Contending For The Faith

December 31, 2008

Bible Study: Daniel 6

Filed under: Bible Study,Daniel,John MacArthur — Lynda O @ 11:21 am
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Daniel 6 tells the well-known story of Daniel in the lions den.  This chapter closes out the first half of the book of Daniel, the part which is mostly narrative with some prophecy; the next six books of Daniel (chapters 7 through 12) are mostly prophecy with some narrative.  For this chapter, John MacArthur’s sermon “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” presents the narrative story with several key “P” words to highlight the major points:  promotion, plot, perseverance, prosecution, penalty, preservation, punishment, proclamation, and prosperity.

The Babylonian Empire, that head of gold described in chapter 2, is now gone, and Daniel finds himself in a place of prominence in the new kingdom of the Medes and Persians.  Daniel is now an old man, probably well into his eighties, and still serving God, consistently and uncompromisingly as always.  The first part of the story deals with Daniel’s promotion, and the resulting plot to ruin him.  Just as happened to his three friends in chapter 3, the other rulers resent Daniel’s success — and thus put forth a similar plot.  In chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar came forth with his own statue; here, the other rulers propose a similar type of idolatry, that for the next 30 days all men must woship Darius and any who do not face death — in this case, the lions den.

Perseverance — Daniel continues to pray as always; he doesn’t try to cool it for 30 days, or try to hide his praying.  Daniel can say, like Polycarp (martyred at age 86), “Eighty-six years have I served Him, He’s never done me any harm, why should I forsake Him now?”

Prosecution — The conspirators found Daniel violating their law, and brought the matter to Darius.  Of note here:  Darius is displeased with himself, he at least recognizes and has enough honesty to put the blame where it belonged, with himself.  Darius tried to deliver Daniel, and labored till the sun went down.  As MacArthur says, the law was probably signed in the morning, then they watched and found Daniel praying at noon, and told the king, who had all afternoon because “execution, according to their custom, was to come before nightfall.”  Perhaps Darius searched through the law books, looking for some legal technicality.  Meanwhile, Daniel never says anything, never a word to defend himself.

Penalty — Daniel cast into the den of lions.  Apparently there were a large number of lions, not just two or three like we often picture it, since we know at the end that when all the conspirators were thrown in, along with their families, they were all eaten up before they hit the ground.  Archeologists have discovered actual lion pits that were used by monarchs as places of execution.  A description, from MacArthur, quoting Old Testament commentator Keil:  “It consisted of a large square cavern under the earth, having a partition wall in the middle of it which is furnished with a door which the keeper can open and close from above. By throwing in the food, he entices the lions from one chamber into the other and then having shut the door, they enter the vacant space for the purpose of cleaning it. The cavern is open above, its mouth being surrounded by a wall of a yard and a half high over which one can look down into the den.”

Preservation — verses 18 through 23.  Darius spends the night without sleep, without any food or entertainment, and goes in haste to the lions’ den very early in the morning.  Daniel replies to Darius:  “My God sent His angel and he shut the lions’ mouths and they have not hurt me for as much as before Him innocence was found in me.”  Only after the trial does Daniel say anything, only then does he defend himself.  He put his life in God’s hand, trusting God. 

MacArthur:  “He will put his life in God’s hands in a lion’s den. It’s as if he was saying – Now, God, I don’t understand why I’m going to that lion’s den, but maybe You have a reason…maybe You know something in my life that isn’t right and this is part of it. And only after God delivered him could he say I haven’t done anything, I’m innocent. How do you know you’re innocent? Because God had a perfect chance to chasten me and didn’t do it. He waits for God to evaluate that.”

Of course, the trial doesn’t always end in deliverance — Isaiah, Paul, and Peter were martyred.  MacArthur: “Believing in God doesn’t mean that the lions aren’t going to eat you; there have been martyrs throughout all the history of God’s dealing with men that have believed God and they’ve died. The issue is that we accept God’s will. If it is to live, it is to live. If it is to die, it is to die. But in either case, we’re never defeated.”

Punishment — verse 24, the men who had accused Daniel, along with their wives and children, thrown into the lions den, and devoured.

Proclamation — verse 25, Darius wrote to all the people of his kingdom, that all men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.

Prosperity — verse 28, “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.”

MacArthur now gives several lessons about a man of God:
He transcends history.
He lives a consistent life from youth to old age and this makes for great usefulness in his old age.
Thirdly, he utterly fulfills his calling. In other words, he lives in the absolute center of God’s will. His only desire is that God’s will be fulfilled.
Fourth, he has a right attitude. They kept saying about him he has an excellent spirit…he has an excellent spirit.
Fifth, he will be envied and he will be hated by the world around him, but he will never be bittered by it.
Sixth, he is condemned but if he is condemned, he is condemned for his righteousness for there’s no other flaw
Seventh, he is known for his virtue and integrity even by his enemies.
Eighth, he is a faithful citizen. He is subject to human laws until they would cause him to violate the laws of God.
Nine, he is willing to face any consequence within the framework of God’s will and leave the outcome to God.
Ten, he will serve faithfully no matter what it costs him personally.
Eleven, he never defends himself. He leaves that to God.
Twelve, he strengthens the faith of others, giving them hope in God.
Thirteen, he is delivered from all harm and he is preserved for every purpose within the will of God.
Fourteen, he is a vehicle for God’s glory.
Fifteen, he will be avenged by God. He will be avenged by God. His enemies will be dealt with by God, he doesn’t have to deal with them himself.
And finally, he is exalted by those around him as well as by the One above him.


