Are We Genteel or Maśkîlîm (Dan 12:3, 10)?

posted by R. Fowler White

“In an age enamored by soft words that lead to deception, we still have a duty to speak ‘truth’ to the deceived.”—Philip G. Bowersox, Smooth Words: Daniel’s Perspective on the Great Commission

The quote above from Philip G. Bowersox, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Oklahoma City, OK, is nothing if not a sobering call to duty for pastors and teachers. It’s a call to discern and to confront the reality of deception—no, the danger of deception—a threat that often goes undetected and unchecked as it creeps into our lives. This call to duty is made the more earnest when we ponder the unrelenting menace to which the Apostle John alerts us in his first letter. “Children,” he writes, “it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18 NASB95). Let those words sink in. They bring us up short, don’t they? John would have us understand that, living as we do after Christ’s ascension (as even his first readers did), we’re living in the last phase of history. Talk about a “wake up and smell the coffee” moment for us in God’s church.

As if the gist of John’s words is not arresting enough, we realize that he describes this final stage of history as an age in which antichrists and false prophets flourish (1 John 4:1). They, with their followers, promote beliefs and behaviors that are contrary to the faith handed down once for all to the saints (Jude 3). The details John provides demand our attention: the number of these deceivers is many (1 John 4:1), and they are already here (1 John 4:3). More than that, they are not just out there, in the world. No, John tells us that they went out from us after being with us in the church. In fact, it is not just that deceivers were once in the church: it is that they can be presently in the church just as it was the case at Thyatira (Rev 2:18-28). All told, the call to duty that Pastor Bowersox gives us echoes the context that John describes: because deceivers are present both outside and inside the church, we must speak truth to those who might be enamored with soft wordssmooth words—and led astray wherever deceivers appear.

Skeptical as we are, you and I might ask, how seriously should we take these threats? Despite warnings from Christ and His Apostles, there seem always to be some in Christ’s church who simply deny reality. You probably know some of these folks. They prefer the pablum of therapeutic to-do lists that (allegedly) get them personal peace, influence, or affluence instead of the solid food of instruction necessary for them to develop discernment and endurance. The result? In their willfully childish rejection of nourishing food for their growth in holiness, they leave their souls defenseless against the waves and winds brought in the smooth, soft words of deceivers who would lead them to apostasy.

Whether, then, we look within the church or outside of it, we in Christ’s church find good reason to prepare ourselves to speak truth. The Apostle Paul tells us how to prepare in Eph 4:12-16. Through the ministry of the word, we grow up into Christ; we attain the faith of an adult Christian (cf. 2 Tim 3:14-17). Why? The reasons are straightforward. Only those who stay true to the Scriptures and mature in the faith are able to speak truth to others (Eph 4:15). Only those who learn to distinguish truth from error, good from evil, right from wrong are able, in turn, to speak truth to the deceived.

Knowing these things, we’ll devote ourselves to discipleship in community to learn from and with others the historic doctrines and practices by which Christ has built His church (Rom 6:17-18; Eph 4:20-23). We’ll place ourselves in the care of the shepherds and teachers whom Christ gives us through his Spirit, those who are committed and gifted to train us in what to believe and how to behave according to the faith handed down to the saints. We’ll do these things because the discipleship we need to counter the smooth, soft words of deceivers won’t become ours by just any means. It is the church’s unique purpose to gather and grow the saints. So, we’ll covenant with others of like mind to learn the historic truths of the faith—not least, those of justification and sanctification as highlighted by Bowersox.

Are our congregations prepared to speak wise words of truth to any who might be led astray (cf. Dan 12:3, 10)? Bowersox’s book is a fine resource to help get us ready. Take it up and read it. Then, like Daniel, in this last hour of smooth, soft, deceptive words, you’ll have wise words to speak, and you’ll stand with others, firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by [our] opponents (Phil 1:27-28 ESV).

Corporate and Individual Responsibility: An Introduction

I want to write some posts about corporate and individual responsibility in the Bible. This is an extremely thorny issue. At the moment, I am only beginning my investigation of the biblical texts. Thus, this post will raise more questions than answers. In the future, I will be focusing major attention on Ezekiel 18, and what it does and does not say. Other related passages are Joshua 7 (the account of the failed attack on Ai), 2 Samuel 21, Deuteronomy 24:16, 2 Kings 14:5-6, Daniel 9, and Exodus 20:5-6. Assessing how these texts relate to each other to form a coherent picture is a very thorny task. The reason I am addressing this issue is that the PCA has addressed and will be addressing corporate responsibility regarding the race issue.

