Daniel 6

Taken from his home and family in his youth, Daniel had live for many years in exile. He was probably in his eighties when Darius became king. Daniel was still very active in government, and had been promoted from an advisory position to a high administrative post. Because of his “excellent spirit” (the blessing and favor of the one true God) he had been promoted by King Darius to one of the top three positions in the kingdom, with plans to make him Prime Minister. The hand of God was on Daniel, and it was evident to everyone. If you work under a lost employer or supervisor, the quality of your work and the godliness of your behavior can be a powerful witness for the Lord — but prepare to be misunderstood by jealous coworkers who do not understand your motivation or the source of your strength.

Driven by jealousy, Daniel’s two counterparts held secret meetings to find any “dirt” they could on him. They found none. Daniel had a long, spotless record of integrity. Their only option for taking Daniel down was a devious one. They would trick the king into creating a law forbidding something Daniel was already doing: praying to the one true God.

The men appealed to King Darius’s ego, convincing him to sign a law that would elevate him to the status of a god. The only worship allowed for the next month, including prayer, would be directed to Darius. Anyone found being disloyal to the king and praying to any other deity would face execution in a most horrifying manner, death by lion. How did Daniel respond? He didn’t! He was aware of the new law and the penalty for breaking it, but he stuck to his routine of disciplined prayer anyway. Verse 10 reveals the quiet strength of the man: he prayed and praised the Lord, kneeling before a window that opened toward his homeland. He did not acknowledge the king’s silly claim of divinity, and he not try to hide his devotion to the one true God.

When Darius heard that Daniel had been arrested, he was “much distressed” (v.14). He knew he had been used: the law was not meant to honor him, but to condemn his most trusted assistant. Knowing that the law was irrevocable, the king finally conceded that Daniel must be thrown to the lions. Protocol required that Darius personally seal him in the den, which he did reluctantly. It would take an act of God to save old Daniel from the hungry lions.

We are told that the king did not sleep that night, but Daniel probably did! God had sent an angel to “shut the lions’ mouths” and Daniel was released from the den unharmed! In one miraculous act of protection, God had honored His man, shamed Daniel’s enemies, and proven that He was the true God (and Darius was not). The plan backfired tragically on the two conspirators, who received the punishment they hoped would be Daniel’s. No angel was dispatched to protect them as they were thrown to the lions, and they died in their sins, a gruesome death. The king learned from their mistake and signed a new law, one that promoted worship of Daniel’s God, the one who “rescues and saves His people” (v.27).

Let’s follow Daniel’s example today: disciplined prayer, humble obedience, bold faith, and quiet trust in “the living God who endures forever” (v.26).

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Daniel 5

After the long rule of Nebuchadnezzar as king of Babylon, the empire became unstable. A succession of short-term rulers sat on the throne and (by the end of this chapter) were eventually replaced by Medo-Persian kings. The last of the Babylonian monarchs was Belshazzar. During all this political change, the prophet Daniel continued as an exile in Babylon, living a life of devotion to the one true God in the midst of a nation of idol-worshiping pagans.

Daniel was a senior adult when he had his first encounter with King Belshazzar. The setting was an elaborate party the king hosted for his officials in the royal residence. The wine was flowing, and drinking became the focus of the gathering (drinking alcohol is mentioned 6 times in this chapter). As often happens, intoxication led to a very foolish decision: Belshazzar called for the silver and golden cups that had been stolen from the great Temple in Jerusalem. The cups, which had been used for the drink offerings in the Holy Place of the Temple, were over 300 years old (possibly over 800 years old if they were the cups made by the great craftsman Bazalel in the days of Moses; see Exodus 37:16).

As the Lord’s cups were filled with wine and passed around Belshazzar’s drunken party, the king and his guests toasted the idols placed around the palace — images of false gods, made of metal, stone, and wood. While the inanimate idols sat in their places, unable to “see or hear or know” (v.23), the one true God saw the king’s defiance, heard his blasphemous praises, and knew his wicked, prideful heart. The idols were motionless, but God began to move. Suddenly a ghostly hand appeared and wrote a cryptic message on the wall as a terrified Belshazzar watched (v.6). The hand wrote four words (in the Aramaic language) which made no sense to the king: MENE, meaning “numbered”; MENE (repeated); TEKEL, meaning “weighed”; and PARSIN, meaning “divided”.

