close by discussing our nature as creatures and how we respond to God in humility , faith and following.

Some Definitions

Sovereignty of God- As briefly stated above, when we say God is sovereign, we mean that there is  no higher rule, reign or authority that exists.  God is in control of all things and by providential leading brings them towards his desired ends.  There is great wonder, glory and mystery in the Sovereignty of God.  It is a teaching that brings great comfort to believers as well as a deep sense of human dependence.  Yet when seen in a skewed manner, God's sovereignty can cause some to think that his rule makes our choices, our lives, our journeys as somewhat inconsequential or unimportant . 

Human Responsibility- Though God is sovereign, he has created human beings, male and female in his own image (Genesis 1:26, 27).  Furthermore, God calls us to co-rule and reign with him on the earth as stewards.  He has vested us with dominion in the created order and we are to follow him in what he has called us to be.  By our very nature, we have been created to be responsible to God for how we represent him and steward our lives and the created order.  There is high human responsibility to a Sovereign God which is taught in the Scriptures.  

In Scripture we see God's sovereignty and our responsibility clearly taught in many places.   In the narrative of Daniel we see quite plainly that God is teaching us as well as various players in the story that he rules and reigns supreme over all.  He is the one who changes the times and seasons and sets up kings and removes them (Daniel 2:21).  His is the dominion which is an everlasting dominion and his Kingdom will last through all generations (Daniel 4:34).   Additionally, the prophecy of Isaiah teaches us that  there is no God but God who rules over all things and declares the end from the beginning in the story of history (Isaiah 45).  His purposes will stand, all that he wishes to accomplish will be accomplished (Isaiah 46); he is the Sovereign Creator God. 

At the same time, our lives are lived actively by either following him or in rebellion against  him.  To bow the knee, to follow him, to love him, worship him, trust him is an act of our wills, but our wills are hardened so that we need his enabling grace.   We are truly guilty before God for our sins and we are responsible for the choices we make.  We are responsible and God is still in control of all things.  At this some might think that sovereignty and human decisions are at odds with one another or produce some sort of contradiction.  There is no contradiction as long as we are not ultimately free and God ultimately sovereign.  The scope of our freedom is either limited by God's rule or God's rule is limited in some sense by the scope of human freedom.  I think is helpful to look at the scope of sovereignty and our freedom as a way to understand this a little better.

Scope-What's on Your Plate?

If we think in terms of ownership and responsibility the tensions between sovereignty and our responsibility resolve much more easily.  It is clear from Scripture that God created and is therefore the owner of all things.  Psalm 24:1 teaches us that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.  Furthermore, Scripture teaches us that all things were created by him and for him (Colossians 1:16).  If God is the owner of all things, then he is responsible for all things. 

  • Everything is on God's plate-he is responsible and sovereign in all things
  • Some things God places on your plate-we are responsible for our lives and that which is entrusted to us as his stewards

Think about it.  If I were absolutely free to do anything and everything, then God could not accomplish anything in my life contrary to my will.  Absolute human freedom and absolute sovereignty actually are contradictory.  Yet if God is absolutely sovereign and I am responsible for what he puts before me then we have no contradiction.  Yet the nature of human free will and responsibility has puzzled thinkers in every age and I think looking at some things philosophically is appropriate.  So I want to pose what may sound like a crazy question-do we really have free will?

Do we have Free Will?

A question such as this can usually be a bit unnerving to us as we know we set alarm clocks, choose to get up (mostly), go to work and make decisions about how we act and treat others, et al.  It seems that I will likely choose to buy a new Palm Pre smart-phone some time 2009.  It is just self-evident that human beings posses something that many times is called free will.

As we begin a discussion of free will, it should be known that among secular philosopher types the belief that we have free will is laughable.  Most people who do not believe in God or any spiritual reality such as human souls, simply believe we are biological machines predetermined by causal chains of events determined by the laws of physics.  For instance the Center for Naturalism, an organization dedicated to promoting naturalistic thought and policies, makes the following statement on their web site:

Practically speaking, naturalism holds that an individual's development and behavior are entirely the result of prior and surrounding conditions, both genetic and environmental. Naturalism, therefore, denies that persons have contra-causal free will - that something within them is capable of acting as a first cause.

As a Christian, I do not believe we are simply determined by genetics and environment and that the world itself is not a closed system of cause and effect based on the laws of physics.  We hold that both God and human beings are capable of meaningful actions in the world.  Yet this quote brings up a distinction in discussions of free will in that it uses the term contra-causal free will to distinguish its views.  This brings up an important distinction in discussions about human choice, one that even Christians differ with one another about.  First two quick definitions:

  • Contra Causal or Libertarian Free will...this is a version of free will you might call: really, really free, free will.  It holds that that a person can make genuinely free decisions without any other causation but the person's will.  Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland defines it this way: "When an agent acts freely, he is a first or unmoved mover; no event causes him to act.  His desires, beliefs and so on may influence his choice, but free acts are not caused by prior states in the agent."1
  • Compatibilism-Our choices are in accord with other factors and never uncaused or unconditioned.  Past choices, our environment, our character development and virtue, God's working, our current desires all weigh into our decisions. 

While the naturalistic determinist believes our choices are compatible (or more precisely dictated to us by) with genetic and environmental determinism, there are also Christians who believe our choices are free, yet God may guide them when he chooses to do so in order to achieve his purposes.   Another way of looking at this is that God has freer, free will than we do.  I do not find this troubling as it seems evident that God is God and we are not.  

In arguing that human freedom and God's sovereignty are compatible, Christian philosopher and theologian Bruce Ware makes an excellent point:  "human freedom that is compatible with God's meticulous sovereignty2, then, cannot be libertarian or contra-causal freedom, but must instead truly be a freedom of one's strongest inclination, desire, and volition. That is, our freedom consists in our choosing and doing according that what we are inclined most, or what we desire most, to do."3 Dr Ware's contention is not that we do not choose to do anything, but rather human beings choose what they are most inclined to do or what they desire most.

We do not wish to say that our choices are not free in a limited sense; we do make choices and we are responsible for them.  Yet we do want to say is that God can indeed act in the lives of human beings, changing their minds and wills.  In fact, Scripture teaches us that human beings, if left to their own desires, will not seek God and will not submit to his rule.  People become followers of Jesus precisely because he intervenes to change us and give us new desires and inclinations (See Romans 3 and Romans 8 in particular).   Whereas one day we did not desire to love God, read Scripture, worship Jesus, etc. something happens and we are changed.  We now find Jesus to be a treasure and we actually desire to love and follow him.  This is not dependent on our free will but is rather a sovereign work of God.  Jesus told his closest friends on earth: you did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to bear much fruit, fruit that will last (paraphrase of John 15:16).  We are indeed chosen by God, saved by God and changed by God to become followers of Jesus.  All of this is by grace, not because of anything we are or anything we do (Ephesians 2:1-10). 

Unlike the secular determinist, we do believe that God can act in the world and we can make choices.  Yet we also believe that God is in control and bringing about his will, a purposeful working in history.  So in some sense, God is sovereign and determines everything, yet uses the choices of our lives as means to accomplish his ends.  

How God's Sovereign rule and our choices and responsibility interact is a puzzling mystery around which followers of Jesus have wrestled for years.  We do not intend to solve the issue here.  Yet as we see in the story of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, God wants us to know without question that God rules and his Kingdom will be established despite our pride and rebellion.  We far too often think we are the masters of the universe and the captains of destiny; we are not, and it is good news to realize this and follow the one who graciously leads all things.

Our Response to God's Initiative

One of the  most difficult things about becoming a follower of Jesus is realizing that you are not in control.  It sometimes makes us afraid to let go of the steering wheel of life and trust someone else with ultimate things.  Yet our wise and loving Creator desires for us to come to him by faith, to put our hand of trust into his and then follow. The irony of it all is that by yielding to a sovereign God we find our greatest joy.  We may go to sleep at night knowing that God is on point and that we can rest.   We need not persist in our self-deception that we are the little god of our own lives; such small deities always disappoint.  Yet knowing the God who made us, leads us and forgives us in Christ leads us to a place of life and peace forever.