December 24, 2008

Bible Study: Daniel 5

Filed under: Bible Study,Daniel,John MacArthur — Lynda O @ 9:00 am
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John MacArthur’s sermon “Divine Graffiti: The End of an Empire”  looks at Daniel chapter 5, the story of the writing on the wall and the end of the Babylonian Empire. Once again we have a narrative text in which the ruler is confronted with something supernatural, beyond human ability to explain — not a dream as in two previous instances, but the fingers of a hand writing on a wall in a highly visible place in the middle of a wild party. Once again, the ruler calls for all the wise men, the enchanters and scholars, and again they fail, they cannot read the writing nor explain it. Daniel again makes a grand entrance, alone, after the others have had their chance at the mystery.

The background of the story is also interesting, in understanding who Belshazzar was and his connection to King Nebuchadnezzar, as well as the circumstances of that night. After Nebuchadnezzar’s death, his immediate successors quickly died, some due to assassination. Finally, one of the conspirators, Nabonidus, came to power, and since he was not of the royal line, he married into the royal line to strengthen his right to the throne; he either married a widow of Nebuchadnezzar, or one of his daughters. This woman had a son, Belshazzar, and so Nabonidus adopted this son. Nabonidus moved his palace away from Babylon, ruled in a desert location in remote Tayma, and appointed Belshazzar as a co-king who occupied the throne in Babylon. This is why, later in the chapter, Belshazzar appoints Daniel as the third ruler in the kingdom; the first two were Nabonidus and Belshazzar, and though Nabonidus had been eliminated, he still had to be acknowledged as king.

It is this Belshazzar that we meet in chapter 5, and yet by the beginning of chapter 5, the Medes and Persians have already conquered much of the countryside, all the surrounding land except the city of Babylon. Nabonidus was taken captive and exiled to Carmenia, where he died. Babylon itself was under siege on that last night, though we wouldn’t think it from the text. After all, the king is feasting and carousing, having a banquet for 1,000 of his nobles. They are over-confident and arrogant, in a seemingly impregnable city. As MacArthur notes: “Now it’s hard to conceive that the guy could be that stupid to get a drunken orgy going while his city is enrapt by the Medo-Persians. But Babylon was so formidable. You realize, the city was supposedly 15 miles square, according to Herodotus. Herodotus says that the city was 15 miles square, get this, the walls were 87 feet thick. … That’s a thick wall. You don’t burrow through that. The walls were 87 feet thick, 350 feet high. And on top of it and all surrounding Babylon were towers that rose another 100 feet to 450 feet where they could watch what was going on. And there were 100 massive bronze gates. And they had no problem with water because the Euphrates River flowed right through the middle of the city. What did they have to fear? They had it all going for them.”

Along with false security regarding the strength of the city, Belshazzar shows complete disregard for the things of God, in how he carelessly treats the dishes from the Lord’s temple. He knew of Nebuchadnezzar’s encounters with the most high God, knew of Nebuchadnezzar’s seven years of insanity followed by repentance and turning toward God, yet had ignored it all. Daniel has apparently disappeared from the scene of power, put out of the way. Belshazzar has to ask Daniel who he is — “Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah” — indicating that Belshazzar had paid little or no attention to Daniel.

Daniel, as always, is unafraid and unimpressed by human power and riches. He wasn’t affected by these things as a teenager, and now as an old man he hasn’t changed. He shows his disdain for what Belshazzar offers — “”Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else” (verse 17). MacArthur quote: “‘I’ll read the writing to the king and I’ll make known to him the interpretation.’ But first, I got a few other things to say. Like all good preachers, he can’t give his message ’till he gets his introduction out of the way.”  Here Daniel explains the real situation to Belshazzar, including what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, and indicts Belshazzar, who, though he knew these things, had not humbled his heart. Now his days have been numbered and brought to an end, and his kingdom given to the Medes and the Persians.

Now MacArthur brings several good points regarding the causes of Babylon’s collapse — and the same reasons that bring the downfall of any nation, including America. This message was given in 1980, and even then MacArthur saw these traits in America — so much more so now, another generation closer to the end of another country. Recognize these in America today?

1. Sin of drunkenness — in their drunken stupor, Babylon looked unassailable. Other kingdoms have also been destroyed by drunkenness. Alexander the Great died 200 years later, in the very same palace, in his own vomit in a drunken stupor.
2. Pleasure madness — having a party only a few hours before the end of the world
3. Immorality — Babylon had its sexual perversion and pornography, as archaeologists have found.
4. Idolatry — worship of manmade gods and blatant rejection of the true God
5. Blasphemy — mocking God, in the treatment of His temple dishes; modern day movies similarly mock God
6. Willful rejection — just as Belshazzar had all the revelation, of how God had revealed Himself to Nebuchadnezzar, so in America, a nation that has had more opportunities to hear the gospel than any others, so many willfully reject God
7. Unrelieved guilt — Belshazzar and his guests were greatly troubled and in fear when the handwriting came; his knees knocked together in such fright. Unrelieved guilt in America finds its expression in the abundance of psychiatrists, counselors, mental illness, drugs and alcohol
8. Greed and impure motives — Belshazzar willing to give gold and scarlet — all this stuff, which Americans are so focused on, a system of greed, selfish motives; you buy people
9. Materialism — “Power was equated with your clothes and your gold”
10. Confidence in human security — having a feast, thinking their city was impregnable
11. Corrupt leadership — all the rulers were drunk, immoral, inept; godless, practical atheists and humanists
12. Decline of the family — One of Belshazzar’s problems was that he wasn’t as good as his father (or possibly grandfather) Nebuchadnezzar, and he wasn’t as good as his adoptive father Nabonidus. The time gap between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar had brought this decline in the family — where was the godly seed, the righteous generation?
13. Pride — “You didn’t humble your heart.” (Daniel 5:22) — this rather sums it all up.

