Forum Class, Daniel #2
Daniel Chapter 3. This chapter probably occurs some years after the events of Daniel Chapter 2. The LXX (Septuagint) prefaces Chapter 3 with a note that what follows took place in the 18th year of the captivity--or about the time of actual fall of Babylon in 586 BC. If this is so Chapter 3 follows Chapter 2 after a gap of ~15 years.
(Notes from Daniel: An Expositional Commentary, by James M. Boice, Baker Books, 1989) Consider these factors:
1. Daniel was a godly man sent to live in ungodly Babylon at a time when God's blessing upon the Jewish nation seemed to have been withdrawn or postponed. This means that his position was much like that of believers trying to live in secular society today.
2. The Babylon of Daniel's day was a type of all kingdoms that do not acknowledge God or think they can dispense with him. This is an apt description of most of the world in our time, including so-called "Christian" America.
3. Daniel (and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) was under tremendous pressure to conform. That is, his religion was tolerated, even respected, as long as he did not allow it to intrude into public life or "rock the ship" of state. That is our situation also. We can practice our religion so long as is not in the schools, at work, or in any public place. We have to keep it "on the reservation."
4. The world seemed to be winning. Nebuchadnezzar (and after him Belshazzar) reigned. Nebuchadnezzar believed himself to be above having to answer to anybody.
5. Nevertheless, in spite of these things, God told Daniel that it is he, God, who is in control of history and that his purposes are being accomplished, even in the overthrow and captivity of his people. Moreover, in the end God will establish a kingdom that will endure forever. The destiny of the people of God is wrapped up in that eternal kingdom.
I do not know of any message that is so timely and valuable for Christians living in our own secular and materialistic times as that message is. Indeed, in Daniel we have a stirring and helpful example of one who not only lived through such times and survived them but who actually triumphed in them and excelled in public life to the glory of God. Daniel did not compromise. He did not bow to this world's idols. He was hated and plotted against. But he triumphed because he knew God and trusted him to do with his life whatever was best
Nebuchadnezzar's Gold Image: The narrative begins with a plan conceived by Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar built a great golden statue, which he set up on the plain of Dura. It was made of gold, and it was ninety feet high and nine feet wide. Ninety feet is twice as high as most row houses in Philadelphia, so this was a gigantic statue that must have required enormous amounts of gold. Even if the statue was only covered with gold, it still would have taken a great amount. But this is what he did, and the fact that the statue was of gold is the thing of chief importance.
In order to understand the reason for Nebuchadnezzar's building this statue, we have to go back to the previous chapter in which he had dreamed of a statue, the head of which was of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the middle portion of bronze, the legs of iron, and the feet and toes of iron mixed with baked clay. As Daniel interpreted the dream, the head represented the glorious kingdom of Babylon, the silver a less glorious but stronger kingdom (that of the Medes and Persians that would follow Nebuchadnezzar's, the brass a still less glorious but stronger kingdom (that of the Greeks), and the iron the strongest but basest kingdom of all (that of Rome). At the end of this history, a rock, representing Christ, would strike the world's kingdoms, destroy them, and then grow to till the whole earth.
As we read this interpretation it does not seem to be at all threatening. Kingdoms do exceed other kingdoms, and (we believe) the kingdom of Christ will surpass them all. But this is not the way Nebuchadnezzar must have seen it. After Daniel had revealed the dream and its meaning to Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar praised Daniel's God, saying, "Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery" (Dan. 2:47). But when he got to thinking about it later, Nebuchadnezzar was not at all pleased. He must have said to himself. "Wouldn't it be nice if more of the statue were gold than just the head? The head represents me, and I'm glad that I'm the head and not a toe, for example, But it would really be nice if I were not just the head but the whole statue. Why should my kingdom be succeeded by other kingdoms? Why shouldn't this great Babylon that I have built last forever?" So Nebuchadnezzar built a statue that represented his will for the future. It was all of gold. In this way he defied God and said in effect, "I will not allow the God of Daniel to set my kingdom aside, My rule will endure."