Belshazzar, still badly shaken, called for the Chaldeans (sorcerers and astrologers) to come and interpret the strange message, promising gifts and a promotion to the one who could interpret it. After all of them failed, the queen mother entered with a suggestion. She remembered Daniel and his ability to interpret dreams; surely he could interpret the handwriting on the wall. Daniel was brought in, and he offered the interpretation — but not before he boldly confronted Belshazzar’s pride. In very clear terms, Daniel told the king that the hand he saw writing on the wall was the hand of the one true God, and that same hand controlled the king’s very life and destiny (v.23). The interpretation must have shaken Belshazzar to the core: his number was up and his reign was over because he did not measure up to God’s holy standard, and so his kingdom was going to divided and given to someone else. The prophecy was fulfilled that very night when Belshazzar was assassinated and a Medo-Persian took his place.

From a drunken party came a sobering message: God will not tolerate pride; He will judge sin. If you have drifted away from Him, replaced Him with worthless idols, dishonored His name, or pridefully ignored His rule in your life, God is measuring you against His standard of holiness. He is calling you to repent. Your days of grace may be numbered, so do not delay in getting right with Him. Cry out to Jesus — He is our only hope for ever measuring up.

Daniel 4

Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, was a complicated man. He had an inflated ego and an exaggerated sense of self-importance, but he was quick to admit when he was wrong. When he encountered the one true God who blessed and protected Daniel and his friends, he was quick to acknowledge His supremacy — but he still held to his idols and false deities. The king could profess faith in God in beautiful, majestic language (see 2:47, 4:3), but he did not really possess the faith he professed. He understood the concept of exclusive loyalty to one sovereign ruler, because that is what he demanded of his subjects. But as his spiritual pilgrimage unfolds in the book of Daniel we see that he was unwilling to worship God exclusively.

This chapter is Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony of how God humbled him. (Note: Isn’t it amazing how God pursued a relationship with Nebuchadnezzar? While He could have annihilated the haughty king, He patiently sought to win his heart! We do not know if Nebuchadnezzar ever became a true believer, but I like to think that in the end, one of the greatest conquerors in history finally surrendered and was himself conquered by the one true God.)

As in chapter 2, God got the king’s attention through a troubling dream that only Daniel could interpret (v.10-16). Nebuchadnezzar was the tree in the dream that would be cut down, humiliated for seven “periods of time” and then restored to prominence. Daniel seemed to imply that the fulfillment of the dream could be avoided if the king would “break off his sins” and repent of his pride (v.27). God mercifully gave the king a year to repent, but by year’s end he had already forgotten the warning. While surveying his kingdom he was filled with pride as he took all the credit for his accomplishments — credit that rightfully belonged to God. The dream from a year before immediately took effect as God removed the king’s sanity.

For seven months (or years) Nebuchadnezzar lived like a wild animal. I am sure that his family and his staff tried to reason with him or even restrain him, but God had taken away his ability to reason. He apparently refused to live indoors, to eat human food, or to groom himself. Imagine what he must have looked like at his worst, described in verse 33!

At the end of the time, the king-turned-wild man suddenly recovered his sanity. He instantly realized that God had humbled him as promised in the dream, and he broke into praise for His sovereignty (v.34-35). He acknowledged that he deserved the punishment and that “those who walk in pride God is able to humble” (v.37). God graciously restored Nebuchadnezzar to his throne and allowed his reign to flourish again. The lesson here for us is simple, and it is stated succinctly in James 4:6, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So say goodbye to pride. Serve God humbly. Surrender to His will. Humble yourself — or God may humble you. Believe me, you don’t want that. Just ask Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel 3

Whatever King Nebuchadnezzar had learned about the God of Daniel in the previous chapter, he had set aside. He did not worship the God behind the dream of the statue (see 2:31-45). In his dream a golden head represented his rule over Babylon, but he built a statue entirely of gold, 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. Nebuchadnezzar was making a statement that he wanted his kingdom to last forever. My opinion is that the statue represented himself, and his desire was to be worshiped as God.

Every official from every branch of Babylonian government was summoned to the capital for an unprecedented worship service at the dedication ceremony for the statue. The instructions were simple: when the king’s orchestra begins to play, bow down and worship it — or be executed immediately. The king could not know if people were truly worshiping or simply bowing down, but to make sure they at least went through the motions he provided a frightening visual aid. A furnace (an enormous industrial one, probably used to smelt the metal for the statue) was fired up on site to burn those who would not bow.

This presented a problem for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the friends of Daniel who had been appointed as the top officials in the province of Babylon. As men who worshiped the one true God, they did not bow down before the statue when the music began. Loyalty to God often requires that we take action, but sometimes it means doing nothing. This was the case with the three friends, and their non-action made a powerful statement. It caught the attention of some of the astrologers and sorcerers, who reported it to the king. Nebuchadnezzar was angry (and probably embarrassed) at the insubordination and decided to make an example of the three. He told them they would get one more chance to comply with his command or be burned alive.