December 23, 2008

A Biblical View of Family

Filed under: doctrine,John MacArthur — Lynda O @ 9:44 am
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I recently came across this quote from John MacArthur, from a Q&A session transcript, in response to a question regarding how Christians are to live and fellowship, as compared to how cult groups function:

(speaking of cultists) “It’s a very circumscribed communal socialistic living where people who…it’s like Buddhist priests and these people, they give up all their freedoms, they give up all their ownership.  They step into that kind of communal environment.  That is not to say Christians aren’t responsible to spend more time with each other.  But I don’t think there’s a biblical mandate about that.  I think the family is the unit in Christianity that is the primary unit.  That is where…and you can go all the way back to Deuteronomy chapter 6 where parents are told to lead their children to talk about God every day when they stand up, walk in the Way, rise up, lie down.  The family is God’s unit by which righteousness is passed from one generation to the next.”

Here MacArthur sounds rather like a Presbyterian, covenantalist, as again he affirms what the Bible teaches and keeps a proper balance, rather than emphasizing one aspect of Christianity out of proportion to other teachings.  Yet MacArthur is considered a “leaky dispensationalist” and properly rejects the covenant theology extreme of infant baptism.  What a breath of fresh air, a balanced and reasonable approach to Christian living, in a world in which too many churches diverge into opposite extremes, fussing too much about certain doctrines while ignoring others.  As MacArthur has said elsewhere, there really is a lot of overlapping between the old and new covenants, they are not so distinct and separate as classic dispensationalism would have it; there is grace in the old covenant, and law in the new.

After many years in Sovereign Grace Baptist churches, I clearly see the problem of overemphasizing certain teachings — oh, that all churches had pastors that teach all the doctrines with equal emphasis.  Sovereign Grace churches  put all emphasis on the doctrines of Grace, and how only God can work to change the heart, how depraved sinners are and how God must do a work of regeneration in the heart.  Sermons deal directly with soteriology, or sometimes with the intricate details of the Mosaic system and all its sacrifices, and how these in some way or other typify Christ’s work on the cross.  Yet the majority of families, including those of the church leaders (deacons), take a very passive attitude toward their parenting responsibility, with many prayer requests to “pray for our children” (either generally or specifically their own children).  Since only God can regenerate the heart, this theology tends toward a passive and lazy attitude regarding the parents’ responsibilities; and so today we have a Sovereign Grace church showing the terrible fruits of this, in church leaders with very messed up young adult children — in prison, addicted to drugs and alcohol, out of wedlock pregnancies followed by marriage and divorce, and generally irresponsible kids dependent on their parents.  Sure, some of it reflects societal changes, and that these Christian families live no differently than unsaved people.  Yet it seems to surprise some, that even under years of solid preaching of God’s word (God’s Sovereign Grace, teaching at a much greater depth than most shallow, evangelical churches) that it has no effect in practice, the daily life.

Caught up in the goings on at this church, this contradiction baffled me for a while too — until after I started listening to and reading John MacArthur’s sermons earlier this year.  What a contrast indeed!  For this same  Sovereign Grace church, while continually teaching the important, though abstract, soteriology, never teaches the real-world issues of faith and practical Christian living.  The only references to family are generally negative, such as passing references to the sinful nature of a child.  The pastor so often loves to point out how every parent sees their “little angel” turn into a little sinner, and by the age of two that child will look bold-faced at the parent and “lie like the devil himself.”  Granted that such is true — but indeed, parents already know this, and so how is endless repetition of this fact of any help in Christian parenting?  Contrast this pattern with great biblical sermons, such as MacArthur’s “A Crash Course in Christian Parenting,”  (and many others) that give very practical yet biblically solid teaching.

Such overemphasis on soteriology, at the neglect of other important doctrines, tends to bring about a separation between theory and practice, a disconnect between the head knowledge of our salvation and the fruits of Christian living.  The Sovereign Grace congregations, like all Americans generally, are just as easily caught up in the American lifestyle of excessive debt and spending — so where are the sermons about a Christian’s attitude toward finances and responsibility?  When some of the people become very caught up in the American political process, such as earlier this year, never did the church address this issue, of a Christian’s proper attitude toward politics and political power.   

Contrast this with a John MacArthur sermon, “The Deadly Dangers of Moralism”  and this introduction: “One of the responsibilities that a preacher has is to bring the Word of God to bear upon the church and the world and to give God a voice to clarify and discern issues. So on the one hand we are called to the exposition of Scripture, explaining the Bible verse by verse, book by book. But the other hand, as well, we are called to address the issues of our time that affect us and to bring the truth of God to bear upon our understanding.”

So now I consider MacArthur’s point, and the biblical position.  Yes, the Old Testament clearly taught the idea of training your children in righteousness, teaching the next generation the great wonders of God and how to live before God.  The New Testament includes many instructions for parents and children, as in references in Ephesians and Colossians, also the pastoral letters of 1 Timothy and Titus.

