The Well: Y2 February 2-6
Feb. 2: 2 Kings 11,12
Chapter 10 ended with the destruction of Baal worship in the north under Jehu. Yet, Jehu did not prove to be faithful to God. Chapter 11 describes the reformation in the southern kingdom carried out by young Joash (also spelled Jehoash, see 11:21) who is remembered as having “done right in the eyes of the Lord.” Here we see the contrast between Israel and Judah. Israel, over the course of its 209 years as an empire, never had a good king. They suffered through 9 regime changes over that span, another indication of the absolute chaos that reigned due to the continued wickedness of both king and people.
On the other hand, Judah had only one dynasty, that of David, due simply to God’s covenant with David (2 Samuel 7). Along the way they had numerous wicked kings, but also some godly kings. And Joash was one of the good kings, largely due to the godly influence of his mother Zibiah, and his priest-mentor Jehoiada. It is important to understand God’s plan for king and priest and prophet to work in concert to protect, lead, and teach the people. Yet, this was seldom the case in the history of the Jewish people. But, in Jesus Christ – the great prophet, priest and king – we find the One for whom all history was longing.
Chapter 12 chronicles Joash’ greatest work. Under his leadership the Temple of the Lord was repaired. The story of this restoration is highlighted by the courage of the king in demanding the work be done, and the integrity of the workman who carried out the project.
Initially the restoration was delegated to the priests. But it was soon apparent they were not up to the task. They had raised money but none of the work had begun. The king’s solution was to stop the fundraising, and give the amount in the treasury to craftsmen with the skills necessary to complete the building.
Interestingly, no accounting was made of the money! Rather, the integrity of the craftsmen themselves was recognized, and they were trusted to do the job well, without greed or graft. This trust was well placed and the project apparently was completed, to the glory of God.
The sudden turn of events found in vs. 17 is explained using parallel texts from 2 Chronicles 24. After the death of his mentor, Joash fell prey to godless counselors and turned from the Lord. As a result, when God brought Hazael and Syria down on the northern kingdom, their dreadful power was also felt in the south prompting Joash to bribe him with the gold of God’s treasury.
Prayer: Father, in these stories I see once again how jealous you are for the hearts of your people. You jealously desire my heart, and my focus, and my trust as well. Lord, forgive me for my attachments to things in this world that siphon off allegiance to you and your mission, and help me today to find great delight in being your child and a partner with you in the Gospel mission of the church, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
Feb. 3: 2 Kings 13,14
As the story of the successive kings in both Israel and Judah continues, we find that the north once again plunged itself into gross pagan idolatry, and all that comes with it. Though Jehu had wiped out Baal worship, his successor let the people back into the immoral practices first brought in by Jeroboam, the first king of the north.
The story here depicts events that happened in the middle of Joash’ reign in the south, and describes the way God began to use Syria under Hazael as his rod of judgment on his idolatrous people.
Yet, in the wake of God’s judgment, Jehoahaz sought the favor of the Lord, and the Lord responded favorable to him. Vs. 5 reminds us that salvation is of the Lord, and that often, God’s deliverance comes as he raises up a savior. We are not told the particulars, but the outcome was that Israel was not completely destroyed.
The most important event in this chapter is the description of the death of Elisha. Again, the timeline is not chronological here. This event takes place during the reign of Joash, whose death is narrated in the preceding verses. Even as he was dying Elisha represent the power of God. His prophecy concerning Joash and Syria is fulfilled (vs. 25) and his connection with the proclamation of God’s salvation is demonstrated in the miraculous resurrection of the dead man accidently thrown into his grave.
Chapter 14 turns the scene to the southern kingdom once again. Like his father Joash, Amaziah did well in most things, but refused to rid the land of the “high places.” These were pagan altars located in the villages and countryside of Judah that afforded the people the opportunity to offer sacrifices to pagan deities even as they attended to the Temple in Jerusalem from time to time. This was syncretism at the highest level, as the people of God were determined to use whatever means available to leverage their gods to bestow blessing and grant protection. But, Almighty God will have no rivals!
Amaziah became exceedingly proud and foolishly challenged his much more powerful countryman, Jehoahaz, king of Israel. The result was a resounding defeat, and the eventual downfall of his hold on the throne.
The chapter ends with both kingdoms under new leadership. In the north a second Jeroboam ascends to the throne, with predictable results. Though he was mighty in battle with the help of the Lord, nevertheless he continued to promote counterfeit worship in Samaria.
Prayer: Father, the passing mention that you listened to the prayer of the king and raised up a Savior joyfully reminds me that you have done just that for me! When I cried out to you, from my sinfulness and shame, you raised Jesus to my sight, and beckoned me come to him, without merit, and filled with my own sin. And you saved me and adopted me into your family! Lord, what joy! What security! And what a privilege to belong to you, my Savior and my God! Amen
Feb. 4: 2 Kings 15,16
In chapter 15 we once again see the contrast between the religious integrity of the kings in the north and the south. But we also see a dangerous trend continuing in the south.
It is not news that the king of Israel did evil in the sight of God, for all of their kings did so. It is also not unusual that the king of Judah did good in the sight of God, for the house of David was more faithful to the covenant that were their northern counterparts.
What is progressively apparent however, is that the king’s desire to walk with God was not strong enough to motivate him to end the dangerous syncretism that had taken hold in Judah.
Syncretism is defined as the combination of contrasting truths or ways of life. In Judah it manifested itself in the common belief among the people that they could combine the rituals of idolatry with the worship of Almighty God. This went on for years, and sadly, over time pure allegiance to God and reverence for him waned to the place where Temple worship became a mere tradition, without any spiritual fervor or faithfulness.
