Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Favorite Carol

The following is my personal favorite Christmas hymn.  I actually love both its melancholy verses and triumphant refrain.  It always draws me into the story of redemption in a way that most of the other Chrismas songs just don't.  You'll note perhaps more verses here than you have traditionally sung, but these belong to the song as traditionally sung in tandem over the Sundays of Advent.  Tradition says it began in the twelfth century though it most certainly began in the fifteenth.  As I'm wishing you a Merry Christmas this evening (and a happy new year)...I'm just wondering...what is your favorite Christmas hymn and why?

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A New Blogging Adventure

I am now into a new blogging adventure. did read that correctly.  I'm now on a third blog besides here and over at I Heart Barth (discussing theology and theologians).  Now I'm also blogging at the forum moderator blog-site seeing as I've been one of the moderators for awhile.  That's just what I needed to be doing right??? :-)  I've only posted one so far, but will be posting other random short blog postings over there from time to time if anyone is interested in following the site.  There are also numerous other writers who are also moderators at the forum.  While you are there be sure to check out (home of the NET bible which offers the most extensive footnoting of any English translation I've ever found and is a helpful translation to follow as a part of anyone's study).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Daniel 4 - The God Who Rules

4:1-3 – The opening address by Nebuchadnezzar.  This chapter opens with a personal address to all peoples everywhere and announces the power and majesty of the God of Israel as the Most High God.  The confession that he makes here is no small confession coming from a man who ruled the known world and had all things at his personal disposal.  This is an announcement that is written after what follows, but also precedes it.  Nebuchadnezzar speaks in the first person until verse 19, where the account shifts to Daniel’s interpretation of the dream and to the state of insanity.  Then the account returns to the first person once Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity is restored again in verses 34 and following.

4:4-8 – Another dream and another call for interpretation.  Nebuchadnezzar opens by describing himself as “contented” (Aram. šělěh “at ease/rest”) and “prosperous” (Aram. ra‘ănān “flourishing/luxuriant”; a term used in Biblical Hebrew to refer to trees which prepares us for the dream that follows; cf. Ps.92:15).  In the very place where he felt most secure suddenly he was gripped by fear.  His dream, now troubling him as he was awake, needed interpretation, but as before none but Daniel could give the interpretation.  This despite the fact that here he actually shares the dream with those who should have been able to interpret it for him and this dream was certainly not difficult to understand the figures, so it appears that somehow the others were kept from the interpretation.  The Babylonian name of Daniel is given (Belteshazzar) because that is the name he was best known by among the Babylonians, but still Nebuchadnezzar recognized that it was not per se “his god” that had anything to do with helping Daniel, but “the spirit of the holy gods” that was “in him.”  The reference to the spirit by Nebuchadnezzar is a confession “of a real presence of God that contrasts with the spurious presence that the statue of chap. 3 claimed to bring” (Goldingay 87).  The spirit of the “gods” (Aram. ‘ĕlāhîn) that Nebuchadnezzar refers to could still be taken in a singular sense (much as the name of the one true God is) even though grammatically it is plural (interestingly Theodotion has the singular theou), however it seems more likely that it is still a plural for Nebuchadnezzar given his use of the plural adjective for “holy” (Aram. qādîšîn) that is included with the noun. 

4:9-18 – The Dream of the Tree.  Nebuchadnezzar recognized that Belteshazzar had what the others of his kingdom did not and could interpret mysteries beyond understanding.  The dream was as follows:  he saw a great tree (cf. Ps.92; Eze.17; 19:10-14; 28; 31) that stood in the middle of the earth and reached to the heavens themselves.  This tree provided was magnificent and provided shelter and food for all of the creatures.  However, suddenly, in the dream a “messenger, a holy one coming down out of heaven” (this refers in Nebuchadnezzar’s own language to what we might call an “angel” which is a transliteration of the LXX here, whereas Theodotion has “watcher” following the Aramaic îr which literally means “one who is awake”—see Miller 133—and thus they are just like their Lord—see Ps.121:4; also Karl Barth—Church Dogmatics III.3 pp.460-463—proposes that the true ministry of angels  is to be witnesses to God’s word and work, and to the God who alone is Lord of all).  The command is given to chop the tree down and strip it of everything, but to leave the stump.  Actually, the stump was to be “bound with iron and bronze.”  Are we to understand this in a positive or a negative way?  This is actually a word of ultimate hope to Nebuchadnezzar since he is the tree.  The bands on the stump refer to God’s allowing Nebuchadnezzar to “retain control of his kingdom” and let him know that God will eventually restore it to him “after he comes back to his senses” (Walvoord 106).  In a time when any sign of weakness could mean a sudden overthrow and assassination, this was no time for insanity.  It would actually require divine intervention for Nebuchadnezzar to be spared and restored.  Suddenly the image shifts from a bound stump to one who will be forced to live as the animals though he had at one time provided for all of the animals.  The time frame of “seven times” was set for the duration of this insanity, but does this refer to years or seasons?  Miller (134-5) and Walvoord (103) think it likely it refers to years because of its relation to Dan.7:12, 25 and also the LXX translation as “years,” however Goldingay (81) and Baldwin (125) understand it to simply refer to “seasons” following the Theodotion translation and the more vague use of the same term outside of this chapter in Dan. 2:8, 9, 21; 3:5, 15.  While the sense of “times” may be debated, perhaps also the sense of “seven” should be understood to refer to the fullness of the time for him.  Perhaps this is too vague, but it also lends itself to understanding that God’s timing is always right on time.  John Goldingay notes that the first reason we are given for the felling of the tree is not pride, but simply to “show that God rules” (93).  It is only noted as secondarily a matter of humility.  The interpretation would seem to be apparent, but for whatever reason the interpretation was not forthcoming from all those in the kingdom who should have interpreted and so Belteshazzar was called upon for the interpretation.

4:19-27 – The interpretation of the dream.  Daniel, for obvious and perhaps not as obvious reasons, was reticent to provide the interpretation.  He also was greatly bothered by the dream and the meaning.  It would appear though that Daniel’s concern has less to do with his own self-preservation over giving the king a negative interpretation than to do with a genuine concern for the benefit of the king and therefore of the kingdom.  Daniel’s concern for Nebuchadnezzar “invites us to care about people in power, even people who abuse power, to appeal to their humanness not their sinfulness, and to treat them as people given a responsibility by God and people who may respond to an appeal to right and wrong” (Goldingay 94).  After describing the tree again to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel declares “You, O king, are that tree!” (cf. Nathan’s very similar words to David “You are the man” – 2 Sam.12:7).  Note the parallels and contrast between the tree that is Nebuchadnezzar and the description Jesus gave of the Kingdom of God in Mark 4:30-32.  Daniel emphatically tells the king that the “Most High” had issued a “decree” against him that he would live like a wild animal for “seven times” until he acknowledged “Heaven rules” (this is the only place in the OT where “heaven” stands for the name of God, but this became more common by the inter-testamental period and was particularly used by Matthew in his many—31 verses to be precise—references to the “kingdom of heaven” where the other Gospel accounts have a preference for “kingdom of God”)  The acknowledgment that “Heaven rules” was an acknowledgment that the Most High was sovereign over everything and everyone.  Nebuchadnezzar was informed that there was mercy in this for him.  The Most High would preserve him until he acknowledges this, but he did not have to necessarily even face this suffering (though that would be left to the mercy of God).  He could have followed the advice of Daniel and renounced his sins by doing right and also caring for the oppressed.  “Nebuchadnezzar might not have been treating others cruelly but he probably did what many people do today, practiced an indulgent lifestyle and simply ignored the misfortunes of others” (Miller 139; cf. Isa.1:17).