God freely came to the earth in person of Jesus to show us who he is.  God freely came to the earth in Jesus to die for rebels and bring them home into a relationship that truly satisfies.  God loves freely, he is calling to you, if you sense his Spirit beckoning you to come home, then freely respond with the desire and the grace he is giving.  

Notes

1 J.P. Moreland and Garrett J. DeWeese, Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2005) 124. Emphasis added.

2. Meticulous Sovereignty means that God is in control of all things in life, not just a few things here and there.

3. Bruce Ware, God's Greater Glory-The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005) 27.  Dr. Ware's discussion of Sovereignty and Free will in this book is a must read for Christians who desire to take seriously the teachings of Scripture regarding the sovereignty of God.   See pages 24-26 in summary and  chapter 3 in detail.

 

 

To Obey, or Not to Obey...That is the Question

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were given an order to obey a law which demanded all leaders of the Babylonian empire to bow down in worship before a golden image set up by Nebuchadnezzar.  They willfully disobey the order and get themselves into a bit of trouble for doing so.  This brings up an important question for followers of Jesus in every time period.  Is it right to disobey governing authorities?  As Americans, who revel in individualism and whose country was born by throwing off the rule of a European monarch, this is hardly a question.  Yet there is a great tension in the teaching of Scripture and in human society in general. 

Practical Tensions

In order to have a culture that experiences anything less than chaos, there must be some order.  It has been demonstrated time and again that human beings are quite capable of bringing havoc upon the world.  In light of this, government has been necessary.  Yet at the same time, governments are made up of the same human beings who can tyrannically and unjustly oppress those whom they serve.  Hence we have a tension that must be resolved.  First, we need government and we need to follow certain rules or laws in order to have a peaceful and meaningful existence.   Second, it is true that a government can be wicked or ask its people to do unjust tings.  In such cases that government's rules ought to be disobeyed. Or should they?

Biblical Tensions

There is clear teaching in Scripture regarding obeying government and the nature of rebellion.  Many are surprised that the Bible actually commands followers of Jesus to obey governing authorities.  For instance, Romans 13:1-5 gives this strong exhortation:

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.

It also goes on to say we should pay taxes, but that is painful to read being a resident of New Jersey.  The point is that we should follow the laws of our land because the state is appointed by God to  correct and punish wrong doing so a peaceable society can flourish.   Furthermore, to go against right authority appears to be sin in light of God's strong words about rebellion (1 Samuel 15:22, 23) That is one side of the tension.

The other side of the tension arises from some clear biblical examples of people who in fact disobey governing authorities.  The Hebrew midwives disobey Pharaoh's commands to destroy Hebrew babies in Exodus 1.  In Acts 4 the early leaders of Jesus' church disobey a command from the ruling council in Jerusalem.  They are asked by the authorities to no longer preach or teach about Jesus; their response was clear:

Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard. 

Equally clear was the response of our guys here in Daniel 3.  Their response to Nebuchadnezzar was strong and resolute:

O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.

So it seems we have to reconcile God's commands to obey government and some clear cases where God has displayed his blessing upon the disobedience.  The solution to this problem is actually quite simple, the application of that solution can be quite complex requiring wisdom.  Is it OK to disobey the government? Yes, it seems, when it wants you to sin against God. 

Higher Authority

It is clear from Scripture that we are to listen to God's word above the commands of human beings.  We are to submit to a law that transcend the borders of nations and cultures. As the apostles in Acts 4 show us, we are to live in a manner that pleases God and not blindly obey a sinful law from government.   How we are to live this injunction in a world of complex situations and circumstances must be considered.  Additionally, whether the law of the land should be the law of God is a difficult subject which various Christians approach differently.  To proceed into some of the complexity of this I will take two paths.  First, we will simply look at the relationships of God's law to the laws of the state.  This is necessary if we are to be able to compare the two and if the state is to rule justly.  Finally, we will look at two different camps regarding civil disobedience and close by giving a positive encouragement from Scripture.

Laws, Higher and Lower

Both church and state have been called by God to govern and have authority in the lives of Christians.  The church is a body of believers called out by God together as a covenant people by the gospel.  As such, the highest authority in our lives is the Word of God, the Scriptures.  Yet each church is in a realm of state authority as well so the lines of separation must be discussed.  Historically, the Roman Catholic Church and the magisterial reformers (Luther, Zwingli and Calvin) held to a unification of church/state.  The state was legitimized by God and the church endorsed this legitimacy.  Additionally, the state enforced and permitted the establishment of religious authority and unity in a realm. This view had long standing back into Greek and Roman times.  A state and its gods were one.  However, this was questioned by many reformers and evaluated in light of Scripture.  Did not Jesus teach that the rule of Caesar was different than the rule of God?  Does not a marriage between worldly power and the church have a corrupting influence on both?  Such questions in Western culture led the founders of the American experiment to articulate clearly the relationship between church and state.  It is found in the well known establishment and free exercise clauses of the first amendment of the US Constitution.  Here is how it reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  The meaning of this statement is quite clear but the implementation has always been a bit fuzzy.  What it means is that there will be no official state religion or church in our country.  Additionally, the government will not prohibit law abiding citizens from freely practices their religion.  It does not make a religion free zone in any portion of society nor does it create a religion of which all citizens must participate.  It means we have freedom of religion - a gracious gift to the people of America.   I take this to be a just solution but it leaves unanswsered how the authority of the church and state are grounded.

The Authority of State - Natural Law

Many thinkers in history, particularly Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and John Locke have taught that there is a law built into human existence which dictates to conscience basic categories of a just society.  I do not have time here, but I discussed various types of law elsewhere1.  Natural law would be defined in the Christian tradition as follows: Natural law is the law "written on the heart" (Romans 2:13) - the conscience by which people know good and evil - right from wrong. Sin mars this faculty in man, but it remains none the less. These are things that people "can't not know" which flow from the moral nature of God and presses upon the conscience. People suppress this and hold it down in wickedness, many becoming callous as to be seared against God's witness in conscience (See Romans 1,2). This is shared by both Christian and Non Christian. Some recent works on Natural law would be found in the writings of Princeton scholar Robert George and J. Budzizewski of the University of Texas at Austin.2

The state then governs in accord to the law written on the heart expressed in basic morality found in all cultures.  The so called "second tablet" (commands 5-10) of the Ten Commandments is reflective of such basic moral foundations.  The natural law is an expression of God's authority on all peoples and we disobey this moral law to our own peril.

The Authority of Church - The Word of God

Christians however are called to a higher authority than even the state, the authority of the Word of God.  Scripture is the Supreme Court in all matters of life and teaching for Christian believers.  It is to be obeyed and heeded out of love for Jesus Christ who is revealed in this Word.  It reveals the laws of God which demonstrate to us our sinfulness and need of grace.  It reveals the gospel by which we are saved and restored to right relationship with God.  It reveals the mission of the church in the world as the in-breaking of the ultimate rule and reign of God in the Kingdom of Heaven.  It reveals that we are citizens of two realms...the Kingdoms of earth and the Kingdom of God. Scripture instructs us as to when civil disobedience is warranted while simultaneously calling us to submit to just and reasonable laws.

In this age church and state are separate spheres of authority with Scripture guiding the church.  When Jesus returns he will set up a perfect divine monarchy with himself as King of Kings.  Aristotle once wrote that the best government would be by a perfect and virtuous ruler.  Yet none of this metal is to be found among the sinful throng of humanity.  In the current state of affairs it has been said that democracy is the best of all bad forms of government.   Yet a day will come when authority will be always good, kind and just. 

In summary, the state is called to have just laws and believers are called to follow all such laws.  When the state passes unjust laws we are compelled to obey a higher standard.  The question of the application of this principle has typically found Christians in two camps.  We should disobey a government when it promulgates unjust laws or we should only disobey when it compels us by law to act in a sinful manner.  Let's close by looking at this distinction.3

Promulgation or Compulsion?

