The God We Serve

by LA UBF   11/30/2008     0 reads



 The God We Serve

Daniel 1:1-12:13

Key Verse 3:17-18

"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."

Welcome to the study of the book of Daniel. Although numerous commentators, expositors, and preachers have tried to crack the secret meanings of the visions, especially the numbers, mentioned in the book of Daniel, a considerable amount of difficulties still remain unresolved. 

One way to overcome the difficulties (in understanding the imports of the visions recorded in this book) is to approach it as a forest. Normally, a forest consists of trees, rock formations, brooks, creeks, valleys, water falls, hidden trails, etc. In fact in order to understand any forest, although we need to get ourselves familiar with the details of the forest, we need to come out of the forest and go above it, perhaps riding in a helicopter, and fly over it. When we secure an aerial view of the forest, we can see clearly the mountain ranges (if there are any), the contours of the forest, the total square footage of it, and much more.  

The book of Daniel can be compared to a forest. Now one of the means to fly over a spiritual forest (the book of Daniel before us) is to use our imaginative power, get into God's mind and will, and make attempts to secure a better understanding of the book. In doing so we can ask questions like, "Why did God grant this book to come into being?" Or, "Why did the Lord put his children through what they went through?" From studying other books of the Bible, we already familiarized ourselves with the answer to these questions: God puts his children through one training program after another all for one purpose, that is, to test their faith. With this in mind, let us think about the book of Daniel in two parts: 1) Examination (tests of faith); and 2) Explanation (on the test questions). 

I. Examination

In the history of redemption it has been the Lord's established practice to put his children through a number of challenges (or ordeals if you will) all for one purpose: to test their faith in the Lord. In the case of Adam, the Lord God granted him the privilege to live in the Garden of Eden. The Lord God blessed him with the marriage to Eve. But his life in the Garden of delight did not come without any challenge, and the challenge involved the test of faith: The Lord God prohibited Adam from doing one thing: eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Will Adam obey the command or not? If he disobeys why would he disobey? Thus he had the test of faith (in God's goodness in giving out the command). 

In the case of Abraham, from the time the Lord called him at the age of 75, he was put through ten trials (or test sessions). The occasion surrounding the first of the ten trials is recorded in Genesis 11 and 12. There the Lord God commanded Abram to leave his own country and go to the place the Lord was going to show him. Would Abram believe in the Lord? He did believe in the Lord. So he left his own place and left for a foreign country. Then Abram went from one test of faith to another. The last test session involved his one and only son Isaac. It was a sort of "final" exam, and it took place at Mt. Moriah. When he passed the test the Lord said, "Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." Many call Abraham the "father of faith." He did not earn this title for nothing. He earned this title by passing the tests. 

In the fourth generation the Israelites came out of Egypt and went into the Promised Land. After they entered the land they went through all sorts of challenges - the lures of idol worship, the temptations of materialism, the local people seducing them to indulge in carnal desires, etc. These difficulties hit them as a series of tests. The point of the tests was whether or not they had faith in God who is so worthy that they would love the Lord wholeheartedly. 

How did the Israelites do on the tests? As a community of people they all flunked out. As a result, they lost the privilege to live in the Promised Land. They were taken to Babylon as captives. In three waves the Lord transported them to Babylon. Included in the first batches of deportees were Daniel and his three friends. What did the Lord do for them? He did the same thing as what he had done for their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Lord found Daniel and his friends worthy of training. So the Lord came up with test programs. What were the programs? Or, how did the Lord design the "exam" questions? The Book of Daniel has 12 chapters. The first half of the book (Chapters 1-6) describes the programs. [The rest of the chapters, 7-12, are just explanations.] The first six chapters tell us that the Lord put the young men of Israel through three tests: 1) testing using subjects existing on a material level (such as food and drink) (1:8); 2) testing using subjects existing on a human level (3:16-18); and 3) testing using subjects existing on a spiritual level (6:10). 

The four young Jewish kids sat for the first test. (Most likely their age was more or less 15, most likely around 14, for according to Jewish tradition when anyone is called a "young" man, as referred to in 1:14, he is not older than 14 or at most 15.) This test was given them at the outset of the three years of the prep-course designed to train young exiles for royal service. Inasmuch as the test concerned about what goes into one's body, such as food or wine, we can say that the Lord tested them on what is on a material level. Belonging to this test category are test questions like, "What is my view of money? What or who do I serve – money or the Lord?"  