At this point we begin to understand why this is not a humorous story and why it is actually another chapter in what we have already seen to be the theme of this book: Whose god is God? Who rules history? It is why this matter of bowing down to the statue was more than just a question of bowing down or not bowing down to an idol--though it certainly was that. It was a matter of bowing before the will or rebelling against the will of God.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Daniel does not appear in this incident. We do not know why. The construction of Nebuchadnezzar's gold statue seems to have happened early in his career, when he was still young. So it is probable that he had been assigned work in some other portion of the empire. At any rate, he does not seem to have been in Babylon at this time, and the storm broke instead on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, his three friends.
The trouble began with the Chaldeans. or astrologers, for whose work the four young Jews had been trained. They told the king that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were defying the decree that whenever the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other instruments sounded, everyone was to fall down and worship the great golden image. "There are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon--Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego--who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up" (Dan. 3:12).
Why did they say this? Why did they accuse these from among their own number? I think it is not at all hard to discover the reason for their actions as jealousy and resentment toward those who had been part of the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's earlier dream, which they themselves had been unable to discern. It was the same motivation that causes coworkers to slander or gossip about each other when they should be building one another up. It is the thing that causes unpleasantness in schools or sibling rivalry.
The convictions of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego provided their enemy coworkers with an opportunity to accuse them of treason, and this is what they did, phrasing their remarks in such a manner as to work Nebuchadnezzar into the greatest possible agitation. Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar brought the three young men before him and probed for a confession in the case, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?" (v. 14).
No reply is recorded, but there must have been one. They must have told the king that what he had been told about them was correct.
Nebuchadnezzar offered to give them another chance. "Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will he able to rescue you from my hand?" (v.15). That was the situation, the ultimatum imposed upon the three men.
Let me say at this point--so that we will understand this story at the proper level--that this is the problem that confronts every follower of the true God when the requirements of serving him come into conflict with the demands of a secular state. I mean by this nor merely a demand to do an openly wicked thing or die for refusing to do it (like refusing to turn over or kill Jews in Nazi Germany). I mean any pressure to disobey the teachings of the Bible, whether by peers in your school, by fellow employees, by employers, or by whoever it may be. Whenever you are pressured to do something (or not to do something) that you know by the teachings of the Bible to be wrong (or right), your situation is that of these three men and your responsibility before God is the same also. You must do the right. You must not how to the world's demands, even if the consequences are costly.
You say, "But we are commanded to obey the state."
Yes, in all areas of its legitimate authority. Paul wrote, "Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor" (Rom. 13:7). Moreover, in obeying the state we must know that God has established such authorities (Rom. 13:I-5). Daniel and his friends knew this--at least after the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, if not before. God had established Nebuchadnezzar. He had made him to be the head of gold. But notice: the fact that Nebuchadnezzar had been established by God did not make Nebuchadnezzar God. The fact that God raises up rulers does not make rulers autonomous. It does not give them unlimited power. On the contrary, it limits their power, for they are responsible to the One who has set them up--whether they acknowledge him as God or not. The duty of believers is to remind the state of this divine limitation. They are to do it by words and, if necessary, by the laying down of their lives.
The Sovereign God: When the ultimatum was put to these three men, we do not read that they took time to think the issues through. Even the great Martin Luther asked for a night to pray and think when he was asked to recant. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego seem to have responded at once: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Dan. 3:16-18).
There are times in life when you do not want to debate the pros and cons of a position. If you do, you will very likely choose the wrong side. There are times when you have to respond the right way and do the right thing instantly, or you will probably fail the test.
What if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had listened to our kinds of rationalizations? Someone might have said, "The three of you are obviously sincere and quite dedicated. We need more people like you, and that is just the reason why you must listen to reason in this matter. Because if you do not listen and instead persist in this obstinate disobedience, you are going to be killed and your beneficial influence on Babylon will be over. Consider first that your disobedience is already being entirely misunderstood. You think that you are standing for the identity of the true God. But what you are doing is actually being construed as political rebellion, defiance of the king's order. You are not going to be executed for religion but for civil disobedience. So what good does persisting in this rebellious state do? The proper course is to bow down, live, and extend your 'godly' influence in other ways."
Or again, a wise head might have argued, "Understand that Nebuchadnezzar is actually on your side. He did not need to give you a hearing. When he did, he did not need to give you another chance. He has done these things only because he is already well-disposed toward you and likes you. He does not want to execute you. I think that if you would only stand at a distance from the statue and tip your head forward slightly--you won't need to prostrate yourselves on the ground--Nebuchadnezzar would be pleased by that and respect you all the more. He would realize that it was a difficult thing for you to do, but that you did it for his sake. It takes men of courage to compromise like that."