What are some categories that the Bible uses to address the question of corporate and individual responsibility? The first category is a distinction between guilt and consequence. Obviously, guilt is one consequence of sin. However, there are other consequences that can be incurred by someone who has no direct guilt. This might be a helpful way of understanding why it is that 36 men get killed in the attack on Ai for something that they themselves did not do. One might say that Achan murdered those 36 men by transgressing the ban.

A second category distinction is between human retribution and divine retribution. Who assesses the punishment, in other words? Does human retribution apply to corporate guilt, or that only the purview of God? Bear in mind that this particular distinction is not the same question as repentance, and whether repentance needs to be corporate or individual.

A third category distinction is between sins of omission and sins of commission. This one should be familiar to most of my readers. A sin of omission is something that we (or I) should have done but failed to do, whereas a sin of commission is something that we (or I) should not have done, but did anyway. This has a bearing on possibly composite sins. On the racism issue, for instance, if a church committed racist acts, and the presbytery of which it was a part failed to discipline that church for said actions, then the presbytery incurs the guilt of omission. While the presbytery may not, as a whole, have committed the action itself, it is still responsible for its required and biblical response. The same is true on a denominational level.

The fourth, and perhaps stickiest question of all, is the question of covenantal continuity. There is a tension between the continuity (on the one hand) that the true church has with itself in all generations, regardless of denominational boundaries; and the discontinuity of governing bodies that are directly responsible for the discipline of members within its scope. In the case of the PCA churches that Sean Lucas has in mind, for instance, the question will revolve around some of these questions: have these churches ever repented? Did the southern presbyterian denomination repent before the founding of the PCA? Is there continuing sin on the matters of racial equality? If so, what is the responsibility of current bodies within the PCA, and is the whole denomination at fault, or only some presbyteries?

A fifth question to ponder is a very important question: what constitutes racism? I have addressed this question briefly before. Having read a bit more, and done a bit more thinking, there are some things I might say differently. For instance, the question of how the biblical passages relate is a far more difficult question than the previous post would seem to indicate. I still hold to my position on affirmative action being inherently racist. I also hold that evolution and a theory of polygenesis (that we do not all come from Adam and Eve) open the door to racism.

Why talk this way about all these careful distinctions? One reason is that we want to tell the truth. It is not truth to confess to sins for which we have no guilt any more than it is truth not to confess for sins of which we are guilty. We need to assess carefully and biblically what guilt we have in the question of racism. Whatever truth of guilt we have can then lead us to repentance and restoration.

I attended recently a memorial service for the Charleston Nine at a black church in Winnsboro. It was a wonderful experience. I was afraid at first that the talk would all be about social justice. Instead, it was focused on Jesus Christ and the gospel, while mentioning racial issues in the context of the gospel. Yes, there was much talk about the unity that the church has in Christ, as was appropriate. But it did not sideline the gospel, for which I was very thankful. As was mentioned by my black brothers at GA this year, any repentance that we do needs to have feet, so that actual change can happen in our churches. Some churches are further ahead in this process than others. Some degree of compassion and understanding will need to be present.

Check Your Facts!, God

I enjoy listening to the hubristic claims by some in the media that they only report the truth; that they are rigorous in checking their facts, and so their reports can be trusted. Then someone comes along with impeccable evidence that proves the inerrant reporter is made of clay like the rest of us.

The brothers following the trajectory of Dr. Enns in Inspiration and Incarnation would have us believe that God is very much a clay-e-reporter. They do so with the intention of encouraging us that he is trustworthy after all. (More can be read on this in the previous posts, Incoherent Inerrancy, Who Ya Gonna Believe, and There’s Accommodation, and then There’s …?.)

Huh? God knowingly communicates in the Bible via errors, and this makes him more, not less trustworthy?

In this post I want to offer some suggestions to counter this irrationality. Contrary to the position that says we have to live with the fact that the Bible is filled with errors, there are perfectly rational alternative explanations for the (supposed) errors in the Bible, alternatives that do not begin with the presupposition: God trustworthily communicates truth via error.

I do not propose to offer any “proof” here. (I think there are reasons why God does not offer us proof – a future post will address that topic.)

Rather I propose to offer perfectly reasonable alternatives; alternatives which presuppose God trustworthily communicates truth inerrantly. I hope to show that there is no need to bow before the unbelieving higher-critical scholars, and then try to come up with a position of error-laden inerrancy.