4:28-33 – The fulfillment of the dream.  Approximately one year after the dream and interpretation everything happens just as it had been predicted.  It began with Nebuchadnezzar walking on the roof of one of his palaces (there were several in Babylon) and glorying in the majesty of “the great Babylon” (cf. Rev.14:8; 18:2) that he believed himself to have built by his own doing.  Babylon was, of course, one of the most magnificent cities of the ancient world.  Walls forty feet high wide enough for chariots to ride upon with gates that were renowned for their magnificence.  He also built the hanging gardens for his wife that the Greeks labeled one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  Perhaps it was even there that looked out upon that vast city and was in awe of the dozens of temples and the numerous palaces and mighty walls.  A truly awe-inspiring spectacle, but just as the words were “still on his lips” suddenly “a voice came from heaven” with the decree that had been given in the dream.  God not only was capable of giving all of Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar but of taking it from him, making him insane and keeping him from death in that state of insanity for seven times until he should be humbled and restored.  “Perhaps one should say that the true insanity belongs to the Nebuchadnezzar who had earlier been talking as if he were the eternal king and God did not exist.  His outward madness is the external expression of a delusion he has already been the tragic victim of” (Goldingay 96).  The illness of Nebuchadnezzar finds allusion in the 2nd century BC Abydenus (Eusebius Praeparatio Evangelico 9.41.1) and the 3rd century BC Babylonian priest Berosus (Josephus Against Apion 1.20).  Interestingly the LXX has added that his madness happened in his eighteenth year which would be the very year he destroyed Jerusalem (586BC), but the Theodotion Greek does not include this time note and neither does the Aramaic and it seems very unlikely (the LXX having a text that is ¼ longer in chapter four than the Aramaic; despite the fact that the LXX does not have 4:6-10a solving the dilemma of Daniel’s absence that the Theodotion did not have an issue with including).  Stephen Miller proposes that it likely happened no later than 571BC which seems probable (128).  According to Jewish legend, his son Amūl-Marduk ruled in his stead until his sanity was restored (Baldwin 128).  Is it possible that Daniel may have actually cared for Nebuchadnezzar in this state?  Somehow he was cared for and kept from the public so that he eventually could be restored.  That alone speaks of God’s grace and mercy.

4:34-37 – The insanity ends and sanity begins.  Nebuchadnezzar again writes whereas in his previous state he could not and it had to be told in the third person.  Now he tells us that he looked to heaven and he was restored.  What praise belongs to God who restores us when our profession can be as little as a crazed man who lifts his eyes finally to acknowledge the God who is sovereign over all?  Nebuchadnezzar makes a profession of faith in God as sovereign over all, but how much a saving faith is perhaps beyond what we should conjecture.  What does Nebuchadnezzar’s profession of faith teach us?  Why did God choose to restore Nebuchadnezzar who had been given a chance earlier to do what was right and didn’t?  Can we profess trust in a God that we know little about and it be sufficient?  What can we learn about the kingdoms and authorities of this world through this account? 

John Goldingay comments that though Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the tree between heaven and earth that was glorified and then shamed ends, there would “eventually be a very different tree, one which more effectively links earth and heaven and displays itself—or rather displays the one it bears—before earth and heaven; a tree which, moreover, also has to become a tree of shame—but not for its own shortcomings—before it can be a tree of glory.  That tree will offer life, security, and provision in fuller senses—though the fuller sense must not exclude the physical senses which are this vision’s concern, and which are God’s own concern” (91-2).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Reflections on the Old Testament

If you haven't read them already (and chances are that you haven't since I've just posted the last two within the last  couple of days) and have an interest in Old Testament studies...I've posted some of my own reflections on the Old Testament over at my Scribd account.  You can find them through my Writings tab HERE (as well as a few of the other things I've written).  I've posted four different papers on the OT (hopefully worth a read):

Formation of Canonical Texts: The Question of the "Original" Text of the Old Testament 

Formation of the Old Testament Canon or The Formation of a Community

A Midrashic History of the (Hebrew and Greek) Old Testament Text 

Reflections Towards an Interpretation of the Old Testament 

While these were done for assignments in a course on OT Text and Interpretation...I would still appreciate any feedback or critique you have.  I'm always game for improving what I've written and working through my understanding.  Hopefully they are worth the read....if not you can let me know that too...but do let me know gently... :-).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Confessions of a Book Fiend

This cartoon is courtesy of Incidental Comics

This comic is to all my bibliophile friends out know who you are...because your READING a BLOG for goodness sake (which means you probably have scattered and/or stacked books around you as you read this...trying to justify your reasons for NOT fitting the overly realistic morbid caricature of this cartoon)!  Some illustrations are just a little too close to home!  I sure hope my wife doesn't read this blog post ;-).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saints or Holy Ones?

Over Thanksgiving (the U.S. one for my Canadian friends) this last weekend one of the conversations I had with family (my family on both sides is filled with pastors) was about the change made in the NIV(2011) concerning the non-use of "saints".  The conversation entailed whether the change was necessary and why they would make such a break from other Protestant translations (ESV, NASU, NET, NIV[1984], the KJV-family, NRS) that use "saints" in the NT in such a place as Ephesians 1:1 for translating the Greek ἁγίοις. 

While I have enjoyed the "shock-factor" as a preacher of having folks in church turn to one another in recognition of being "saints" my personal translations I've inevitably translated ἁγίοις as something more like "holy ones" or some such term.  In part because of the connotations that it bears for many folks about people long since dead who had a mystical connection to God and supernatural abilities that no one else can expect to have as a 'normal' follower of Jesus. 

The NIV(2011) rendering of Ephesians 1:1 has "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:" (bold added for emphasis).  Interestingly enough the Catholic translations have purposely avoided the very connotations inherent in their theological system by translating it as "holy ones" (NAB) and "holy people" (NJB).  The NCV, NLT, TNIV opted for "holy people" so it seems only natural that the NIV(2011) would follow this translational trend.  I find it preferable and think the choice bears less weight for people who are reading it and don't differentiate the language of "saints" in Catholic dogma from "saints" as represented by the New Testament usage of ἁγίοις.  To be sure, those two definitions are worlds apart (as even the Catholic renderings testify).

I'd be interested to know what others think about this trend in the most recent translations and what your own translational choice of the matter is?

A Fortune Worth Keeping

I took my family to a Chinese restaurant where we passed around the fortune cookies afterward in order to share the funny things written inside (sometimes you can barely even reconstruct the poorly written English, but it makes for lots of good laughs).  As usual we were all having fun sharing our fortunes with each other when my son Bryce suddenly said, "Hey Dad, mine sounds a lot like my memory verse from Sunday School last week."  He had my attention, but I was certain he was somehow misreading it so I had him read it aloud so we could all hear what it said: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  How do you like that?  I couldn't believe a word-for-word quote of the KJV of Hebrews 11:1.  Now that was a "fortune" worth keeping (although I do prefer translations more up to date ;-) ).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Geeky Ugaritic Mug

I just HAD to blog about one of the geekiest things I've seen (this week).  Boy...I wish I had one :-).  It turns out Eisenbrauns is offering a mug that has the story of 'Ilu's drinking party in Ugaritic cuneiform with a helpful translation on the other side (for those not sufficiently adept at reading such texts in cuneiform).  If anyone gets me for a secret pal this year for Christmas...only $15 will snag this beauty...hint-hint.  I can taste the rootbeer floats now...."wtš šbc."