Chapter 16 introduces us to Ahaz, a descendent of David, who nonetheless walked in the ways of the kings of Israel rather than remain faithful to God. The depth of his wickedness is summarized in the horrible statement that he “even burned his son as an offering” (vs. 3). This epitomized the depths to which the nation had sunk spiritually.
Ahaz took it upon himself to completely reshape the Temple worship area. He tore down or replaced much of the furniture commanded by God, making it resemble the idolatrous worship environs of Damascus. At the heart of it all, Ahaz wanted to be like the nations and no longer “holy to the Lord.”
As we have read the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah we can’t help but consider that the changes took place over time, incrementally. Heresy came in little by little as convenience overtook godliness. Then, heresy gave way to neglect, which eventually led to apostasy … and no one noticed. Surely there is a lesson to be learned for us today.
Prayer: Father, I admit it is so easy for me to gravitate away from that which opposes my selfishness or demands my diligence. Yet, when I consider your greatness, and your grace, and the love with which you have overwhelmed my life, I come more and more to understand that my best option is always the path of obedience, even when the way you lead me in doesn’t seem to be the brightest or offer the most comfort. O Lord, give me a deeper faith and trust in you, and grant me the gift of perseverance that my life might be a worthy reflection of your grace and glory, through Jesus Christ my Savior, Amen.
Feb. 5: 2 Kings 17,18
Chapter 17 chronicles the eventual fall of the northern kingdom, but without much fanfare. As we’ve been reading the story of the kingdom of Israel, it has become apparent that they were falling deeper and deeper into wickedness. It was only a matter of time until the longsuffering and patience of God would be exhausted, and his justice would come to the forefront.
The downfall of Israel is described in a very important historical overview in this chapter. It is as though the author is giving a defense for God’s eventual punishment of his people. They deserved it, and had for many generations. Yet, God’s great mercy and patience had, time and time again, been the means of their deliverance and continuance as a nation. But eventually justice prevailed.
Notice as well that the ultimate sin is seen as that of their first king, Jeroboam. He initiated the sinful, counterfeit worship, and its stain grew darker and deeper throughout the 209 years of the kingdom’s existence.
We also see here just how Assyria kept control of the lands they conquered. First, they would kill some of Israel’s people. Then they would carry off some more and settle them in various other lands within their empire. Lastly, they would bring several other ethnic groups into the northern kingdom. The result was that no place under their rule would have enough ethnic camaraderie or affinity to mount any meaningful rebellion.
In Israel’s case, the Jews who remained eventually intermarried with the foreigners and their offspring came to be known as the Samaritans.
Chapter 18 continues the story of the southern kingdom of Judah. We meet Hezekiah, a king who walked with God, and even tore down the “high places.” We read high praise for this king, unlike any other.
Hezekiah rebelled against Assyria, refusing to pay the tribute demanded of him. This lead to violent reprisals under Sennacherib, king of Assyria. Despite the payment of gold and silver, Hezekiah was unable to persuade the army to leave off their siege of Jerusalem.
The chapter ends with the godless Assyrians mocking Hezekiah, and promising to destroy the city and the people. As we read this we can’t help but wonder if God’s righteous king will be delivered, or left to destruction.
Prayer: Father, it was good to read of Hezekiah’s faithfulness, and to see how his trust in God was backed up by his obedience. Lord, I am learning that saying the right things, but doing the wrong things means my heart is not where it should be. O Father, deepen my desire to please you with both my words and my ways, so I can be a sincere beacon of your love in this broken world, through the Spirit you have made to dwell in me, Amen.
Feb. 6: 2 Kings 19,20
As soon as Hezekiah heard the powerful intentions of the Assyrian army, his faith was radically shaken. But God had raised up a mighty prophet – Isaiah – and it would be through Isaiah that God would strengthen the spiritual and physical resolve of his king. Again, when king and prophet and priest are aligned, it is evident that the power of God is in play.
The prayer of Hezekiah in this chapter is certainly one to be studied and remembered. First, the king remembers the high and exalted position his God occupies. Then he declares that the gods of the Assyria are but wood and stone. On this basis, he cries out to the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for deliverance. Behind this prayer is the king’s firm reliance on the covenant loyalty of God.
In response God sends Isaiah to Hezekiah, and God’s answer to the king’s prayer is given in a beautiful poem. Assyria has not come against Judah, but actually against the Holy One of Israel. Their mocking has actually been a mocking of Almighty God. God declares that the victories Assyria has gained have all been God’s doing, and even now he knows where they are and everything about them. God has used Assyria to judge the north, but now he will turn them around as through he held their reins.
In the end, God promised Hezekiah that the city and nation would be saved from the Assyrian army.
Chapter 20 details the final great episode in the life of good king Hezekiah. Stricken with a deadly disease, Hezekiah is advised by Isaiah that his death is imminent. Yet, once again Hezekiah cries out to the Lord asking for healing. And again God hears and responds with mercy. Hezekiah will be healed, and live for 15 more years.
As we have seen in the case of Gideon, Hezekiah asks for a sign. This is not understood as unbelief, but as a means of strengthening his fatigued faith. When God does the miraculous, and shifts the shadow backward, it bolsters the kings resolve and he courageous prepares to live 15 more years in obedience to God.
Another story from the life of Hezekiah is a predictive event that foretells the future Babylonian captivity. When he shows the Babylonian king his treasures, Isaiah takes opportunity to predict that one day those same treasures will be carried off, with the people of Judah, into Babylon.
The last mention of Hezekiah details his building of a tunnel that allowed water from springs outside the walls of Jerusalem to flow into the city, making it available during an enemy siege. This tunnel is still in use today, and those visiting Jerusalem can opt to walk its length. The water comes up to your knees at spots, and as the tunnel is chiseled through solid rock, it is pitch black. I have walked it with friends, singing praises to God at the top of our lungs to keep our minds off the fact that we were in a small tunnel, with only our flashlights! But, I’ll probably do it again.