Let’s use Daniel 9:1 one as our example passage (ESV): In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans-

The problem, according the errantists is that ancient near eastern (ANE) historical sources prove that this is wrong. These ANE sources prove that there never was a Persian king named Darius who was the son of Ahasuerus. Thus, the Bible must be wrong.

I’ll leave it others to list all the viable alternatives to assuming the Bible is wrong. Instead, I want to put the shoe on the other foot. Which is more plausible, that the Bible is wrong here, or that the ANE sources are wrong? Here are three common characteristics of secular historical sources, characteristics which mark their errancy and fallibility.

ANE Name Usage

Ancient naming practices were not as controlled as our modern western name process – recorded on the birth certificate it is as good written in stone! Not so in the ANE. Like any culture, ANE cultures used names in a variety of ways naming individuals, that when recorded in history, can lead to confusion.

E.g., sometimes a given name of one important person becomes an honorific title for others following after him. “Caesar” was one of Julius’s personal family names. With his successor and nephew, Augustus “Caesar” this name became a title ascribed to all succeeding Roman emperors (and their titular descendents in Germany, “Kaiser” and Russia, “Czar”.)

Sometimes someone just did something that added a name to his names. I’m sure most American readers will know who I mean when I say I love the Duke. (Movie actor John Wayne for those amongst us who have not had the cultural development of the rest of us ;-).) It would be easy 500 years from now, with spotty records from our period, to get confused: John Wayne, Duke, Marion Morrison (John’s birth name) – are we talking one guy, two guys, three guys, etc.?

Other times adoption, political maneuvers, critical societal shifts, etc., resulted in names being associated with individuals that were not well documented in historical records. E.g., there is some evidence that “Ahasuerus” was something of a titular name that was assumed as a part of the names ascribed to a Persian king.

Whether or not this is the explanation is not the point. What is the point is that there is sufficient evidence from ANE sources to provide plausible naming explanations for Dan. 9:1.

Spotty Historical Records

Of course, those who believe the ANE sources that “prove” Dan 9:1 is an error, are assuming that these secular sources are themselves inerrant! Yet history is replete with examples of such inerrancy assumptions being proven false.

One of the best examples is the claim that Belshazzar was not the last king of Babylon, and that Daniel was wrong in calling him so. After all, “inerrant” ANE secular sources “proved” that Nabonidus was the last Babylonian king.

That was until some ANE records turned up that explained that Nabonidus had appointed his son Belshazzar to be his regent, his “king-in-fact” in Babylon while he went off to fight an enemy. So what of all those claims that the Bible was proved wrong by these ANE records? Ooops …

Again, I’m not claiming this is the explanation for Dan 9:1. I am challenging the presupposition that the ANE records are inerrant. Why do we need to assume that the Bible must be wrong? It is just as likely that the historical record is spotty, that there is information missing from the ANE sources.

Propaganda History

The cliché “the victor write the history,“ is not always true. Sometimes the loser writes it, and he is believed.

My favorite example of this is the supposed victory of Ramses II over the Hittites at Kadesh in 1274 B.C. This was possibly the largest chariot battle ever fought in the ANE, with over 5,000 chariots involved. Due to the large amount of Egyptian records, it was commonly accepted that this was a stunning victory for Ramses II and the Egyptians.

That was, until Hittites records were discovered – and they told a significantly different story. In the end, scholars debate whether Ramses II secured a Pyrrhic victory (brought his army home, but did not capture Kadesh,) secured a draw with the Hittites, or suffered a stunning defeat.

So what of Ramses II’s claims of an overwhelming victory? Pure propaganda!

Now again, I’m not proposing such a solution for the question in Dan. 9:1. I am pointing out that ANE sources are just as likely to be nothing more than propaganda, lies intended to serve political ends, as they are accurate historical records.

I’ve given these three examples, again not as solutions to the “apparent” error in Dan. 9:1. Rather I’m seeking to make one simple point. The ANE cultures whose historical records “prove” that the Bible has errors in it were cultures just like ours, filled with error-prone people.

On what basis do we presuppose that these sources are more trustworthy than the Bible? If the Bible were nothing more than another ANE record written by error-prone men, well then of course it would be no different, and equally as likely to be in error as the contradicting secular sources.

However, we’re talking about God’s record here. Do we really want to presume that God needs to check his facts?