A theologian might have gotten into the argument. "Remember that in the New Testament it says--I know the New Testament hasn't been written yet, but it will be--'an idol is nothing.' Now if 'an idol is nothing,' then to fall down and worship Nebuchadnezzar's golden image is to fall down and worship nothing, and worshiping nothing cannot possibly be construed as idolatry, can it?"
If Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had stopped to consider these arguments, they might have wavered. But they did not stop to consider them or waver because they already knew where they stood and why they stood there. In other words, they had already wrestled through such issues and knew that whatever else they might have been, they were first and foremost worshipers of the true God, and he had said, "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hale me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments" (Exod. 20:3-6).
There were three things that gave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the strength to stand firm in this great test of their commitment.
I. They knew that God was sovereign. Nothing is clearer in their response to King Nebuchadnezzar than this: "The God we serve is able to save us," and if he chooses to do so, "he will rescue us from your hand, O king." This is no airy, speculative abstraction. This is faith in the furnace. It is a firm conviction of the sovereignty of God in the midst of all things contrary. These men knew that God is sovereign. and therefore it was not foolish but wise for them to entrust their lives to him in this matter.
2. They knew the Scriptures. This is the reason they refused to bow down: God had forbidden it. But knowing the Scriptures is also important for the reason that moral issues seldom come to us in black-and-white terms. The world makes moral issues as ambiguous as possible, because when that is the case, it seems to free us to do what we want to do--or at least to do what we judge best in the circumstances. If we are to do the right thing in such circumstances, we must know the Word of God, because only the Word of God will cut through such ambiguity. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego triumphed because their minds were filled with Scripture and because they kept coming back to Scripture as the only fully trustworthy and inerrant authority in all matters.
3. They were willing to die for their convictions. I am sure you can see why this is important. It is important because it is possible to believe in a sovereign God and know from Scripture what that sovereign God requires and yet fail to do the right thing because you are unwilling to pay the price of obedience. It is true that not many of us are likely to be faced with a choice between compromise or execution. I hope you never will be. But the issue is the same regardless of the penalty. Many fail because they will not pay the price of a loss of popularity or loneliness or ridicule or persecution or economic hardship. Only those who are willing to pay such prices make a difference
Through the Deep Waters: Some people do pay for their faith by dying, of course. But in other cases God intervenes to spare his servants. He spared Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You know the story. Nebuchadnezzar was furious that the three young Jews would not obey him, so he ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual--in case the Jewish God was able to save from normally heated furnaces only--and had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego thrown into it. The flames from the superheated furnace killed the men who took the three Jews to it, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not killed. Instead, when Nebuchadnezzar peered into the furnace, he saw them walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed. And he also saw a fourth person who looked "like a son of the gods" (Dan. 3:25).
It is not difficult to know who that fourth person was. He was Jesus Christ in a preincarnate form--perhaps the form he had when he appeared to Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah or in which he wrestled with Jacob beside the brook Jabbok. It is a vivid portrayal of the fact that God stands with his people in their troubles...
God does go with his people in their trials. Countless believers have testified to that. So let us be confident in the promise of that presence and be strong. Let us stand for the right and do it. Let us refuse to compromise. Let us stand with unbowed heads and rigid backbones before the golden statues of our godless, materialistic culture. Let us declare that there is a God to be served and a race to be won. Let us shout that we are determined to receive God's prize, which is far greater than this world's tinsel toys, and that we are servants of him before whom every knee will bow.
What of Nebuchadnezzar? He was impressed. He said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people or any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego he cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way" (vv. 28-29). But Nebuchadnezzar was not converted. He was going to have to sink much lower before he was ready to acknowledge that there is but one God and to worship him.
Chapter 4: Background to the Story: The key to understanding these early chapters, and perhaps the entire Book of Daniel, comes in the second verse of the book, as I explained earlier. That verse tells of the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and explains that after the conquest of the city, Nebuchadnezzar brought back the vessels of the temple of God in Jerusalem to the house of his god and laid them up in the treasure house of his god. By this symbolic act Nebuchadnezzar was asserting that his gods were stronger than Jehovah. And so it seemed. We know that God permits others to triumph over his people for his own reasons, generally to bring judgment for sin. The temporary victory of evil persons does not mean that God is not more powerful than evil or that he will not ultimately be victorious. Yet this is what Nebuchadnezzar thought. These opening chapters of Daniel show Jehovah teaching this proud monarch that neither his gods nor Nebuchadnezzar himself was stronger than the Most High. God is God! "My glory I will not give to another," says God. He does not allow Nebuchadnezzar to give God's glory to another in this story.
