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Will God Get Your Attention?
Introduction to Daniel #2
Every day this week in America, there are a lot of things going on. Want to know some? Every day this week in America . . .
500 million cups of coffee are drunk (on Sunday it’s got to be more–is it the Holy Spirit, or is it caffeine?)
10,204 people give blood, some unwillingly
$54,794 is spent to fight dandruff
10,000 passengers take their first airplane ride
204 animals are buried in pet cemeteries
3 million people go to the movies
9,707 babies are born, most of them at FBC
4,109 people parachute from planes, 4,108 parachutes open
679 million phone conversations occur, 50 million are long distance
5,962 couples get married
Each of us produces nearly 6 pounds of garbage
$10 million is spent on advertising
5,041 folks reach age 65
88 million people watch prime-time television
63,288 cars crash
1.1 million patients are in the hospital
180,000 people buy new music playing devices
28 mail carriers are bitten by dogs
19,178,000 snapshots are taken by amateurs
You get the idea–there’s a lot of activity going on. So much so that we literally get bored from all the choices we have. But most of the time, we get swept into the rat race like it was a giant whirlwind pulling everything into itself, spinning you around, tossing you about and spitting you out. How many of you get sick from spinning around? It’s embarrassing, but I can’t even go on a merry-go-round without it wiping me out–life is like that.
Life can move at such a hectic pace, it makes it hard to think. Sometimes God allows us to get sick, experience a crisis, or makes life serious so we can better hear what He is trying to tell us. Seventy years ago a young Dutch girl was ripped from her home and placed into a Nazi concentration camp. There she saw beatings, hangings (even of little children), and weak and emaciated women murdered by fellow prisoners for a single piece of moldy bread. Why did it all happen? Because God wanted her to re-think the things that were most important. Her father and her sister both died in the process, but Corrie Ten Boom learned that it was God alone who loved her, and God alone who had forgiven her. It was He who allowed her to be put through the trauma, to get her attention, to help her think through what was most important–to cause her to cling to God alone, trust Him alone, seek Him alone.
I met her once and heard her tell her story. She died in 1983, but up to her last day, she told the story of God’s Word and God’s work in the midst of horrific suffering, sharing with all who would listen how God got her attention in a concentration camp.
Some 2,500 years ago, a thirteen-year-old boy was torn from his home, his family and relatives, as his country was enslaved and eventually destroyed. He was thrown into the forced service of a king who ruled the world. Along with hundreds of youths his own age, and most of the surviving people of his country, they became slaves of a conquering nation known throughout the entire world as Babylon the Great. The boy’s name was Daniel, and he and the nation Israel had been taken captive, and now would be in exile for seventy years. Why was God doing this? God was trying to get their attention.
What’s God doing in your life to get your attention right now?
What circumstances are hitting you?
What people are tormenting you?
What injustice has assaulted you?
What pain is pounding you?
What doubt is eating you alive?
For this is what was happening to God’s people back during the time of Daniel. God allowed them to be taken captive to get their attention. But you ask, “Chris, why would God allow His own chosen people to be taken captive in order to get their attention?” To answer that, you have to take a look at the first point.
#1 The Past
In order to understand why God would do this to His own children, we look back–think about what God might be doing or has done in your life in order to get your attention. What happened to bring God to such a place as this? What led God to enslave His own people and destroy the Promised Land? As you remember, the story of the Bible begins with God establishing His rule on this planet through the crown of his creation, man. But because of man’s decision to rebel, we find ourselves now in the midst of a conflict–men choosing to rebel, God judging sin, then graciously providing redemption and promising a future hope.
Adam sinned, God judged him with a curse but sacrificed some animals, providing clothes and a picture of a coming Redeemer; and God promised that someday the seed of Adam would destroy the power behind the serpent in the first allusion to the Gospel in Genesis 3:15. Jesus is the seed who would crush the serpent. Then man grew more sinful, until all mankind was totally corrupt. God judged with a universal worldwide flood, but provided redemption through Noah, and made a promise through Noah’s son Shem.
But man sinned again, this time uniting together around a gigantic tower in a utopia without God–and not filling the whole earth. So God judged mankind by giving them different races and languages, and as a result created the different nations of the world. But how did God provide redemption? Genesis 12 says He called one man, Abraham, who would become a nation to bless all other nations–a nation to reach all the other nations with the knowledge that led to faith. But in order for a nation to be a nation, it must have three key ingredients–a people, a constitution and a land.