What would you have done in that situation? It was decision time for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They could have rationalized bowing down to the statue: “This is no big deal; it’s just a ceremonial thing. God knows our hearts, and He certainly doesn’t want us to die, so let’s just quickly bow down on the outside to appease the king — but we’ll be standing up on the inside.” But instead, they made a very calm statement of faith (v.16-18): “Nebuchadnezzar, we only worship the one true God. Our God is bigger than you and stronger than fire, so do what you have to do. He can save us if He wants to, but if we die, we die.”

With that, the king flew into a rage. He had the furnace fired to “seven times more than it was usually heated” (v.19), and he had the three men bound and thrown into it. The heat from the furnace was so intense that it killed the men who threw them in. When the furnace had died down enough to allow the king to look into it, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He expected to see only the ashes of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — but they were alive and walking around inside the fire! The fire had burned away the ropes that had bound them, but they were unhurt! God had made them inflammable! And the three men were not alone in the fire, but accompanied by a supernatural “fourth”, a heavenly companion to walk with them through the fire. (Note: this could either have been an angel or a rare Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ. We can’t be sure, but I’m going with Jesus!)

When Nebuchadnezzar brought the men out of the furnace, an apology would have been nice, but he at least gave credit to the one true God and promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He had witnessed a miracle, an amazing act of God, but he was not thoroughly convinced (as we will see in the next chapter).

I don’t know exactly what you may face today, but I am sure you will be pressured to conform to the world, tempted to sin, and challenged to take a stand for the one true God. Whatever happens, remember that the God who protected Daniel’s friends will protect you. He is bigger than any person who threatens you, and He is stronger than any problem that you will ever go through.

Daniel 2

I have a feeling that King Nebuchadnezzar had grown weary of the multiple deities of his religion. The idols to which he prayed neither answered his prayers nor demonstrated any real power. The sorcerers and astrologers who counseled the king were supposed to be able to tap into the spiritual realm, but the king did not trust them. He was suspicious that they might be as unaware of spiritual things as he was. At that very time, the one true God had arranged for a young man to meet Nebuchadnezzar — a man who knew God personally and could introduce the king to Him. That man was Daniel.

In order to set up this important meeting between the most powerful ruler in the world and an exiled Jewish teenager, God gave Nebuchadnezzar a bizarre nightmare. The king awoke the next morning with an attitude. He demanded that his sorcerers and astrologers tell him not only the interpretation of the dream, but the content of the dream itself. If they could not do it, the king decided that he would execute every one of them. The clueless “holy” men stalled for time, knowing that what the king asked was impossible.

The Babylonians did not know what to do with Daniel and his three friends. Since God had blessed them with uncommon wisdom and spiritual insight, they were placed in the same group with the sorcerers and astrologers. That meant Daniel and his friends stood to die if the dream could not be interpreted! Daniel called a prayer meeting. Along with Azariah, Mishael, and Hananiah, he prayed for God to reveal the dream and its meaning. That night God answered the prayer in “a vision of the night” (v.19), and Daniel rushed to tell the king.

Daniel did not waste the opportunity to give glory to his God. In verses 27-28 he made sure the king knew that the one true God could do what none of his false gods and their representatives could do. And Daniel made it clear that he was not wiser than them — he just knew the real God (v.30).

The dream of the statue (v.31-45) signified the three world powers that would dominate history after the Babylonian Empire faded from the scene. It showed that Daniel’s God was sovereign over all human authorities. He is the one who “removes kings and sets up kings”, the one who determines the histories of nations and the rise and fall of empires (v.21). The silver chest and arms probably represent the Medo-Persian Empire, the bronze belly and thighs probably represent Greece under the rule of Alexander the Great, and the iron-laced clay feet probably represent the Roman Empire. The rock that smashed the feet and became a great mountain (v.35) is the Kingdom of God, ruled by King Jesus forever. God’s Kingdom, the present earthly identity of which is the church, is indestructible. I can’t help but think that Jesus had this passage in mind when He made the great pronouncement in Matthew 16:18, “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Nebuchadnezzar honored Daniel and promoted him and his three friends. More importantly, he acknowledged, “Your God is God of gods and Lord of kings” (v.47). And just think, that God loves you and is concerned about the details of your life! He is in control of the times and seasons of your life, and all that He does (and allows) is for your good and His glory! Worship Him with all your heart today!

Daniel 1

Because of the persistent rebellion of Israel for many years, God removed His protection from the nation, allowing the Babylonians to invade and conquer Jerusalem. Tragically, they robbed Solomon’s Temple of some valuable articles and took them back to the pagan temples of Babylon (v.2). But the greatest tragedy was the priceless treasure they stole from God’s people: their youth.