– Reed DePace

God Delivers

Daniel 2

Preached June 1, 2008

A bishop of a century ago pronounced from his pulpit and in the periodical he edited that heavier-than-air flight was both impossible and contrary to the will of God. Oh, the irony that Bishop Wright had two sons, Orville and Wilbur! Wright was wrong. Sure of himself, but wrong. He was surely unable to fly. And he had decided that no one else could either. That is a bit like what we have in our story. We have all these practiced soothsayers and magicians and enchanters and sorcerers telling the king that the gods do not reveal themselves to men, because they do not dwell with men. Well, don’t they know so much! As a matter of fact they are half right, as we will see. But they are also half wrong.

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was starting to have some significant nightmares. These were serious nightmares, because they deprived him of sleep. In other words, he sat up at nights worrying about them. I believe that God was giving him these dreams. Certainly God sovereignly ordained that Nebuchadnezzar would dream these dreams. Nebuchadnezzar was extremely worried about them. He was so worried about them that he called in his dream-interpreters so that they could tell him what the dream meant. However, Nebuchadnezzar wanted to be certain that whatever interpretation came his way would be the correct interpretation. He wanted to know what was going to happen in the future. Not knowing the future at all would be far worse than knowing a bad future.

The dream interpreters came in to Nebuchadnezzar and started talking to him in Aramaic. As a side note, we should know that the text from here to the end of chapter 7 is in Aramaic, not the normal Hebrew of the Old Testament. It is very similar to Hebrew, but has its own dialect. Why is this section of Daniel written in Aramaic? I believe it is because this section deals with God’s sovereignty over the nations. Therefore, the language most likely to be understood by the greatest number of people is the language that Daniel uses.

What the dream interpreters tell the king is that he should live forever. This is normally just a formality, like a salute would be. However, it is placed here ironically, since the king does not feel like he is going to live forever. The servants of the king have many books in dream interpretation. What they plan on doing is looking up in their books the dream that Nebuchadnezzar tells them, and then they will interpret it according to these books that they have available. The problem is that the dream interpreters claim to have the wisdom of the gods. Nebuchadnezzar is so concerned about his dreams that he wants to test the dream interpreters to see if they really have access to divine revelation. Of course, the dream interpreters do not have such access. Nebuchadnezzar knows that if the interpreters can actually tell him what he dreamed, then there won’t be any problem in their telling him what it means. It is important to say here that Nebuchadnezzar does not say this because he has forgotten the dream. He knows what the dream is. What he wants to test is the dream interpreters’ abilities. I think oftentimes we read this passage and think that Nebuchadnezzar is being unreasonable. However, given the claims that dream interpreters made in those days, it is not unreasonable at all what Nebuchadnezzar requests. As the interpreters know very well, however, their own religion is not one of direct revelation from God to man. So, they start stalling. It is likely that the conversation went on longer than what is recorded here, with Nebuchadnezzar getting more and more angry. Finally, the dream interpreters give up. They had every chance of showing their skills, but they knew they did not have it in them. Notice carefully what they say, in verses 10-11. No one can do it. And this is why no king has ever asked such a thing of any magician. No one can do it except the gods, and they are far removed from us. They are only half right. It is true that no human being can do what the king asks. And it is also true that no one but a divine being can reveal such truth to men. However, where they are wrong is in saying that it has never and will never happen. They are as skeptical as Bishop Wright. But it has happened. Not only has God revealed Himself in the Word of God, but He has also dwelt among us. Even in the Old Testament age, God lived in the tabernacle, and later in the temple. He lived among His people. His dwelling is with flesh.

Of course, this is ultimately true in Jesus Christ. He has revealed everything to us that we need to know for salvation. He has also revealed the future. We know what is going to happen. Jesus is coming back with glory to judge the living and the dead. And Jesus is God among us, Immanuel. So, the gods of the Babylonians don’t tell them anything, and don’t live among them. But our God does precisely that. This whole passage, then, teaches us about Jesus Christ, the one who reveals God’s plan, and has come in His own body to earth, in order to save us.

Now, Nebuchadnezzar is really upset by this point. He rightly thinks that if the Babylonian gods are to be of any use to men, then they should be able to tell him what his dream means. So Nebuchadnezzar is very angry with the unhelpful dream interpreters and orders them all executed. Now, Daniel and his friends had only just graduated from Babylon University, and they had only been once in front of the king. That had been a very favorable encounter. Nevertheless, they were not Nebuchadnezzar’s go-to guys just yet. So, they weren’t there when the dream interpreters admitted their failure. However, they were still under the sentence of death.