Eisenbrauns 2010 Mug
Eisenbrauns 2010 Mug
The Drinking Party of 'Ilu (KTU 1.114; RS 24.258)

Eisenbrauns, 2010
25 oz., English and Ugaritic
Your Price: $15.00

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Brief Theology of Suffering: The Story of God and Man

There can be no missing that something is terribly wrong with the world.  One need not look far to conclude this.  Sin and evil; death and suffering; sorrow and loss abound.  Not that there is never life and hope or blessing and goodness, but that all things are not well with this world we live in.  How one understands this in the light of the Gospel of Christ is another matter that must be considered carefully.  What follows is a brief personal understanding of the biblical theodicy offered as the story of the suffering God[1] and of the ultimate satisfaction.
In the Beginning...and a World Gone Mad
Everything that is was created by God and for God (Gen.1:1; John 1:3; Col.1:16; Rev.4:11; 10:6) in the very beginning.  This is to say that nothing is an accident of chance or of “fate,” but of purpose and intention.  We, indeed, were created as his special “workmanship” to carry out God's plan of the ages (Eph.2:10) having been made in the very “image” and “likeness” of God (Gen.1:26-27).  If we were created for such blessing and goodness then why is there such suffering and evil?  Obviously, something in this world of ours has gone terribly wrong...was it God's plan that failed?  Or was God unable to keep His plan on track?  God is sovereign and God is love so what went wrong?  Let's look closer.
God IS and It Was Very Good
The Scriptures begin with the simple statement of God's existence (Gen.1:1 – בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים).  He just is and out of the divine freedom of His love He created all that is.  His existence proved (and still proves) to be the very foundation of continuing existence for everything and everyone (Luke 20:38; Acts 17:28; Col.1:17; Heb.1:3).  Existence is therefore a matter of grace and not of necessity.  Life consists always as a gift of God and never more.  This is the nature of His ever abounding Self-giving love that is confessed in the creeds of the Church in the form of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In the account of God's creating, the repetitive refrain that God saw it was “good” (טוֹבGen.1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) is concluded by God seeing everything that he had made as “very good” (טוֹב מְאֹד Gen.1:31).  This does not imply any kind of philosophical perfection (as if to leave no room for any possible fall...which would deny the nature of the “gift” of life as truly “gift”), but it still refers to a world where goodness reigned and happiness was the rule.[2]  Their world was one where loss was yet unknown, because humanity was still clothed in the glory of obedience and the world was all as it should be.
The Fruit of a World in Rebellion
Then through disobedience to the word of God, sin entered and by it…death.  The loss of the wholeness that had been the worlds and humanity’s prior to that moment was no more…lost in an instant.  What had been blessed was now cursed.  The curse of death reverberated even from that very first family (Gen.4:8) and became the morbid litany of all the generations (and of creation itself) to follow despite the longevity attributed to some of them (וַיָּמֹת “and he died” Gen.5:5, 8, etc.).[3]  The world was now a place filled with death and sorrow, pain and loss.  There were moments of happiness to be sure (the birth of sons and daughters, creativity and music – Gen.4:21-22), but none of it could overcome the sign of the curse that hung as a heavy shadow over everything.
Redemption...Now...But Not Yet
In the midst of the world of chaos, God called and covenanted Himself to a man (and to a people).  In so doing, God revealed Himself as the unchanging forever faithful  יהוהwho Himself would save His people and by so doing would work the redemption of the whole world through the redemption of His people (Gen.22:14-18).  His people Israel would not (indeed…could not do this) and so David’s greater son Jesus of Nazareth was the faithful deliverer bringing light to those who sat in darkness…to the Jews and to the Gentiles (Matt.1:21; 4:16; Luke 2:32).  This was a message of redemption and hope for the whole world (John 3:16), but it actually meant the suffering of God with us.  Our redemption was not simply purchased.  God has entered into our very suffering and born our sorrows (Isa.53:4).  God intimately knows our pain and by his own suffering our Lord Jesus has purchased our redemption (1 Pet.2:24).  In the shadow of the cross and the light of the resurrection suffering has been borne and redeemed by God Himself – not that suffering (and death as its sting) has suddenly been denied, but that now it has been swallowed up in victory.
He has not only purchased our salvation, but he has given “gifts” (χαρισματα) by his Spirit to his Church in order that in the midst of suffering and difficulties we may be sustained and built up as the Church (Rom.12:6-21; 1 Cor.12:4-28; Eph.4:8-16).  We must be sustained through encouragement, through timely prophetic messages, pointed teaching confronting us and directing us in the way we should go and acts of mercy when we are down-trodden.  We act in love towards one another by the Spirit which we have received as sons of God and co-heirs with Christ (1 Cor.13; Rom.8:14-17).  In these workings of the Spirit we live as Christ in the midst of a world of suffering declaring that this world belongs to the Lord (1 Cor.12:1-28).  That very Spirit which groans within us in the midst of a world in travail and agony also begs for our glorification that is yet to be revealed in us at the Day of Christ’s coming (Rom.8:18-28) because it will entail the restoration of all things and the end of death.
And yet we wait (not in passivity, but in Spirit-empowered activity) for our Lord’s return and the final establishment of His kingdom where all our tears will be wiped away and these bodies will be changed from loss to immortality (Rom.8:23; 1 Cor.15:53, 54; Titus 2:13; James 5:8; Rev.21:4).  In that Day, suffering will cease.  In that Day, suffering will have new perspective.  Answers seem trite today and overly simplistic (as evidenced by the friends of Job and even Job’s own response or that of the “Teacher” of Ecclesiastes).  But in light of that Day suffering has meaning, because in light of the day of Christ crucified (and risen)…suffering has been given meaning beyond measure in the overflowing free gift of God’s love for us.
Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. 14 vols. Hendrickson Pub, 2010.  Harris, R. L., G. L. Archer, and B. K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody Press, 1980.  Sittser, Gerald Lawson. A Grace Disguised: How The Soul Grows Through Loss. Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2004.

[1]  Karl Barth wrote that one must remember "we have to do with the God who Himself suffers pain because of our sin and guilt, for whom it is not an alien thing but His own intimate concern" in Church Dogmatics II/1 (Hendrickson Pub, 2010), 373; and see also the discussion of the God who suffers in Gerald Lawson Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How The Soul Grows Through Loss (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004), 158, 159.
[2]  cf.טוֹב  793 by Andrew Bowling in R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, and B. K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Moody Press, 1980).
[3] With the notable anomalous exception of Enoch who it is said of that he “walked with God, and then he disappeared because God took him away.” (Gen.5:24 NET)  He may be one who serves as a “type” looking forward to the eventual undoing of death itself in the eschaton as the work of Christ – see 1 Cor.15:26.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

My Favorite Blogs

I just thought I'd take a moment to share some of my favorite blogs.  I read quite a few (some have quit blogging of late that I still follow...which is just as well, because it gives me less to follow) every day and just thought I'd pass my top six reads on to anyone here they are (in no particular order):

Euangelion by Mike Bird (and occassionally Joel Willitts) -- Mike offers lots of insight into Reformational theology and has authored a number of helpful books on theology over the last several years.

SAET (The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology) headed by Gerald Hiestand, but with a whole line-up of fellow bloggers.  Theology, now more than ever, needs to be from, for and within the Church...rather than simply the Academy.  Who wouldn't be excited about "Ecclesial Theology" I right...or am I right???