The Antipromulgation Position-this position simply states that the law is king and the state is not above the law.  If a government rules contrary to just laws than it is illegitimate or tyrannical, failing in its God given duty to promote and protect the common good.  Such governments that promote and promulgate evil should be resisted by protest and self-defensive force if necessary.  Some advocates of this view have even gone as far to recommend revolution against such tyrannical and unjust governments.

The Anticompulsion Position -  this view holds that a Christian should submit to a government until it actively compels a person to follow an unjust law or disobey God.  In this view the follower of Jesus can submit to the just laws of the state while not participating in the evil behavior the state permits.  A modern example would be a doctor refusing to obey a government which might compel him to perform abortions against her conscience. Typically, non violent4 resistance is the path followed by the person resisting  an unjust state in this position.5 The following table from Norman L. Geisler illustrates the differing views6:

Antipromulgationist Anticompulsionist
When it permits evil When it commands evil
When it promulgates evil lawsWhen it compels evil actions
When it limits freedom When it negates freedom
When it is politically oppressiveWhen it is religiously oppressive

In closing, it is my conviction that Christians should be good citizens of any realm in which they are living (See 1 Timothy 2:1-3). We should be seek to be helpful to all who govern justly and even do good to those who treat us badly (Matthew 5:43-47). The only trouble we should be starting is the sanctified kind.  If we get in trouble for proclaiming the love of God towards sinners, the forgiveness of God the repentant and the salvation of God which comes through Jesus Christ alone-bring it on.  If we get in trouble for disobeying an evil law, then throw us in the flames.  But if you suffer for law-breaking and doing stupid things...well, that's on you.

As to the myriad of questions surrounding the use of force in self defense, or for a people to wage a violent rebellion against an unjust state...that will have to be junk left for discussion on another day.  

For Jesus,

Reid S. Monaghan

Notes

1 See my Christianity and Nation States...Law and a Just Society at http://www.powerofchange.org/2005/5/3/christianity-and-nation-stateslaw-and-a-just-society.html

2 See J. Budzizewski Written on the Heart-The Case for Natural Law and What We Can't Not Know-A Guide  and Robert P. George The Clash of Orthodoxies-Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis.

3. This is a synopsis of the treatment in Norman Geisler's Christian Ethics-Options and Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1989) 241-246.

4. Note: This is a separate issue from the discussion of just war vs. pacifism. 

5. For a good treatment on why Christians should not favor the use of violence see John S. Feinberg, Paul D. Feinberg Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996, c1993), 402-405.

6. Geisler, 243.

 

 

 

 

The Question of Dreams and Visions

There is an occurrence in Scripture where God's people are given the ability to interpret dreams and visions.  This was a common practice among the Chaldeans, and in Daniel's case, God gives him this ability.  Though there is much goofy, yes even wicked, stuff associated with dreams and visions it is one of the means by which God has revealed himself in Scripture.  The Christian doctrine of revelation teaches that God truly reveals himself or makes himself known to people.  We typically speak of his natural revelation whereby God displays something of himself through created things and conscience (See Romans 1-2 and Psalm 19).  Additionally we speak of God's special revelation where he clearly and explicitly  makes himself known.  This primarily comes through the incarnation, God becoming a human to reveal himself in the person and work of Jesus.   Furthermore God has spoken through prophets, apostles and Jesus and these are all preserved and given to us in Holy Scripture (See Hebrews 1:1-3).  So God reveals himself to all through nature and conscience.  He shows who he is and that we are accountable to him.  God reveals himself uniquely to some through his Word (the Bible) and Jesus Christ who is revealed therein.   So what of dreams?  Some theologians place dreams and visions in the category of special revelation as they are only give to some people.  They are not the normative way God speaks. 

Though dreams and visions are not something we expect, need or something that happens every day, God does use them for his purposes.  He gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams in the book of Genesis and here in Daniel we find our exiled young man with the ability as well.    Additionally there have been documented cases of God giving dreams and visions to his people today to further his purposes. Particularly in countries where access to gospel preaching and the Scripture is limited or prohibited by law or cultural pressure, God has given people visions and dreams of Jesus.1 Now, one caveat and caution is in order.  Any dream that does not accord with the revealed word of God we have in Scripture is not to be assumed to be "from God."  We should test any such dreams or visions by the revealed truth of the Bible and the counsel of mature leaders.   After all, while some dreams and visions can be from God, others could be demonically inspired or the byproduct of eating a bad burrito.   God has given us his Word as a sure and guiding testimony so that we can test prophecies (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22) and hold on to what is good.   There are many who seek after dreams, visions and experiences only to be led away by con men who revel in psychosomatic trickery.  We need to be guided by Scripture.  Be aware of this but also do not put God in a box, let his Word speak to you daily so that you can discern authentic visions from the poor peddling of TV prophets and nightmares brought on by an ill advised midnight snack.

Notes

1.  There are many testimonies from the Islamic world which recount dreams and visions-see http://www.answering-islam.org/Testimonies/ - See also the bibliography at the end of that page. Also, a DVD entitled More than Dreams distributed by Vision Video, has chronicled this as well.

 

Saying and Saving Grace

Saying and Saving Grace

Grace. There is no better word to use to describe the uniqueness of the message of Jesus than this one word.  Biblical grace is a concept not found in the religions of humanity and it is one that is often misunderstood or simply missed completely in contemporary culture.  Today when one hears the term it is likely provoke thoughts of a prayer said before meals or a character on a popular television drama.  Many Christians may talk of grace, but few of us actually live in light of the grace of God. 

In this essay I want to do a few things.  First, I want to contrast biblical grace with most ideas of religious observance found throughout our world.  After doing so I wish to offer a simple definition. Then I will breakdown several different ways in which the Bible talks about grace in God's relationship to human beings.  It is my fear that we could be too narrow in our understanding of the Scriptures teaching on grace.  Finally, I will conclude with some practical guidance on living in grace in relationship to what we might call habitual or besetting sins. 

Biblical Grace vs. The Chains of Religion

Before we make a positive definition of what we mean by grace, I want to first prepare us for its meaning by way of contrast with human religious traditions.  We might think of religion as humanity's attempt to please, connect with and commune with transcendent reality. Simply put religion is a human exercise - an attempt to please God or align with the universe etc.  It is an enterprise founded on the devotion, actions and morality of human beings.  Religion would teach us that God will like you if you say, do, believe all the right things.  The more perfect you are, the more favor you will find with God (or the karmic universe in some ways of thinking).  Many are the mantras of religion: keep the law, follow the eight fold path, observe the five pillars or sow towards good karma.  Perhaps then you will find a right standing with the transcendent or divine.  Biblical grace is a stark contrast to these sorts of ideas. 

There are many worthy definitions of the concept of grace, but for the sake of brevity I will offer a basic definition given by Millard Erickson in his Christian Theology:

By this [grace] we mean that God deals with his people not on the basis of their merit or worthiness, what they deserve, but simply according to their need; in other words, he deals with them on the basis of his goodness and generosity.1

It is tempting to look into the mirror to tell oneself I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and dog gone it, people like me.  The wonderful truth of the grace of God is that he accepts sinners, not perfect people, he gives grace to the needy, not to those looking to be full of themselves.  The teaching of the Bible about grace reveals that God's acceptance of broken, imperfect people is not based upon them getting their act together.  God accepts those who come to him in the knowledge that they are undeserving and in great need. He does not turn away those who come to him with a trusting soul.  Those with a spiritual hunger and thirst may come to him and be accepted in grace.

35Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."

Species of Grace

The Bible teaches us that there are several kinds of grace which God lavishes on his creation and human beings.  God is always expressing kindness to a world which is living in rebellion from Him.  One of the most fascinating truths of Scripture is that God showers grace even upon his enemies.  The following are a sampling of the kinds of grace God expresses to his world.