Prayer: Lord, again in the story of Hezekiah I see the confidence we can have when we belong to you! You are a loving Father, and your ears and arms are open to your children. We can cry out to you, and be confident you hear our pleas, and will always do that which is best and right. Father, I trust you, but please increase my trust so that, in every situation, my desire will be aligned with your will, for Jesus’ sake. Amen
The Well: Y2: Feb. 9-13
Feb. 9: 2 Kings 21,22
With Hezekiah, godly leadership had returned to Judah. Yet, after his death his son Manasseh once again led the people into deep idolatry. All that Hezekiah had torn down, he now rebuilt so that his people were no indistinguishable from the Canaanites. He went so far as to turn the Temple into a place were multiple pagan deities were worshiped, and even offered his son as a human sacrifice.
The result was a solemn declaration from the Lord that judgment would fall on Jerusalem and Judah as had never before been seen. And while this prophecy would not be fulfilled for several years, ultimately the Babylonian victory over Judah would bring about the complete destruction of the city and its Temple, as well as the captivity of its people.
Manasseh stands as a symbol of the massive wickedness of God’s people as they turned away from God to serve idols. But, it wasn’t actually the idols that they loved. The truth is that they loved what worshipping idols allowed them to do in their lives. Freed from obedience to the law of God they gave free reign to their depraved hearts, whose desires went all the way into child sacrifice. It is said you can tell the health of a society by how the treat their children. Manasseh’s willingness to engage in child sacrifice was telling evidence that the people of Judah no longer wished to be associated with their God.
As strange as it may seem, Manasseh did produce Josiah although it was the influence of Jedidah, Josiah’s mother, that guided him in the paths of God. Whatever the case, Josiah is remembered as walking in the way so God, and not compromising either to the right or the left.
Under Josiah a reformation of sorts was carried out in Judah. In a scene reminiscent to the actions of Jehoash (see chapter 12) Josiah commands that the Temple be repaired. As the project got underway, Hilkiah the priest discovered the Book of the Law, presumably the collection of writings we now know as the Pentateuch. As Josiah listened to the work of the Lord, he realized just how far his people had strayed from obedience to God. In response to his request to hear from God, his representatives inquired of Huldah, a local prophetess who restated God’s promise to bring destruction upon Jerusalem (because of Manasseh). Yet, because of Josiah’s humility and repentant heart, the devastation would not take place until after the king was “gathered to his fathers” in death.
Prayer: Father, the world of the kings seems so violent and wicked, but when I think about our world, I can see nothing has really changed. All around us the ravages of sin can be seen, although things come packaged differently today. Still, our world is broken, and in desperate need of healing, saving grace. Lord, make me an instrument of your love and truth today, that others might see your glory reflected in me and come to love you too, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
Feb. 10: 2 Kings 23,24
Chapter 23 is the great description of all the reforms brought about in Judah through king Josiah. The list is both long and complete.
First, he restored the Word of God to a place of prominence in the Temple, and also cleaned out all that Manasseh had brought into the Temple to defile it. He carried out his cleansing reforms outside Jerusalem all the way to Bethel. He broke down or burned the altars dedicated to pagan gods, including the Asherah, the monument to female fertility gods so prevalent in the Canaanite culture.
He destroyed the places of cult prostitution, and defiled the various pagan worship sites making them unfit for use. He made unusable the sites used for fiery child sacrifice in honor of the pagan god Molech, and destroyed the statues of horses and chariots that had been placed at the entrance of the Temple in honor of yet more pagan deities. The opulent altars Manasseh had constructed were torn down, pulverized and cast into the Kidron brook.
Of great significance was his destruction of the very altar in the north where Jeroboam had first introduced counterfeit, pagan worship to the northern kingdom. This fulfilled the prophecy rendered to Jeroboam hundreds of years before by the young prophet of 1 Kings 13, whose grave was now left undisturbed by Josiah in honor of the prophet’s place in the plan of God.
Josiah also restored the celebration of the Passover, routed out the mediums and other cultic practitioners, and is remembered as the last good king from among God’s people. The record states that there was no king like him, either before or after.
But, even the great reforms of a great man could not atone for the massive sins of God’s people, and the discipline he had promised was still to be a reality.
After Josiah, a series of puppet kings took the throne, some placed there by foreign victyors, but all were evil. During the reign ofJehoiakim the eventual destruction o fthe city began under Nebuchadnezzar, and the treasures and people of Judah were, over time, carried off to captivity in Chaldea.
Prayer: Father, it was heartening to read of Josiah’s reforms, and to realize that they began with his re-discovery of your Word. O Lord, grant me a deeper appreciation for your will and your Word, and increase my desire both to know and obey your truth so that I too may reform my ways, and lead others to honor you, through Jesus Christ the Lord, Amen.
Feb. 11: 2 Kings 25, Psalm 73
The story of the kings of Israel ended in 722bc, back in chapter 17. Now, in the final chapter of 2 Kings, the story of the kings of Judah ends.
Zedekiah, the last king in Jerusalem, rebelled against Babylon (24:20) bringing about the final siege of the city by Nebuchadnezzar. Eventually, the siege brought about a famine that forced the people to flee the city. The king was captured, treated with horrible cruelty and made blind. The city was demolished and the Temple burned. Thousands of Israelites were carried off as captives, along with all the treasures of Israel.
The story of the kings ends in great defeat. Although some were strong in battle, and some were godly, none were able to secure the people. No human king, no matter how honest and brave, could do what needed to be done to rid the people of sin and protect them from the brokenness of their world. What was needed was a divine King, God’s own Son, who one day would come bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth.