Sunestauromai: Living the Crucified Life by Brian Fulthorp a fellow A/G pastor and missionary is a wonderful blog that deals with theological, ecclesiological and pastoral issues (among other things).  Plus, Brian's just fun to follow!

Cafe of the Book by Joel Banman offers thoughtful reflections on the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (need I say more :-) )...and promises a whole litany of posts in this vein as he works on a thesis in regard to Bonhoeffer's "Ethics".

Ancient Hebrew Poetry by John Hobbins is one of the finest blogs I've ever read on Old Testament literature.  He offers reflections on the Hebrew Bible that are second to none...if only he could find more time to return to blogging at the pace he once was at (but alas pastoring has taken him from us for now...Lord willing only for a time).

And I would be remiss to not mention the latest blog that I'm truly enjoying reading (is it nepotism or just narcissistic navel-gazing?) at I Heart Barth with my fellow theologues and bloggers Joel Banman, Marc Vandersluys and Jeff Wheeldon where we are already well on our way discussing theologians and their respective contributions to theology.

So happy blog-reading to anyone who happens to follow up on any of my recommendations...or not.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Blessed be the One Who Grabs Babylon's Babies and Smashes Them on a Rock: A Psalm

By the rivers of Babylon we sit down and weep when we remember Zion.
       On the poplars in her midst we hang our harps,
for there our captors ask us to compose songs;
    those who mock us demand that we be happy, saying: "Sing for us a song about Zion!"
        How can we sing a song to the LORD in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand be crippled!
        May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
and do not give Jerusalem priority over whatever gives me the most joy.
Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell.
        They said, "Tear it down, tear it down, right to its very foundation!"
O daughter Babylon, soon to be devastated!
        How blessed will be the one who repays you for what you dished out to us!
        How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock!
 (Psalm 137:1-9 - NET)
Another psalm of weeping.  But this psalm (unlike my post on Psalm 88) is not about an individual struggle of abandonment.  This a psalm of retribution while in captivity.  One can almost hear the rhythms of this melancholy tune, cried without instrumentation in low groans, beckoning for the God of the covenant to pay back those who have rejoiced at and participated in the judgment of Israel.  It a psalm of remembrance (zākar).  Remembrance of all that Zion was and all it was meant to be.  A call for God to remember the unrelenting and unmerciful cry of victory from Esau over his brother Jacob (Obadiah 10-14).  It is a reminder of the Deuteronomic filial lex talionis (Deut.19:19; Prov.24:29).  It is a remembrance and call for the blessing of one who will destroy Babylon in the same manner that Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and kill her babies by smashing "them on a rock".  In the manner which Babylon has treated the LORD's people...the cry of remembrance goes up in the very heart of the empire..."Blessed ('ašrê) will be the one...".  But alas...who will repay Babylon (and Edom) for the actual slaying and destruction of Jerusalem's children? (2 Kings 25:7; Lam.5:11-15)  Where will he come from?  Who could this one be who is called "happy" in doing the 'dirty deed'?

It seems only appropriate to ask how we who are in Christ can ever pray such prayers?  Can we not just skip this psalm as belonging to a bygone era of legalistic retribution?  No...never.  We must pray it more sincerely than ever those exiled in Babylon knew how to pray it.  They prayed for justice and retribution according to the very will of the covenant keeping LORD.  We also pray this, but with the knowledge of the very embodiment of the LORD...that is of Christ Jesus.  We know for a certainty that our LORD will repay (Deut.7:10; 32:35; Isa.65:6; Jer.51:56; Rom.12:19; Heb.10:30).  We pray for the destruction of all who will not ultimately yield to the Lordship of Christ...but we also pray that all who would yield will yield before that great and terrible Day of His Coming again! In that Day everyone will receive their reward...whether to everlasting punishment or everlasting blessedness.

We do not consider only the judgment of the now, but that which is eternal.  Will we be found hidden in Christ in that Day where our deeds are found to be Spirit-empowered and lasting, or our faith is wanting and we ourselves are among those who are not even acknowledged by Him?  The dashing of children against the stones would be but a small thing in the light of that ultimate assize that awaits us all if have not trusted ourselves to the Lordship of Christ Jesus.  It is the judgment he bore for is the righteousness he now bears for and in us.  If indeed we are rewarded with life (and we know this because we have received the Spirit of son-ship), we say "Blessed is the one who repays...not according to what we have done...but according to the great riches of his mercy and grace which are in glory!"   Blessed be His Name forever!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Daniel 3 - The God Who Saves

3:1-7 – The image of gold.  Theodotian and the LXX provide an interesting time note that is not included in the Aramaic text found in our Bibles.  They actually state that it was Nebuchadnezzar’s 18th year when what follows happened and that would place the incident of the fiery furnace in the very year of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (cf. Jer.52:29).  This made the trial of the three synonymous with the trial of the people of God and offered hope of salvation through the fires of Babylonian captivity. 
It is unclear whether Nebuchadnezzar made the image of himself or (more likely) of one of his gods – Marduk or Bel.  The dimensions of the image or statue are irregular.  In the Aramaic, it is sixty cubits high and six cubits wide (Walvoord pg.81 notes this as unintentionally the number of man; cf. Rev.13:18) with the NIV giving 90 feet high and 9 feet wide (appearing like an obelisk much like the Washington Monument).  In accordance with this, the Babylonians used the Sumero-Akkadian sexagesimal system of measurement which seems to be the explanation for the dimensions being in sixes (we still use this system in telling time: 24 hours, 60 minutes, 60 seconds, etc).  “To reduce [the dimensions of] the statue to something normal…[is]…to miss the point that the statue is extraordinary and monumental, even grotesque” (Goldingay 69; cf. Oppenheim 183-9).  The place for the dedication was called Dura (meaning “a walled place”) and it was likely a location six miles southeast of Babylon where a massive pedestal of bricks has been discovered. 
Why would Nebuchadnezzar set up such an image after his disturbing dreams mentioned in the second chapter?  Perhaps the dreams gave him the idea (see the comments of third century Church Father Hippolytus 2.15), but perhaps he simply did not care what the end would be and only obsessed over the present and the head of gold which represented himself.  Everyone present was commanded to worship the image at the sound of the music playing to demonstrate their loyalty to the king and to the empire and his gods (cf. Rev.13).
3:8-15 – The three Hebrews who would not bow.  Some of the “astrologers” (Aram. kaśdāyin) apparently driven by jealousy for the elevated status of the three friends of Daniel accused them before Nebuchadnezzar who otherwise would have been ignorant of their failure to bow and worship the image.  With all of the leaders of Babylon that are named as called to the dedication (Aram. hānukkah) of the image why was Daniel not mentioned specifically?  His presence at the royal court might explain his absence from this ceremony (see Dan.2:49; Miller 108) though there may be other explanations as well. 
The accusations brought against them are that they neither worship Nebuchadnezzar’s gods nor the image he has set up.  They are given another chance or will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace of fire.  Could Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego have bowed on the outside and still remained true to God on the inside? (cf. 2 Kings 5:18-19; but see Deut.4:27-28; while gross idolatry occurred at that very time in the temple of Jerusalem according to Ezekiel 8, yet the three remained pure in far off Babylon where no one would have been the wiser).  Note Nebuchadnezzar’s challenge that no god could save the three from his hand (compare the similar comments by Rabshekah in 2 Ki.18:33-35; Isa.36:17-20).  In fact, in another place we discover that Nebuchadnezzar did kill two men – Zedekiah and Ahab – by throwing them into a fire (Jer.29:22).  However, this account is not really a contest between Nebuchadnezzar and the three…it is a story about the one True God and His power and presence.  This is not a “moral story” but it is a “display of a God who is faithful to His people even in captivity and is ever ready to deliver those who put their trust in Him.  The contrast of the God of Israel to the idols of Babylon is a reminder that the god of this world, behind the Gentile dominion, is doomed to judgment at the hands of the sovereign God” (Walvoord 94).
 3:16-23 – Thrown into the fire.  The three offered no defense of themselves, but left everything to their God.  “Formally, the existence of their God is expressed hypothetically; but neither they nor the reader actually question his existence as uncertain. Given that he exists, he is able to rescue…and he will rescue (that is a bold, un-evidenced wager parallel to those of 1:12-13; 2:14-16)” (Goldingay 73).  According to the fourth century writer Jerome, “They indicate that it will not be a matter of God’s inability, but rather of His sovereign will if they do perish” (Miller 120).  They would neither worship Nebuchadnezzar’s gods (which each of the three were named after) nor would they bow before the image outwardly.  They stood upon the promise that their God would be with them even through the fire (cf. Exo.3:12; Isa.7:14; 43:1-3) and so in essence they were saying, “Death is preferable to apostasy” (Goldingay 74; note the confession of Job 13:15). 
John Walvoord proposes that “the blazing furnace” following the Aramaic should be read without the definite article “the” and therefore would have “the resultant meaning that He [God] could deliver them from any fiery furnace, not just the one immediately at hand” (89).  Their denial of worship absolutely infuriated Nebuchadnezzar who had the furnace heated “seven times hotter” which suggests simply that it could not be hotter (on the use of seven times cf. Prov.24:16; 26:16).  His rage (as often is the case) moved beyond reason and instead of a slow burn which would have proven more painful to the three, he instead chose to kill them more quickly.  The heat of the fires seems to match the heat of his temper. 
He called for his strongest soldiers to throw them into the furnace, but this proved fatal to the soldiers.  It appears that the three were thrown in through some hole in the top and then later the king saw them through some hole lower in the massive furnace.  In the rush to punish the three they are not even stripped of their clothing as would have been normally done and so they were thrown into the fire with all their garments still on (though the exact translation of just what it was that the three Aramaic terms refer to remains unclear the significance is that they were thrown into the fire with clothes on and pulled out with their clothes not even singed or smelling of smoke let alone the any of their hairs singed, but the ropes were burned right off).  At this point in the LXX the “Prayer of Azariah” and the “Song of the Three Hebrew Children” is inserted between Dan.2:23 and 2:24.  The Rabbis have written that at the very moment the three were thrown into the fire Ezekiel was sent to restore the dead in the valley of dry bones…God was protecting and giving life (Sanhedrin Tractate, Rodkinson 279).