God had already been trying to teach Nebuchadnezzar that. The first story in Daniel that really involves Nebuchadnezzar is the story of the dream he had of a great image. It was a figure of gold, silver, brass, and iron. Nebuchadnezzar was represented by the gold head of the image. This was God's acknowledgment that his kingdom was indeed magnificent but that, as God pointed out, it would be succeeded by another (as all human kingdoms are) and that by another and that by another; and only at the end would come the eternal kingdom of God in Christ. This kingdom would overthrow all others, grow up, and fill the earth. God was teaching Nebuchadnezzar that he was not so important as he thought. The next story in Daniel concerns the gold image that Nebuchadnezzar set up in the plain of Dura. In reading the story with Nebuchadnezzar's vision in view, we realize that Nebuchadnezzar was rebelling against God's decree. God had said, ''Your kingdom will be succeeded by other kingdoms, kingdoms of silver, brass, and iron." Nebuchadnezzar replied, "No, my kingdom will endure forever; it will always be glorious. Therefore, I will create a statue of which not only the head will be gold, but also the thighs and legs and feet. All of it will be gold. That is going to represent me and my descendants forever." Now God has to humble Nebuchadnezzar and show that only God is King.
"Babylon, That I Have Built" : The story we have in Daniel 4 has to do with another vision, but it must be seen against this background. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed again, and this time he dreamed that he saw a great tree. The details of this dream are so interesting that I cite it in full. Nebuchadnezzar is speaking.
These are the visions I saw while lying in my bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
In the visions I saw while lying in my bed, I looked, and there before me was a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice; "Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip of its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.
"Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.
"The decision is announced by messengers; the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men." (verses 10-17)
After receiving this vision Nebuchadnezzar consulted the Chal]deans as he had done on other occasions, but they were unable to give the meaning. Eventually he turned to Daniel, who apparently understood it at once. Daniel saw that the vision referred to the king. So we read that his countenance was troubled for about an hour, bothered, obviously, by what he knew this meant. Finally Nebuchadnezzar said, "Don't be bothered. I understand that this is not a good vision, but tell me about it anyway. I want to know the truth."
Daniel began to explain the vision. He explained that the tree was Nebuchadnezzar. God had exalted him to be a great figure, to fill all the world with his empire. Those of the earth were nourished by him--the birds in the branches, the beasts under the tree--all were fed. But because his heart was lifted up through pride, God was going to cause this great tree to be cut down. He was not to die. But he was going to lose his sanity for seven years until he came to recognize that the Most High God rules in the affairs of men. This God sets up whom he will and brings down whom he will, and when he sets a man up, he can do it from the basest of men. He does not have to choose what we would regard as the best.
The story goes on to show that this is precisely what happened. The time came when Nebuchadnezzar was walking in his palace, looking out over the great city of Babylon, and he took to himself the glory that he should have given God. He said, "Look at this great Babylon that I have built." In the same hour the prophecy took place. Nebuchadnezzar's mind went from him, and he was driven from the palace into the fields, in the way, presumably, that they treated the insane in those days. Thus he made his home with the beasts. His fingernails grew long like claws, and his hair became matted; he was unable to take care of himself. At the end of the time, his reason returned to him--we are to understand that this was not only in a mental sense but also in a spiritual sense--and he recognized the truth of things, coming to what we would call a genuine repentance. We find his words of repentance and praise for God at the end of the chapter.
Verse 30 is the key. It contains Nebuchadnezzar's boast. What Nebuchadnezzar says as he looks out over mighty Babylon is: "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" He said, "Look what I have done!" He failed to give God the glory. That verse is the expression of Nebuchadnezzar's heart and of our hearts apart from the grace of God. We think that we arc responsible for what we do and achieve, and we do not recognize that even when we achieve great things it is because God, the giver of all good gifts, has given us the ability to achieve them.