So God planted His people in the womb of Egypt, and there they grew supernaturally to millions—then He delivers them with the Passover, and then through the Red Sea to get them to Mount Sinai, where they receive their constitution called the law. And finally after a 40-year delay because of grumbling, they conquer their land and become a nation.
But while there, they rebel again in idolatry, disregarding the Word of God through His judges, everyone doing what was right in his own eyes, and falling into a terrible cycle of sin. They finally reject God completely by asking with wrong motives for a king, so God gives them Saul, who is a giant of a man, but with a very small heart for God. Then God gives them a king after God’s own heart, David–but even he sins badly. Finally, even though he was wise and the builder of the temple, Solomon’s heart turns from God and the kingdom is split.
Both Israel in the north and Judah in the south failed to obey God’s law—both compromised through idolatry and refused to trust God’s Word. So after hundreds of years of patience, and lots of prophets’ warning, God takes the ten tribes of Israel in the north captive to Assyria in 722 BC. And then after more pleading and warnings, finally in 605 BC, the greatest Gentile king to ever live, Nebuchadnezzar conquers Judah in the south.
Nebuchadnezzar comes back to Judah to conquer three times, the final time in 586 BC, when he kills almost everyone, and wipes everything out, which is what the prophet Jeremiah describes in the book of Lamentations. When NEB returns the second time, the middle time, he takes most of the population into slavery along with the prophet Ezekiel in 597 BC. But when he conquers Judah the first time, in 605 BC, he takes only the finest youths with him, in order to train them in his court to send them back to rule their land for him. Within that group of hundreds of promising youths is a young man named Daniel, somewhere between 12 and 16 years old.
Three others will rise above all the rest as heroes, and their names are Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, better known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Turn to Daniel 1:1-4, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, 4 youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding, and discerning knowledge, [why did NEB want them?] and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.”
One of these youths was Daniel, a man of integrity and conviction, the man who prayed with lions, interpreted dreams and never compromised during his 80-90 year-long life. Like the song says, “Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, dare to have a purpose firm, dare to make it known.” Daniel faithfully served our God for the entire 70-year exile, and he writes this book that not only gives us an incredible look into the future, but he is also an amazing example to follow.
There is nothing more powerful than a godly life. Paul says follow me as I follow Christ . . . the Bible exhorts churches to imitate their spiritual leaders . . . older women are to train younger women . . . churches are to train up faithful men who will train others also . . . our faith is not only to be taught, it is to be caught. Parents must model; do as I do, not merely do as I say. It is one thing for us to esteem men who have modeled for us in the past, but is totally another to esteem men who are modeling for us now.
It is easy to see the examples of those who are dead and gone, but it is totally another thing to hold up a man who is alive now as a model. But that is exactly what happened to Daniel–a contemporary of Daniel, the prophet Ezekiel actually refers to Noah, Daniel and Job in Ezekiel 14 as righteous men. Noah and Job were dead, but Ezekiel also names Daniel, a man living when he wrote his letter, a man who he knew about, a man God was using currently to minister to God’s people in captivity. What an example Daniel was to them, and is to us.
We had some friends over for a Thanksgiving a few years back, and immediately after dinner this much older man jumped up, took over the sink, and encouraged me to join him as we washed the dishes for the ladies who’d been cooking all day. He was an example to me of thoughtfulness that has changed my holidays for the better.
I remember watching video I had shot of the boys–as I am moving around the room, I am barking orders . . . no “Pleases,” no “Thank yous.” It was an example for me to change my speech. We desperately need examples for our marriages, our children, servants in our churches, witnesses in our workplaces, compassion in our neighborhoods and more. Be like Daniel. But what was God doing? What was his point in writing this book?
#2 The Point
There are two major truths Daniel wrote to communicate to those Jews who were in exile from their homes and land–two keys that are just as relevant today as they were when Daniel wrote them. In fact, crucial truths for us to live, since we too are exiled for a time from our home, and we too live in a Babylon, filled with idols. What are these two life-changing keys?