The Prayer of Azariah (and The Song of the Three Hebrew Children - NRS)
1:1 They walked around in the midst of the flames, singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord. 2 Then Azariah stood still in the fire and prayed aloud: 3 "Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and worthy of praise; and glorious is your name forever! 4 For you are just in all you have done; all your works are true and your ways right, and all your judgments are true. 5 You have executed true judgments in all you have brought upon us and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our ancestors; by a true judgment you have brought all this upon us because of our sins. 6 For we have sinned and broken your law in turning away from you; in all matters we have sinned grievously. 7 We have not obeyed your commandments, we have not kept them or done what you have commanded us for our own good. 8 So all that you have brought upon us, and all that you have done to us, you have done by a true judgment. 9 You have handed us over to our enemies, lawless and hateful rebels, and to an unjust king, the most wicked in all the world. 10 And now we cannot open our mouths; we, your servants who worship you, have become a shame and a reproach. 11 For your name's sake do not give us up forever, and do not annul your covenant. 12 Do not withdraw your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham your beloved and for the sake of your servant Isaac and Israel your holy one, 13 to whom you promised to multiply their descendants like the stars of heaven and like the sand on the shore of the sea. 14 For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any other nation, and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins. 15 In our day we have no ruler, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before you and to find mercy.
 16 Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, 17 as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, or with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in your sight today, and may we unreservedly follow you, for no shame will come to those who trust in you. 18 And now with all our heart we follow you; we fear you and seek your presence. 19 Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in your patience and in your abundant mercy. 20 Deliver us in accordance with your marvelous works, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.21 Let all who do harm to your servants be put to shame; let them be disgraced and deprived of all power, and let their strength be broken. 22 Let them know that you alone are the Lord God, glorious over the whole world." 23 Now the king's servants who threw them in kept stoking the furnace with naphtha, pitch, tow, and brushwood. 24 And the flames poured out above the furnace forty-nine cubits, 25 and spread out and burned those Chaldeans who were caught near the furnace. 26 But the angel of the Lord came down into the furnace to be with Azariah and his companions, and drove the fiery flame out of the furnace, 27 and made the inside of the furnace as though a moist wind were whistling through it. The fire did not touch them at all and caused them no pain or distress.
 28 Then the three with one voice praised and glorified and blessed God in the furnace: 29 "Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and to be praised and highly exalted forever;30 And blessed is your glorious, holy name, and to be highly praised and highly exalted forever.31 Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory, and to be extolled and highly glorified forever.32 Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne on the cherubim, and to be praised and highly exalted forever.33 Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom, and to be extolled and highly exalted forever.34 Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven, and to be sung and glorified forever.35 "Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.36 Bless the Lord, you heavens; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.37 Bless the Lord, you angels of the Lord; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.38 Bless the Lord, all you waters above the heavens; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.39 Bless the Lord, all you powers of the Lord; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.40 Bless the Lord, sun and moon; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.41 Bless the Lord, stars of heaven; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.42 "Bless the Lord, all rain and dew; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.43 Bless the Lord, all you winds; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.44 Bless the Lord, fire and heat; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.45 Bless the Lord, winter cold and summer heat; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.46 Bless the Lord, dews and falling snow; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.47 Bless the Lord, nights and days; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.48 Bless the Lord, light and darkness; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.49 Bless the Lord, ice and cold; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.50 Bless the Lord, frosts and snows; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.51 Bless the Lord, lightnings and clouds; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.52 "Let the earth bless the Lord; let it sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.53 Bless the Lord, mountains and hills; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.54 Bless the Lord, all that grows in the ground; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.55 Bless the Lord, seas and rivers; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.56 Bless the Lord, you springs; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.57 Bless the Lord, you whales and all that swim in the waters; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.58 Bless the Lord, all birds of the air; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.59 Bless the Lord, all wild animals and cattle; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.60 "Bless the Lord, all people on earth; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.61 Bless the Lord, O Israel; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.62 Bless the Lord, you priests of the Lord; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.63 Bless the Lord, you servants of the Lord; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.64 Bless the Lord, spirits and souls of the righteous; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.65 Bless the Lord, you who are holy and humble in heart; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.66 "Bless the Lord, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever. For he has rescued us from Hades and saved us from the power of death, and delivered us from the midst of the burning fiery furnace; from the midst of the fire he has delivered us.67 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.68 All who worship the Lord, bless the God of gods, sing praise to him and give thanks to him, for his mercy endures forever."
(NRS = New Revised Standard Version. Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America)