The Most High God: Lay that perspective over against the unique name for God that we find six times in this chapter but which has never occurred in the Book of Daniel before this point. The name is "the Most High." You find it in a slightly different form in verse 2: "the Most High God." Then you'll find it exactly in verses 17,24,25,32, and 34.
What does this name signify? Well, if you get out a concordance and look to see where else it occurs in the Old Testament, you will find that the first time the name appears is in Genesis in connection with the story of Abraham's return from the battle against the kings and his meeting with Melchizedek. We are told there that Melchizedek was the priest of the Most High God, ruler of heaven and earth. That phrase explains the name. It is not referring to God's role as Redeemer or to his wisdom. It relates to God's sovereignty. "The Most High God" is the God who rules, not only in heaven but on earth.
A bit further on in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 14, we have a description of the thoughts that went through the mind of Satan in the moment of his rebellion against God. One of the things Satan said is that he wished to be like the Most High. He said, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds: I will make myself like the Most High" (vv. 13-14).
Why did Satan not say, "I will be like the Redeemer"? Why did he not say, "I will be like the most wise God"? Why not one of God's other names? It is because he was not interested in those aspects of God's character. He wanted to be like God in his sovereign rule. In other words, he said, "I am going to take God down from his throne and put myself upon the throne, and I am going to rule in God's place."
That is the meaning of "the Most High," And here is Nebuchadnezzar saying, with all the folly of which human beings are capable, "Look at this great Babylon that I, Nebuchadnezzar, have built." God replied, "That is the sin I will not tolerate," and he brings him down.
Of course, this is not just Satan's sin. This is not just Nebuchadnezzar's sin. This is our sin, and it is ours both individually and collectively as a nation. The greatest sin of all is that we take glory to ourselves instead of giving credit to God. When we do well we think it is our achievement. When we do badly we think it is somebody else's fault. It is the perspective of fallen humanity, and what we do as individuals in the leading of our daily lives we do nationally. America has known real greatness. It has been greatly blessed financially, culturally, spiritually, and in many other ways. But instead of giving glory to God, from whom such blessing comes, we boast of our achievement, assuming that it is because we are the kind of people we intrinsically are.
God says, "I will not tolerate that, in either individuals or nations." The history of humanity is (I) the raising up of a nation by the blessing of God, (2) men and women taking glory to themselves, and (3) God tearing them down in order to show that he is the Most High God and not mankind. That will happen in America. I believe it is happening already. It will happen to a greater extent unless we repent.
Bestial Behavior: The next part of the story is about Nebuchadnezzar's punishment, and it is significant. It is not a case of God merely going down a list of the various punishments available and saying, "Let's see now Nebuchadnezzar. Eeeny, meeny, miney, moe--let's take this one: insanity." God does not operate that way. Everything God does is significant. So when God caused Nebuchadnezzar to be lowered from the pinnacle of pride to the baseness of insanity and to be associated with the beasts and behave like a beast, God was saying by that punishment that this is the result when men give the glory of God to themselves. They become beast like. In fact, they become even worse than beasts. Because beasts, when they are beast like, are at least behaving the way beasts should behave. But we, when we become beast like, behave not only like beasts, which is below where we should behave and is therefore bad enough, but even worse than beasts.
John Gerstner, a frequent speaker at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, was teaching on one occasion about the depravity of man and compared men and women to rats. After he had finished his address, there was a question-and-answer period, and somebody who was greatly offended by the comparison stood up and asked him to apologize. The questioner said it was "insulting" to compare men and women to rats. Dr. Gerstner apologized. "I do apologize," he said. "I apologize profusely. The comparison was terribly unfair. . . to the rats." He then went on to show that what a rat does, it does by the gifts of God that make it ratlike. But when we behave like rats, we behave worse than we should and even worse than rats.
Let me show what happens when men and women take the glory of God to themselves. You have it in Romans 1, where God says he gives men up. When he gives them up, he does not give them up to nothing. Rather, he gives them up to the working out of the moral laws of the universe that he has established, and these laws decree that if you will not have God and therefore will not have truth, holiness, justice, righteousness, and all the other good gifts that have come from him, you will inevitably have the opposite. The first chapter of Romans shows that when men turned from God, God turned from men and they inevitably went downhill.
God gave them up to uncleanness, first of all (v. 24). Paul has in mind all kinds of uncleanness but especially sexual uncleanness. Second, he gave them up to vile affections (v. 26). This means sexual perversions. Third, he gave them up to a reprobate mind (v. 28).