This does not justify the error of covenantalism, that the Church replaces Israel and so we must put the children in a covenant relationship as they had in the Old, even baptizing infants into this covenant — but neither does it allow for the opposite extreme as seen in Sovereign Grace churches.  Indeed, MacArthur’s position — and solid teaching to back it up — shows that (as I tried to explain to a Presbyterian friend) you don’t have to have covenant theology at a church in order to give proper emphasis to the family; or stated another way, covenant theology churches don’t have a corner on the market, as the only ones that can teach a biblical view of family.  Unfortunately, many non-covenantal churches, such as the Sovereign Grace group, have erred in this neglect, but it need not be so, and I hope that other churches follow John MacArthur’s example, the proper balance of “dispensational” and “covenantal” teachings, to teach all of what the Bible has to say.

December 19, 2008

Bible Study: Daniel 4

Filed under: Bible Study,Daniel,John MacArthur — Lynda O @ 7:55 am
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Daniel 4 is the amazing story of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, fall, and conversion.  John MacArthur’s sermon “How Are the Mighty Fallen”  looks at this narrative passage, with several good insights.

This chapter deals with the pride of rulers, and “a proper recognition of the sovereignty of God, a proper recognition of the supremacy of God, a proper recognition of the humility of man ”  God is always the one in control, who sets kings on their thrones and pulls them down again.  The Bible gives us other examples of tyrants, such as King Herod in Acts 12; when Herod accepted the praise of men who proclaimed him a god, God struck him down with worms and he died — because he had not given God the glory.  What happened to Nebuchadnezzar is an example and warning to all would-be tyrants and rulers throughout history — to all the Hitlers, Mussolinis, Saddam Husseins — as well as to all of us ordinary sinners who would try to rule even the little kingdom we invent for ourselves.

This story probably takes place many years after the events of the previous three chapters, likely at Nebuchadnezzar’s 25th or 30th year of reign.  All is secure in his reign, and the land dwells in relative calm, peace and prosperity.  Daniel has been faithfully serving all these years, a witness of a righteous life to the pagan king.  For all of the miraculous events in Nebuchadnezzar’s life up to this point, though, Nebuchadnezzar still serves his pagan gods and keeps his retinue of court wise men around.  This chapter, though, serves as the climactic point in Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual biography.  As MacArthur says, though we can’t be totally dogmatic about it, the text certainly indicates that Nebuchadnezzar truly comes to faith in the true God.

Just as in chapter 2, when the king has a dream he summons all the scholars and wise men to interpret his dream; and once again, they cannot interpret it.  Again Daniel arrives, afterwards, to give the interpretation.  Daniel shows concern for Nebuchadnezzar:  he waits before giving Nebuchadnezzar the interpretation, and delivers it in a compassionate manner — oh, would that the dream and its interpretation was meant for your enemies. Daniel waits out of compassion, rather than just blurting it out abruptly, because he cares about the man.  MacArthur:  “We know the message.  And we know there’s a message of judgment, and doom, and hell.  But we never preach that message with a vindictive heart, do we?  We never preach it in a harsh, and damning, and unloving, and judgmental way.  But I could never, and I hope you can’t either, talk to anybody about the loss of their eternal soul, about the judgment of God in their life, without a sense of sadness and compassion.”  Daniel has enough compassion, though, to deliver the full message — as with the prophet Nathan’s rebuke to King David, “you are the man.”  Daniel also advises the king to repent while there is still time, to do good deeds and show mercy to the poor.  The chapter continues: even now Nebuchadnezzar did not repent, and we see God’s great patience — God gave Nebuchadnezzar a full year before passing sentence, a last opportunity for repentance.  As in the days of Noah, when God waited and delayed judgment for 120 years, in this case God granted another year before judgment.

Now to the particulars of the story:  trees were often used to symbolize rulers in ancient times.  A few other biblical references include Ezekiel 17:22 and 31:3, as well as Amos 2: 9; some non-biblical writings also compare a monarch to a tree.  The particular type of insanity experienced by Nebuchadnezzar is also not unknown.  A writer at a mental hospital in 1946 observed a mental patient with a clinical case of “boanthropy” — from the word boa, which means bull or cow.  In this form of lyanthropy, the afflicted person thinks he’s a cow or a bull, and goes around eating grass and water like cows.  Just as with Nebuchadnezzar in his insanity, this patient manifested a physical abnormality of lengthening of hair, and a coarse, thickened condition of the fingernails.

After the seven years when Nebuchadnezzar was literally put out to pasture, God restored him to an even greater position.  Just as the dream had foretold, after Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that the most high God reigns, his understanding returned to him.  The very fact that the kingdom was still there, kept for him all those years, also shows God’s control of the situation.  As MacArthur points out:

“In a kingdom like that, you’ve got a lot of grasping underlings.  You’ve got a lot of people who would like to knock off Nebuchadnezzar.  But God never let one of those grasping, ambitious nobles in that kingdom lay a hand on that throne.  Because God said Nebuchadnezzar would get it back.  If you go later on in the history and you find after Nebuchadnezzar’s death, you find an incredible milieu of political intrigue as they try to take over that throne.  But for seven years, while the man is a raving maniac, nobody lays a hand on that throne.  And I believe God used Daniel in the meantime to control it until it could be given back to him.”

What a great conclusion to the story, a great lesson that Nebuchadnezzar learned and for all of us to learn and remember.  God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

December 16, 2008

Bible Study: Daniel 3

Filed under: Bible Study,Daniel,John MacArthur — Lynda O @ 9:09 am
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Continuing through the book of Daniel, we are now in chapter 3, for a look at the well-known story about Daniel’s three friends and the fiery furnace.  John MacArthur’s two part sermon for Daniel 3, “Uncompromising Faith in the Fiery Furnace” (part 1 and part 2), begins with a look at idolatry and human nature, that people will always worship something.  In ancient times people literally bowed down to idols of wood and gold and silver, whereas nowadays the idols are of a different type, often in ideas or in other people; yet anything that we put in first place, before God, is an idol.  Idolatry is the thing God is most concerned about, and the first two of the Ten Commandments deal with that issue:  have no other gods before me, and make no graven images.

