Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Daniel in the political den

So ... starting with Daniel ...
Have you ever wondered how old he was when he was taken prisoner. Some modern commenters think he must have been around 5 or 6 - a child being raised among foreigners to be a ruler and spread the good culture.

(28) Daniel

Read Daniel 1:1-5 It was normal for the Babylonians to take people as well as property when they conquered a land. The young captives (think elementary schoolkids) would be brought up as Babylonians and trained to become governors back home as they grew older, thus conquering hearts and minds.

1.       In general, do you think this method of conquest would work?

2.       What if you add the religious element, training the young people to believe Babylonian gods were greater?

3.       Are there analogies in the modern world, or in relatively recent history? How do we learn from history, or fail to?

The first story in Daniel is a familiar tale concerning food. It happens soon after Daniel arrives in Babylon. Remember, Daniel really is a little kid at this time.

1.       Read Daniel 1:6-7. It was normal to rename the students too. But what might it feel like to have someone change your name? What about praise songs like “I will change your name”?

2.       Why might these names have been chosen?

a.       Daniel means “God is my judge.” Belteshazzar means “Bel protects his life.”
b.      Hananiah means “God is gracious.” Shadrach means “Command of the moon god.”
c.       Mishael means “Who is like God?” Meshach means “Who is like the moon god?”
d.      Azariah means “God has helped.” Abednego means “servant of Nego.”

3.       Daniel now lives in a state that is separate from his church. How is this like our country? How is it unlike?

4.       Read Daniel 1:8 Why don’t Daniel and co complain about the names?

5.       Why does Daniel complain about the food? Is it just because he’s a five-year-old?
6.       How might we decide what’s worth complaining about?

7.        Read Daniel 1:9-17  Is Daniel gracious?

a.       Shouldn’t Daniel try to convert the eunuch? When should we try to convert, and when should we just live alongside someone?

b.      Should we all become vegetarians? How do we decide how to interpret God’s laws?

c.       Is God gracious to Daniel?

8.       Read Daniel 1:18-21 How does Daniel model living in an anti-Jewish culture?

a.      How might his actions be relevant to the modern world?

b.      How might they be relevant to Christian politicians?

Cyrus takes the throne of Persia in 559BC, but the first year he comes to power (here in Babylonia) probably means 539BC when he conquered Babylon. If Daniel was taken captive around 605BC, that means he survives 70 years in captivity. Assuming he was around 5 (child rather than young adult) when he was taken, he lives to be around 75—at which point he’s still writing! How does that make us feel about aging?

The second story in Daniel should be a familiar one too. It happens in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, so how old do you think Daniel is?

1.       Read Daniel 2:1-13 Why would the king imagine his advisors could tell him his dream? Is he testing his gods?

2.       Which king did ask this in the past? And why might the king be willing to kill his advisers?

3.       Read Daniel 2:14-18 Why might Daniel imagine God will tell him the king’s dream? Is he testing God?

a.       Might God’s faithfulness over the food have influenced Daniel?

b.      What influences us to make us believe God will help us?

c.       We’re told to pray in faith. Presumably Daniel prayed in faith too. How “sure” do you think he was?

d.      Read Daniel 2:19-23 Is Daniel grateful, awed, wise… or all of the above?

e.       How do we respond when God answers prayer? What might make it hard for us to respond this way?

4.       Read Daniel 2:24-30 What does Daniel emphasize? What do we emphasize when God answers prayer?

a.       Does Daniel say the king is wrong, or his advisors’ gods are wrong? Why or why not?

b.      Does Daniel build himself up? Why or why not?

c.       What can we learn from how Daniel conducts himself, especially how he saves the other wise men?

5.       Read Daniel 2:31-35 This is the dream. What do you know about gold, silver, bronze, iron and clay? Would you expect to interpret the dream forwards or backwards (Gold built on top of iron, or iron defeating gold)? Let’s look verse by verse at what Daniel says, trying to see through ancient eyes rather than ours.

a.       Read Daniel 2:36-38 What countries today might imagine themselves this way?

b.      Read Daniel 2:39 The Medes followed the Babylonians. The Persians followed the Medes. By the time Alexander the Great came close to Jerusalem, who would he have identified with in this vision. Why might he have decided to skip invading?

c.       Read Daniel 2:40-42 The Seleucids (Syria) and the Ptolemaics (Greece) came next and were combined by marriage. How might they have viewed the image of combined strength?

d.      Read Daniel 2:43-45 What might the Maccabees have imagined this meant? What might the Jews of Jesus’ time have imagined? And what do we think it means?

e.      Modern Christian interpretations read Medo-Persian for the silver shoulders (two shoulders—two empires combined), Greece for the brass chest and thighs, and a divided Roman empires for the feet. How does verse 45 tie all interpretations together? What is the important message to us?