Psalm 73 begins the 3rd book or collection in the Psalter. This psalm, authored by Asaph presents a common sentiment even today. Asaph understands that God is good, all the time. But what he doesn’t understand is how a good God can allow the wicked to prosper. He looks around and sees that the wicked appear to have a great life. They have ample food, and seem not to have the troubles others face. They often are proud and do and say hurtful things seemingly without reprisal. They especially disregard God, mocking those who believe he is in charge of all things, and flippantly question God’s power and knowledge.
Asaph ponders whether he has been foolish to keep his way according to God’s law. “Have I kept my heart pure in vain?” Certainly, we have all felt this way at one time or another. We who follow Christ realize the presence of pain and challenge, while many who reject God seem to have it easy. What gives?
It is the author himself who gives us the answer. Vs. 17 presents Asaph’s understanding that it is foolish to see things only through the lens of this temporal world. When he went into the sanctuary of the Lord, and saw things through the lens of eternity, he actually began to see things clearly, from God’s perspective. While sinners may appear to sin with impunity, the reality is quite different. Those who are far from God ultimately will perish while those who fear him, who walk in his ways, and so demonstrate the reality of their having been brought into the family of God through faith will find eternal refuge in the power and presence of their God.
Prayer: Great Father of all who believe, these two chapter go well together for in them I see both the power of your just judgment on sin, and the depth of your love for those who trust in you. Lord, keep my heart aligned with yours, and help me not to be jealous of sinners who seem to have more in this world. Remind me often that I have you, and you have me, and that makes me eternally wealthy in currency that really matters, for you have loved me to yourself, through the Spirit and the Word, Amen.
Feb. 12: Psalm 74,75
Psalm 74 is a lament written in light of some destruction that had befallen Jerusalem. The devastation mention in vs. 3 seems to fit best with the Babylonian invasion that left the Temple in shambles.
Asaph is astonished that Israel’s covenant keeping God would allow the godless to have their way with them. He also laments that God has gone silent, that there does not seem to be a prophetic word by which God will make himself known. The people feel alone, isolated, cut off from their God.
Yet, deep down they know that God is behind it all. The mighty one who has divided the sea and continues to manage the day and night is their God whose covenant love must continue to be their refuge.
Asaph calls for God to arise and defend his people, to remember his promises, and not forget those who have brought about the destruction of his people and their city.
The psalm ends without resolution suggesting that it was written in the midst of the battle. There is some sense that the response of God is understood as making up the body of the following Psalm, also penned by Asaph.
Psalm 75 presents God’s declaration that, at the proper time, he will judge the world. He will bring about justice to the boastful and proud, to the wicked and the violent. After all, the only true justice will not be found in this world, but in the declarations and actions of a holy God.
God is the one who raises up one and puts down another. Like a cup of ancient wine, containing both sweetness and dregs, so also God will mete out both reward and retribution upon the inhabitants of the earth.
In response, the author reminds himself and his readers that the only satisfying response to every situation we face in life is to remember the faithfulness of God, and declare his praises to ourselves and to the world.
Prayer: Father, l confess that sometimes I wonder why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. At times this world just isn’t fair! But Lord, I also know – deep down – that this world is not my home, for you have made me your child, and my inheritance is reserved in heaven, closely guarded by your love and grace. O Father, remind me often today that my greatest joy will never be found in this world’s definitions, but only in knowing that I have lived and loved as your faithful servant. This is my prayer, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Feb. 13: Psalm 76, 77
Psalm 76 is a comparison between the might of man and the superior, infinite power and strength of Almighty God. In war, a warrior’s strength is seen in his arrows, shield and other weapons. But to God they are nothing, unable to withstand the magnificence of his glory.
At God’s voice, both rider and horse are overcome, the stouthearted are overwhelmed and men of war are rendered unable to fight. The enemies of Israel, even in all their power and glory, are not to be feared.
It is the Almighty God that we should fear. The simple question is asked: “Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?” The only answer is “no one.” The power and justice of God must set us back on our heels even as the saving grace and mercy are the means of his salvation of the humble. ‘
In the end the psalmist exhorts the reader. “Make your vows to the Lord your God and perform them.” This simply means understand the benefit of keeping your commitments to the Lord of your salvation. Understand that obedience to him is the best option you could possibly have, for he is infinitely good, and his goodness is salvation to the faithful.
Psalm 77 finds the author reflecting on times of great distress. His cries to God are loud and long, and yet they do not seem to be reaching the ears of the Almighty One. Sleep just won’t come and his heart grows more and more faint as his soul is unable to find comfort.
Certainly you and I have both experienced this. Perhaps it comes via unwelcomed news or the pain of adverse circumstances. We’ve all laid awake wrestling with fear or anger or painful uncertainty.
The psalmist, after expressing his troubled heart, points himself and his readers to the only sufficient solution. “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.”
His mind is taken back to the many times God’s mighty arm brought deliverance to his people. The Exodus appears to be primary in his mind as he remembers God’s redemption of Jacob’s sons and children. There is even a mention of the parting of the Red Sea, and the miracle by which he led his people through the waters like a flock.
In the end, it is never the present circumstances, but rather the knowledge of God’s faithfulness that must be our focal point. Our God can be trusted, even in the darkness.
Prayer: Great God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob … it is humbling to understand that you too have been faithful to me. In your love and mercy you have drawn me to your side, adopted me into your family, and promised that I would be yours forever. O Father, I confess that my faith is often weak, tossed about by the winds of circumstance. Help me today, O Lord, to bind my heart to your faithfulness, and to live winsomely, and courageously as a child of the king, through Jesus Christ, my Lord, Amen.
The Well; Y2 Feb. 16-20
Feb. 16: Daniel 1,2
The story of Daniel is written from a Babylonian perspective since Daniel and his friends were among the first Israelites carried away into captivity in 605 BC. The intent of the Babylonians was to take the best and the brightest of the young people of Israel and educate them in Babylonian culture, music, art, and philosophy. This would make them fit to return to their lands and rule their own people in the Babylonian way. It is clear from this that the Babylonians considered themselves to be the superior race in the region. However, to the Israelite faithful, they were godless idolators.
