The Third in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Daniel
I think it fair to say that one reason why preachers often turn the great events of redemptive history into object lessons or timeless truths–and often times even these are obscured by illustrations, stories and multi-media presentations–is because neither they nor their congregations know the Bible well enough (or care to know the Bible well enough) to let the biblical story tell itself, and then trust God to apply his word to the hearts of those hearing it proclaimed. Because it is a difficult book, requiring a great deal of background, the Book of Daniel is far too often subject to such unfortunate moralizing treatment. This is a shame, because the story of four young Jewish boys, taken captive, forced to conform to foreign ways, and then finding themselves standing before the king of Babylon (the man who has done these evil things to them) and out-performing by ten times the king’s own best and brightest, is far more interesting than any illustration I might find, any story that I might tell, or any timeless truth we may attempt to identify. Their story is especially compelling when we know the biblical background which puts this account into perspective–the reason why I will spend some time developing that background. Yes, this is a wonderful story of faith under pressure and resistance in the face of temptation. But it is also a story of God working all things after the counsel of his will, while still caring for these four young men. God has chosen Daniel to reveal future chapters in the great story of redemption.
We are continuing our series on the Book of Daniel and we will be wrapping up our time in chapter 1. As I mentioned several weeks ago, the Book of Daniel can be quite challenging to understand–because of its apocalyptic visions and its direct ties to ancient near-eastern history–as well as a difficult book from which to preach (for the same reasons just mentioned). So we are slowly “easing” into our study of Daniel’s remarkable prophecy. In our first sermon we spent some time on the background to the book, we looked at its literary structure, and then we established that two themes run simultaneously through the course of this book–themes bound together in the person of Daniel, a prophet of YHWH, and the author of the book which bears his name.
The first theme is the sovereignty of God over the empires and rulers of the world–including the Babylonian empire and its king current Nebuchadnezzar. We have considered Daniel’s stress the upon the sovereignty of God in the opening chapter of his prophecy–god “gave” Israel’s king Johaikim over to Nebuchadnezzar, along with many gold and silver vessels from the Jerusalem temple used in the worship of YHWH (v. 2). The very idea of Israel’s king being led in chains to Babylon, as well as Jewish gold and silver, which had been used in the Jerusalem temple for the worship of YHWH, now placed in the Babylonian treasury and dedicated to the “gods” worshiped by Nebuchadnezzar, was unthinkable to any Jew. The symbolism attached to these events is not to be missed by Daniel’s reader. Nebuchadnezzer thinks his kingdom is far greater then Judah, and his “gods” are vastly superior to YHWH. He will soon discover otherwise. Yet at the same time Daniel tells us that this tragic set of events occurred because God willed that they occur–the covenant curses meted out by YHWH upon disobedient Israel.
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