Regarding Nebuchadnezzar, we see that his amazement with Daniel and Daniel’s God at the end of chapter 2 was incredibly short-lived.  This chapter shows indeed what an egomaniac he was, so self-absorbed that, as MacArthur describes it, “when Daniel started telling him that dream he said – The top is a head of gold and thou art that head of gold – right there Nebuchadnezzar tuned out and thought – I’m the gold…everything else is inferior to me. And so he built a whole image of gold, just extended it all the way down.”  The passage tells us that this image was 90 feet high and 9 feet wide.  The image would have been made, not all of gold, but as was commonly done then, of wood and then covered with gold (as described in Isaiah 40 and 41) — which was still a staggering amount of gold, to cover such a large sized statue.  Another interesting point here is that the measures given are 60 cubits and 6 cubits, based on the Babylonians’ sexagesimal system (based on 6), not our decimal 10-base system.  This is another indicator of the authenticity of Daniel.  As MacArthur points out:  “The higher critics want to shove it up nearly to the time of Christ to get it passed the prophecies that it predicts because they don’t want the Bible to make predictions, otherwise it’s a divine book. But because it uses what is known as this sexagesimal system rather than a decimal system, it’s indicative of the Babylonian times.”

MacArthur presents the sequence of events in this chapter with a series of “C” words:  The ceremony, command, conspiracy, coercion, courage, consequences, companion, and the commendation.  The ceremony is described in the first three verses, where King Nebuchadnezzar makes the image of gold and all “the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces” gathered.  Then the command, in verses 4 and 5, where the herald proclaims to all the people that they must bow down to the image whenever they hear the sounds of the royal orchestra.   The conspiracy unfolds in verse 12 among the jealous Chaldeans, resentful of the Jews in the government; after all, in just the previous chapter Daniel and his three friends had been promoted to high places in the kingdom.  Daniel 3:12 “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon  … they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”

The coercion is described in verses 13 to 15, where Nebuchadnezzar flies into a rage as he challenges and attempts to coerce the three men into obeying him and bowing down to the idol.  Nebuchadnezzar’s folly really comes out when, in verse 15, he pits himself and his power against God:  “and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”  He had forgotten how great Daniel’s God was, from only a short time before.

Another great MacArthur quote on this point:

“When you pit yourself against the eternal God you have met your match and he meets his match in this chapter and in succeeding ones as we shall see. Had he forgotten that Daniel’s God was greater than all the gods of Babylon, including his own gods who couldn’t answer his dreams and help him in any way, shape or form? It seems as though the idolatrous fool in the midst of his egomania had forgotten that.”

Courage is shown in the response of Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego.  They don’t compromise in any way, but boldly and courageously answer the king, that no matter what, they will not bow down to his image.  Verse 19 shows the consequences — with an interesting sidepoint here too, that Nebuchadnezzar in his rage also shows great stupidity.  After all, if you want to punish and torture someone, you actually turn the heat down and prolong it.  Increasing the heat just means less trauma, it’s over that much quicker.

The next C word, companion, shows up soon, in verses 24 and 25, where Nebuchadnezzar looks down and sees four men walking around, and the fourth has the form like a son of the gods.  MacArthur points out that Nebuchadnezzar saw something that, from his pagan viewpoint, was an angel.  We don’t really know from the text if this was an actual Christophany, Christ in pre-incarnate form, as was the case in some scenes from Genesis, or an angel.  More to the point is that this companion, this angel, came to Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego, to explain what was going on, that God would preserve them and they were not going to burn up.

MacArthur: “I believe they knew they weren’t burning and God sent His angel to care for them. When the Bible says that the Lord says in Hebrews 13:5 ‘I will never leave you or forsake you,’ I think God means that. And I think God sends those who are His angels to care for us in the midst of dire circumstances.”

Finally, the commendation:  Nebuchadnezzar had met his match, and now he addresses the three as “servants of the Most High God.”  Nebuchadnezzar, and all the governors and other rulers gathered around, investigated and saw that the fire had no power over these three, that their hair was not singed and their clothes did not even smell of smoke.  Now Nebuchadnezzar blesses the God of Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego, and gives the three even greater rule and power, and decrees that anyone who speaks a word against their God shall be cut in pieces and their houses turned into rubble.

A final point regarding Nebuchadnezzar’s profession here: again it is not a true conversion, but he fits the true God into his polytheistic scheme, that this God is the top one.  MacArthur:  “he is simply acknowledging what theologians call ‘henotheism.’ And that is the belief that certain people and certain nations have their own gods. And in a henotheistic way he has room in his polytheism for the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and he is willing to say at this point that this is the Most High God of all the gods…that’s a far cry from saying He’s the only God, isn’t it?”

December 8, 2008

Bible Study: Daniel 2

Filed under: Bible Study,Daniel,John MacArthur — Lynda O @ 11:50 am
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The first part of Daniel 2 (verses 1 – 30) gives the narrative setting for Daniel’s first prophecy, about the future world kingdoms.  This section sets the stage of the “forgotten dream and the unforgettable Daniel.”