Daniel was among those who were to be fed with the finest foods from the king’s table.
He determined not to allow the influences of the Babylonian culture to “defile” him by bringing him into contact with foods the Law deemed “unclean.” His determination to remain true to God’s law brought God’s favor. He and his friends were allowed to eat simple foods, and God granted that their health rivaled and exceeded those of the king’s servants. This is the first time in the book where we are made aware that God will be at work in and through Daniel for his own glory. In extreme and adverse circumstances, God still works through our desire to obey him.
In chapter 2 we find God’s presence with Daniel enlarged in a story reminiscent of God’s working through Joseph generations earlier in Egypt. The king’s dreams are haunting him, and he is desperate to find someone to interpret them. It is well known that the pagan cultures of the day considered dreams, visions, and other cultic rituals to be mediums through which the gods communicated to mankind.
In this case, the king asks not only for the interpretation, but for those wishing to interpret it to detail the dream itself. He calls for his magicians and seers but none are able to describe the dream much less tell its meaning. We the readers are meant to understand that this is a dream from the one true God, and only one in whom the Spirit of God is active will be able to interpret it. That one turns out to be Daniel.
The prayer of Daniel here is yet another indication of his piety and devotion to God. He understands God’s sovereign position as the one who holds time and change in his hand. Daniel has thrown himself on the mercy of God, to save his life, those of his friends, and as well the lives of all the wise men of Babylon … and God has proven himself faithful.
The vision is a picture of the “latter days”, understood through a picture of a great statue representing four great kingdoms: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greco-Macedonian, and finally the Roman empire during which time Messiah would come. One of the main themes of Daniel’s writing is to give the exiled Israelites the hope that God has not forsaken them, but will – in time – deliver them not only from Babylon but eternally through Messiah. One day the “stone not cut with hands” will bring the Kingdom of God to earth, destroying every authority set up against the God of heaven.
Prayer: Father, the story of Daniel encourages me that, no matter my circumstances, obeying you will always be my best option. Lord, help me not to be swayed by a culture that doesn’t love you, and help me to shine the light of truth and grace to those around me who desperately need what only you can bring them, through Jesus Christ, Amen.
Feb. 17: Daniel 3,4
The dream of chapter 2 had demonstrated that the one true God would judge and destroy the idolatrous empires. Even so, Nebuchadnezzar determined to build his version of the dream’s statue.
This massive idol, itself a representation of Nebuchadnezzar, was set up and the command was given for all to bow down and worship before it. But once again we see the obedience of the three Israelite youths who refused to honor anything other than their God with their worship. They knew the consequences and still did not compromise their convictions.
Word reaches Nebuchadnezzar of the trio’s disobedience and he becomes enraged. He calls the youths to him and offers to give them another chance. But, in one of the most poignant texts in the chapter, they refuse. Further, they explain that they will never bow down, and even if they are thrown alive into the great fire, they have every expectation that their God will deliver them from its destruction. And, even if he chooses not to deliver them, they are still resolved not to defile themselves by granting to an idol what belongs to God alone.
The story of God’s deliverance of the three youths is powerful. Perhaps most important is the presence of yet another man in the furnace with them, whose appearance was, to the Babylonians, like a “son of the gods.” Just who this was is impossible to tell, but the choices include one of God’s angelic messengers, or perhaps a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son. In any event, the miraculous preservation of the three young men validates their faith in the one true God. He has triumphed over the king who attempted to replace him.
Chapter 4 finishes the story of the furnace with the king’s prayer of praise to God. He has promoted the Israelite youths so now they have joined Daniel in positions of governmental power.
The king has yet another dream, and once again it is to Daniel that he turns for understanding. This time the dream is all about Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel is given the meaning of the dream and it is hard for him to state for it means the king is about to be sifted by God himself. After a lengthy interpretation, Daniel pleads with the king to repent of his wickedness and practice righteousness before the one true God. Of course, the pagan king disregards the advice, and soon finds himself living like an animal, just as the dream has predicted.
The last few verses of this chapter detail the sovereignty of God in a most majestic and compelling way. God is able to humble those who walk in pride, and Nebuchadnezzar is a prime example.
Prayer: O Father, the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, and his humbling, and his eventual understanding of your greatness is something I need to remember everyday. Lord, humble my pride! Keep me mindful that you are God and I am your servant, and that following your leading in my life – in every area – is to walk the path of true you and purpose in this life. Grant me a fresh understanding of your goodness today, in the Name of Jesus Christ, my Savior, Amen.
Feb 18: Daniel 5,6
After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, several of his descendants took the throne only to be assassinated shortly thereafter. Eventually, Nabonidus became king and expanded the kingdom greatly. Near the end of his reign he turned the administration of Babylon itself over to his son Belshazzar.
History records that the Medo-Persian armies were surrounding the city at this time. Yet, the Babylonians were mocking them, certain that their city was impregnable. They were said to have shouted “Till mules foal you will not take our city.” To show his utter contempt for the siege going on around him, Belshazzar called a feast, and even brought out the silver and golden vessels captured from the Temple in Jerusalem. The entire night was a time of mocking Babylon’s enemies as weak.
How surprising it must have been for the king to read the “writing on the wall” declaring the imminent collapse of both the city and the empire. As his ancestor had before him, Belshazzar called for Daniel who preached a sermon of sorts to the young king. He had not learned the lesson of Nebuchadnezzar but had, instead, pursued his own way, awash in arrogance. He had not followed the God of heaven, but had promulgated idolatry. As a previous dream had predicted, the great empire of Babylon was about to be thrown down and destroyed. Belshazzar had been put on the scale and found unacceptable when judged by God’s standards.