Would you not think that a reprobate mind should come first? Years ago I would have thought perhaps that the order was not quite right, or at least I would not have understood it. But I do not think that way anymore. The reason I do not think that way anymore is that I now recognize that this is the way depravity progresses. First there is uncleanness. For example, fornication and adultery. After this come sexual perversions: prostitution and homosexuality. Then what? What follows is a reprobate mind, whereby men and women, who should be ashamed of the things they are doing, say instead, "Not only are we doing these things and will continue to do them, but we consider that these things are right and demand that you recognize that they are right." That is the progression in Romans 1.
It is exactly what we have happening in our own time--not just in our culture but also in our churches. What is the significance of the movement in our day in which the gay community is demanding ordination to the Christian ministry? Is it a question of minority rights? Not at all! Not in the slightest! Rather, it is the gay community coming to the churches as the only recognized moral authority in the land (though they are scarcely that) to say, "We want you to declare before your people and the world that what we do is right." It is the expression of the reprobate mind. If Romans 1 is the Word of God and if it is trustworthy (which it is), then what we are witnessing in our day in the churches is God giving them up to this kind of thing. It is bad enough to be given up to sexual uncleanness. It is worse to he given up to sexual perversion. But it is worst of all to be given up to that kind of mind that says, "I demand that you, God, recognize that what I in my depravity want to do is right." Understand that I am not just talking about homosexuality as if this is the most terrible sin there is. There are all kinds of sins, and who is to say which sin is most terrible? It is just that this is the clearest illustration of the principle in our time. If you are an adulterer and are asking God to justify your adultery, you are just as bad. If you are a thief and are asking God to justify your stealing, you are just as bad. That is the lowest point to which God can give us up. when he does, we become by virtue of that judgment even worse than the thing to which we are compared.
Lower Than the Beasts: In Psalm 8:4-5 (Heb. 2:6-7) there is a description of man that reads, "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor," These verses fix man in an interesting place in God's created order: lower than the angels, but higher than the beasts--somewhere between. It is the glory of men and women in that position that, as God speaks to them and reveals himself to them, they can look up to God and the angels, rather than down. But you see, if you will not look up, you will inevitably look down, and you will become like the one to whom you are looking. If you look to God, you will become like God. If you will not look to God and worship God, you will not become like God; you will become like beasts.
There has been something very interesting in the papers recently. We have an evolutionary naturalistic philosophy in our day, and part of this philosophy, we are to understand, is that men and women are only well-developed animals. Therefore, when we want to justify what used to be called "perversions," the way to do it is to show that animals do it too. Because, after all, it is "just our background." I have noticed a number of articles that are trying to find in the animal world justification for our perverted behavior.
Not long ago an article appeared on a certain kind of duck. It has within its duck community something approaching gang rape, at least according to the thesis of the people who observed if and wrote the article. I think the idea was, "Look, it's not so bad to have gang rape because even the ducks do it." well, it may be--I do not know; I have not observed this particular family of ducks--it may be that something like this happens in the duck world. But you have to go far and wide before you can find anything like that in the animal world, and you find if everywhere in the human race.
A story of a similar nature appeared in the September 6, 1982, issue of Newsweek magazine. It was accompanied by a picture of a baboon presumably killing an infant baboon, and over this was a headline that read: "Biologists Say Infanticide Is as Normal as the Sex Drive--And That Most Animals, Including Man, Practice It." The implication of the title is obvious. Man is an animal. Other animals kill their young. Therefore, it is all right for humans to kill their young also. But, of course, the whole thing is fallacious. Most animals do not kill their offspring. And even if they do, it is nothing to compare to the systematic murder by abortion of one and a half million babies each year in the United States alone--in most instances, simply for the convenience of the mother.
Besides, human beings arc not animals. Humans are made in the image of God and have the opportunity of looking up to him and becoming increasingly like him through his grace in Jesus Christ. But if we will not look up, if we will not become like God, we will inevitably look down and increasingly become like the animals. Indeed, we will become worse than the animals, which is what Nebuchadnezzar's fall indicates. If you say, "Look how good I am; look at what I have done," if you do not give God the glory, you will bring ruin upon yourself because God rules in the affairs of men and has ordained that this should be so.