MacArthur makes a strong case that Nebuchadnezzar, though remembering the terror of it, indeed forgot the dream, as purposed by God to bring Daniel into the role God had created for him as adviser to the king.  Though some translations of Nebuchadnezzar’s words say “the command from me is sure,” other translations render it “the thing has gone from me.”  It could be translated either way, but the context makes the meaning clear:

“Why would Nebuchadnezzar have a dream that scared the life out of him that absolutely panicked him, that gave him a good case of apoplexy, a dream that cost him such frenzy that he couldn’t sleep, that he lost his sleep.  Why would he then pretend not to remember that and start to play games with his wise men?  It would seem to me that if the panic was as deep as the text indicates it was, he wouldn’t be fooling around just trying to prove that his wise men couldn’t really tell him the answers.  Because as it turned out, he kept saying to them, “Tell me the dream and then its interpretation.”  And they would say, “Well, you tell us the dream and we’ll tell you the interpretation.  We can’t figure out the dream if you don’t tell us.”  And some say, well, he was just pretending not to remember to smoke out their phoniness.

But you see that would’ve been completely off his point.  He was trying to get an answer to this tremendously disturbing dream, not try to unmask his wise men.  That could save itself for another day when things weren’t quite as panicky.  The fact that he made the wise men tell the dream and its interpretation.  And he was so distressed that they couldn’t, he said I’m going to kill every one, gather every single one of them and kill every one of those.  Now that’ll give you a little idea of the anxiety of his heart.

By the way, when Daniel finally told him the dream, he never killed anybody, which shows you that he wasn’t really trying to kill his wise men, he was really trying to get the answer of the dream.  And that’s why I believe he forgot it.  And I think God helped him forget it, just like God gave it to him, so that God could smoke out the phonies among the wise men and put Daniel in the place he wanted him in.”

From MacArthur’s sermon I also learned some interesting things about the actual practices of the wise men of the Babylonian court. They were really into dream interpretation, and kept records of dreams and the subsequent events, to come up with a pattern for future dream interpretation.  These dream records were in large manuals, which have even been found in archeological studies.  This system was rather like our legal profession, in which our lawyers refer back to the history of similar situations and how a law was interpreted in the past, to determine how to apply it in a current case.

Some other great points from this passage:
1) Daniel is calm in the midst of chaos.  The guards are coming to round up all the wise men for execution, and Daniel calmly asks, what caused the king to issue such a harsh decree?  What a great point to remember and apply, yet one in which I fail terribly, the ability to be calm in a bad situation.  Yet God gave such grace to Daniel, and MacArthur applies this ability to all effective ministers: “If you can’t stay composed in a crisis, you’re never really going to have an effective long-range ministry because ministry is all about meeting one crisis after another.”

2)  Daniel’s courage, his boldness, in asking for an audience with the king — and even asking the king for time, the one thing that King Nebuchadnezzar had denied to the wise men at the first hearing.

3)  Daniel’s communion with his friends — he told the situation to his friends, and then they prayed earnestly to God, for His mercy, in utter dependence on God to supply the answer concerning this secret, so that they would not perish with the rest of the wise men.  MacArthur again:  “Anybody who goes into any kind of a crisis ministry knows full well that you go in first of all on your knees or you’re the biggest fool of all.  He didn’t expect to receive what he needed without prayer.  He didn’t expect to receive it because he observed that it would have to be from the mercy of the God in heaven.  He didn’t look to men’s wisdom and look up the dream books.  He got on his knees.”

December 3, 2008

Great Quotes from Christian Leaders

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lynda O @ 2:20 pm

Here are some great quotes from Christian leaders:

Christian Living
“Preach the gospel daily; use words if necessary” — St. Francis of Assisi

Being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in the garage makes you a car.  — John MacArthur in “Hard to Believe.”

“We were preaching this morning on the subject of prayer. And prayer is important. But I’ll tell you something that’s more important than prayer and that is the study of the Word. Because if you do not study the Word of God, you will not know how to pray because you will not know what is God’s will. The study of the Word is more important than prayer.  Someone told me this morning that an old saint of God said if he had to live his life all over again, he would pray less and study more because it would filter out needless prayers.” — John MacArthur, sermon “An Uncompromising Life”  (Daniel 1:1-8)

Theology and Doctrine
“It is one of the strange ironies in the church and in reformed theology, that those who love the doctrine of sovereign election most supremely and most sincerely and who are most unwavering in their devotion to the glory of God, the honor of Christ, the work of the spirit in regeneration and sanctification, the veracity and inerrancy of scripture and who are the most fastidious in hermeneutics and who are the most careful and intentionally biblical regarding categories of doctrine and who see themselves as guardians of biblical truth and are not content to be wrong at all and who agree most heartily on the essential matters of Christian truth so that they labor with all their powers to examine in a Berean fashion every relevant text to discern the true interpretation of all matters of divine revelation are (that’s the main verb) in various degrees of disinterest in applying those passions and skills to the end of the story and rather content to be in a happy and even playful disagreement in regard to the vast biblical data on eschatology as if the end didn’t matter much period.”  — John MacArthur, 2007 Shepherd’s Conference

“Genesis 1 is just as true as Exodus 20 which gives us the Ten Commandments. It’s just as true as Isaiah 53 which describes the suffering servant who would be the Messiah and bear our iniquities. It’s just as true as Matthew chapter 1 which indicates that Jesus was to be born of Mary and to be the Savior of the world. It’s just as true as John chapter 3 which says you must be born again. It’s just as true as any other and every other part of Scripture. There is no basis for tampering with, questioning, or denying the veracity of Genesis 1 anymore than any other part of Scripture. In fact, any disbelief in or tampering with or altering of Genesis 1 is an act of rebellion against God and His Word. It’s a serious thing to do that because like any other such rebellion, one who attacks the veracity of God and the Word of God brings upon himself the threat of divine judgment.”  — John MacArthur, sermon “Creation Day 6, Part 1


“People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” — D.A. Carson

“Twenty five years ago ‘tolerance’ was understood to be a virtue that operated something like this: If I hold strong views on any particular subject I am nevertheless judged to be ‘tolerant’ if I think that your views are bad, immoral, improper, even disgusting, wicked or stupid, but still insist you have the right to defend them. In other words, a ‘tolerant’ person puts up with somebody else’s views and insists they have the right to hold them even while – in the vigorous arena of debate – we might disagree fundamentally on who is right or who is wrong. Such a person is a ‘tolerant’ person.