Now, just imagine being Daniel for a moment. You had been exiled from your own country, put through a very intensive educative process, been saved in the incident regarding eating the food from the king’s table. And now, because of one dream that the king had, you were going to be executed. Wouldn’t that seem like life was meaningless? Why go to all this trouble only to have your life ended in this stupid way? But Daniel did not panic, as one writer tells us. He knew that God was in control, and that there was a reason for why this was happening. He must have remembered the almost identical circumstances that Joseph faced in Egypt. You will remember that Pharaoh also had a dream that no one else could interpret. Joseph was in prison until the man he benefited remembered Joseph. So Daniel remembered that God had revealed the meaning of that dream to Joseph. He knew that God was more than capable of saving him from this situation. And so he remains calm and addresses himself to Arioch in a very tactful way that is designed to give him a chance to save his own life. Afterwards he goes to his friends and asks them to pray that God would reveal this mystery to him. Now, humanly speaking, Daniel’s position was more difficult than Joseph’s position was, since Pharaoh told Joseph what the dream was. But here Daniel didn’t even know what the dream was. But from God’s perspective it was just as easy to do the one as the other, since He knows all things. So, after Daniel and his friends pray to God, God gave Daniel the dream and its interpretation, thus bringing great glory to Himself. Again this shows us about Jesus Christ, since without Jesus we are just as ignorant of God’s plans as Nebuchadnezzar was, and just as much in need of God’s counsel. For unless we know the way of salvation, we will perish. Unless god had revealed to Daniel the dream and its interpretation, he would have perished. But God has revealed to us in the Bible the way of escape in Jesus Christ.

Now, aside from trusting in Jesus Christ, which this passage shows us that we ought to do, there are three main applications. The first is that whenever we find ourselves in a difficult situation, that should drive us to prayer. It is one of the main reasons why God sends us difficult situations: so that we will pray! Furthermore, we should ask others to pray for us, as Daniel asked his three friends to pray for him. God used those prayers in His plan so that He would answer those prayers in a mighty way, thus confirming Daniel’s faith, and spurring him on to praise the Lord with his whole heart.

Secondly, when God delivers us from those difficult situations, we should immediately praise God for that. It does no good to us to be delivered from harm if we will not praise our God and thank Him for His goodness to us. One of the most striking things about Scripture is that after every single instance of deliverance in the Bible, there is some form of worship to God. After the Flood, Noah builds an altar. After the Exodus, Miriam and the women sing of the Lord, who has thrown the horse and his rider into the sea. After God delivered Israel in the time of Deborah, there is a song that she sings. And there are many more examples of this. Notice that Daniel worships God with these words of praise and blessing. Daniel ascribes all sovereignty to God.

That leads us to our third application, which has to do with the sovereignty of God over nations. Look at verse 21 again. God sets up kings, and God removes them. We are in an election year. Many of us have strong thoughts about who we wanted to be President, or who we did not want to be President. And certainly we should have voted, and we should pray that God’s will would be done, and that the new President will be wise and understanding. But there are many people who will wring their hands because Obama got elected, and go around moping all day long. Why? God ordained the outcome. The outcome of the 2008 election did not take God by surprise: He planned it! So we should not worry. Instead, we should pray.

So we should not be like Bishop Wright, who thought that something was impossible, when it is not. We should not think like the dream interpreters, who thought that there was no God to reveal anything to men. Instead, we should trust in the God of revelation, who has revealed Christ to us. Christ will deliver us from our sin and death if we will trust in Him. He has done it before, and He will do it again.

Christ and Culture

Daniel 1


Audio Version

Once upon a time, there was a man named John, who worked for a building company. They made those massive I-beams that support bridges. He was a very important man, because he signed off after the inspection of these I-beams, so that they could be sent to the construction companies that needed them. If he didn’t sign the papers, then the building company could not sell the I-beams to the construction company. One time, there was an especially large shipment of I-beams about to go out, and John discovered an inherent weakness in the manufacture of this shipment. So, he refused to sign the papers. He was a Christian. The building company came to him and looked at the cost-benefit num-bers of the analysis, and came to the decision that these I-beams would have to be approved, or the company would lose money. So they told John to sign the papers. John refused. Then the board of the company got involved and said to John that if he still refused to sign the papers, he would lose his job. It was the only job he had, and the money was sorely needed by him. What should he do? What would you do? I’m sure that something of the same dilemma faced Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, as they were exiled away from their home, and sent off to Babylon. In many ways, their situation is similar to ours, for we are Christians, and members of a heavenly kingdom, ad are currently exiled away from where our citizenship is. How do we relate to the world? How do we relate to the pressures of culture? What do we do when the world tells us that we must look and behave a certain way, or else face the consequences? And what motivates us to do the things we ought to do in such a situation?

