The Law of the Medes and Persians Has Been Revoked


During the Old Testament book of Daniel, God’s people were in exile in Babylon, and a group of Babylonian officials really wanted to make a point.  They wanted to do this so badly, that it’s recorded several times in just a few verses of the book of Daniel, chapter 6:

Verse 8: “Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.”
Verse 12: “Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.
Verse 15: “Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”
Verse 17: “And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel.” [bold emphasis mine]

What provoked them to insist on this law that “cannot be revoked”?

They decided Daniel (of the book’s name) needed to be persecuted for successfully contributing to the welfare of Babylon, while humbly giving God the glory for all his gifts, abilities, and success.  He was making them, and their gods, look bad.  It is remarkably similar to the reasons Jesus saw opposition.  Daniel, a Jewish exile, was about to get a big promotion and they wanted to sabotage it.  Knowing Daniel openly prayed three times a day, the officials conspired and convinced the king to sign a law “that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.” (Verse 7).  Either Daniel gives glory to Babylon, or he dies.  Forcing Daniel to change his worship would prove that an unjust law was more important to him than his God.

What did Daniel do in response?  Nothing new.  He continued his standard practice of worship, praying in front of his open windows, probably including prayers for the welfare of Babylon[1].  Verse 10 says Daniel acted “as he had done previously,” which indicates he wasn’t snubbing his nose at his government or its new rule.  His faithfulness was more important to him than an unjust law, even when he didn’t know God would deliver him from the lions.  Daniel didn’t just come to God when he thought he needed God; he knew he needed God at all times.

Therefore, when the officials were provoked, it was an outcome of Daniel’s success and prayer, not Daniel’s intent.  Basic, consistent faithfulness to a higher power can sometimes irritate people, especially lower powers who think their rule “cannot be revoked,” even when it’s not very effective.

Following the law, the king had Daniel thrown into the den of lions, but “God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths.”  Daniel said he was saved because he had faithfully served his God and the king (verse 22), not because he was a provocative protester.

Seeing Daniel delivered by God, King Darius tore up the law that “cannot be revoked,” but even if Daniel had not been rescued from the lions, the laws would still have been revoked.  The kingdom of the Medes and Persians no longer exists.  Likewise at the end of time every law of every Babylon will be no more.  However, God’s promise of blessing for all who will worship Him and seek His will still stands.  On this promise Daniel stood, or rather, kneeled, and served his God and his countrymen, even in exile.

The law of loving service to neighbor will never be revoked, wherever and whenever you live, and even in heaven!  In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”[2]


[1] Jeremiah 29:7 says: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare,” referring to Babylon.
[2] Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy (1908).  P. 103.

Let God Speak to Your Inner Wilderness


I’ve written recently about John the Baptist[1], who announced the coming of Jesus, baptized Him, and led the way for His ministry to begin.  This John was identified with “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’”[2] prophesied by Isaiah.  Today I want to describe a little more about the passage from Isaiah 40:3-5, which says:

A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
            make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
            and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
            and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
            and all flesh shall see it together,
            for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’”

Is Isaiah talking about a massive, miraculous geological event, creating an easier route for Jesus to take to His kingdom?  Perhaps in the future something like this will happen, but I think Isaiah is saying that God’s power over nature is a symbol of His power to reform and perfect us into the character of His Son Jesus.

Before Jesus comes into our lives, we are a spiritual “wilderness” full of “uneven ground” and “rough places.”  The path of our salvation begins in this wilderness, an unorganized chaos of thoughts and desires.  We are like “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  However, the power of the LORD enters our low valleys – our guilty secrets, shame and depression – which will be raised up.  It progresses through our mountains and hills – areas of pride, self-sufficiency, and our desire for power – which will be made low.  God, with the same power that created the universe, removes all obstacles to the coming of His kingdom to us, and to the world.  He has given us His word, His Spirit, and fellow believers to strengthen us, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  (Ephesians 4:13-14)

John the Baptist called his followers to confession and repentance.  In announcing the coming of the kingdom of God, John anticipated a time when our internal and external wildernesses will become a paradise.  Until then, we each have different hills and valleys, different uneven and rough areas.  Until then, the world remains full of false doctrine, cunning, craftiness and deceit.

Today, pray that the powerful voice of our LORD will reach into your wilderness and remove obstacles on the path to His kingdom.  Pray that His word and His Spirit will reveal His glory.  Pray that all believers will answer the call of “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” to build up His church.

Amen.


[1] See recent post here.
[2] Isaiah 40:3, quoted in Matthew 4:3.

The Desires He Delights to Give


Does God give us what we desire, or does He decide what we desire?  Some of my earliest prayers I remember (I was probably about 6) are ones asking to wake up the next day with my room full of all the toys I wanted.  Naturally, I never woke up to a room full of toys.  God probably knew I would only ask for more, and there would never be enough.  That doesn’t mean I only prayed that prayer once…I learn slowly, but He is patient.

In later life, after understanding Christianity somewhat better, one of the first Bible verses I set out to memorize was Psalm 37:4, which says
Delight yourself in the LORD,
            and he will give you the desires of your heart.

But I still wondered: are the desires what He gives us, or is the fulfillment of desires what He gives us?  I now believe it is both.  In the times I genuinely seek Him, I find that He molds my desires, so they become more aligned with His character.  I also find that He directs those desires toward what will fulfill them.  While that fulfillment is not always immediate, I learn to trust from what He does fulfill that all will be made right in eternity and learn patience and peace.

When we truly delight in Him, we end up finding out that what we desire is righteousness; we also find out that He provides all the righteousness we desire and need.  We find those desires fulfilling rather than frustrating, we find that fulfillment durable rather than fleeting, and therefore find ourselves content rather than anxious.