King Nebuchadnezzar was very shrewd. He captured the finest young men of Jerusalem and brought them to his palace in Babylon, but his plan did not end there. He knew that if he could capture the hearts and minds of Israel’s youth, brainwashing them with his pagan ideologies, he would have them forever. But what the king did not count on was that the King of kings had already captured the hearts of some of those young men. Their courage, their character, and their loyalty to the one true God was much stronger than the indoctrination of Babylon.

One of Nebuchadnezzar’s tactics was to change the names of the young men, removing any reference to their God:

Daniel = “God is my judge” became Belteshazzar = “servant of Baal” (a false god)

Hananiah = “the Lord shows grace” became Shadrach = “under Aku’s command” (the moon god)

Mishael = “who is like God?” became Meshach = “who is like Aku?”

Azariah = “the Lord helps” became Abednego = “servant of Nego” (the god of wisdom)

These young men did not forget their true names and they did not forsake the true God. Following Daniel’s lead, the group decided to make the best of a bad situation and work within their new world to serve the Lord. Their refusal to consume the king’s food and wine may seem like a small thing, but it was a major risk and a significant act of bravery. (Note: Scripture does not say explicitly, but the king’s menu probably violated the dietary guidelines in the Law of Moses; eating it would have “defiled” them; see v.8.) God honored their convictions and their resolve by making them healthier on a low-protein, low-carb diet than the rest of the boys on the rich royal diet (v.15). (Note: pastor Rick Warren and his California congregation have developed this idea into an entire wellness program. Check it out here.)

God’s special favor on Daniel and his friends did not end with physical blessings. God also gave them mental sharpness, educational excellence, practical wisdom, and spiritual discernment (v.17). At the end of their 36-month course of training they were presented to the king for an interview. His assessment: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah stood head-and-shoulders above their fellow captives. He immediately brought them on as consultants, and found them to be “ten times better” than his council of advisors (v.20)!

The commitments these young men made set the course for the rest of their lives, and they serve as examples to us. Like Daniel, we live in a culture that constantly challenges our convictions as believers. The pressure to conform is intense. But we learn in this chapter that when we “resolve” to take a stand for the Lord (v.8), He gives us strength to keep those commitments and he honors them with His favor. Stand strong today, my friend!

Titus 3

I have learned so much from this little letter from the Apostle Paul. He wrote it to a man named Titus, a young pastor and church planter whom Paul had left on Crete, a large Greek island with a population of extremely immoral people. Titus’s mission was to organize churches that would make a difference in that wicked culture. That would only be possible if the churches were made up of believers who had been transformed by the gospel. As my father-in-law is fond of saying, “If you want to make a difference, you have to be different.”

We can never make a difference for Jesus if our lives are not being transformed daily by Him. This chapter begins with a reminder of that transformation. Verse 3 lists seven vices that remind us of what we once were. All Christians can look back and say that this is how they once lived: slaves to the overriding power of sin, to the point that we were defiant against God; so in love with ourselves that we had no love left for anyone else, only envy and hatred. You may think, “I was saved as a child. I never did all those things!” But it was in you to do them, and given enough time and opportunity, you probably would have.

Verses 1-2 offer a contrasting list of seven virtues that Christ makes us capable of exhibiting. This is a description of what a believer must be: so confident in our citizenship in the Kingdom of God that we are models of citizenship in our communities; so confident in our standing before God that we have no problem being humble before men.

What a difference! What a transformation — from being enslaved to sin to being free in Jesus, from living for ourselves to living for our Savior, from being hopelessly lost to being eternally saved! Exactly what is it that makes the difference? Three little words in verse 5: “He saved us”!

The only evidence that the unsaved world has that we belong to Jesus is our godly lives and our good works (v.8, 14). If people don’t see Jesus in us, they will probably never see Him at all. Good works cannot achieve salvation, but they can demonstrate salvation and direct people to Jesus.

This must be our focus. We can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by “unprofitable and worthless” things anymore (v.9). May we never get so busy disputing about this-or-that in the Bible that we become distracted from reading it and doing what it says. May we never get so busy talking about what we think of God that we come distracted from talking to God. May we never be found sulking and complaining about how someone hurt our feelings at church when there are hurting people all around us without Jesus. May we never be found arguing about our taste in worship music or who gets the credit (or the blame) — and be distracted from the people who are headed for the fires of hell without Christ.

Instead, let’s keep it simple. Let’s learn to devote ourselves to the kind of good works that open doors for us to share the gospel. That will be enough.