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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jerusalem Falls

  1. Why couldn’t Daniel eat meat?
  2. Why did Daniel have to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream?
  3. Where does the expression “feet of clay” come from?
  4. Did Babylonian kings ever worship God?
  5. Where did Jeremiah come from?
  6. Which Jewish prophet was accused of defecting to Babylon?
  7. Which Jewish prophet was upset by the combination of church and state?
  8. Why is Egypt like an eagle?
  9. Which prophet wrote about how to cook dinner?
  10. What is the book of Lamentations?

Daniel and his friends were among the cream of Judahite youth taken to Babylon in the first conquest (around 600BC). Fed the finest meals at court and taught by the best teachers, they were destined for greatness, but Daniel refuses the rich foods and insists on a vegetarian diet, presumably because he can’t be sure religious rules are followed in the kitchens (Dan 1). Meanwhile Judah’s less important people remain behind. The trainees' lives are endangered, less than 3 years into captivity, when King Nebuchadnezzar decides to kill all his “wise men” because they can’t both tell and interpret his dream. Presumably he’s decided they can easily fake interpretation but only those with access to gods know what’s been seen. God saves them all by giving Daniel a vision. The statue in the king’s dream has a golden head, silver body, bronze thighs and iron legs, but feet of clay (hence the expression). Daniel explains it represents kingdoms that will follow Nebuchadnezzar’s from his golden glory down to a mix of strength and weakness (iron and clay), all brought down in the end by the stone of God’s power (Dan 2). But when Nebuchadnezzar (perhaps inspired by the golden head) makes a statue and insists everyone worship it, the Jewish captives refuse (Dan 3). Daniel’s three friends are thrown in a furnace but survive, thus proving God’s power. (In human terms, the furnace may have been heated too high so a flash explosion killed the guards but left the fire out. In spiritual terms, a fourth man seen in the furnace may have been an angel or God.) Nebuchadnezzar dreams again and refuses to heed Daniel’s warning, resulting in a period of mental illness (Dan 4). Hepraises God effusively on his recovery.

The priest and prophet Ezekiel (also taken to Babylon) writes his first vision of heaven (Ez 1-3), with heavenly images (4 creatures etc) repeated in John’s Revelation. Meanwhile in Judah, the new king Zedekiah organizes a conference of nations in rebellion against Babylon. Jeremiah declares Nebuchadnezzar’s just doing God’s will (Jer 27:6) and prophesies against Judah’s allies. His message, that the same fate as Israel’s will fall on Judah but both will survive (Jer 50:17), is sent to Babylon (and Ezekiel) with the next outflow of exiles.

With Jerusalem under siege and its people starving (2 Ki 25, Jer 52), Egypt offers temporary relief (Jer 46). Jeremiah takes the opportunity to return home to Benjamin but is imprisoned as a defector (Jer 37), though he still has hope and buys property from jail (Jer 32) even as he tells the king to surrender or else the city will burn (Jer 32:29, 38:17). Meanwhile, Ezekiel echoes Jeremiah’s complaints about God’s temple (Ez 8, Jer 23:34), sees visions of politicians meeting in temple gate-rooms as church and state are combined (Ez 11), and prophesies failure of the Egyptian alliance (Ez 17, comparing Egypt to an eagle eating Israel’s vine). Exiled elders beg for a vision, awaiting Ezekiel’s trance as if he were a Babylonian wise man or false prophet (Ez 20:1, 31). As Judah, Ammon and Egypt rebel, Ezekiel wonders which nation Nebuchadnezzar will attack first (Ez 21:18). Ezekiel has further visions, comparing disaster to cookery (Ez 24), making him dig through walls to escape (Ez 12), starving him (Ez 4), and telling him not to mourn his wife or his city (Ez 24). He models the city’s destruction with clay tablets and street theater (Ez 4) and predicts Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign against Egypt (Ez 30), which was followed by Jerusalem’s final destruction (2 Ki 25:4-21, Jer 52:7-27, 39:1-7).  Jeremiah, or someone like him, then wrote poems (Lamentations) for the lost city of God.

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