Chapter 6 chronicles the transition from the Babylonians to the Persians as rulers over the lands of that day. As the dreams in chapter 2 and 4 had predicted, the regal rule of Nebuchadnezzar, and the strength of his Babylonian/Chaldean kingdom would be brought to an end by combined armies of the Medes and Persians.
It is important to see that, even with a change in the power structure, Daniel was still appreciated as a man of integrity and ability. His character and ability, granted him by God and demonstrated through his faithfulness to God, made him valuable to the new rulers. This, however, caused others to become quite jealous of Daniel and his privileged position. They conspired against him and got the king to sign legislation making prayers to any god but the king a crime punishable by death.
Here we see a story that parallels the one in chapter 3. In that case the three Israelite youths remained faithful to God in the face of dire consequences. Here Daniel exhibits the same faith. His daily prayers would not stop. Rather, his pleading to God on behalf of his people because the very thing his enemies hoped would bring about his end.
We all know the story of Daniel in the pit, surrounded by hungry lions. Yet, his commitment to God did not waver. He was committed to honor God either by life or by death. It is also interesting to note that, just as Nebuchadnezzar had come to extol the God of heaven, so also Darius extols God because of what he had done for Daniel.
Prayer: Father, the example of Daniel’s faith in you means he must really have known you, and been convinced of your love and power and faithfulness. Lord, help me to understand just how great you are, how mighty, how faithful, and how deserving you are of my uncompromised trust and obedience, through Jesus my Lord, Amen.
Feb. 19: Daniel 7,8
Chapters 7 and 8 take the reader back to the reign of Belshazzar and describe two magnificent visions Daniel receives from God.
The vision of chapter 7 parallels the statue vision of chapter 2. Both describe 4 empires followed by the complete overthrow of all idolatry and every authority raised against Almighty God as the fifth kingdom is established on earth through Messiah. The lion corresponds to the golden head and refers to Babylon; the bear to the arms and chest of the statue, being that of Medo-Persia; the swift leopard corresponds to the belly and thighs, that is Greece; and the fearful ten-horned beast to the legs and feet, symbolizing Rome. Chapter two’s “stone cut without hands” which smashes the previous four kingdoms describes the kingdom of God and corresponds to the Son of Man that is enthroned in 7:13ff.
What is added here in chapter 7 is the fact that Messiah, the Son of Man, will head up the final kingdom, bringing the fullness of God’s kingdom to earth in a way that will be everlasting. Starting from Daniel’s day, the message to the exiles was simple: There will be four empires that rise and fall, but none will be able to stand when the kingdom of God comes to earth. The final triumph will be all about the Son of Man, God’s king, through whom God’s redemptive plan will one day be inaugurated and fulfilled.
Whereas the visions of chapter 2 and 7 detail the history that would follow Daniel’s day, the vision of chapter 8 is said to concern “the time of the end” (vs. 17). The vision describes a ram with two strong horns being challenged and eventually defeated by a goat with one strong horn. After the battle is won, the goat’s horn is broken and replaced by 4 new horns, with one sprouting yet another little horn. Eventually this little horn becomes the greatest, the Prince of the host, and his power shuts down the temple sacrifices in Jerusalem).
The ram symbolizes the Medo-Persian empire that is overthrown by Greece, and its great king Alexander. Eventually his kingdom is divided between four other leaders. The vision goes on to explain that in the end a king who “understands riddles” and has a bold face will arise and bring about great fear and terrible destruction. This is a description of Antiochus Epiphanes, who is described by historians as a ‘stern-faced king, a master of intrigue.”
Vs. 25 makes it clear that Antiochus’ destruction is actually brought about by God in judgment on his people. The closing verses show that Gabriel commands Daniel not to share this with the people but to keep it private.
History records that Antiochus ransacked Jerusalem in 167 BC, slaughtering thousands of Jews, killing their babies, and desecrating the Temple by erecting a statue of Zeus in the courtyard. All of this was foretold by Daniel’s vision.
Prayer: Gracious Lord, the visions in Daniel remind me that you have all history in your hands, and you are working to bring about your glory through it all. Help me to trust in your sovereign power, and your great mercy, and your unfailing truth. Grant me the privilege of finding refuge in your sovereign plan for my life as well, for Jesus’ sake, Amen
Feb. 20: Daniel 9, 10
Chapter 9 begins with an amazing record of Daniel’s knowledge of the Old Testament. Although Jeremiah had died only a few years before, already the nature of his writings had convinced Daniel that they were from God, and therefore fully authoritative and trustworthy.
He understood from Jeremiah 25:11-13 that the captivity of Israel had been determined by God to be seventy years long. Daniel turns to the Lord and confesses the sin of his people and pleads with God to return his favor to his people. By this time some 50 years had passed in captivity, and Daniel asks God to shorten their time in exile.
Daniel’s prayer is answered through the angelic messenger Gabriel who brings word that he is greatly loved by God.
Vs. 24 sets out a period of time known as “seventy weeks” although literally it is “seventy sevens”, whether weeks or years. Admittedly, we are in very deep water here and precise interpretations are hard to come by.
During this period of time, usually understood as 490 years, six things are said to be accomplished. The first three deal with cleansing of sin and the second three deal with the restoration of righteousness (vs. 24). This is God’s plan to first cleanse, and then restore his people back to their land and righteousness.
Interpretation here turns on whether or not these 6 things have been accomplished in the time leading up to the coming of Jesus Christ to live, die, and be resurrected. If so, then the 490 years can be seen to end in 37AD. But, since most of the six things seem to be as yet unfulfilled, it must be that the seventieth week finds its fulfillment just prior to the Lord’s return to usher in his millennial kingdom.
Chapter 10 relates the latest of all the visions recounted in the book. We are not told anything about it except that it pertains to a “great conflict.” What we can say is that the vision told of great conflict and suffering for God’s people, and its effect on Daniel was monumental.