6.       Read Daniel 2:46-49 Does Nebuchadnezzar’s response make any sense?

a.       Does remembering what happened to Nineveh help it make sense?

b.      What about Daniel’s response?

c.       Do you know who built the hanging gardens of Babylon? And when?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Halfway between Samuel and John (maybe)

Starting the second year of our journey through prophets, and trying to remember where we were in the first year... The first study in Daniel will be posted tomorrow.

(27) PART 2 - The End is Not The End

Here’s where we were in our Minor Prophets’ study at the end of last year:
The nation was split in two---Israel and Judah. Half went into exile when Israel was conquered by Assyria. And now the nation has been split again. Half have gone into exile again (conquered by Babylon). Meanwhile nothing remains to tell anyone this land belongs to God.
1.       To what extent is the land of Israel special? Ancient religions thought their gods ruled over locations. Is that what Judaism believed? Is it what we believe? How does it color our attitude to the new nation of Israel?
2.       To what extend should it be clear that a land belongs to God? Should it be written on their money, or is it more important that faith be written in their hearts?
3.       What do we worry more about—our land and its laws, or God and the law of love that saved us?
4.       If we lost everything, what would we worry more about—what we’d lost, or staying true to God?
5.       How hard would it be to trust God in exile?
a.       What kind of “exile” can you imagine falling on American Christians today?
b.      Do you think fear of exile would make us more or less faithful to God?
c.       And would exile itself make us more or less faithful?
God’s people have lost God’s country, God’s favor, and God’s Temple. It’s no surprise they spent a lot of time thinking about the end-times. But why do we? And what else do you think would concern God’s exiled people?
1.       If you couldn’t go to church, how and where would you worship God?
2.       If you didn’t have a Bible, how would you recover God’s word?
a.       What would be your attitude to any recovered words?
3.       If you didn’t have a national identity, how would you rebuild one? And what “national identity” would be worth rebuilding?
In Jerusalem, Jeremiah continues to prophecy to the remnant. In Babylon, Daniel will become a great prophet for the exiles in the present, in the immediate future, and in the end-times. In Israel, Ezekiel will speak to another remnant and try to restore order. In Edom, Obadiah is going to speak to those who pour scorn on God’s people. And the end will not be the end.
God’s people will return, and Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi will continue to prophecy. Prophecies of Isaiah will prove remarkably relevant to their present situation, so much so that many writers imagine some of Isaiah’s original prophecies were revised to emphasize their relevance, or that followers of the prophetic school of Isaiah were still at work.
1.       Have you ever seen sets of Bible verses collected together because of their relevance to a particular issue?
2.       Have you ever collected favorite Bible verses? How and why?
3.       What sort of “Bible” did the Jewish exiles have at that time anyway? And how might exile have helped shape the Bible as we know it?
As time goes on, the prophecies of Daniel will also prove powerful—not just in repelling invaders with their accuracy (Josephus says the book was used to distract Alexander the Great from invading Jerusalem!), but also in continuing to be relevant to later situations.
1.       What knowledge about Daniel do you already have? List anything that comes to mind, and add to the list below if you have other ideas.
a.       End-times prophecies?
b.      Birth of Christ prophecies?
c.       Rise and fall of nations?
2.       What attracts you to studying Daniel?
a.       and what makes you less keen to read the book?
So here we are. We really haven’t finished the Minor Prophets—there at least three still to go. We haven’t finished the study of Jewish history before Christ. And we’re about to read about the end-times… or are we?
Let’s start this second half of our studies with Daniel, follow the history of God’s people and the prophets God gave to them (whether we believe Isaiah is first-written, rewritten or revised, it’s still God’s word, and we still have plenty of passages unread), and end…

… with the rest of Daniel and the history of the world, leading up to that prophet we promised to end with when we began this journey—John, son of the mother who prayed, just as Samuel was.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Daniel and the Fall

Where did summer go? How did it get to be Fall? And if Daniel is where we left off  when  summer began, will I really be ready to study the whole of his book in just two weeks?

The answer, of course, is no. But we will start on time, and we'll start in Daniel. The young man will become vegetarian and quickly grow up to reveal the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. But Daniel didn't speak his answers or his questions into a vacuum, then or now. He spoke in exile while others spoke in a city about to fall. His world had ended, but prophets in other places still listened to God's word. So we'll look at them too, at the places where they lived, and at the changing fates of all the people they led.

We'll study the later parts of Jeremiah, the school of Isaiah who died (according to Jewish tradition) not all that long ago, Ezekiel with his chariots, and more, and more. Then, in the end, we just might look at the end, as told in Daniel's visions. A man, once young, now grown old,will guide us to that final prophet of our series, the young man called John.

I hope you'll join us. And I hope I'll be ready in time. I'm really looking forward to the journey.