Widespread (or Common) Grace

First, there is an aspect of grace that is widespread and given to all human beings.  God's design of the universe and our planet provides that the sun rises2 on all people equally and the just and unjust receive rain and physical provisions for life. (Matthew 5:44-45). Furthermore, God's widespread, or common, grace bears daily witness to his loving care by giving us fruitful seasons and harvests and allowing people to have satisfied, glad hearts in our food and drink (Acts 14:15-17).  Finally, God graciously reveals himself to all of us through creation and conscience (See Romans 1:18-23 and Romans 2:14-16).  He does this for all so that they might know that he is God and we are accountable to him.

Saving Grace

Yet in addition to God's widespread grace, he additionally gives saving grace to those who believe.  We are saved from sin, death and hell by the kindness and grace of God. His rich mercy towards us brings us to trust in his grace rather than our own works to make us justified and forgiven (Ephesians 2:4-9)before Him.  God's grace is lavished upon his people so that their sins are forgiven and they are made right with him.  He brings us back into a close relationship of love and trust through the work of Jesus (Romans 3).

Sanctifying (Life Changing) Grace

God's grace does not simply save us so that we get on a life waiting list for heaven. No, his graces transforms our lives to be more like Jesus.  His grace teaches us to renounce worldly passions and to now live our lives for the glory of God.  His grace purifies us and places in us a strong desire for good works where we may not have given a rip before (Titus 2:11-14). 

Persevering Grace

Finally, all followers of Jesus who have received widespread grace, been rescued by saving grace and who are being transformed by sanctifying grace are also kept by grace until the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven.  God preserves his people by grace (John 10:27-29) and he holds a coming reward for all he is guiding towards his Kingdom.  He guards and keeps his people by his sustaining grace until our temporal death or the coming of Jesus in fullness at the end of time (1 Peter 1:3-5).

One of the beautiful teachings of the New Testament has really connected with me over the years. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes the following: It is the grace of God that I am what I am, and this grace was not without effect, no I worked harder than them all, but not I, but the grace of God within me (1 Corinthians 15:10).  This passage teaches us the centrality of grace in shaping our lives and giving strength to labor in the purposes of God.

Grace in the Trenches

A strong concept of the grace of God is needed to keep us from the edges and extremes of prideful self righteousness or despair from our own sin.  Martin Luther's classic reformation theology teaches us that Christians are Simul Justus et Peccator-we are simultaneously justified yet at the same time sinful.  God's grace has accepted us, justified us through the work of Jesus.  Yet throughout life we battle with what some have called indwelling sin.  We must daily yield our lives to his grace and trust him to lead us away from temptation.  Romans 8:1-17 teaches us that the new life we have in God must be lived by his Spirit and power every day.  While at the same time we work to put to death the sin in our lives.  This tension must be embraced or we will become either proud or despairing. 

If we think we have made ourselves better, or our good works have made us somehow more pleasing to God then we will think too much of ourselves.  If we forget the unconditional acceptance of God through the work of Jesus we will despise ourselves and despair at our brokenness.   The middle way is the way of the cross whereby we daily die to our sins and ask God to help us live in newness of live (Romans 6).  We do this by practicing confession (See Psalm 51 and 1 John 1:9) and repentance.  By confessing our sins to God we walk in the light with him and experience the truth of grace.  As Jesus once said to an adulterous woman-neither do I condemn you.  Then we turn from our sin back into (not run away from) fellowship with God and his people.  As Jesus said to that same woman-go and sin no more.  

As we struggle with habitual sins of pornography, self-image, pride, self-exaltation, eating disorders, lying, gossip, slandering our neighbors, rebelling and just being punks, we must remember that we are saved by grace.  Only then will we have the courage necessary to be changed by grace.  Confession and repentance are great gifts to the believer.  They are like a scuba tank of live giving oxygen for those suffocating in the deep oceans of the soul. As you struggle with sin, remember Jesus-he is able to sympathize with you and change your life.  If you go it alone, denying the grace of God, you are literally up the creek without a paddle.

Learning to walk with you towards our gracious God,

Reid S. Monaghan

Notes:

1. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998), 320.

2. Jesus and the Scriptures, as many others, use phenomenological language to describe the relationship of the earth to the sun. It is common in all times in history to speak of “the sun rising” and is in no way “unscientific or inaccurate” to speak this way. In fact, every time the weather person is on the news you will hear talk of the sunrise. Plus, watching sunsets and sunrises with a friend at the beach is much better than “lets go observe the well timed planetary rotation of our earth.” That won’t get you too many dates. God has given us certain “means of grace” or practices by which he transforms our lives.

3. To read about these practices see Reid S. Monaghan Spiritual Disciplines at the book table or online at —http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/booklets.html.

On the favor of God

Unmerited Favor

In Daniel 1 we see an interesting word used about Daniel's decision not to defile himself with the King's food.  Daniel 1:9 teaches us that God gave Daniel favor and compassion in sight the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.   In this passage we see two sides of a unique biblical truth regarding the work of God through our lives. 

The word translated favor here is the Hebrew term hesed which has the meaning of unfailing kindness and steadfast love.  It is a statement of God's covenantal commitment  to his people; it is a statement of God's faithfulness to his promises.   It is the word used in Lamentations 3:22-23 where we are told

22The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

We will be focusing more on this next week, but suffice it to say Scripture wants us to see that God was faithfully with Daniel as he took a stand in Babylonian culture.  At this point we should notice that God's favor affected the relationships he had with those who were in power. This favor was simply a gift of God, and preceded negotiations about the food issue.  

Favor for Wise Living

Daniel then makes decisions and actions in light of the grace God had given.  He had a huge part to play in how he was received by those around him and we observe that Daniel displayed exemplary wisdom in his interactions with the Babylonian officials.  He displays himself to be a shrewd negotiator and his wise action moves him towards his desire to honor God.  There is much practical insight here in this for today.  Each of us must navigate work places, schools and cultural settings which can press us towards the compromise of our own worship.   We need exactly what Daniel needed-God's favor and then wise actions in various situations and living relationships.

In the workplace today we may be called to compromise the truth, submit to morally questionable instructions and perhaps practically deny our most deeply held beliefs.  What sort of practical wisdom does the sojourner need today?  I will suggest two areas as paramount.  First, we must understand where tensions lie with our culture and the gospel.   Second, we must choose wisely where and when to take a stand.  For making everything a big deal is not wise yet nor is compromising the soul as we live before God.  So let's look at where we may find tensions in our culture with the gospel today.

Dave Mahan, director of the Rivendell Institute for Christian Thought and Learning describes certain cultural fault lines1-areas of life that may create earthquakes between gospel and culture.  I find these helpful in anticipating where trouble may arise for the sojourner who seeks to influence others for the Kingdom of God.  The description here is necessarily brief.  

  • Truth-our culture is relativistic in nature and has a low regard for truth. Living with integrity today may present us challenges around issues of truth.
  • Freedom-Our culture is obsessed with a view of freedom that literally says "everything goes." Yet we realize that every thing that goes may not be the good or right way to walk in the sight of God.
  • Authority-We question, malign, rebel against and abuse power and authority. We will be pressed in the way to submit to and exercise authority.
  • Self/Identity-As followers of Jesus we believe that human beings are made in God's image and are worthy respect. We also believe God is the one before whom we truly know ourselves. Our culture views that human nature and the self as constructed based purely on the whims, preferences and choices of individuals. We typically base the worth of persons on their position, their amount of possessions and the power they posses while the gospel puts intrinsic value upon all persons.
  • Future-Finally, our view of the future is very different than those around us. Our hope may be mocked, our belief in God's guiding of history seen as naïve and even belief in the coming Kingdom of Heaven is maligned. Afterall, when was the last time you saw a movie set in the future where God had anything to do with reality on earth?