The second test involved the conflicts between the fear of [visible] men [in their case Nebuchadnezzar] vs. the fear of the [invisible] God, the conflict between the worship of men and the worship of God. Belonging to this category of tests involve questions like: Who do I obey? Whose opinion do I respect more? God's or men's? Jesus says, "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." We run into these conflicts at work, at home, and at school. 


The third question concerns one's relationship with God. Daniel used to pray to God regularly (three times a day) looking towards Jerusalem. But a law was passed restricting Daniel’s religious freedom – the freedom to pray to the God of Israel anytime anywhere. Belonging to this category of test includes spiritual issues such as doctrines (or way or ways) of salvation. In the past the U.S. used to be known as a Christian country. But nowadays due to the rising secularism and heathenism, this nation is getting increasingly hostile to Christianity. 

From a human point of view it looked as though visible men, such as Nebu or his officials like Arioch, were giving out tests. But from a biblical perspective the real examiner is the Lord God. We can find this being the case for in many places of the Bible the Lord calls Nebu his “servant” (Jer 25:9; 27:6; 43:10). Nebu is merely the Lord’s instrument; he is just like a whip the Lord holds in his hand to discipline his children. 

In each test the Lord examines one's faith in God. Daniel and his three friends sat for the first tests; Daniel’s three friends sat for the second; and Daniel sat for the third. But the point of the tests remained the same: faith in God. In all three tests all of them got an A+. 

It has been said, “Faith is the victory”. It is also written: “According to your faith it will be done to you” (Matthew 9:29). Of all the examples of faith recorded in the book of Daniel, the faith Daniel's three friends demonstrated stands out as exemplary. "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." What they said reveals a "model" faith we need to go by. In what respect is their faith exemplary? We can say that their faith is exemplary in that their faith rested purely on who God is, not on even what God would do or not do. Some people rely on God because of the miracles God can perform for them. But they are no different than a boy who loves his father’s wallet more than his father’s person. We call this kind of faith “Alpha” faith for they believe in God plus alpha. Those with Alpha faith cannot go far; when the going gets tough they soon show their true color. But Daniel's three friends were different. They said that even if God would not save them, they would still serve God. 

In addition, their faith is truly laudable in that while they were far away from home, where they had no temple, no rabbis, no shepherds, no elders, no parents ready to offer assistance, still, purely based on their own personal faith, they refused to bow down to the golden statute; by faith they decided to serve and worship the God of Israel alone. We don’t know where Daniel was at that time. Perhaps Daniel was on his business trip. In those days they did not have any cell phones or emails. So they had no way to seek prayer support from Daniel. Yet since they had their own personal faith, rather than the faith of someone else such as their mothers' faith or their shepherds' faith, they were able to take a stand. 

Finally, their faith is exemplary in that it affirmed the value that is above man's life, that is, serving and worshiping the God of Israel alone even if it involved martyrdom.


Part II. Explanation

After an instructor has given out test questions, what the instructor is required to do is to explain for the class all the answers to all the test questions on the subject he is teaching. 

God is like a good instructor who teaches generations of people through the good examples of a small number of people keeping their faith. In God's redemptive history, by training one person Abraham the Lord leads many to salvation that comes from faith. In this passage as well, through the examples of the four students (Daniel and his three friends) the Lord trained many, such as Nebu. We who study the Book of Daniel now are also beneficiaries of the spiritual lessons coming through them.  Among other lessons, then, we can consider three points on the God of Daniel and his three friends. 

First, God as the source of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and revelations (1:17,20)

The book of Daniel begins with the proof that the "education" system the Lord granted the Jewish kids is far superior to the best possible education system the Babylonian empire (or any other secular governments) can possibly come up with. Testifying to this truth, Daniel 1:17 reads, "To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds." Similarly, Daniel 1:20 says, "In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom." The Apostle John understood this better so he says that Jesus is the logos (the sum total of all the knowledge built in the universe). Statistics says that although Jews represent about 0.3% of the world population, Jews account for 30% of all Nobel prize winners. Another research asserts that 97% of all technologies that the human race is using sprang from Christian civilizations. If indeed these numbers and statistics are true, why are they so?   


