Bible Studies For Life
October 1, 2023
Daniel 9:3-10, 17-19
This great prayer of Daniel would have occurred when he was in his early 80s. The first year of King Darius the Mede was also the year that Daniel faced the lions in the lions’ den of chapter 6. Although we can’t tell which event came first, we can be sure that Daniel was mature in both age and faith. And while we don’t know how prominent the Hebrew Scriptures were in Babylon, we know that Daniel had access to the prophecies written by Jeremiah (v. 2), who was a contemporary of Daniel’s, albeit somewhat older than he. In his study, he found that Jeremiah had prophesied the captivity of Judah to last 70 years (Jer. 25:11). Once Daniel grasped the fact that over 60 years of the 70 prophesied were already completed, it was time to pray!
Confession with humility (vv. 3-11). Verses 3 and 4 give us eight characteristics of what I call Daniel’s prayer posture. (1) He was focused. He tuned out everything else, and “turned his attention to the Lord God;” (2) He was intentional. He was seeking an audience with God; (3) He offered prayers (the general communication with God), and (4) petitions (requesting the favor of God). This all was accompanied by fasting (self-deprivation); (6) sackcloth (a cheap, rough cloak that was scratchy and uncomfortable; and (7) ashes, which were customarily tossed in the air and placed on the head as a sign of great sorrow. (8) Finally, there was confession, which carries the sense of agreeing with God regarding the extent of and guilt for sin. Verse 5 adds one more very important characteristic of Daniel’s prayer posture: this was intercessory. Daniel confessed, “We have sinned…” This is particularly significant because chapter 6 demonstrated his personal innocence before God (see 6:22). But here, Daniel is praying for his own people. And he was identifying himself as part of the greater nation (see Is. 6:5 and Rom 10:1). The prayer itself is pretty self-explanatory. Daniel identifies his nation’s rebellion (vv. 5-6) in contrast to the Lord’s righteousness (v. 7). The first section closes with Daniel’s confession that the whole nation (himself included) bears the guilt and thus has endured the consequences of captivity. For reflection: Why do you think Daniel, who was now a nobleman far away in Babylon, found the need to pray for the entire nation of Judah? Can one man’s prayer really make a difference? Why? What applications can we make for our own nation?
Reflection with honesty (vv. 11-16). Notice the significant shift in pronouns here. Rather than praying directly to God (You), Daniel recounts the litany of sins Israel committed against Him. Daniel reminds himself (and everyone else) why they are suffering the judgment of captivity. Two characteristics of God are mentioned. First, God warned them of the coming judgment. Over and over, from the time of the Exodus on, God warned His people through the Scriptures that even though He was “a gracious Lord, full of compassion, slow to anger and great with mercy” (Ps 145:8-9), He did have limits. Their rebellion (particularly their idolatry) would end in judgment. And it had. Second, Daniel pointed out that even in judgment, God was showing His faithfulness. Yes, He was faithful to His word. But He was also faithful to His people. It should be noted that after the Babylonian captivity, their idolatry had been cured. God’s judgment hurt…but it worked. For reflection: What do you notice about Daniel’s plea to God in verse 16? How did he appeal to God’s faithfulness to Himself and His people in asking for His mercy?
Petition with urgency (vv. 17-19). Notice the urgency in Daniel’s petition. By any reckoning, the 70 years was not yet up, but Daniel was pleading for an end to the captivity. Verse 18 is key: “For we are not presenting our petitions before You based on our righteous acts but based on Your abundant compassion.” Daniel was bold in approaching God even before the end of their captivity. But he was not blaming God for His judgment. In fact, he was acknowledging God’s righteousness in the midst of His judgment! Instead, Daniel was appealing to God based on His attribute of “abundant compassion.” For reflection: Think about Daniel’s approach to God. Can you see other places in the Bible where God’s favor is found only as a result of His compassion? How can you see this in your own spiritual journey?
September 24, 2023
Daniel 6:6-13, 16-17, 21-23
This chapter tells one of the great stories of the Bible: “Daniel and the Lions’ Den.” While many a sermon has attempted to allegorize the tale, the best approach is the simplest: 1) examine the historical/literal context for when it was written; 2) interpret the text as plainly as possible in light of the context; 3) discern the truth as it applied in the life of Daniel; 4) make similar and appropriate applications of that truth in today’s context. The drama plays out in three scenes.