First God is in control Daniel 1-7
In order to see this message, you must understand the style in which Daniel wrote. Daniel writes in a way the Jews of the 6th century BC would understand what He was trying to prove. Today when you read the newspaper, you read a summary paragraph first, then the article is a longer explanation of the information in that opening paragraph. That’s a style of writing. When you read a comic book, that is a style of writing. When you read a Clancy novel, that is a particular style. In Daniel’s day they wrote with particular styles as well. The style that Daniel used in his letter was a type of parallelism–messages that would build to one major truth, then repeat the same messages again after making the major point. Visually, this style looks like an arrow, with the major point at the tip. Notice the chart in your notes.
Ch. 2 – Four World Empires – Ch. 7
Ch. 3 – Protection – Ch.6
Ch.4 – Judgment – Ch. 5
Daniel 1 to 7 is structured in this style of writing, all pointing to a major truth. Chapter 1 is an introduction to Daniel and the remnant of God. Chapter 1 was actually written in Hebrew in the original. But as you come to chapters 2 through 7, you find them written in Aramaic in order for the Jews to share these truths with their foreign captors. They were able to share with Jews and Gentiles alike that their God, the one true God, was and is in total control.
As you observe the chapter pairings that are parallel to each other, you notice they address the same theme. Chapters 2 and 7, Chapters 3 and 6, and Chapters 4 and 5 address the same major theme–they are parallel chapters with the same topic. The focus of the whole section points to a climax right at the end of chapter 4, pointing dramatically to the truth of God’s absolute control. What is the message of each pairing?
Chapters 2 and 7 both talk about the same coming four world empires. The time of the Gentiles has begun, and chapter 2 describes the coming Gentile empires with a great statue. Then chapter 7 illustrates the four coming world empires through a vision of four great beasts. All of this is demonstrating God’s control over world affairs, over Babylon, over the Medes and Persians, then over Greece, and finally over Rome and the coming of the Messiah and beyond.
Chapter 3 is the fiery furnace, and chapter 6 is the lions’ den, clearly demonstrating God who protects his own children. God is in control, and will protect His people.
Chapter 4 is the judgment of Nebuchadnezzar, and Chapter 5 is the judgment of Babylon many years later with the handwriting on the wall. Again, this demonstrates the control of God in His judgment upon those who rebel against Him and harm His people. And the main message of this entire passage purposely points to the end of chapter 4. Again, this style aims at one central message, which is found at the end of Daniel 4 in verses 34-35–turn there.
Picture yourself as a Jew in exile, ripped from your family and friends, whose fate is unknown to you. You’ve been torn from your home, you may have been permanently disabled, you watched relatives die; you may have witnessed the death of your family cut to shreds by swords just before you were bound on a forced march for a thousand miles. Then you read this letter written by one of God’s prophets–the God you worship, a prophet from home—he writes about the king, who from a human perspective caused all your pain and difficulty.
Read Daniel 4:34-35, “’But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, “What hast Thou done?”‘”
God turned Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest Gentile king to ever live, into a believer. God saved him. He now believes in the God of the people he took captive and enslaved. This testimony affirms that if you are a Christian, you’ll see Nebuchadnezzar in heaven. Do you think that’s an encouragement to a Jew in captivity? Do you think they will be encouraged to believe that God is in control?
What about you? What are you going through that seems unfair? What is happening to you that’s causing you to question God? What people are tearing into you, critical of you, judging you unfairly, assuming the worst of you? Remember the message of Daniel 2 to 7–God is in control. They may mean it for evil, but if God is allowing it, then He is meaning it for good–Genesis 50:20. God works all things together for good–Romans 8:28. But there is a second message of Daniel.
Second God has not forgotten you–He has a future Daniel 8-12
In chapters 8 to 12, if you were an Israelite, you might be tempted to say, “So what God? I’m glad you are in control, I’m glad you can even save a tyrant like Nebuchadnezzar. But what about us, we are your chosen people. We are the nation that was supposed to reach the nations, and now we are in captivity? What about us?”
God says in chapters 8 to 12, I have not forgotten about you. Because of your disobedience, we have now begun the times of the Gentiles, where the Gentile nations will be in prominence. But there will come a day in the future where you, Israel will again be my main people, the people of God, the people who will dispense the knowledge that will lead others to faith in me. In chapters 8 to 12, Daniel gives us three major visions of the future. Notice the chart in your notes.
Historical Gap Future
Simple Ch2 —————- —————-|
Ch7 ————– —————–|
Ch8 ————– ——————|
Ch9 ————– ——————-|
Complex Ch 11-12 —— ——————-|
Each vision (including 2 and 7) looks at the immediate future, and each one starts at a later time in history, than the previous one. But each one (including chapters 2 and 7) take a jump into the future, into our future, into the times that have yet to be for us sitting here today. And each one talks about God’s promise of a future for the Jews and for us. God has not forgotten us.