These issues are areas where the gospel can both practically and intellectually clash making sojourning challenging in our day.  In closing, knowing where tensions exist is only part of the equation. What we need is wisdom of where to make our own stands in the complex circumstances of life.  When tempted to lie to increase our sales, when tempted to compromise our lives in an over sexualized culture, when pressured to treat others without honor, we will have difficult decisions to make. We must prayerfully maintain integrity in our dealings with others walking both an eternal and human path.  As we develop character and love for God we will do all our work as we are doing it with him.  Virtue and industry will be our path and we can grow to be trusted men and women in our day.  People of character may receive favor from God and people and our worship can remain undefiled in tough situations where others might choose a lower path.   The tough part of wisdom is that it happens in real time and is not always a clear step by step path.  As we seek a way of wisdom, Jesus' own words become our calling: so let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. 

Lord, may this be our prayer...

Note

1. Dave Mahan, Lecture—Cultural Fault Lines, Engaging Contemporary Culture Project, Fort Collins, CO 2001.

Jerusalem Pizza...

In the first chapter of the book of Daniel we see an echo of a tradition which is still very part of our modern world.  Driving through downtown Highland Park, NJ you first pass by Jerusalem Pizza before making it to a place where you can get kosher Chinese.  Very cool - great food in Jersey. To walk with God in a foreign culture necessitated both cultural embrace and cultural distinction for Daniel and his friends.  They were living in Babylon but they were not wishing to become full Babylonians.  They had been enrolled in Babylon U to receive an education, they had been allotted the finest of foods from the King's table and they had been given Babylonian names.  In Daniel 1:8 we see that they took a stand around an issue regarding food. 

There is much scholarly speculation as to why they put their proverbial feet down regarding food.  Some say that they wanted God to receive the credit for their good health and not the dietary program of the King,1 others claim they wanted to have their allegiance in God and were making a sort of a statement of political dissent.2  Others offer a fear of participating with food and drink offered in worship to Babylonian deities.3  Finally, and relevant to our current essay, the food would have impacted their consciences in relation to their worship of God.4  Let's look at the passage.

8But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.

It seems like the issue they were actually concerned about was defilement. This term literally means to become religiously unclean or unholy before God5.  Though it is likely that the exiled teens would have been unable to avoid all foods which would have defiled them, it seems this was the place they made their stand for the sake of conscience. As many people misunderstand the purpose for the Old Testament's dietary laws, I wanted to take a small bit of time and discuss this.

In the biblical book of Leviticus we find several injunctions by God as to what the people of Israel were and were not to eat.  Now some may find this an arbitrary thing for God to do, after all what is the big deal about eating certain foods.  Surprisingly enough, food is not the issue at all. Food was merely the means that God used to communicate something to his people and those in the tribes among whom they would live.

Food is one of the most common, yet most important aspects of human life.  God created the world so that the produce of the earth would sustain our daily lives.  Using such a basic and daily necessity such as food, God wanted to demonstrate something about himself to his people.  This is clearly articulated at the end of Leviticus 11.  It reads the following:

For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy."

God's purposes in the dietary laws for the Jews was to make them holy.  We typically think of the word holy as being simply a sort of moral category, but in fact it means "sacred, consecrated, set apart for God." God intended his people to have a distinctness and as such he made them different down to the very food that they ate.  Now it has been observed that to each Kosher is in fact quite healthy, but this was a gracious byproduct of the reason which God gave his people a special diet.

Furthermore, the faith of ancient Israel also included the sacrifice of animals to take away and pay for the sins of the people.  This was in no way to placate or pacify a King Kong God, but a gift of grace to atone, reconcile and restore fellowship with God.  Sin separates, sacrifice brought forgiveness for sin. 

Yet the Old Testament did not complete the story of redemption of God's people.  This religious diet, did not purify their hearts, it only set them apart in an external way.  Furthermore, the sacrifice of animals was but a temporary solution for sin and had to be repeated year after year on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.  This was a foreshadowing of the great need of all humanity.  We needed to be made righteous and be reconciled to God at the level of the heart.  We needed a lasting holiness and a sacrifice which would be given once for all.

The Old Testament pointed forward to a coming reality that would make many people holy before God.  It would not come from external actions but would be accomplished by an action by God himself.  In the New Testament Jesus, a Jewish man, taught us the following in Mark chapter 7:

14And he called the people to him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him."17And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

Our passage in Daniel teaches that God was the one who gave him favor as he made a stand to remain a person set apart, made holy, by God.  We too need favor and forgiveness for our own hearts and attitudes towards God and others. God would do this for his people as he showed them grace and favor in Jesus.  Today instead of animals being sacrificed for sin, we live in light of the sacrifice that Jesus gave once for all on the cross.  Furthermore our "cleanness" before him is because of his righteousness counted to us by the free gift of God.  So rather than a human making a stand for culinary cleanliness, we now eat of the Lord's Supper to remind us of the one who made a stand in the world for us.  We do not make stands against defilement from culture alone; Jesus is with us each step of the way.  As he has made us "clean" we can now follow in his mission to proclaim the saving good news to others who will find peace with God and forgiveness in him.

Notes

1. Longman, Tremper. Daniel : The Niv Application Commentary from Biblical Text ... To Contemporary Life. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999, 52, 53.

2. Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1978) 83.

3. Stephen R. Miller, Daniel (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 66.

4. For a comprehensive listing of reasons they might have objected to the food see Goldingay, John. Daniel. Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1989, 18.

5. 7705קָדֹושׁ  qā∙ḏôš) James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997).

 

 

 

Ultimate God Fighting

There are many common myths that have floated around the human consciousness since the dawn of time.  One is that bad things should only happen to bad people and that good people should only have good things happen in their lives.  The biblical story line is not one that tells us “we” are the good people and “they” are the bad people; it is much more equitable than this.  Scripture teaches us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 6:23).  The bottom line is that we all have our share of the bad and God is good to us by his grace.  Furthermore, he allows some things in our lives that are painful for he is concerned more about transforming our lives than simply propping us up with pillows. 

Another myth that is commonly believed in many cultures is that “Might makes right.”  In other words, if your army beat someone's army, then your god sort of beats up their god.  It is amazing that this sort of thinking even makes it into football games.  In the ancient world and even throughout history (think religious wars) people thought that if a battle went in a certain direction that it showed that a certain god was giving them favor.  This thinking can permeate all of us where we can even think of our country or a certain political party as having a most favored status with the most high.  Now, Scripture does teach us that Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. (Proverbs 14:34) Furthermore, we also know that there are consequences for our folly and God is a judge of both people and nations.  But we cannot universalize the idea that if an army has success that God must be playing favorites.

In Daniel chapter 1 we see very evidently that this is NOT the case.  The Babylonians were clearly victors in their conquest of Judah and their people would have given credit to their god Marduk for their might and success.  Yet we learn something interesting in Daniel 1:1-2.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand…
The truth of the matter was that the Babylonian king and his armies were being employed by an even higher power to bring short term, temporal judgment Judah for its sin.  While the Babylonians would have declared Marduk the victor in the ultimate god fighting championship, they were clearly mistaken.  Daniel wants it to be absolutely clear; the LORD is the one in control of the circumstances of his people.  In fact, he even uses the Hebrew name adonai here6 meaning the Sovereign and powerful master,  declaring that he is the true ruler in this story.  Though there are kings involved in the rise and fall of empires, it is God who is acting through all these affairs.  So when the captives were taken from Jerusalem to the city of Babylon, they most likely entered through the massive Ishtar gate of an imposing city.  The gate and its thoroughfare would have been decorated with animals that were sacred to venerated Babylonian deities. 

Daniel wants his reader to know that God was not absent from the scene, nor was he defeated by an imaginary idol named Marduk.  God was working through these circumstances to bring about his purposes in the end.

As we face various circumstances, trials, difficulties, blessings and successes in our lives we must remember that God is with us, he is our loving leader and King.  This is truth; circumstances be what they may.

 

A Tale of Two Kings

The book of Daniel begins with a tale of two Kings.; one of Judah one of Babylon.  I thought it might be some fun background information to learn a little bit about the geopolitical situation of that time. 