Deception (vv. 1-9). The backdrop to this story is filled with complex activities and emotions. King Darius was no doubt trying to run a kingdom efficiently, and the appointment of satraps (or “governors”) and chief administrators made pretty good sense. He was most likely, thus far, pleased with himself. Daniel was one of the three chief administrators. He obviously took his responsibilities very seriously, because he “distinguished himself” above the others (literally outshined the others) with an “excellent spirit.” The other administrators and satraps were jealous of either his special gifts, or his special status, or both. In short, they wanted him gone! That jealousy led to deception. Since they could find no corruption in him (v. 4), they decided to create some! Whereas King Darius was willing to let the administrators run the realm, he was not willing to forfeit his own pride. So when the others devised a silly 30-day “you only pray to the king or get eaten by the lions” edict (v. 7), the king was more than happy to sign it. Two hooks were embedded in this bait. First, the satraps insisted the king sign it himself, assuring it was so thoroughly wrapped up in the “law of the Medes and Persians” that it could not be revoked. And second, they knew that Daniel’s religion would snag him, even if the king did not yet realize it. For reflection: What do you think the author meant when he said Daniel had an “extraordinary” (or “excellent”) spirit? What might that look like in our context?
Devotion (vv. 10-15). This section reveals just how corrupt the king’s administrators really were—especially when compared to Daniel’s devotion. Daniel did exactly what they knew he would do: he continued his prayers to God (v. 10). Notice the key phrase, “just as he had done before.” With the trap sprung, it was time for them to approach the king. First, they had the king confirm his edict (v. 12). Then, they pointed out Daniel’s rebellion specifically (v. 13); then they rebuked the king for trying to save Daniel from the consequences of the edict he himself had signed (v. 15). For reflection: How would you explain the king’s conundrum? How did he put himself in the position of sacrificing a friend and trusted administrator? How could that have been avoided?
Deliverance (vv. 16-24). Now even the King was trapped. As king, he had no choice but to follow through with the consequences of the edict that he had signed. To give special treatment to his favorite administrator would have been political suicide. For this reason, he signed the death warrant for Daniel, did his best to encourage him, put him in the lions’ den, covered the opening with a stone, and sealed it with his official signet. Notice that the other nobles were required to “sign off” on the execution as well (v. 17). This ensured their responsibility for the act was recorded. (This would come in handy later!). We all know how the story ends! Daniel is delivered by God and justified as innocent. The evil satraps (together with their families) were cast into Daniel’s place of judgement and were killed before they hit the bottom of the pit. Notice especially the prominence of Daniel’s testimony, mentioned in verses 16, 20, and 23. Daniel’s devotion had paid off. For reflection: Without becoming too allegorical, what foreshadows of Christ’s death and resurrection can you see? Why do you think I call this foreshadowing rather than prophecy?
September 17, 2023
SPEAK TRUTH BOLDLY
Daniel 5:13-17; 22-28
The rise of Belshazzar as king of Babylon is a bit mysterious. He was the son of Nabonidus but is referred to as a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar as well (Dan. 5:11). His entire story is contained in a single chapter of the Bible. While Nebuchadnezzar had his share of self-centered sins—and their subsequent consequences—he ultimately humbled himself and acknowledged the One true God. He is a great example of the fact that “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will” (Prov. 21:1). But Belshazzar had none of Nebuchadnezzar’s humility. In fact, his actions were arrogant displays of rebellion.
The Bible says the event that prompted his brief encounter with Daniel was a great feast thrown for 1000 of the king’s noblemen. What the Bible does not say, is that apparently, the city of Babylon was under siege by the Medes at the time. As they waited outside the city, the king partied within.
A blatant desecration (vv. 1-4). As if the audacity of the event itself was not enough, at some point in the drunken feast the drunken king ordered the consecrated vessels from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem brought in. These had been dedicated to the house of God (v. 3) but pilfered by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Now they were desecrated by King Belshazzar, his royal court, all their wives and their prostitutes. Then to make matters worse, they worshipped their pagan gods “made of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” while drinking from the sacred cups (v. 4).
A terrifying inscription (vv. 5-9). Here we see the origin of the phrase, “I saw the writing on the wall.” Belshazzar certainly did! First, the writing on the wall terrified him physically…to the point of shaking hips and knocking knees (v. 6). Second, it terrified him spiritually, to the point of calling in his advisors and offering a prestigious reward to anyone who could read the inscription and interpret it (v. 7). Third, it terrified him publicly, to the point that an outcry erupted that prompted the intervention by his queen (v. 10). Finally, it terrified him utterly, to the point that he was willing to call in a young Jewish man; a person who would have been enraged by the desecration that took place against his God (v. 13).
A noble reputation (vv. 13-16). It should be noted that Daniel was both flattered by the king and challenged by him. The flattery was prompted by Daniel’s solid reputation, built over time with the previous king, and presented confidently by the king’s queen (v. 14). The challenge is veiled by the declaration that the king’s own advisors were unable to interpret the writing, and therefore Daniel would likely not be able to as well. It is also noteworthy that the same rewards would be afforded Daniel as those offered to the others (v. 16); if he was successful.