Second, God is the sovereign ruler (4:17,24,32; 5:21; 7:14)

Daniel is the book of dreams, hand-writing, and visions. In the book of Daniel we see that the Lord: 1) put two dreams in the mind of Nebu (the dream of a statute and the dream of a tree); 2) used hand-writing on the wall in punishment of Belshazar; and 3) in honor of Daniel's intercessory prayer for his people, granted Daniel a dream (of four beasts), the visions of a ram and a goat, and the visions of a man (i.e., the angel Gabriel). 

These devices came with their own messages. The happenings of the fiery furnace followed by the erection of the golden statute served as a tool to educate people that the God of Israel is the only true God and so he alone is the object of worship (3:17-18). The dream of a tree became instrumental to enlightening Mr. Nebu that the God of Israel is the king of heaven (4:37). Through the hand-writing on the wall the Lord punished Belshazar, teaching him that the Lord God is the true king who holds in his palm the lives and ways of the kings of the earth (5:23). By saving Daniel from the den of lions the Lord educated the Persian rulers (Darius and Cyrus) that the Lord God alone establishes (or exalts) those who need to be established (6:3-4). Honoring Daniel's heart for his people Israel, the Lord God sent Gabriel on a business trip so he could reveal and explain to Daniel the things of the appointed time of the end (8:17-19). 

The over-arching theme of these messages can be described with one word: sovereignty. In the book of Daniel the word "sovereign" (as it is applied to the God of Israel) is repeated 5 times. The word "sovereign" has to do with "sovereignty" which means "controlling influence (or power)" or "freedom from external control." Daniel 4:35 best explains the meaning of the word "sovereignty": "All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’" This revelation then leads to another question: what is his end purpose? With his sovereign power, what is he trying to achieve? 

Third, God is the builder of the bridge to eternity (2:44)

We can find the answer to this question in Daniel's interpretation of the dream of a statute. 

Nebu had a dream of a statute made up of different materials (gold, silver, bronze, iron and clay). Daniel's interpretation of the dream reveals the course (and the point) of human history, that is, earthly kingdoms rising and falling only to be replaced by the kingdom of eternity. Daniel 2:44 sums up the course, saying, "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever." 

This passage reminds us of a rainbow. Once upon a time, one person I know visited Jasper National Park in Canada. As he was driving down the mountain a fresh rainfall hit the roads and mountains. Then the sun came out. As he was driving down the mountain road, he saw a gigantic rainbow hanging from the sky to the ground: it was like a huge bridge connecting from earth to heaven, so he called it a bridge to eternity. Here in Daniel 2:44, we see "the real bridge to real eternity." Notice the word "end" and the word "forever." In the book of Daniel the word "end" is repeated 24 times. As used here in v. 44 the word “end” refers to the end of earthly kingdoms (such as the Roman Empire, British Empire, or the U.S. [empire] etc.). When the U.S. ceases to take a leadership role among the nations, which nation will fill the position of a leading nation? Many talk about mainland China as an emerging power. In the next century or centuries, where will China be? What will be her role among the nations? What about the destiny of the European nations? What about small countries like Korea or North Korea? Will North and South Korea be united? If so what will be the role of the united Korea? But in Daniel 2:44, we find all the answers to all these questions–history written in advance—plus some more information, that is, what is to come after all the endings of all the ends, that is, the eternal kingdom replacing human kingdoms.

In conclusion, Daniel and his three friends refused to worship foreign gods; by faith they risked their lives and chose to serve the God of Israel. By faith they kept their identity as God's children. As a bonus the Lord revealed to Daniel the vision of the Savior to come who in turn, at the end of their life’s journey, will transport his children into his kingdom. 

One word: the God we serve

Class Exercise:

1. In Hebrew Daniel means: ________________________

2. The Lord chose to reveal his will via dreams, miracles, and visions. Why? _______________

3. Where in the book of Daniel can we see “the bridge to eternity”? ________________

4. The name of Daniel’s 1:1 Bible teacher is: _________________

5. What is the name of the angel who protects the Israelites? ______________

6. True or false: Daniel was a prophet. ___________

7. Seventy sevens are decreed for ______ and ______to: 

1) ____________; 

2) ____________; 

3) ____________; 

4) ____________; 

5) ____________; and 

6) ____________.