The historical situation is this: Nebuchadnezzar had just finished his siege of Jerusalem and taken Jehoiakim captive, along with the religious booty of the instruments of the Lord’s temple. This is not a small thing, since what Nebuchadnezzar was saying as he put those instruments in the house of his god was that his gods had conquered the God of Israel. He had won, and so had his god. So, a very real question for the Jews was this: had God been defeated? Had God been unfaithful? The answer is in the first part of verse 2. Nebuchadnezzar had a different idea of what had happened than Daniel himself had. Daniel’s evaluation of the exile was that the Lord had given Jehoiakim into the hand of Nebuchad-nezzar. The Lord was faithful indeed! But He was faithful in judging the people of God for abandoning their trust in God for trust in Egypt, or Assyria, or their own military might, or whatever else they want-ed to trust. As they abandoned God, God gave them over to their enemies. God is faithful!

Nebuchadnezzar was wise in the ways of the world. He knew that the best way to rule Judea was to brainwash the best and brightest of their young people, so that Babylonian ways, and language, and thought patterns would be characteristic of Jewish people. So, he found four of the best and bright-est of all the Jews, and had them educated (or could we say brain-washed?) in Babylonian language and literature. Furthermore, he wanted them to forget about their powerless God (hadn’t he defeated their God), so he changed their names. The names of the four friends originally had something to say about God. Daniel’s name means “God is my judge.” Hananiah means “The Lord is gracious.” Mishael means “Who is like God?” and Azariah means “the Lord has helped.” Instead, Nebuchadnezzar gave them Babylonian names. Belteshazzar means “may Bel protect him” (Bel is the name of one of the Babylonian gods). Shadrach means “the command of Aku” (another god). Meshach means “Who is like Aku?” And Abednego means “servant of Nebo” (yet another god). Lastly, and most importantly, he wanted to switch their allegiance from their homeland and their own God over to him. That is the significance of eating from the king’s table. The issue is not unclean food, since wine is not unclean, according to the Old Testament. Rather, in eating the king’s food, they would be admitting that they were dependent on the king, and they would be acknowledging that the king gave them all blessing and honor. That would defile Daniel, since it would be idolatry. It would be putting money and position over God, much like John was tempted to do, in our story about the I-beams. Nevertheless, the temp-tation would be quite strong. It would be easy to rationalize the decision, too, since Daniel could have thought to himself, “Well, I am only outwardly eating this food. I am not inwardly serving Nebuchad-nezzar as a god.” The problem with that kind of thinking is that the very eating of this food was an acknowledgment of Nebuchadnezzar as god, whether one intended this or not. So Daniel resolved not to eat of this food. It is very instructive to notice here that Daniel’s resolve in this comparatively small issue is foundational for Daniel to be able to resist temptation in the future. I’m sure that many of us have noticed that if we fall to temptation, it is much easier to fall into temptation again. Fortunately for us, the reverse is also true: if we resist temptation, it can become easier to resist temptation more.

Notice also Daniel’s tact. He didn’t want to trumpet the fact that he was rejecting this ultimate allegiance. He did not intentionally seek to be martyred. He did not intentionally seek to be weird. He intentionally sought to be faithful to his God. So he proposes this test to eat only vegetables, which would not be part of the richness of the king’s table. Vegetables by themselves would not normally be the thing that would be expected to make someone look better. The official does not like the plan, since his own head will be on the chopping block if the experiment fails.

The fact that Daniel and his friends do look better after ten days is proof that the Lord stepped in and worked miraculously to honor Daniel’s commitment to Himself. Remember our friend, John? Well, he decided not to sign the papers, and the company fired him for it. However, that is not the end of the story. As a result of his not signing the papers, the I-beams were not delivered to the construction company on time. The construction company investigated the reason for that. When they found out that John had protected their interests even at the cost of his own job, they hired him on the spot, and with a pay increase. Daniel and his friends not only looked better than the other young men their own age, but the Lord gave them high positions in Nebuchadnezzar’s cabinet. The Lord exalts those who worship Him, but those who do not worship the Lord, the Lord humbles. This we will see in the later story of Nebuchadnezzar.