The king of Judah at this time is a man named Jehoakim.  He is an interesting guy and was not well liked by anyone.  His people didn't like him, God didn't seem to like him and I am guessing even his mother found him hard to love. 

First of all, he was placed in power after the death of his father, a beloved ruler named Josiah who attempted to steer his people back towards the ways of their God.  After Josaiah's death, Jehoakim was placed on the throne by the Egpyptian king Neco.  He was a puppet of Epyptian power and he did not listen to the word of God.  He oppressed his own people and ripped them off so he could live in opulence. Jeremiah, a man who was called by God to tell the truth to this King, predicted that Nebuchadnezzar would conquer him (Jeremiah 25) and the surrounding territories. Jehoakim was such a good guy that Jeremiah said the following of him at his death

18 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: "They shall not lament for him, saying, ‘Ah, my brother!' or ‘Ah, sister!' They shall not lament for him, saying, ‘Ah, lord!' or ‘Ah, his majesty!' 19 With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem."
Jeremiah 22:18, 19

As the old King James translation puts it, this king received the burial of an ass. You can guess what kind of guy he was. You must be a real donkey if God has his prophet promise you the burial of a donkey.1

His nemesis in the first chapter of Daniel is the infamous Nebuchadnezzer who was the son of Nabopolassar the founder of the Chaldean dynasty which ruled Babylon.  He rose to power shortly after his military defeat of the Egyptian/Assyrian alliance at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC.  During this military campaign he also made his presence known in Judah.  At this time his father dies and he returns to Babylon to be crowned King.  Jehoakim was made a subject of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar brought several of the nobility back to his capital city to be trained in his service.  Daniel and his posse were deported to Babylon at this time.  From the biblical accounts in Jeremiah, 2 Chronicles and Daniel  as well as the ancient Babylonian Chronicle we can reconstruct the following time line for the Babylonian-Judean relationship in the 6th century.2

  • 605-Daniel and his friends are deported and Jehoakim becomes subservient to Babylon
  • 601-Jehoakim switches allegiance back towards Egypt after a temporary military defeat of the Babylonians
  • 597-Jehoakim killed buried without honor-his son Jehoiachin succeeds him and is conquered and exiled to Babylon along with a group of others including the prophet Ezekiel
  • 587/86-Babylonian fully and finally crushes Jerusalem devastating the city and its Temple

The tensions between Jerusalem and Babylon lasted roughly 18 years and ended in the complete humiliation of God's people.   One scholar gives this horrific description:


"In 587 BCE, the Babylonians began an 18-month-long siege of Jerusalem which ended with the city's almost complete destruction in the summer of 586 BCE.  Zedekiah's sons were killed before his eyes, then he was blinded and taken to Babylon. Thousands of Judah's citizens were deported to Babylonia where they joined their countrymen, beginning the famous 'Babylonian Exile.'" 3

One final note should be made. Many scholars have seen a discrepancy between the accounts of Daniel and the accounts of the book of Jeremiah regarding the dating of Nebuchadnezzar's first year of reigning in Babylon.  Daniel clearly articulates that Neb's first year was in the "third year of the reign of Jehoaikim" (Daniel 1:1) while Jeremiah tells up it was during his "fourth year."  Several reconciliations have been offered to understand the apparent discrepancy, the most compelling first put forth by Assyriologist D.J. Wiseman.4 There were several ways of dating the assension of a King in the ancient near east.  First, in Judah they would count the first year of the King as the first year.  Simple enough and it seems Jeremiah used this reckoning.  Second, the Babylonians counted the first year as an ascension year making the first year of a King's reign the one following ascension.  Tremper Longman reproduces a helpful chart from G.F. Hasel that illustrates this well:5

Chronicle of Kings in Jeremiah and Daniel

Ascension Year Method

Ascension Year

1st year

2nd year

3rd year

Daniel 1:1

Non-Ascension Year Method

1st year

2nd year

3rd year

4th year

Jeremiah 25:1, 9; 46:2

Notes:

1. See article Jehoakim Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988; 2002), 2:976.

2. For more background information see Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1978) 19-21 and 77-79. 

3. William H. Stiebing, Jr. Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture (Longman, 2008)281.

4. For a discussion of dating methods see  Goldingay, John. Daniel. Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1989, 14

5.  See Longman, Tremper. Daniel : The Niv Application Commentary from Biblical Text ... To Contemporary Life. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999, 44.

 

Sojourning in Babylon - An Introduction to the Book of Daniel

Introduction

Woven into the spiritual DNA of human beings and impressed upon us by popular proverbs is the reality that there is no place like home.  However, we as a people can feel as if we are in perpetual exile, never quite finding the deep rest of truly being home.  Life is a journey, a short stay, a passing through...a sojourn.  We travel from birth to the grave through various places and times heading towards an ultimate and final home.  We all long for a place "where everybody knows your name...and they're always glad you came" - a place where we are truly home.  Yet how do we live in a world that does not love God, does not worship him and is at times hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Long ago God's people were in what they considered to be their permanent home.  It was called the land of promise and it would be where God would dwell among them.  Yet they found themselves conquered by a foreign power and taken away into exile in a land known as Babylon.  In this exile, Daniel and a faithful group of God-followers realized that God himself was to be their home and they were to be faithful to him even in a strange land.  Their example is given to us in Scripture to teach us how we too may follow faithfully even when sojourning in our own time and place.

The book of Daniel is at once a fascinating and intoxicating piece of ancient Scripture. It is a blend of compelling narrative and prophetic predictions of the rise of men and nations over time.  Its stories of a few men holding fast to their faith and convictions amidst an exile in a foreign nation do not fail to inspire.  Furthermore, some of the almost psychedelic visions in the second part of the book could make the uninitiated postulate that Daniel was smoking something.  It is a book considered to be Holy Scripture by both Jewish and Christian communities and its stories have gripped both throughout history.  It has something to say about our past, our present lives and the future of the earth.

In this essay we have some very modest goals.  First, we hope to provide a small historical introduction to the book of Daniel.  I want us to wrestle with questions of authorship, origin, literary genre and composition in hopes that we would better grasp the book's message.  Secondly, we want to see Daniel as it lives in the whole of sacred Scripture. The Bible is a large book made of many smaller books; in fact, you might want to see the Bible as a small library of holy writings.  Each book has a place in the grand story of the Bible and we want to see how Daniel "fits" into the big picture of the narrative of redemption.  Third, I want us to examine some of the ever relevant mega themes of the book.  In looking at these themes our final goal for this introduction will become evident; I want us to see clearly that we are looking to the prophet Daniel to find our own bearings for life and ministry in 21st century, central New Jersey.  So before we look forward to how Daniel will call us towards God's future, we must look back into sands of the ancient near eastern societies that gave birth to this inspired writing. 

A wise person once said that those who are forgetful of what is past are doomed to repeat its failures. In like manner, those who ignore the faithful of the past are doomed to wander without their guidance into God's ordained future.  Paul, one of the early leaders of the Christian movement, once said this of the Old Testament: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.1 So with that in mind, let's begin our look at the book of Daniel.

Historical Setting

All biblical scholars are in agreement that the historical setting of the stories from the book of Daniel is the Babylonian exile of the Jews during the 6th century before Christ. Yet there is a bifurcation of opinion as to whether or not the book was actually written in the 6th century or at a later time.  As with many issues in biblical studies the opinion seems to break along the line of thought regarding the Bible's inspiration. Those who hold to a high view of Scripture's divine origin have defended the 6th century dating of Daniel in accord with what the text actually says.  Those who hold a critical view of Scripture, those who do not see the Bible as a divinely inspired book, tend to date Daniel to the 2nd century.  Usually the date assigned is in the time of trial for the Jews in Palestine around 167 BC. 

Though the arguments for the early or late date are beyond the scope of this introduction I will briefly summarize them for you here.  If interested in more, the love found in the endnotes is just for you.  You're welcome.