Chapter 8 talks about the Medo-Persian empire before it jumps into our future. Chapter 9 talks about an exact timing of the coming of the Messiah before it jumps into our future. Chapters 10 to 12 give a detailed look at the time between the closing of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament. Turn to Daniel 12.
In Chapter 11, Daniel describes a lot of what happens between Malachi and Matthew, then jumps into the future with a look at the coming tribulation, the final battle, the future kingdom, and a fantastic Old Testament promise of resurrection in 12:2-3, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. [And here is an exhortation for us to be sharing the truth of salvation with others.] 3 And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
God has not forgotten you. God has a plan for you. When things seem unfair, uncertain and incomprehensible, you can be certain as God’s child, that God hasn’t forgotten you. Live by faith, not feeling, not circumstances, not health, not happiness. Hebrews 6:10, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” And then Hebrews 13:5, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”
We needed to replace our crashed car–insurance came through and we knew what we wanted. We drove out to the City of Industry for the perfect car, but someone had just purchased it that morning–low mileage, good condition, fair price. We had to trust the Lord—humanly, it didn’t seem possible we could get a better deal. Two days later, the last car that fit our criteria–a long drive . . . that was okay, but they just happened to have another car, lower mileage, better price, better condition. He knows the future. Live by faith–trust that God has not forgotten you. He has a plan.
But what was His purpose in all of this? Why did God allow His children to go through such suffering? Why did he allow such incredible injustice? Why did he put his children through some very tough times? We’ve seen the past, and tried to understand the point, now . . .
#3 The Purpose
From the post exilic prophets of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, we know that God accomplished some great things in the life of His people by sending them into exile. There really was a purpose for all this difficulty.
First God cured them of their idolatry
Babylon was the idol capital of the world–every street corner had an idol, every shop had an idol. Idols were everywhere. If you’ve read your Bible, you know over and over Israel fell into the sin of idolatry; again and again they sinned with idolatry. But by sending His nation into the idol capital of the world, God cured them once and for all as a nation of external idolatry.
When the boys were young, we took our day off at the beach–it was free, and fun, and we’d pack up umbrellas, playpens, coolers, lunch. Jean would carry Matt, and I would drag the metal stroller across the sand with everything else piled on it to spend the day at the beach. Before Matt could speak, we had trouble telling him not to eat sand. Naturally, he’d eat it with his food, but when we weren’t looking, he’d try to stuff some in his mouth. We would stop him each time, but we were constantly having to prevent him from eating sand.
Finally, one experienced mother told us, “Just let him have as much as he wants at one time and he’ll stop doing it.” While eating popcorn, we let him scoop up a big handful and stuff it in his mouth–it was gross to watch–but he gagged, spit it out, and later pooped it out. But we never had to stop him from eating sand again. While in Babylon, the Israelites got a big mouthful of idolatry, and since then, as a nation they did not battle with it like they had before.
So many young believers want to taste what the world offers. So many high school grads can’t wait to get free to try what they’ve been missing, only to later discover it is just a mouthful of sand. So many men slip into cruise mode, thinking that bringing home a paycheck, giving an occasional swat or lecture, and praying at meals is going to raise world-changing Christ-followers, only to find out later that they have swallowed a handful of sand. God immersed the Israelites into an idolatrous world, let them have a mouthful, and as a result, Israel as a nation stopped being so idolatrous.
Second God gave them a love for His law
After living in a foreign land with strange laws for seventy years, under a Gentile king whose very whim was the law itself, the Jews in exile grew in their trust and respect for God’s Word. In captivity, the Jews had to live by the rules of another; they experienced the unfairness, they felt the injustice, they saw the inconsistency of living under the rules of human wisdom, so they grew in their love for God’s Word.
Third God gave them a longing for their Messiah
After realizing the time of the Gentiles had begun, now under the yoke of Gentile rulers for ages to come, the Jews now began to long for their coming deliverer. They grew in their hope for the promised Messiah. Yet the most important overall purpose for this captivity–the main reason God would press them with hard circumstances is the same reason He might be pressing you today. This is crucial.