A godly confrontation (vv. 17-24). Daniel’s reply to the king was terse: he would give the king the proper interpretation, but not because of any reward he might receive (v. 17). Rather, the king needed to know what a godless disgrace he really was. He demonstrated all this by comparing king Belshazzar to his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. To make a long story short, the previous king had been blessed by the One True God. But his pride had been judged by God and he was—for a period of time—quite crazy. But he was brought back to reality when he had acknowledged the sovereignty of God. Belshazzar, on the other hand, had also become arrogant. But his condemnation was worse for two reasons. First, he had not learned from his predecessor a lesson that was both obvious and well known. Second, rather than acknowledge the One True God, Belshazzar had desecrated the temple’s wares by using them for debauchery. Now God had pronounced his judgement. The writing was on the wall.
A troubling interpretation (vv. 25-31). The Aramaic words, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN is translated as “numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.” The repetition of “numbered” was meant to either be emphatic or apply to two aspects of the king’s demise. Likely, Daniel suggested that both Babylon’s days were numbered as well as those of Belshazzar the king. “Weighed” indicates that God had applied His standard of judgment and found the king’s character as “lacking.” And “divided” was the end product. By the end of the night, the king was dead and the kingdom divided.
Questions for reflection:
- Why do you think the king held such an extravagant feast while an enemy army was encamped around his city?
- Do you think Daniel was rude in the way he spoke to the king? Why do you think he was so direct?
- Hearing that the end was near, why do you think the king still rewarded Daniel even though the news was bad?
September 10, 2023
PRAY WITH PASSION
Daniel 2:13-23; 27-28
We’d probably all like to think that we pray more than we really do. Paul said to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:16), but let’s face it…we too often cease without praying! Too often my prayers are not proactive, or even active; but re-active. Simply put, I wait for something to go haywire…then I pray about it!
In the next few lessons, we will talk about some aspects of prayer taken from the life of Daniel. This week’s title is Pray with Passion, but it could just as well be titled Pray with Wisdom. The drama plays out in three acts.
A desperate situation (vv. 13-16). The preceding verses spell out the terrible predicament the king’s counselors faced. Vexed by disturbing dreams, the king, as was the custom of the day, called together his pagan cadre of wisemen, astrologers, and sorcerers to interpret them. Apparently not entirely confident of their abilities, the king added an extra requirement to validate their accuracy. This time, they were required to recount the king’s dream first, and then provide the interpretation of it (v. 5). If they could not tell him his dream first, then they and their families would be executed as phony soothsayers and worthless additions to the king’s court (v. 9). Needless to say, the not-so-wise wisemen were mortified, but they exacerbated the situation by rebuking the king for his foolish and impossible request (vv. 10-11). Infuriated, the king issued the order for all the wisemen to be killed. And Daniel and his friends were on the list. Notice first, that Daniel’s response to all this was discreet (v. 14). An already irate king was not to be pushed, especially by some Jewish teenager! Second, his response was courageous (v. 16). Daniel himself had an audience with the king himself. Third, his response was confident (v. 16). The idea is clear: if Daniel had but one night with God, he was confident that God would provide both the dream and the interpretation of it. For reflection: How do you explain Daniel’s ability to meet face-to-face with the king of Babylon? What groundwork had already been laid?
A divine solution (vv. 17-23). Daniel’s confidence was not spiritual arrogance, but a firm conviction that God’s plan superseded the king’s. Four things about Daniel’s praying stand out. First, he understood the value of corporate praying. He shared the urgency of the situation and invited his friends to join him in intercession (v. 17). While the Bible is replete with examples of godly men praying alone in solitude, there is strength in numbers…and that goes for praying, too. Believers are to pray for one another (James 5:16) and pray with one another (Joel 1:14; Acts 4:24ff, et al). Second, Daniel understood God’s sovereignty. He didn’t pray for the king’s mercy, but for God’s mercy (v. 18). Third, Daniel understood that prayer comes first. Notice that the mystery the king sought to answer came to Daniel only after the praying. God knew it all along; but Daniel needed to ask for it (see Matt. 7:7-8). Finally, and most obviously from verses 20 on, Daniel understood that prayer is an essential part of worship. Simply put, while prayer and worship are not identical, prayer and worship are inseparable. For reflection: Can you agree from your own life that prayer and worship are connected? How does your worship suffer when your prayer life suffers…and vice versa?
A devout explanation (vv. 24-28). Notice the emotion that filled the throne room. Arioch (the captain of the guard) was anxious. He “quickly brought Daniel before the king” (v. 25), no doubt hoping that Daniel knew what he was talking about! Nebuchadnezzar was guarded. He had granted Daniel the extra night to seek an answer for his dream but was clearly in no mood for more wise-man shenanigans! (v. 26). Daniel was bold. He agreed with the previous counselors that no man could solve the king’s quandary (v. 10 and v. 27) but gave unwavering testimony that what no wiseman could do, the God in heaven could! (v. 28). For reflection: Notice that Daniel gave immediate credit to the “God in heaven” for solving the mystery. What does that tell us about Daniel? What applications can we make from that?