3:24-30 – The God who walks in the fire.  Why might the Lord have allowed Nebuchadnezzar to be the first one to see the three walking in the fire and also a fourth in the fire?  They were tied and he noted they were unbound…they were thrown into a fire so hot it killed his strongest soldiers for just getting to close and he noted they were unharmed and walking around (and in the LXX they are actually singing!).  Who exactly is the fourth one seen by Nebuchadnezzar in the fire who never emerges from the flames?  Note the reference in Isaiah 43:1-3 about the LORD being with His people even through the fire.  One who looks like “a son of the gods” (Aram. bar ’elāhin) or even “a divine being” is a far more likely rendering in English than the KJV’s “Son of God”.  Nebuchadnezzar also refered to this fourth being as God’s “angel” (Aram. mal’ak) sent to care for His servants.  
What sort of transformation should this have made in him or did this make in him?  His use of “the Most High God” is really not significant as it is other times spoken by those who were not of the faith of Israel (cf. Gen.14:19; Num.24:16; Isa.14:14).  It is not that the king abandons his gods, but that he demanded that none blaspheme the God of the Jews under punishment of the very things he had declared he would do to those who failed to tell him his dreams and then interpret them (Dan.2:5).  They were willing to give up their very lives or literally “yielded up their bodies” (and Theodotian adds “to the fire” which Paul adds to his letter to the Corinthians in 1 Cor.13:3) rather than deny their God total worship and trust.  It was not a matter of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego knowing how their lives would end.  They simply knew that to trust the LORD meant that whatever happened He would be faithful and they must also be faithful because He was faithful.  This story later was taken up by Mattathias to encourage his sons in revolt against the tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century (1 Maccabees 2:59) and also by the writer of the Hebrews concerning those who “quenched the fury of the flames” in their walk of faith without having yet received the reward they sought (Heb.11:34).  Contrast the command of Deut.7:25 concerning what supposed to be done to idols with what was done to the three in this account.  The conclusion of Nebuchadnezzar is indeed the conclusion of the book of Daniel: no other god can save in the way that the God of Israel saves.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Heart Barth

As I mentioned earlier this week Hendrickson Publisher's made Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics available for a steal of a price.  This has lead to theological geeks, er, students finally having access to Barth's magnum opus.  Several of the students at Providence Seminary where I attend have been discussing this for some time and in a rapid succession of laughable suggestions...a new blog was born: I Heart Barth.  So far there are three authors (myself as one of them) that will be working through Dogmatics together over the next several years (decades???).  We also will be discussing Bonhoeffer (anyone who knows me knows that I can't help but discuss Dietrich any chance I get and one of the other bloggers is writing his thesis on Bonhoeffer...oh happy day...oh happy day... :-) and N.T.Wright among others as we work through the Dogmatics in the midst of studies, church and life.

Did I really just agree to one more thing.......

Monday, October 25, 2010

Happiness All Around

Several fun notes about my recent happenings:

Cambria (my five year old) was home from church yesterday with a fever so my wife and I swapped.  I stayed home for Sunday School with Cam (since she teaches pre-school) and she stayed home for service (since I preach).  So for S.S. Cam and I discussed the story of Esther, Haman and Xerxes (which was the lesson for her S.S. that morning) and we decided we should color pictures of the MANY parties that were thrown by Esther.  Cam determined that apparently I am quite the artist (I did do a "stunning" Esther with Haman sitting next to her on the couch begging for mercy and Xerxes returning mouth agape in anger :-)...if you can image anything like chubby stick people with colored pencils and crayons.  We had to include balloons to make sure it was a party and Cam just wasn't convinced my scene was very authentic since everyone (including the king and Haman) were wearing dresses).  Oh well.  So much for authenticity.

I was overjoyed today to finally receive the complete set of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics (14 volumes) for ONLY $99 from CBD!  I had ordered it back in March and just received it in the mail today (even though the official publication date isn't till November 2010.  I can't wait to work my way through the set for my leisure reading (yes it isn't a part of any required reading for Seminary and yes I do consider it "fun" and leisure reading and I'm still not exactly sure where in the world to store them until I've read through them all :-).

On another note...I'm posting a paper I turned in last week where I gave an all-too brief history of the Old Testament text (Hebrew and Greek), but chose to do so in a midrashic form just for the fun of it.  Hopefully Dr. August Konkel enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed writing to move from the "origins" of the Old Testament to the "originals" of the Old Testament...a far more complex and yet more interesting (from my perspective) topic to engage.

Imaginatively entering the world of the Hebrew Bible...Karl Barth...text criticism...a wife and children that understand my many addictions and love me is good!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Escaping the Darkness? A Psalm

A song, a psalm written by the Korahites; for the music director; according to the machalath-leannoth style; a well-written song by Heman the Ezrachite.
       O LORD God who delivers me! By day I cry out and at night I pray before you.
              Listen to my prayer! Pay attention to my cry for help!
        For my life is filled with troubles and I am ready to enter Sheol.
              They treat me like those who descend into the grave.
        I am like a helpless man, adrift among the dead, like corpses lying in the grave,
              whom you remember no more, and who are cut off from your power.
       You place me in the lowest regions of the pit, in the dark places, in the watery depths.
              Your anger bears down on me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. (Selah)
      You cause those who know me to keep their distance;
              you make me an appalling sight to them.
       I am trapped and cannot get free.
             My eyes grow weak because of oppression.
      I call out to you, O LORD, all day long;
             I spread out my hands in prayer to you.
      Do you accomplish amazing things for the dead?
            Do the departed spirits rise up and give you thanks? (Selah)
     Is your loyal love proclaimed in the grave, or your faithfulness in the place of the dead?
           Are your amazing deeds experienced in the dark region, or your deliverance in the land of oblivion?
     As for me, I cry out to you, O LORD;
           in the morning my prayer confronts you.
          O LORD, why do you reject me, and pay no attention to me?
     I am oppressed and have been on the verge of death since my youth.
          I have been subjected to your horrors and am numb with pain.
    Your anger overwhelms me; your terrors destroy me.
         They surround me like water all day long; they join forces and encircle me.
    You cause my friends and neighbors to keep their distance;
         those who know me leave me alone in the darkness.
 (Psalm 88:1-18 NET)

This has been a psalm that I have returned to again and again over the years.  It is not a psalm I have ever heard a sermon on.  It is not a psalm I have ever preached (though that will hopefully be changed within the year...Lord willing).  It is a psalm of agonizing despair and sorrow...of waves crashing over the anguished soul.  Of lament and weeping.  Of crying in the night only to rise still weeping in the morning.  Of one caught in the very grip of the grave and destruction (sheol and abaddon) and overwhelmed by utter darkness.  It is the soul come to the end of itself found to be under judgment...found to be without friend or support...found to be stripped of all but this last pleading cry rasping from the lips.

But it is a psalm enclosed right in the midst of that wonderful book of Psalms.  It is a prayer to the only One who might possibly (just possibly) save the lost soul.  It is a desperate cry of last hope.  There is no clear word of hope ending this psalm as in so many others.  But there is yet a glimmer...a ray of light.  It is dim...though not even visible to the eye.  The darkness is simply too deep.  But as long as life and breath remains (even in the throes of death and the grave) there is some hope because the covenant is not forgotten.  God may yet relent.  He may yet have mercy.  He may yet restore.  He may yet save.  He may yet hear the cry that (for all its deafening tones) is prefaced by that opening cry: "יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵ֣י יְשׁוּעָתִ֑י" ("O LORD, the God who saves me"). I am driven by you....Lord Jesus save me or I am undone!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Daniel 2 - Dreams From God

2:1-3 – The disturbing dreams of a king. (cf. Gen.41)  Nebuchadnezzar appears to have had dreams that were disturbing his sleep and the notation of time seems confusing (“in the second year of his reign) until it is understood that it likely refers to the Babylonian calendar and thus refers to just after the ending of the “three” years of training were completed by Daniel and his friends (see Miller 76-7; Walvoord 45-6).  While this is not a guaranteed solution, it seems a very probable one given the all of the evidence.  It was common for kings of the ancient Near East to keep such persons as here listed in order to deal with issues such as interpreting omens like those found in dreams that were considered to be from the gods.  Certainly a new and fairly young king like Nebuchadnezzar would have many reasons to fear the contents of the dreams he had been having (as laid out by Daniel later in this chapter), because it would suggest some sort of great calamity or foreboding omen.  Why would the Lord have given Nebuchadnezzar these dreams and not simply Daniel (as He does in a fuller form later in Dan.7)?