In the meantime, let us remember that our Lord went through something very similar to Daniel. It is called temptation. Satan tempted Jesus to conform to the world’s way of doing things. It is only a small thing, Satan would say. But Christ would not yield to temptation. Eventually, Satan saw to it that Jesus was killed for that, a sort of revenge. Satan thought that he had conquered Jesus, just as Nebu-chadnezzar thought he had conquered not only Judah, but also Judah’s God. However, just as God handed Israel over to Nebuchadnezzar, so also did the Father hand over Jesus to death. Peter tells us this in Acts 2, where he says that Jesus was handed over to death “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” It was God’s plan all along! Thus did Satan find out that he had been tricked. On Easter Sunday morning, when the tomb was empty, only then did Satan realize that he had been beaten, rather than conquering Jesus himself.

So, if something is trying to undermine our allegiance to our King, we must resist. If someone tells us that we should overlook one of the Ten Commandments, because it is not practical, we should resist. If someone tells us to be dishonest, then we must resist. If someone tells us that holiness doesn’t pay, and that it is old-fashioned, and useless, we must not listen.

Our relationship to culture is not one of withdrawal. Daniel and his friends learned the Baby-lonian language and literature. That wasn’t a problem. Our relationship to culture is also not one of assimilation. This is our great problem in the church today: the church looks just like the world. We dress the same, act the same, divorce the same, steal the same, and in every other way, there is hardly a dime’s difference between the church and the world. Rather, we are to be salt and light, in the world but not of the world.

In order to do this, we must remind ourselves of our home. We must remind ourselves of heaven. And we must do that constantly. We must sing the songs of Zion, even if we are exiled current-ly from our homeland. North Dakota is not really our homeland. Heaven is our home. Our name is Christian. Remember that God is sovereign. The world may think that they have the church on the run. But God will show the true nature of things at the Final Judgment, and even though it may be difficult for us to see this now, rest assured that God will overturn the world, and that God is sovereign.

Dare to Be a Daniel (Introduction to Daniel)


Audio Version

There was a test conducted by a university where 10 students were placed in a room. 3 lines of varying length were drawn on a card. The students were told to raise their hands when the instructor pointed to the longest line. But 9 of the students had been instructed beforehand to raise their hands when the instructor pointed to the second longest line. 1 student was the stooge. The usual reaction of the stooge was to put his hand up, look around, and realizing he was all alone, pull it back down. This happened 75% of the time, with students from grade school through high school. The researchers concluded that many would rather be president than be right. This illustration is from Chuck Swindoll. It illustrates the stories of the book of Daniel very well, in that Daniel and his friends had the courage to stake their lives on the truth, even if everyone else in the whole world was telling them they were wrong. What we will see is that this is true of Jesus Christ as well. Daniel is a type, or forerunner, or shadow of the One who was to come, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ also did not care what the world said about Him. He was going to practice the truth. Even when the whole world thought He was wrong for dying on the cross, God said He was right. And the way the Father said that Jesus was right, was by raising Him from the dead. Death and resurrection is a recurring pattern all throughout Scripture, and we will see it in the book of Daniel, as well. It takes courage to face death. Even more importantly, that courage must spring from faith in the God of resurrection.

We live in a world where courage is almost unknown. It is ironic, isn’t it? The world would tell us that we are supposed to “be ourselves,” and that everyone’s belief is right for them. Of course, they don’t really believe that, since they would say that Adolf Hitler was wrong, even though Hitler thought that what he was doing was right. But the reality of the situation is that today’s world is desperately striving to stifle all courage, all originality, all true independence. Why is that? Because the world wants everyone to walk lockstep with the world!

The buzzword today is “postmodernism.” This is a word that describes the mindset of today’s world. Today the world wants everyone’s beliefs to be right for each person. The world says woe to anyone who believes that there is any truth that is true for everyone. Postmodernism says that there is no such thing as absolute truth. In other words, postmodernism says that there is no such thing as a truth that is true for everyone. Of course, postmodernists have to believe that that very statement is true for everyone! So, they kind of shoot themselves in the foot that way. And this is only a Western phenomenon. If you were to ask a Muslim if there is truth that is true for everyone, he would say yes. In fact, most of the great world religions are exclusive. All the great world religions believe that they are right and the rest of the world is wrong. And this is what is so helpful for us about the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel tells us that we must have faith in the one true God, the only God who can resurrect us out of sin and death, who does that by pure grace, who gives us the courage to worship and serve Him only, and no one and nothing else, and, who strengthens us to stand up for what is right.