The description here of the interplay between demonic forces and the angelic messengers of God is especially important when we realize that this conflict was actually precipitated by Daniel’s prayer. His words had been heard, and the messenger of God dispatched to bring him understanding of what was to happen to the exiled people of Israel.
God’s messenger continues with a strong message: You are greatly loved! Fear not! Such is the message every Christ-follower needs to hear from our Savior as well. In Christ we are fully forgiven, loved, and adopted in God’s forever family. In him we are greatly loved!
Prayer: O Lord, I can feel Daniel’s heart of concern for his people. He was a great man of prayer, always dependent on your power and mercy. Father, I need to know more of your mercy, to trust more of your sovereign will, and to rest in the fact that you are always available to me, always on my side, and always ready to provide me with the satisfaction that comes from obeying your will in every area of my life. Grant me a greater level of energy to pursue what is right today, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
The Well: Y2 Feb. 23-27
Feb. 23: Daniel 11,12
Chapter 11 appears to be describing two monumental wars. The first occurs under Antiochus, the ruler mentioned in the previous chapter. The other occurs at the end of the age under the final antichrist.
The first war is occasioned by the return of the faithful remnant of Israel back to their covenant land. This would have been a comfort, in part, to Daniel and the exiles with him. God would restore them to their land!
Yet, as the chapter describes, the eventual war between factions of the Greco-Macedonian Empire would eventually put Israel in great peril culminating in the massive persecution and slaughter carried out by Antiochus (described in vs. 21-35).
The material in vs. 36 and following can hardly be fit into the life and exploits of Antiochus, and therefore leads us to believe that a still future conflict is being described. It is not unusual for biblical writers to use a near event as the preview of a far event. Jesus seems to do the same thing in Mark 13 where the destruction of the Temple foreshadows the final judgment associated with the coming of the Son of Man.
The triumph and fall of Antichrist at the end of the age is depicted in the last half of the chapter. And while the details are intriguing, Daniel must simply have understood that the conflict would be like nothing earth had ever seen.
Chapter 12 continues the description of the final battle. This period of tribulation will see the deliverance of those whose names are written in the book by Michael, God’s great warrior angel. At the same time there will be a resurrection of those who have died, some to reward and some to eternal judgment.
At the end, Daniel seeks to know when all these things will take place, but he is not given a straight answer. What he is given is an enigmatic answer made up of a number of days. From the time that Antiochus sets up the “abomination of desolation” and shuts down temple worship in Jeruslaem, there will be 1290 days. But the blessed are to wait 45 more days. But for what? It is impossible to tell.
For years scholars and theologians have debated these texts, some coming up with highly technical charts and timelines. But what would Daniel have understood? Just this: The future is already certain in the mind of God. He is the one who holds time and history in his hands, turning it this way and that to accomplish his plans perfectly and right on time. What’s more, those who find refuge in him now, while not necessarily escaping the effects of this broken world, will dwell in eternal safety because of Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!
Prayer: Father, the future often looks so bleak, and it is tempting to be afraid of the unknown. But I realize nothing is unknown to you, for you are working all things according to the counsel of your own perfect will. Give me faith to trust you for tomorrow, and live fully for you today, through your Spirit who dwells in me, Amen.
Feb. 24: Ps. 78,79
Psalm 78 might be titled “What parents should teach their children about history.” The idea of passing on the glorious deeds of God to each succeeding generation is a core principle of righteous parenting.
The psalmist flows through the ways God initiated his covenant with Israel, and then provided for her, and protected her despite her waywardness. His covenant faithfulness sometimes meant judgment and discipline, but it was never apart from his love for this people.
The covenant loyalty of God is set against the cyclical sin and rebellion of the people. Over and over they turned their faces away from God to follow their own desire.
The history lesson ends with the establishment of the Davidic dynasty. David was a king with an upright heart, who shepherded the people of God with skill and a devotion to the Lord. The abrupt ending of the psalm leaves the reader hoping that one day another Davidic king would arise to shepherd God’s flock in power and peace. Such a king is Jesus, the Son of God and Son of David, whose kingdom has begun, and one day will right all the wrongs, securing for all eternity a people for his name’s sake.
Ps. 79 is Asaph’s lament about the degree to which the surrounding nations have preyed on Jerusalem. Why has God allowed these idolatrous peoples to bring such persecution and destruction on his people?
We often find ourselves asking the same questions today. How long, O Lord? How long will sin and wickedness have the upper hand in our society? How long with you allow the wicked to go their wicked ways seemingly unhindered?
In vs. 8 Asaph reminds us that sometimes adversity is actually God’s discipline on his own people. Jerusalem had turned from God, and the discipline he meted out made use of their enemies. But now Asaph pleads that his people have learned their lesson. It is time for God to relent, and to deliver lest the nations have reason to mock the covenant-keeping God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The psalm ends with the promise of repentance and righteousness on the part of the people. The discipline has done its job. Gratitude and obedience will now be seen in Jerusalem, and praise for the ways of Almighty God.
Prayer: Father, I do not know what today holds for me. I know some of the tasks set before me, and some of the appointments in my schedule. What I do not know is how you will bring opportunities my way in which I can reflect your glory, and witness to your love and truth. Help me to be prepared to take advantage of them all, by your grace and for your glory, Amen.
Feb. 25: Ps. 80,81
Psalm 80 is a prayer for help from those who have known the discipline of God. It is interesting to realize that, today, we very seldom consider that our Heavenly Father may be disciplining us for our good, to turn us from certain hurtful habits, or even to re-orient our passions away from those things that are unholy. We often decry adversity when it comes our way, often thinking God should do something about it. But this psalm calls us to consider the fact that our God, being a good father, may be testing and shaping and refining us through trial.