How Low Can You Go? I have spoken individually. But let me say that this happens nationally as well. I am interested to follow the moral tone of our nation, and in my opinion, it is going down so quickly it is hard to keep up. As I read the papers week after week, I ask at what point, if any, in the moral decline of our time, people will pull back and say, "This is just terrible! We will not go this far." The point is certainly not adultery; we have plenty of that. It is not even prostitution; we have movements to recognize prostitution, even legalize it, if possible. The point is not even pornography. But I have noticed in recent years that there has been an attempt to say, "well, the point at which we will draw the line is child pornography. Adults can do what they want; we must not be intolerant. Grown-ups can go to hell if they want to go to hell. But not children."
Well, that sounds good. At least there is a point beyond which we will not go. But is that the case? Look at the movie Pretty Baby. It starred Brooke Shields, who at the time she made it was twelve years old. It was a classy movie, not a dirty pornographic movie. But it was about a twelve-year-old girl who is a child prostitute in a brothel in New Orleans and who perhaps "matures" through the experience. Do you see what I am saying? If we will not have God, there is no point at which we can stop in the moral decline. God is the only one who can hold his creatures up and remold them by grace into the image of Jesus Christ. Therefore, if we will not have him and instead turn to our own way. we will go down, down, down individually and nationally as well. That is happening. It is happening here and elsewhere in the world.
Light Bearers: Let me suggest our proper role by this contrast. when I was talking about Satan and his rebellion, I pointed out that his sin was taking God's glory to himself. If we want to see the role that we should have, we need only go back before the fall of Satan to what he was doing for God before he sinned. In Ezekiel 28 the prophet describes Satan as standing upon the holy mount of God directing the worship of the creation to God and interpreting the demands of God to the creation. His name was Lucifer then. It meant "light bearer." He was the one who bore the worship of the creation up to God and then reflected God's image back to the creation.
That is our role as Christian people--not to take the glory to ourselves but rather to achieve everything we possibly can achieve, to do as well as we possibly can do, to be as moral as we possibly can be, and then when we are as moral and as successful as we possibly can be, to point to God and say, "It is not I, but Christ who works in me."
Nebuchadnezzar, I think, finally got the message, because at the very end of Daniel 4 he confesses that the God whom earlier he had called Daniel's God is now his God as well. Notice verse 34: "My sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever." Then verse 37, which contains the very last words we hear from Nebuchadnezzar: "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble." God is not only able to humble them; he does humble them. But as we humble ourselves, we find ourselves exalted in the role God has called us to fill, that of light bearers, reflectors of the glory of God. We find that God uses people as inconspicuous and unimpressive as ourselves to bring people, even like Nebuchadnezzar, to the knowledge of himself. (end Boice notes)
THE HISTORY OF THE ARAMAIC LANGUAGE: PREFACE OF "LEARNING CLASSICAL ARAMAIC"
Aramaic was the language of Semitic peoples throughout the ancient Near East. It was the language of the Assyrians, Chaldeans, Hebrews and Syrians. Aram and Israel had a common ancestry and the Hebrew patriarchs who were of Aramaic origin maintained ties of marriage with the tribes of Aram. The Hebrew patriarchs preserved their Aramaic names and spoke in Aramaic.
The term Aramaic is derived from Aram, the fifth son of Shem, the firstborn of Noah. See Gen. 10:22. The descendants of Aram dwelt in the fertile valley, Padan-aram also known as Beth Nahreen.
The Aramaic language in Padan-aram remained pure, and in the
course the common language (lingua franca), of all the Semitic
clans. By the 8th century B.C. it was the major language from
Egypt to Asia Minor to Pakistan. It was employed by the great
Semitic empires, Assyria and Babylon. The Persian (Iranian) government
also used Aramaic in their Western provinces.
The language of the people of Palestine shifted from Hebrew to Aramaic sometime between 721-500 B.C. Therefore, we know that Jesus, his disciples and contemporaries spoke and wrote in Aramaic. The message of Christianity spread throughout Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia in this Semitic tongue.
Present-day scholars claim that the Aramaic language itself passed through many stages of development:
Old Aramaic 975-700 B.C.
Standard Aramaic 700-200 B.C.
Middle Aramaic 200 B.C.-200 A.D.