Fourth God wanted their hearts back
God wanted their attention–why? Why would God crush His own people to regain their hearts? How could a loving God do this? It would be as if twenty terrorists crashed our services, murdering some of our children and parents, all of us losing some friends, binding us together, abusing us by day, terrorizing us at night, and marching us all the way to Canada, eh, to be their slaves for the rest of our lives? We would ask, “Why are you doing this, God?”
Maybe you’re asking God this morning, “Why are you doing this now?” The answer is found in Jeremiah 29:10-13. Turn there and listen to God’s heart for His children, and hear why they are in exile. “For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.’ [God is promising after 70 years of exile, He will return them to their land, the land of Israel.] 11 ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”
Cruel things were happening to God’s children, so who did the Israelites blame? God. The Israelites thought their God was cruel. Why would He allow this calamity, how could He allow them to be ripped from their homes? Why would He allow thousands to be killed? Is God’s intent evil? God says, “No! My plans are for your welfare, to give you a future and a hope.” But for what purpose? Verse 12 says, “’Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.’” God says it’s going to take seventy years, but after that time you will call upon Me and pray and I will listen. And verse 13,”’And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.’”
What’s the point? Israel had taken God for granted. They were caught up in the normalcy of life. God had become routine to them–a religion. God had become the same old stuff–they had stopped appreciating who He was, and what He had given them. They had forgotten to seek Him, to fellowship with Him, and they had ignored His efforts to get their attention. To the Jewish nation, God had become an impersonal force, up there somewhere, but not a personal, intimate friend and King. The world had become their friend, and God was no longer the #1 priority in their life, even though they said He was. So they catered to God through external routine, but were far from Him.
Why the 70-year captivity?
God wanted their attention.
God wanted their intimate, best friendship back.
God wanted a relationship with them again, like it was, not the routine distance of an external religion.
God wanted hearts that burned for Him like He longed for them too.
God wanted that closeness bad enough He was willing to allow them to be ripped from their homes, their surroundings, from all that was normal and routine so they’d again depend on Him.
Like the forty years in the wilderness, God would “die-off” those who would not follow Him. God allowed another nation to conquer His people just so they would return to Him, seek Him and depend on Him. And knowing their hearts, God said it would take seventy years to do it, either by death or repentance.
I believe, in a variety of ways, God is doing the same thing with you. Instead of seventy years of captivity in a strange country, you have the next months to focus on the example and instruction of Daniel. If you are chosen by Him, then He wants you first to depend upon Him alone and follow Him alone. If you are now His child, then He wants your first love, He wants your all, He wants you to seek Him and find Him with all your heart.
In a church this size, I have no doubt there are some who don’t believe in God, or don’t think He cares. I promise you, no one will try to push God on you, or force you to believe anything. But I challenge you to be open, and if you have the courage, put God to the test, and allow Him to show you He is real–listen. God may speak to you in His still quiet voice.
Some here are not sure whether you have a relationship with God, even though you call yourself a Christian. Hopefully for the first time in your life, you can know without a doubt. Some of you have fallen out of love with Christ, and now love the world–you’ve become very comfortable down here, and at the same time you’re far from God. In fact, you very rarely express to Him how much you want to be with Him. So through Daniel, the Lord wants you to seek Him. Let Him do His work, and He will turn you around.
Some here are involved in sin, just like the Israelites were. For some it was subtle sin, like an apathy or a routineness in your walk with God. Others have been involved in obvious sin, like immorality, gossip, lying, lusting, criticism, anger and selfishness. Some have ignored God, and your Christianity has become boring. God has become average, normal, and just there.
Through Daniel, the Lord wants your passion for Him back.
The question for each of us is this–what will you do with the next few months God has given you? Will God continue to be a routine Christian, or will you allow Him to fire you up, and cause you to passionately follow Him in all things? Will you be distracted by friends, enemies, guys, girls, boyfriends, girlfriends, food, fun, recreation, vacations, circumstances, lust, issues, comfort, personal agendas, self, your children, your spouse, your money, your time, your business, your routine . . . so that when this study is over, you’ll be the same old person with the same empty heart, far from the God who made you and loves you? I pray that is not the case, for with Israel, God’s discipline finally had to be severe, with much death and a 70-year captivity.
Or will you have ears to hear? Will the Lord do something special in your life? He wants to–He wants you to seek Him through this study. Finally, when God speaks through Daniel, how will you respond to Him?