2:4-11 – The impossibility of telling a dream and then interpreting it.  His diviners, who are all well trained in dream interpretations, need to be told the dreams in order to offer an interpretation, but Nebuchadnezzar refuses perhaps because he fears they may be somehow plotting something against him (especially since his dream seamed to contain such destructive images).  His fears may not have been entirely unfounded given that “two of the next three Babylonian kings were assassinated” (Miller 82).  His threats against them are not vain…nor his promises of wealth and honor.  Those who excel in the arts of divining the will of the gods and speaking on behalf of the gods clearly declare to the king that no one can do what he has asked, because there is no one who has that kind of contact with the gods.

2:12-18 – The order of death and the prayer for mercy.  All of the wise men of (the vicinity) of Babylon were to be executed because of the failure to serve the king in the capacity they were supposed to serve him.  What in particular marks Daniel’s statements to Arioch the executioner with “wisdom and tact”?  Why should Daniel have been given time, when Nebuchadnezzar had already said that his wise men were seeming to only want to buy more time in order to change the situation?  What does this say about Divine favor?  What is the first thing Daniel does after getting permission to have more time to interpret the dream (and try to find out what the dream even was)?  They specifically pray for “mercy” (cf. Neh.9:28; Isa.63:7; Dan.9:9).

2:19-23 – A psalm.  It would appear that during the night while Daniel and his friends were praying the Lord gave a vision to Daniel and showed him the “mystery” which caused him to bless the “God of heaven” (Ezra 1:2; 6:10; 7:12, 21; Neh.1:5; 2:4).  This short psalm is indeed “a model of thanksgiving” (Baldwin 101).  All praise is due to God who alone is sovereign over all: time (contrast the bold claim of the “little horn” in Dan.7:25), powers, and authorities.  There is nothing hidden from Him (cf. Deut.29:29) and Daniel also gets specific about thanking God for this particular revelation that He has given to them.

2:24-30 – Who could reveal the dream to the king?  Daniel goes to Arioch who in turn takes him to the king where Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) confesses that this is an impossible task for the wise men.  However, he then clarifies that there is “a God in heaven” who does know and reveal such things and who had done such for Daniel.  “Daniel denies that history is determined by the planetary forces that the Babylonians studied (cf. Isa.40:25-26).  History is under the control of God in his freedom.  It is thus his secret.  It cannot be predicted, divined by means of techniques, s the sages have now acknowledged.  It can only be revealed” (Goldingay 56).  For whose benefit does Daniel say that the dream and the interpretation have been given?

2:31-45 – The dream and interpretation.  The king saw a large statue (Aram. sělem “image” which is not an idol) of unknown size and brilliant in appearance.  It had a head of pure gold, torso and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze (not brass as the KJV), legs of iron with feet partly iron and baked clay.  Suddenly he saw a rock (divinely?) cut out that was hurled at the statue and not only toppled it and destroyed it, but ground it to chaff and dust and the wind blew it all away and the rock grew to become a great mountain that filled the whole earth.  Why does Daniel address Nebuchadnezzar as the “king of kings” and who is the “we” that is doing the interpreting?  The interpretation (which Daniel received further explanation through a dream of his own some forty years later in Dan.7) is as follows: the gold head is Nebuchadnezzar (and his kingdom of neo-Babylon 605-539BC) who is described as having dominion over everyone and everything.  How fitting is this?  The silver torso and arms represents another kingdom (Medo-Persia 539-331BC) that is “inferior”, just as the bronze one (Greek 331-168BC) is even more so.  The fourth kingdom, though tremendously strong (like iron) will be mixed with baked clay and will be a “divided kingdom”.  This fourth kingdom is Rome (168BC-436ADWest & 1453East) or at least ancient Rome and some form of a reconstituted Rome (by this I mean to refer to some future kingdom/s as well).  How could there be no mention of a time gap?  Note the “mountains of prophecy” example: where someone looks at a mountain range from a distance and sees only a mountain, but the closer one gets, the more one sometimes sees the great distances between what turns out to be many mountains.  While there is no mention of there being ten toes on the statue, yet later there are ten specifically mentioned in Dan.7:24 as ten kings (kingdoms or nations) that are somehow a part of what was ancient Rome (cf. Rev.13:1; 17:12).  While the kingdoms would grow increasingly more inferior to the one previous, yet they would also grow more fierce and terrible until finally the fourth kingdom would be destroyed by God’s kingdom represented by the “rock” that will utterly destroy all the kingdoms of this world and will be established itself forever and ever.  “Lifelike as much of this sculpture was, the figure remained rigid and motionless, the artificial product of human handiwork, and as such the statue was a fitting symbol of man-made kingdoms.  The stone, by contrast, was mobile, a ‘living stone’, which had within it the power to grow until it filled the earth” (Baldwin 108).  This whole dream actually seems to rule out the view that the kingdom of God is only spiritual (and thus the millennial reign of Christ is only spiritual) because the other kingdoms are all very much a part of this world and they are destroyed in reality and replaced in reality.  This would suggest a very real historical acting on God’s part to make His kingdom come.  However, one thing should be kept in mind that “the vision offers no hint regarding the chronology whereby God’s rule will arrive; it does invite its recipients to live as people who expect it as a living reality” (Goldingay 62).  While Daniel is explaining the very real plan of God in the scheme of world history, yet we are not being given a time-line of world history so as to map out God’s exact prophetic program.  The “what” is certain; the “when” is left for another time.

2:46-49 – The results of God’s dreams.  While Nebuchadnezzar offers honor and incense to Daniel it appears to actually be to Daniel’s god as the “God of gods and the Lord of kings” (titles that were actually used for Marduk chief god of the Babylonians).  While the gods of the Babylonians were silent and their earthly cohorts in the wise men could say nothing, the living God in heaven spoke and His men of wisdom thereby revealed the hidden mysteries.  This was not really ever about the wise men, but about the gods and about the absolute ruler of this world.  Does this mean that Nebuchadnezzar has confessed his faith in the Lord?  No.  Since the Lord already knew that he wouldn’t turn in faith, why did He go through the trouble of doing what he did as recorded in this chapter?  The king kept his promise of blessing whoever could interpret his dreams.  Perhaps the Lord was positioning his servants Daniel and his friends in other places in the kingdom for yet future service.  How old would Daniel have been at this time as he was made head over the wise men of the vicinity of Babylon since it was only the second year of Nebuchadnezzar?  Also, Daniel’s friends received places of honor and authority because of their part in the interpretation of the dreams.  From this it should be evident whose God is god…

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Daniel 1 - When In Exile....