Why is the Christian faith the only true faith? There are several reasons. Firstly, we have God revealed to us in the infallible pages of the Bible. Secondly, Christianity is the only religion where God saves us, and we do not save ourselves. We are saved by grace. Thirdly, Christianity is the only faith where it is even possible for our beliefs to match up consistently with what we practice. Every other religion has a fundamental contradiction between what is believed and what is practiced. A few examples will have to be sufficient here.

Take Islam, for instance. Islam is a very works-oriented religion. You have to do the five pillars, which are the confession of faith that there is only one God and that Mohammed is his prophet, three-fold prayer every day, giving alms, celebrating the yearly feast of Ramadan, and going once in one’s life on a pilgrimage to Mecca. If you DO these things, then maybe God will have mercy on your soul. But therein lies the problem. They want mercy and grace. And yet, they have to do these five things in order to get grace. That is a contradiction. Works are the opposite of faith. In the Christian religion, works are important, but only as a response to the grace of God. We don’t do works in order to earn God’s grace. Otherwise, grace would not actually be grace.

One other example of how a world religion contradicts itself: Buddhism believes that there is no god per se, but that the world itself is god. The idea of Buddhism is to escape suffering by achieving nirvana. However, there really is no such thing as evil. So there is really no hope that evil will ever be eradicated. And yet, Buddhists hope to achieve nirvana, which is their equivalent of heaven. How can that be, if there is no such thing as evil in this world, and there is always suffering? They live as if they can get rid of evil, and yet they do not believe that there is any such thing as evil. And so there is the contradiction. It is only the Christian faith that is consistent in life and practice. Now, many would accuse Christianity of being hypocrites. And there are many hypocrites in the church today. However, just because someone calls himself a Christian does not make him a Christian. A true Christian will be consistent with regard to what he believes and what he practices. Everyone sins. However, a Christian does not believe that he is sinless in this life. He believes that he is not controlled by sin, and that his sin is forgiven, and that his life consists of a continual process of becoming more righteous. And that is, in fact, what happens. So the Christian is consistent. And this is also part of the message of Daniel.

The book of Daniel is in two parts. The first part consists of chapters 1-7. This is definitely the more familiar part of Daniel, since it has all the famous stories: Daniel and his three friends not eating the king’s food (chapter 1), the vision of the image with all the different metals (chapter 2), the three friends not bowing down to the image that Nebuchadnezzar made, and being thrown into the fiery furnace as a result, and yet not being burned (chapter 3), Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation (chapter 4), the handwriting on the wall (chapter 5), Daniel in the lion’s den (chapter 6), and the vision of the four beasts (chapter 7). Chapters 2-7 are written in Aramaic, which is very similar to Hebrew, but a different dialect. Aramaic was the language of Babylon during this time, and was the language that everyone used if they were going to interact with another nation.

Chapters 8-12 consist of visions that describe the history of the world from Daniel’s time (during the exile in the 6th century B.C.) all the way to Jesus Christ (first century A.D.). Daniel was given a picture of what the history of the world would be. This proves that God is sovereign over the world. Indeed, God’s sovereignty could be called the major theme of Daniel. God’s sovereignty should result in our courage to have faith in that Sovereign God, who is sovereign even over death itself. We can be faithful, because we know that our God will protect us and vindicate us in the end. That is the message of Daniel.

So here are some practical applications of that message. Going back to the illustration I opened with, even if everyone else is telling us that we are wrong, even if everyone else is bowing down to the god of postmodernism, we cannot. Even if everyone else is brainwashed into telling us that the shorter line is actually the longer line, we must stand on the truth. We know the truth, and the truth will set us free. Hold fast to the truth. The world right now is seeking to undermine anyone’s faith in the one true God. They will ask us how we can be so narrow-minded as to suppose that there is only one way to heaven. Nowhere is this challenge more difficult than in college. College is aimed at changing the person into the mold of the world. You cannot even assume that so-called “Christian” colleges are actually Christian. My college called itself Christian, and yet had a Hindu professor teaching students about how to implement postmodernism in the world today. They didn’t even question whether postmodernism was correct or not. They assumed it. And this has filtered down into the high schools as well. Don’t be surprised if you find this at Strasburg High School. I don’t know whether that school is postmodern or not. But it wouldn’t surprise me. It starts out as saying that that we must allow everyone to believe what they want to believe. And actually, our country was founded on that principle of religious freedom. However, the step that people have taken is to say that no one can say that anyone else is wrong.

So, dare to be a Daniel. Dare to stand alone in affirming the truth. Dare to have the firm purpose of worshiping God alone, and dare to make that known to the whole world in the face accusations of religious bigotry and narrow-mindedness. And remember that God outnumbers the world.