Late Aramaic 200-700 A.D. which includes:
a. Western Aramaic-The dialect of the Jews (Jerusalem, the Talmud and the Targums) and the Syro-Palestine dialect.
b. Eastern Aramaic-The dialect of Syriac form, Assyrian Chaldean form, Babylon, Talmudic Aramaic and Mundaie.
Use of the Aramaic language had become common by the period of the Chaldean Empire (626-539 B.C.). It became the official language of the Imperial government in Mesopotamia and enjoyed general use until the spread of Greek (331 B.C.). Although Greek had spread throughout these Eastern lands, Aramaic remained dominant and the linqua franca of the Semitic peoples. This continued to be so until Aramaic was superseded by a sister Semitic tongue, Arabic, about the 13th century A.D. to the 14th century A.D., when Arabic supplanted Aramaic after the Arab conquest in the 7th Century. However, the Christians of Mesopotamia (Iraq), Iran, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon kept the Aramaic language alive domestically, scholastically and liturgically. In spite of the pressure of the ruling Arabs to speak Arabic, Aramaic is still spoken today in its many dialects, especially among the Chaldeans and Assyrians.
Before concluding, one more vital aspect of the Aramaic language needs to be mentioned and that is its use as the major Semitic tongue for the birth and spread of spiritual and intellectual ideas in and all over the Near East. According to the research and opinion of an outstanding Aramaic and Arabic scholar, Professor Franz Rosenthal, who in the Journal of Near Eastern studies, states: "in my view, the history of Aramaic represents the purest triumph of the human spirit as embodied in language (which is the mind's most direct form of physical expression) over the crude display of material power. . . Great empires were conquered by the Aramaic language, and when they disappeared and were submerged in the flow of history, that language persisted and continued to live a life of its own ... The language continued to be powerfully active in the promulgation of spiritual matters. It was the main instrument for the formulation of religious ideas in the Near East, which then spread in all directions all over the world ... The monotheistic groups continue to live on today with a religious heritage, much of which found first expression in Aramaic." (F. Rosenthal, "Aramaic Studies During the Past Thirty Years", THE JOURNAL OF NEAR EASTERN STUDIES, pp 81-82, Chicago: 1978.) from http://members.aol.com/assyrianme/aramaic/history.html
Akkadian, a great cultural language of world history
Akkadian is one of the great cultural languages of world history. Akkadian (or Babylonian-Assyrian) is the collective name for the spoken languages of the culture in the three millennia BCE in Mesopotamia, the area between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, approx. covering modern Irak. The name Akkadian --so called in ancient time-- is derived from the city-state of Akkad, founded in the middle of the third millennium BCE and capital of one of the first great empires after the dawn of human history. The downfall of Akkad is described (in literary terms) in the curse of Akkad, but the name has continued to be used for millennia since.
Akkadian is first attested to in proper names in Sumerian texts (ca. 2800 BCE). From ca. 2500 BCE one finds texts fully written in Akkadian. Hundreds of thousands of texts and text fragments have been excavated, covering many subjects, e.g. economy (business, administrative records, purchase and rentals), politics (treaties), -aw (witnessed and sealed contracts of marriage, divorce; codes of law), history (chronological text, census reports), letters (personal, business and state letters), religion (prayers, hymns, omens, divination reports), scholarly texts (language, word lists, history, technology, mathematics, astronomy) and literature (narrative poetry, recounting myths, epics). The last texts date from the first century A.D. By then Akkadian was already an extinct language, replaced as a spoken language by Aramaic.
The language used a writing system called cuneiform. Wedge shaped symbols were inscribed on clay tablets with a reed stylus. This writing system was invented by the Sumerians around the end of the fourth millennium BCE. Many neighboring countries later adopted this writing method to record their own language (Eblaites, Hittites, Hurrites, Elamites).
Akkadian has been for centuries the international medium of communication, the lingua franca or language of diplomacy in the Ancient Near East. Because of this (and also by other means) the Mesopotamian civilization has had a powerful influence on other areas in the Ancient Near East and traces of it are found in the Bible and in Greek civilization. The Occident, in several aspects, indirectly became heir to the Orient, in science (astronomy, mathematics, medicine), in art (narrative techniques, epic) and in religion (mythology, theology). Indeed, in classical terminology one could say: Ex oriente lux ''the light (comes) from the east'' (from http://xoomer.virgilio.it/bxpoma/akkadeng/akintro.htm).
May 9, 2004