However, we don’t always delight in Him, and we find ourselves conflicted and unfulfilled.

Therefore:
“Commit your way to the LORD;
            trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
            and your justice as the noonday.” – Psalm 37:5-6

Today, pray we will find our delight in Him.

Promises of Life, Godliness, and Excellence


Fellow travelers,

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” – 2 Peter 1:3-4

We do not, and cannot, depend on our own merit to convince God to love us, therefore:
“This consolation I would wish all Christians in their prayers: the testimony of a good conscience to assure them of God’s promises. But to obtain what they ask must only depend upon him, all opinion and thought of our own justice being laid aside.” – John Knox

Today in prayer, seek His power in His promises.  He wants us to have “all things that pertain to life and godliness” and He is faithful.


Post inspired by McKim, Donald K.  Everyday Prayer with the Reformers (2020).  P. 115.

When You’re Stuck in Second Gear – Blessed are the Meek #4


Everybody struggles with maintaining hope in tough times, and also with knowing and doing God’s will when what we feel is right seems irrelevant.  Today I’m going to cover a story of how the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah struggled to understand an idea God gave him to share hope with future generations, including us.  The story also loosely follows the outline of the first three Beatitudes and therefore fits in the “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” series.

If misunderstood, the first two Beatitudes alone can leave us in a place where we’re a mess and the world is a terrible place and there’s nothing we can do about any of it.  It can be a place of depression and despair.  Like in the theme song from the TV show Friends[1], we feel like “It hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.”  Where does it end?  But God promises that there is work for each of us to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) The third Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek” promises a way forward – for every person in their own way to do whatever He has prepared for them.

The Gearbox of the Beatitudes
As I wrote in the first post on “Blessed are those who mourn” I believe the Beatitudes are an intentional sequence, and here I’ll describe better what I mean.  The Beatitudes are not a chronological path we move through as we mature.  We don’t learn to be fully poor in spirit before we can get any better at mourning or being meek.  The picture is more like gears in a machine that all need to work together for the machine to function in each specific situation.  Weakness in one place affects the entire machine and Jesus was explaining specific parts of becoming more like Him.  God, as our maker, knows how we function, the reasons behind when we fail to function, and the solution.  With the Beatitudes, Jesus encourages us to use the machine for what it was made for – loving God and neighbor in all times and circumstances.  First, being poor in spirit means that we have emptied ourselves of all illusions that our plans are better than God’s.  Second, mourning the state of ourselves and our world means we are emotionally engaged.  That we care.  In the third Beatitude, being meek is where we begin to engage our will, submitting it to God as our benevolent Lord.  If we don’t, “it’s like you’re always stuck in second gear” from the Friends theme song.

The story today (from Jeremiah 32) finds Jeremiah stuck.  The Jews had him imprisoned for speaking the words of their own God, and while he was there, God told him that he should buy a field.  Not only was Jeremiah in prison, but the field he was asked to buy was in enemy territory.  The Babylonians had already conquered much of Judah and were besieging Jerusalem.  Surrounded by despair, we can easily imagine Jeremiah asking: what good will it do?  He might think cutting off Nebuchadnezzar’s ear would be a better idea[2].

Jeremiah Inspects the Gears
As readers of the book of Jeremiah, we are doubly blessed to know that he did buy the field, but also that he recorded his prayer to God as he tried to overcome his reservations.  The prayer is in chapter 32, verses 17-25, and loosely reviews the first two Beatitudes, while he is having trouble engaging the third gear of meekness.  His mind and emotions are engaged, but his will hesitates.

First, Jeremiah reviews the power, character, and history of God to remind him to rely on His Spirit, not on the poverty of his own spirit in verses 17 to 23:

“‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.  You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds. You have shown signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and to this day in Israel and among all mankind, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day.  You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, and with great terror.  And you gave them this land, which you swore to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey.  And they entered and took possession of it.

Second, Jeremiah mourns the consequences of Judah’s disobedience starting in the middle of verse 23 through verse 24:

But they did not obey your voice or walk in your law. They did nothing of all you commanded them to do. Therefore you have made all this disaster come upon them.  Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it.

Yet the prayer closes with Jeremiah doubting the significance of his own obedience in verse 25:

Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.

In a book where the main theme is (temporary and partial) judgment on God’s people who had turned away from Him, there are also moments of (eternal) hope.  Jeremiah bought the field – to show God’s people that their exile would be temporary, and their eternal hope was secure. As the Beatitude says, the meek “shall inherit the earth“!   But there are also two notes of hope for us living centuries later: 1) that doubt is not something only “weak” Christians feel.  Jeremiah felt it too.  And 2) that encouragement matters, even if we see it as a meaningless drop in a turbulent ocean.  If God calls us to do it, it is meaningful.  For a lot of people “It hasn’t been their day, their week, their month, or even their year.”  As I write, the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t quite over and many are struggling to return to “normal,” which isn’t what it used to be.  To quote an old friend of mine in a recent Facebook post: “Encouragement. Everyone needs it, and we hardly ever share it. Don’t wait. Spread the love!”

If you still find yourself stuck, hesitant to shine God’s light in the darkness, go before God and follow the pattern of Jeremiah’s prayer – remember the power of His Spirit when yours is weak and the significance of obedience even in small things.  You might find not only yourself getting out of second gear, but also helping someone else move beyond a rut they’ve found themselves in.

Let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25


This post continues a series on the Beatitudes. To start at the beginning, click here.


[1] “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts (audio here)
[2] See the post “He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs (Part 2)” for more on the growth in the Apostle Peter from cutting off Malchus’ ear to teaching “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” (1 Peter 2:1)

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