Brief Introduction to the Book – Daniel was taken into captivity in the summer of 605BC while Jehoiachim son of Josiah was king of Judah some time after the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish.  Jehoiachim had actually been placed upon the throne by Egypt and thus it seemed only fitting that the defeat of the Egyptians spelled the defeat of Judah.  Nebuchadnezzar, son of Nabopolassar, was officially made king of Babylon later that summer upon the death of his father (Miller 56).  Daniel and his friends were among those initially taken and he survived until some time after the Babylonian captivity ended with the defeat of the Babylonians by the Perians in 539BC.  The book of Daniel was included in the Hebrew canon among the writings because he does not belong particularly to the prophets (as in the LXX canon and our own), but this does not mean the book was regarded as non-prophetic.  Daniel contains several additions in the Catholic canon (Song of the Three, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon; and in the original KJV[!]), but this was not received into the Protestant canon of Scripture (these will be briefly discussed at the conclusion of this series).  Many reject Daniel as being written in the 6th century and instead date it to the Maccabean period (250-167BC), but Archer (421-448) Baldwin (14-80), Walvoord (11-25), and Miller (22-41) have argued rather persuasively for a 6th century date of authorship perhaps shortly after the date of the Babylonian exile in 539BC.  The book has been variously divided between the Hebrew sections (Dan.1:1-2:4a; 8:1-12:13) and Aramaic section (Dan.2:4b-7:28), but the most helpful distinction is between the stories (Dan.1-6) and the visions (Dan.7-12).  “This biblical witness challenges the faithful to be awake for the unexpected intervention of God in wrapping up all of human history.  The stories of Daniel and his friends picture men who bear eloquent testimony is both word and deed to an unswerving hope in God’s rule.  As a consequence, they were made free to hang loosely on the world because they knew their hope rested elsewhere” (Childs 622).

1:1-2 – The beginning of captivity.  The time note that Daniel provides refers to the year 605BC and though there are no records of any actual siege of Jerusalem, it is not necessary that Jerusalem was laid siege so much as taken captive in that year.  Nebuchadnezzar is called “king” because either it refers to his functioning role in the very end of his father’s reign or because it refers to him this way as one who later was king of Babylon.  Who is emphasized as responsible for the victory of Nebuchadnezzar over Jerusalem and what is the significance in relation to the book of Daniel?  The Lord rules all the nations…great and small.  The “temple articles” were promised to be taken to Babylon because of the sin of Hezekiah in showing the Babylonians his treasures (cf. 2 Chron.36:7, 10, 18, 20-23; Isa.39:2, 4, 6; Ezra 1:7-11 and comes into play later in Daniel 5:2-4).  Literally, the articles were carried off to “Shinar” (cf. Gen.10:10) which was an ancient name of a city recognized to be a place of opposition to God (Gen.11:1-9; Zech.5:11).  What is the significance of putting the articles of the temple of God into the temple of Nebuchadnezzar’s gods? (cf. 1 Sam.4-5)  “To all appearances, the God of Jerusalem has been defeated by the gods of Babylon” (Goldingay 21), but Daniel will point in a radically different direction.

1:3-7 – The training of the best of the young exiles.  The descriptions of those who were to be trained were that they were taken from the best families (royal and/or nobility; cf. Isa.39:7) and of fine appearance and high aptitude.  The terms used are those of the wisdom literature (cf. Prov.1:1-6) with regard to the acumen of these young men (Heb. yělādîm which “covers men from birth to marriage” – Goldingay 5).  The literature and language of the “Babylonians” (lit. “Chaldeans” Heb. kaśdîm, Aram. kaśdāy) included magical, astrological, medicinal, temple, wisdom, and legal texts among others.  How could Daniel and his friends spend three years of intensive training in such things and yet remain true to the LORD?  John Goldingay astutely notes that the “wise person knows how to learn from the wisdom of other peoples without being overcome by it” (24).  The food and wine they were assigned came directly from the king’s table and thus was luxurious but would also have been offered to the god/s of the king (cf. Oppenheim 188-92) before they received it.  Four of the chosen young men are named as particularly faithful and deserving of mention: Daniel (“God is my judge”; became Belteshazzar “Bel, protect his life!”), Hananiah (“The LORD has been gracious”; became Shadrach “Command of Aku” the moon god), Mishael (“Who is what God is?”; became Meshach “Who is what Aku is?”), and Azariah (“The LORD has helped”; became Abednego “Servant of Nebo” the god of Nebuchadnezzar’s namesake) – on name changes see Gen. 41:45; Esther 2:7.  Why were their names changed and why did they not protest this and the learning of the Chaldeans, but did protest the diet that follows?

1:8-16 – The ten day test of food and faith.  What might have been Daniel and his friend’s motivation for refusing the food and wine of Nebuchadnezzar and choosing to have “vegetables” (technically refers to “vegetables, grain, and non-mean products generally” Goldingay 6) and water instead?  One suggestion has been that they were not “kosher” (cf. Lev.11, 17) and thus would “defile” them, but this would only pertain to meats and not to wine. As was previously mentioned it had been offered to the god/s (cf. 1 Cor.8-10; Rom.14), but so would the “vegetables” have been (cf. Bel and the Dragon 3; Oppenheim 192; those who denied consuming even the “vegetables” for this reason: cf. Judith 10:5; 12:2; Add. Esther 14:17; Tobit 1:10-11).  It is also notable that Jehoiachin was recorded to have eaten daily at the kings table according to 2 Kings 25:29.  Goldingay proposes that they refused as symbols of “avoiding assimilation” (19).  They had taken the names, learned the wisdom, worn the clothes and by outward appearances become “Babylonians”, but they would hold this one thing as to the LORD.  Though Daniel’s request found favor with the chief official, the official was too afraid to grant it directly so the “guard” (or more properly the one given direct responsibility over them) exchanged portions with them thus relieving the chief official of responsibility.  This act of Daniel and his friends was an outright act of faith on their part.  At the end of the ten days they were found to be in much better appearance than the rest of those who ate the royal food so they were permitted to continue with their diet of faith.  This is not in any way offered as a vegetarian command since the Law specifically commanded certain sacrifices of meat to be made and eaten every year (though the temple was destroyed at this time and thus the sacrifices could not be made then).  “Even a small act of self-discipline, taken out of loyalty to principle, sets God’s servants in the line of his approval and blessing.  In this way actions attest faith, and character is strengthened to face more difficult situations in the future” (Baldwin 92-3).

1:17-21 – An insight into the end before getting to the end.  It is stated the God Himself gave the four young men understanding of all the things they were studying during their three years of Babylonian tutelage.  How might this be understood in light of the contents of what they studied?  What relation does God’s wisdom and knowledge have to the world’s?  It is specifically noted that Daniel was blessed with being able to understand and interpret dreams (cf. Num.12:6) which comes into play later in the book (though it is not something inherent to him, but something he still prays and seeks).  When they finally made their appearance before the king it was noticeable that these four far surpassed all the others, but they would still have opportunities to demonstrate the superiority of their God.  The note in verse 21 concerning King Cyrus (see the prophecy in Isa.44:24-45:7) maintains that while Daniel when into captivity he lived to see the end of it under the Persians (cf. Deut.30:3-5; the “seventy years” of Jer.25:12).


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IL: Moody Press, 1994.  pp. 421-448.
Baldwin, Joyce G. Daniel. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries vol. 23,
Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1978.
Childs, Brevard S.  “Daniel,” An Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture.  
            Philadelphia, PA: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1979.  pp. 608-623.
Goldingay, John. Daniel. Word Biblical Commentary vol. 30, Nashville, TN:
            Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.
Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. The New American Commentary vol. 18, Nashville,
TN: B&H Publishing, 1994.
Oppenheim, A. Leo.  Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. 
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
Walvoord, John F.  Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation. Chicago, IL: Moody
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