This psalm is a prayer for restoration. Israel has felt the heavy hand of God in response to their willful ways. Now they have come to remember afresh the awesome position their God holds, not only over them, but over all. He is enthroned upon the cherubim, high and mighty and transcendent. Yet, he is also near to them, in their very midst, as a loyal, faithful covenant-keeping God.
And this is the problem. He is not a God who cannot see us, or who is unaware of our personal thoughts, deeds, attitudes, habits, and desires. He knows us intimately for we are his, the children he has adopted into his forever family.
This nearness is always connected with his desire to bring us more and more into conformity with Jesus Christ, the great standard. So, being a good father, he uses everything to make us better, even trial and adversity. And sometimes it is a means of disciplining us away from sin and back to rightousness.
Psalm 81 can be seen as an answer from God to the prayer of the previous psalm. It begins with a call to the people to call out to God. Then, in vs. 6 God answers. He chronicles the many ways he has heard the distressed call of his people and responded with loving provision and mighty deliverance.
Over and over God asks his people to “listen to me!” Like a human father, he intends for his children to be attentive to his voice. In this case, to “listen” is actually to hear and obey. It is not merely to recognize a sound, but to obey what is heard.
But, alas, God admits that too often his people did not listen. Israel was a stubborn people. But what about you and me? Are we listening? Or are we going about our lives in our own ways, living on our own terms, and only crying out to God when trouble arrives?
The desire of our hearts must be to be listening and obeying every day, and not only when we believe we are in need. The truth is, we need him every hour, and the better news is that he is available to us all the time.
Prayer: Jesus, Savior, Lord, and Master … I confess I too often think about my day as being mine. Today, Lord, make it yours. Make it a day where I follow your Word, and live to shine your love and truth in every situation. Make my ear attentive to your truth as the Spirit brings to my mind what I have read in these psalms, that the Word may be used of the Spirit to grow and guide me to be more and more like you, Amen.
Feb. 26: Ps. 82.83
Psalm 82 is a reminder from the psalmist that God, the supreme Judge of all, is seated on his throne and is aware of all the ways we “judge” falsely.
Throughout the history of Israel they were plagued with those who abused their power, and refused to defend the poor, the weak, and the needy. The law of God had several specific commands that called the people and leaders alike to take care of those around them. Some of the sacrifices each family had to offer helped to alleviate poverty and need among the various tribes.
This psalm is directed at those in Israel in whom authority and power was vested. These men occupied a position that was “god-like” in that they had the power to give or take from those who appeared before them. Thus, vs. 6 refers to them as ‘gods.’ This is not a reference to deity but to a position in which they acted on behalf of God in the determination of justice and righteousness.
Psalm 83 is yet another cry from the psalmist for God’s powerful intervention on behalf of his people. Again we must understand that the right response to adversity is always reliance upon our God who has promised to be for us.
Here we see an illustration of an “imprecatory” psalm in which the author asks for God to destroy his enemies. These psalms use graphic imagery that is often hard for the western mind to understand.
He calls for God to make his enemies like “dung for the ground” and like “whirling dust, like chaff before the wind.” He asks God to “fill their faces with shame” and be set on fire like the forests are consumed in a roaring blaze.
What we must understand is the psalmist is simply asking God to be faithful to the covenant he has made, and be Israel’s protector against the idolatrous peoples seeking their destruction.
In the end, the psalmist’s purpose is not merely the destruction of his enemies, but that through an undeniable demonstration of God’s power and might those same enemies may “know that you alone, whose name is the Lord, are the Most High over all the earth.”
Prayer: Father, it is good for me to read these psalms, and to understand that generation after generation of those who have trusted in you have called out to you in times of great distress. You have been a refuge, and you have been a deliverer of your people, and I am your child today. Deliver me, Lord, first from my own sinful desire, and then from the worries of this world, that I might walk in hope and peace before a watching world, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
Feb. 27: Ps. 84,85
Psalm 84 has been the setting for many of the great oratorios written for chorale performance. Brahms “How Lovely Are Thy Dwelling Places” perhaps is the most well-known. In that composition, as in the psalm itself, the passion of the writer comes through.
The beauty and righteous significance of the Temple compels the writer to want to spend as much time there as possible. It is understood to be the very presence of God, and provides the one place where man could – at that time – experience that presence.
Even the sparrows understand the refuge found in the Lord, for they make their homes there, in the safety of God’s house.
The desire to be near to God is really at the heart of the psalm. It is not the house really, but the God who inhabits the house that is the object of worship. And those who understand this, and commit themselves to live their lives in keeping with the words and ways of God will find themselves blessed, regardless of what this sin-drenched world brings their way.
Psalm 85 begins with a remembrance of God’s mercies in the past. Despite their sin, and his bringing upon them grave discipline, the people had been restored not only physically but spiritually as a covenant people.
Now the psalmist calls on God to restore his people once again. He calls for God to extend his mercy, to forgive their iniquity, and to shut off the flow of his anger. It is as though the author expects all who read this psalm to join with him in this prayer that also assumes a repentant, expectant heart.
The psalmist goes on to exhort those praying with him to be careful not to turn away their ears should the Lord once again speak peace to them. They must understand that their only hope is in him. He alone is the place where love and faithfulness meet, where righteousness and peace can kiss.
If and when the Lord hears their prayers, and responded to their righteous repentance and humble dependence on him, he will also replenish the land with good harvests and grant peace to his people. In every case, repentance and righteousness are met with God’s peace and abundant blessing.
Prayer: Lord, I think too often I have it backwards. I think I can leverage your blessing with occasional righteousness. But you want my whole heart, my whole devotion, my entire dependence. Father, make me wholly willing to trust you in every area of my life. Give me a deeper appreciation for who you are, and what you are doing in me, through the Word and Spirit, that I might be what you want me to be, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.