But nowadays, that is not what ‘tolerance’ means. Now ‘tolerance’ means that you don’t hold that anybody is right or wrong. Everybody is equally right or wrong. Nobody is more right than another person. If you don’t hold that then you are ‘intolerant.’ Now that is a huge shift … Under this new definition of ‘tolerance’ I don’t even know what ‘tolerance’ means because in the old view of ‘tolerance’ you had to disagree with someone before you could actually tolerate them. How do you say ‘Oh, yes, you are entirely right – I tolerate you?’ … This new ‘tolerance’ actually becomes extremely intolerant of anybody who does not buy into this view of ‘tolerance’ because if you actually come right out and say that some view is wrong or silly or foolish or indefensible or even questionable, then you are judged to be ‘intolerant.’ Thus, in the name of this newfangled tolerance it turns out, at profoundly deep levels, to be the most intolerant thing of all!”
– D.A. Carson, Evangelism in the 21st Century (session 2), address delivered at Omaha Bible Church on Oct. 6, 2002.

“You ever hear anybody say, “Well, I have an open mind.” Well, shut it. Because you’ve got to decide what to let in and what to keep out. Having an open mind is not a virtue, it’s one step away from being a moron. Render a judgment on something. You have a door on your house, and the reason you have a door on your house is to keep some things in and some things out. You make a judgment as to when you open it and when you don’t, that’s why you have a hole in it. You don’t live in your neighborhood with your door wide open and welcome everybody. You’d be a fool.” — John MacArthur,  2008 Shepherds Conference

“The world at the present time is sagaciously discussing how to quell the controversy and strife over doctrine and faith, and how to effect a compromise between the Church and the Papacy. Let the learned, the wise, it is said, bishops, emperor and princes, arbitrate. Each side can easily yield something, and it is better to concede some things which can be construed according to individual interpretation, than that so much persecution, bloodshed, war, and terrible, endless dissension and destruction be permitted.
Here is lack of understanding, for understanding proves by the Word that such patchwork is not according to God’s will, but that doctrine, faith and worship must be preserved pure and unadulterated; there must be no mingling with human nonsense, human opinions or wisdom.
The Scriptures give us this rule: ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).”  — Martin Luther

Bible Reading Plans

Filed under: Bible Study,John MacArthur — Lynda O @ 8:44 am

For several years now I’ve done two “read the Bible in a year” plans.  These are both provided free by websites, where you sign up and then get each day’s reading in your e-mail.  Aside from occasional technical errors (sometimes the e-mails don’t arrive, or arrive late), these are easy ways to read through the Bible in a year.

Free Bible Email allows your choice of versions (NIV or KJV), and each daily reading consists of three parts:  New Testament, one Psalm or chapter of Proverbs, and other Old Testament.  This plan actually reads through the New Testament and the Psalms-Proverbs every six months, twice a year through — and once through for the Old Testament.  Free Bible Email is calendar based, so if you join in the middle of the year you will get the readings for that part o the year.

Bible in a Year allows more version choices (eight versions), and three different reading sequence plans:  straight-through from Genesis to Revelation; or alternating books — an Old Testament book, then a New Testament book, back and forth;  or, the plan I’ve done most often, chronological sequence.  All three plans work you through the complete Bible once in a full year.  This plan can also be started at any time of the year; instead of waiting until January 1, or joining into the middle of the Bible, you can start at the beginning in May or August or October, if you so choose.  On a calendar year schedule, since the majority of the Bible is the Old Testament, these reading plans (except for the alternating schedule) won’t get to the New Testament until early October.

I’ve recently learned a new Bible reading strategy, from John MacArthur’s sermon “How to Study the Bible.”    (He has mentioned this plan in a few other sermons as well.)  The reading plan for the Old Testament is straightforward enough:  just read it once through in a full year;  either of the above schedules would work, or any other such plans.  For the New Testament reading, though, MacArthur suggests reading through the same book, up to about 7 chapters at a time, every day for a month.  Start with 1 John — 5 chapters — and read it through, every day for the first month.  Then go to the book of John. Since it’s a longer book, 21 chapters, break it into three sections.  Read chapters 1 through 7 every day for a month, then 8 through 14 the next month, and 15 through 21 the following month.  MacArthur specifically mentions reading Philippians the next month, followed by the book of Matthew (again, break it into sections, in this case four months), and suggests alternating back and forth between shorter and longer books.  Though he says this plan will take 2 1/2 years, when I tried to map it out for all the New Testament books, even combining a few shorter books together for some months, the schedule will take 37 months.