Arguments for a 2nd Century Date2

The arguments for dating the work to the 2nd century usually proceed along two major lines: historical and linguistic.  We will handle each in turn.

First, the book clearly exhibits an accurate view of the progression of world affairs and the rise and fall of empires in the ancient near east.  The visions Daniel interprets seem to exhibit the quality of predicting the future quite accurately.  In fact, too accurately for the unbelieving mind to bear; if one does not believe that God can prophetically "give" the future to a person, the author he must have written the account "after the facts" of history had been laid down. John Collins summarizes this line of argument well: the correspondence between Daniels predictions, especially in chap. 11, and the events of the Hellenistic [Greek] age is most easily explained by the supposition that the prediction was made after the fact.3 If Daniel got his historical facts right in his "prophecy" then it must not be a prophecy at all.  Rather, the accuracy is explained by a human writing it after the historical events took place. 

Secondly, some scholars have made the argument that the book's languages reveal it to be a composition of a later time.  It is well known among scholars that the text of Daniel is in Hebrew from Dan 1:1-2:4a, Aramaic from 2:4b-7 and then returns to the Hebrew tongue for the final five chapters. There are many speculations as to the reason behind this with one of the most prominent being that the book is a collection of various traditions and writings during the 2nd century period. During this time, when the Jews were resisting the oppression of Antiochus Epiphanes under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus,4 someone compiled a collection of stories in an attempt to inspire God's people. This of course assumes the later date based on the aforementioned historical skepticism about predictive prophecy and then creates possible scenarios for the linguistic composition of the work.  Furthermore, an argument that the language shows Greek influence and some Hellenisms is also made though the argument has recently lost force as more has been learned about 6th century Babylon.  This is acknowledged openly by those still holding to a second century date.5

Arguments for a 6th Century Date6

While most of the 20th century scholarship held to the later 2nd century dating for the composition of Daniel, recent scholarship has given weight to the ancient Jewish and Christian traditions holding to sixth century origin for the work.  The arguments for the earlier Babylonian date are textual, historical and theological. 

Textual Argument

The text of the book clearly sets Daniel's lifetime to the Babylonian exile of the 6th century.  The narratives explicitly represent events taking place in the capital of the ancient Babylonian empire. Additionally, the visions given in the latter parts of the work are delivered out of the mouth of Daniel in the first person indicating they came forth during his lifetime.7 The prophecies are clearly presented as 6th century.  This raises an important issue for those who believe in the inspiration of Scripture. If we date the prophecies to the 2nd century we must then assume that the author/editor assumed to dupe his audiences to believing his work to be a prophecy that had been given earlier when in reality he was just doing historical staging.  Tremper Longman summarizes this difficulty for a 2nd century date well:

In other words, in prophecy given after the fact (vaticinium ex eventu) the idea was to convince the audience that the prophet was a true prophet to whom God had revealed the future.  After showing that by predicting events that already passed, then there was an attempt at a real prophecy.  This is more than a literary device, and one must question whether such a textual strategy would find a place in God's Word. 8

In summary, the text shows both narratives and prophecy exhibiting an origin of sixth century BC.  The prophecies in particular would be the work of a "false prophet" if they were of 2nd century origin and of course this in no way fits the reality of an inspired Bible or the manner in which a Jewish prophet was thought to be speaking for God.

Historical Argument

The sixth century date of the book also has a long history in faith communities.  The community at Qumran, who gave us the Dead Sea Scrolls, counted Daniel among their canon.  If the book was a 2nd century production it is very odd for it to so quickly appear as canonical at the time of the Qumran community.  Some of the documents in the Qumran library historically date to 150BC right on top of a 2nd century composition of Daniel.  Additionally, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote extensively of Daniel both in a historical recounting of the exile and his thoughts of Daniel's writings to be prophecies.9 Finally, the Latin church father Jerome affirmed the Hebrew/Aramaic form10 of Daniel and that the exiled man to be the author of the book.  This position was held by the scholars of the Protestant Reformation as well.

Theological Argument

The main reason for us taking some time to discuss the dating of the book of Daniel is theological in nature.  We find no problem with the creator God uttering predictive prophecy through one of his servants.  It is no problem for a God who knows all of time and history to reveal what is to come to one of his people appointed for this very purpose.  Only an ingrained anti-supernatural bias would lead one to reject God-given prophecy.  We find such bias unwarranted and arguments flowing from such presuppositions unnecessary. 

So we find good reason to believe that both the stories and prophecies of Daniel have come from the period of exile and sojourn in the Babylon. Here are a few facts that we can deduce for our study11:

  • From Daniel 1:1 that the time frame for the book seems to be an early incursion into Judah by Nebuchadnezzar after he led Babylonian forces in their triumph over Pharaoh Neco of Egypt at the battle of Carchemish - 605 BC.
  • Nebuchadnezzar completes conquest of all Egyptian held territories including the Egyptian backed King Jehoiakim, ruling in the land of Judah (2 King 23:34) at the time. Jehoiakim becomes a servant of Nebuchadnezzar, rebels and then is taken captive according to 2 Kings 24.
  • Nebuchadnezzar's father Nabopolassar dies and Neb returns to Babylon to be crowned King.
  • Daniel and his friends were taken along with others back to Babylon after this early incursion into Judah.
  • Babylon completes conquest and utterly devastates Jerusalem in 587 BC
  • The captivity ends with the decree of Cyrus the Persian King. His decree gave official permission for the Jews to return to their land and restore their temple in 539 BC

Literary Features

Unlike many books of the Bible, Daniel is not simply one genre of literature.  While some books are mainly narrative or poetry or law codes, Daniel does not have one primary genre.  It actually contains historical narratives, prophetic literature and it also contains apocalyptic12 sections as well.  Furthermore, Ronald Wallace also argues that Daniel contains much of what has been called wisdom literature in that the stories and examples show how one lives wisely in deep devotion to God. 13 

One unique feature of the book is that it is a book of twos.  It can be seen as having two parts, it is written in two languages and the time frame spans two empires.  First, the book is easily broken down into two sections; one section is mainly narrative and the other visions/prophecy.  In fact, Joyce Baldwin structures her excellent commentary on the book in two parts: Part I - Stories, Part II - Visions.14  Second, as we already noted the book is written in both Hebrew and Aramaic reflecting members of the Jewish community living and breathing in the world of the Babylonian royal court.  Finally, the book begins with the empire of Babylon as the major Ancient Near Eastern power and it ends with this empire falling and the Media-Persians having taken center stage on the world scene.

The book of Daniel continues to spark interest and inspire awe today.  Its accurate prophecies of world events have convinced some of the divine origin of the Bible.  It's bizarre visions and cryptic symbolism has inspired prophecy hacks in every age.  Ask any of these types about Daniel's "70th week" and be ready to grab a seat for a couple of hours. Though the precise fulfillment of Daniel's prophecies is rightly of interest, we have an even greater interest in the work.  We desire to see how it fits in the unified message of Scripture that reveals the actions of our saving God to bring Jesus Christ to the earth as the savior for all people.

Redemptive Historical Context

There are several striking passages in the New Testament which come from the mouth of Jesus himself.  They give us great insight to the purpose of the Old Testament, including the book of Daniel.  If we miss this teaching from our Lord we could make Daniel merely a series of nice inspiring moral stories. 

In the closing of Luke's account of Jesus' life, teaching, death and resurrection he records the following interaction Jesus has with some of his followers after he rose from death. 

25And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself...44Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures...

Luke 24:25-27; 44-45 (ESV)

Here we find Jesus definitively teaching us that all the Scriptures of the Old Testament were about him.  Graeme Goldsworthy conveys this point well:

In doing biblical theology as Christians, we do not start at Genesis 1 and work out way forward until we discover where it is all leading. Rather we first come to Christ, and he directs us to study the Old Testament in the light of the gospel.  The gospel will interpret the Old Testament by showing us its goal and meaning.  The Old Testament will increase our understanding of the gospel by showing us what Christ fulfills.15 

In the Bible we find a cyclical pattern in the lives of God's people.  The biblical story line is one where God makes a promise to his people to rescue them and use them for blessing in his world.  He will bring them to a land of promise where he will dwell with them and they will live in peace.  Yet the people turn from him in unfaithfulness and wander away.  As a judgment upon them God then exiles them from the land where they await his deliverance at his appointed time.  When God's redemption comes they return back to the land, the place of God's promised covenant blessing.

In this storyline we find our own lives.  We are restless sojourners living in exile until we find our home in God.  God himself will come and be our redemption, our rest, our great exodus into freedom and our final hope.  This story is the story of the gospel throughout Scripture. 

  • God promises, we disobey
  • God loves and pursues his people in grace
  • People cry out to God for deliverance from bondage to sin and death
  • God leads people to freedom through redemption and the conquering of his enemies

This message is in essence the flow of good news.  That God saves sinners and he acts on their behalf.  Despite sin and rebellion God still forgives and sets people free.  This has been ultimately accomplished by Jesus who in his life, death and resurrection is the pinnacle of the redemption story.  God sends his only son into the world to conquer the enemies of sin, death and hell and bring his people out of exile home to his Kingdom.

As we read and study the stories of Daniel they ultimately teach us about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. As we travel through the book of Daniel we will see that the message is walking faithfully with God among a foreign power; this is echoed in the New Testament as we now live in a world that is fallen, broken and under the rule of Satan (John 16:11; Ephesians 2:1-10).

In this world it is our calling, like it was of Daniel, to follow God and represent him right in the middle of Babylon.  So when we read the story of Daniel and the Lion's Den I pray we will not think if we are brave like Daniel and then God will work for us! Rather, we must see that Daniel was thrown to the Lions and he trusted God.  Then someone else fought and won the battle on his behalf. 

As we struggle to walk faithfully, to influence our world, to resist the domination of a culture that is hostile to God and to proclaim the good news that Jesus died for sinners we too must remember that someone else has prevailed on our behalf. 

Major Themes

There are several major gospel themes in the book and we will cover just a few here in our remaining time .  I have summarized them under four major headings: 1) God Rocks and Rules 2) God is With Us 3) God wants us to Resist and Cause Sanctified Trouble and 4) Jesus Saves.

God Rocks and Rules

The absolute sovereignty of God over people and nations is on full display in the book of Daniel.  Even when it appears the kingdoms of men have triumphed over the Kingdom of God, the book of Daniel assures us that God is the one on the highest throne of history.  He is the one who allowed the Babylonian victory and the exile.  He is the one who place Daniel and his friends in a place where they might influence others and take heat for their love of God. Both in the small affairs of our everyday lives and in the major turns of history Daniel teaches us that God has got his people's back and will some day return to establish his eternal Kingdom which will have no end.

God is With Us

In the narrative sections of the book we see over and over again that God is with his people and has not abandoned them.  He sent them into exile, but he also went with them.  He was gracious to his followers in Chapter 1 by giving them success in their studies and leadership ability.  He was with Daniel and gave him the ability to interpret visions to teach a world ruler that God is the God of all gods.  He was with the three fellas thrown into a fiery furnace to display his power through their humble trust and obedience. He was with Daniel when he maintained his regular practice of solitary prayer.  He was with him when he was falsely accused and thrown in to be fresh meat for the Lion king.  He was with his people throughout their captivity and eventually judged the proud nations that held them fast.  In our own struggles to plant Jacob's Well in New Jersey he does not want us to forget what he teaches us in the New Testament: Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)

God wants us to Resist and Cause Sanctified Trouble

The programs of the Babylonian empire sought to reprogram Daniel and his friends to adopt Babylonian truths, Babylonian values and Babylonian practices .  At the same time God called his people to live faithfully as a resistance community against the inroads of empire into their hearts and lives.  This is true in every age for God's people.  In our own sojourn we are to live as non conformists within a culture as we walk a different path.  We are called to be rebels for love, mercy and the good news of Jesus Christ as a resistance community within the cultures of the world. Every resistance community must have certain practices by which it renews its mind and maintains its identity.  We are to hold fast to the Word of our leader, live together as a family on mission and then engage an active resistance by invading the dominant culture with the light of gospel.  We must live a counter-cultural story to hold forth light and life in a hostile world.  Others will join us as Jesus works in people's lives to bring them to saving faith.  This brings us to our final theme from Daniel...

Jesus Saves

Whether in the fiery furnace, or shutting the mouths of lions, or coming on the clouds as the glorious Son of Man, the book of Daniel reveals to us Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who loves to save his people.  Though in this sojourn on earth we will have trouble, he tells us "take heart, I have overcome the world" and "do not fear the one who can only destroy the body" and "my sheep hear my voice, I know them, they follow me... I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand."  Jesus forgives the exile who will humbly turn away from sin and self  and follow him.  Finally, Jesus will return to bring forth a final Kingdom of righteousness, justice and peace.  It is this kingdom which the stories and visions of Daniel point towards with great hope.

O Daniel Where Art Thou? Why Daniel, Why Now?

God has not called us to Babylon in our time and place; he has called us to start sanctified trouble in New Jersey. Our hope and practice as a resistance community needs to be strengthened by God's Word so that we may hopefully and boldly live for the glory of God, the good of the City by extending the gospel of Jesus to others.   The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews once told us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of people who have lived faithfully for God in ages past (Hebrews 12).  Let us look now at the lives of rulers and kings among whom lived some young men who embraced a sojourn in Babylon.  By doing so they exalted the God of Scripture who leads us in our own sojourn today.  Let us go and do likewise in the twists and turns of 21st century New Jersey.

Stoked for the Journey ahead,

Pastor Reid S. Monaghan

Notes

1. Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Romans 15:4

2. For a thorough view of the 2nd century view on the composition of Daniel see John Joseph Collins, Frank Moore Cross, and Adela Yarbro Collins, Daniel : A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, Hermeneia--a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993). For an evangelical perspective that holds to a 2nd century composition of the book, see John Goldingay, Daniel (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1989).

3. Collins, Cross, and Collins, 25.

4. For a brief outline of this period in history see Louis Ginzberg, "Antiochus Epiphanes," Jewish Encyclopedia  (2002). http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view_friendly.jsp?artid=1589&letter=A [accessed January 2, 2009].

5. Collins, Cross, and Collins, 20.

6. For the view of a 6th century setting and composition see Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel : An Introduction and Commentary, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries ([Downers Grove, Ill.]: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978), 35-46. and  Tremper Longman, Daniel : The Niv Application Commentary from Biblical Text ... To Contemporary Life (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999).

7. Longman, 22.

8. Ibid., 23.

9. Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1987), Antiquities 10.10-11.

10. There are apocryphal portions of Daniel which were written in Greek and were not considered by Jerome to be part of the original Hebrew Bible.  Furthermore they are absent from the Masoretic text, the best Hebrew manuscript tradition we have. These are found in the Roman Catholic canon. 

11. Summary of excellent historical reproduction in Baldwin, 20.

12. Apocolyptic literature points forward to what the end times of the earth will be like. 

13. Ronald S. Wallace, The Message of Daniel, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 22.

14. Baldwin, 75.

15. Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan : The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 55.

Bibliography

Baldwin, Joyce G. Daniel : An Introduction and Commentary The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. [Downers Grove, Ill.]: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978.

Collins, John Joseph, Frank Moore Cross, and Adela Yarbro Collins. Daniel : A Commentary on the Book of Daniel Hermeneia--a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Ginzberg, Louis. "Antiochus Epiphanes." Jewish Encyclopedia  (2002). http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view_friendly.jsp?artid=1589&letter=A [accessed January 2, 2009].

Goldingay, John. Daniel. Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1989.

Goldsworthy, Graeme. According to Plan : The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1987.

Longman, Tremper. Daniel : The Niv Application Commentary from Biblical Text ... To Contemporary Life. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999.

Wallace, Ronald S. The Message of Daniel The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1984.