I started a day late (December 2), but that’s still 30 days to read 1 John.  Here is my tentative monthly reading plan of the New Testament books for the next few years:

Month 1: 1 John Month 20: Mark 1- 8
Month 2: John 1-7 Month 21: Mark 9 – 16
Month 3: John 8-14 Month 22: 1 and 2 Timothy
Month 4: John 15-21 Month 23: Romans 1 – 8
Month 5: Philippians Month 24: Romans 9 – 16
Month 6: Matthew 1-7 Month 25: 1 and 2 Peter
Month 7: Matthew 8-14 Month 26: 1 Corinthians 1 – 8
Month 8: Matthew 15-21 Month 27: 1 Corinthians 9 – 16
Month 9: Matthew 22-28 Month 28: 1 and 2 Thess.
Month 10: Ephesians Month 29: 2 Corinthians 1 – 7
Month 11: Luke 1 – 8 Month 30: 2 Corinthians 8 – 13
Month 12: Luke 9 – 17 Month 31: James
Month 13: Luke 18 – 24 Month 32: Hebrews 1 – 7
Month 14: Galatians; Philemon Month 33: Hebrews 8 – 13
Month 15: Acts 1 – 7 Month 34: Titus; 2 John, 3 John
Month 16: Acts 8 – 14 Month 35: Revelation 1- 8
Month 17: Acts 15-21 Month 36: Revelation 9 – 15
Month 18: Acts 22 – 28 Month 37: Revelation 16 – 22
Month 19: Colossians; Jude

December 2, 2008

Daniel Study: Chapter 1

Filed under: Bible Study,Daniel,John MacArthur — Lynda O @ 11:41 am
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The study of Daniel now continues, after the great introduction, into chapter 1.  Three John MacArthur sermons cover the narrative story in Daniel 1:  “An Uncompromising Life,” and “The Consequences of an Uncompromising Life” parts 1 and 2.

What sticks out in this part of the study is Daniel’s remarkable character, his quality and his desire to take a stand and not compromise.  As MacArthur points out, the Babylonians launched a complete brainwashing program, composed of three parts:  a name change, a pagan education, and “the king’s food.”  The young men from Judah were, according to ancient custom, probably in their early teens, between the ages of 13 and 17, which was considered an ideal age for brainwashing the young men, to completely eradicate their former identity and give them a new identity.  According to historians the group included 50 to 75 young men, and the Bible notes only the four — Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Alishael, and Azariah — of special note, a very small group.  The brainwashing succeeded in most of the young men.

Daniel didn’t have any problem with the first two areas, since God’s word gave no prohibitions against a name change or even of getting your education from pagan, secular sources.  The Bible tells us of a few others who had their name changed when in a foreign land:  Joseph, and Esther.  Daniel also realized that he could benefit from the Babylonians’ education system, since it included a lot of areas of overall knowledge; and with his grounding in the Lord he could filter out the bad (wrong) stuff.  Yet Daniel drew the line with the third area, one in which he would not compromise: eating the king’s delicacies.  God’s word clearly spelled out what foods a Jew could and could not eat.

As MacArthur says here:

It would seem like the education would be more powerful than the food. No. I don’t think so. I don’t think so because it’s the eating of the world’s delicacies that much more rapidly corrupts us. It’s the entering into the world’s life style that pollutes us, much more than the world’s thinking pattern. And he was willing to acknowledge that there were some good and bad things to be learned and he had what it took to filter those out.

A good point here is the corrupting nature of a society’s lifestyle, in the eating and drinking:

Once you begin to live the way the society lives, you have abandoned yourself to their philosophy no matter what you’ve been taught. Life style will always be the most corrupting element of any pagan society.

I can definitely see that point, through my own experiences as well.  A sampling of luxury, including the luxurious food such as on cruises I’ve been on, has that effect that I desire more of that, and feel that I could indeed get used to this kind of good life.  C.S. Lewis describes a similar effect, in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” of how the evil Queen’s food affects young Edmund, to the point that he must have more of the Turkish Delight and desires nothing else.

The key difference between this area (the food) and the first two relates to the lifestyle.  After all, they could change his name but that wouldn’t change his soul.  He could filter out the bad stuff in the education.  But God’s word clearly said not to eat certain things, and, more importantly, prohibited idolatry.  As with the Corinthians in Paul’s day, the food at the Babylonian court had been sacrificed to idols, and here Daniel drew the line.  How do you know where to draw the line and not compromise?

MacArthur:  “Where the Scripture draws the line; I draw the line… right there.  If there is a clear word from God, that is the character of an uncompromising life. He would not defile himself, he would not be stained, he would not be polluted by disobeying Scripture.”

From the follow-up text, we see that God blessed Daniel and caused the officials to look with favor on him.  We also see that Daniel has great wisdom, tact, and boldness.  Rather than blatantly saying that the king’s food would defile him, Daniel could have simply made some less offensive excuse — that he wasn’t used to it, so used to eating Jewish food that the king’s food would give him an upset stomach.

One important point from these sermons:  when we take a firm non-compromising stand, we have God’s resource, His unearthly protection.  MacArthur:  “if we didn’t speak the truth and compromised, we would be on our own. If we spoke the truth no matter what happened, then God is our unearthly protector. And if God says you live, there isn’t a king in the world that could take your life, right? Not one. Boy, that’s terrific. I mean, you have nothing to fear. You say – Well, if I really say what I think…if I really stand for the truth, I’ll lose my job. So, compromise and lose God’s resource…does that make sense? Who do you want on your team, your boss or God? There isn’t a boss in the world who could move you until God allows it.”

Daniel 1 has some very convicting truths, a strong lesson from Daniel’s example about not compromising, that which is so easy to do in our world.  Daniel’s life stands out, so different from all others, and yet this is only the first chapter.  Daniel’s life and character set the stage for the amazing events and revelations that God would soon give him.

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