When I’m called upon to bring pulpit supply these days, I will often ask folks in the churches to reflect on the fact that brothers in faith behind the prison walls are pondering the same things. The messages I am privileged to bring can often be messages I’ve brought even in a same week to the nine small groups I get to see. There is a certain fellowship, even if you can’t sit face to face with them, in seeking to contemplate their interaction with the same words. If you would think of those men as you read, it would be an encouragement.
All of our current study is in the book of Daniel.
When you pick up Daniel, does it come readily to mind that the message of it came to the people at a landmark prophesied low point in their experience under God’s discipline?
Before the people had ever entered the Promised Land, Moses had foretold that discipline would come if the people forgot God. If they gave their homage to false regional deities, and if (against God’s character and law) they engaged in greed, perversity, slander, malice, cruelty, injustice and oppression of the poor, they could no longer be confident that the Lord would supply to them provision and safety. Moses even set before them the expectation of being uprooted from their homeland and banished to exile.
Deuteronomy 28: 49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young.
In the time that followed, and for centuries, elements of discipline were exercised by the Lord as wake-up calls, but by the time described in the first verse of Daniel, the people were entering what could be called a CULMINATION OF DISCIPLINE - the Babylonian captivity. We can hear that sense of culmination in the summary-description in the words of 2 Kings 17.
2 Kings 17:18 … the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone. 19 Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them from His sight.
End of story? No. Even Moses spoke of the completion of the season of discipline and the hope of reconciliation to God.
Deuteronomy 30:4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back…
Deuteronomy 30:6 The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
Isaiah, who lived beforehand in the time of the 10-tribes exile to the Assyrians, and who was called upon to foretell the Babylonian captivity, wrote…
Isaiah 1:27 Zion shall be redeemed with justice,
And her penitents with righteousness.
Jeremiah, who had to suffer all the agonies of Babylon's last siege and destruction of Jerusalem and of God’s house, held out God’s word to His covenant people…
Jeremiah 3:12 … ‘Return, backsliding Israel,’ says the Lord.
‘I will not cause My anger to fall on you.
For I am merciful,’ says the Lord;
‘I will not remain angry forever.
The people would have intensely needed a word of hope at the bottom of their distress in exile. When Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took over, it could have appeared to them that God was completely finished with them. When Nebuchadnezzar took his trophies from God’s temple and placed them in the temple of his god, it might have appeared that the kingdoms of this world and of this world’s idols had won and would forever win.
About this season and circumstance, John Calvin wrote…
If matters ever were so disturbed in the world, that one could suppose God to be asleep in heaven, and to be forgetful of the human race, surely such were … those times…
But God chose to show His hand through Daniel and speak a word, not only to Judah but to all nations.
It’s no accident that the ruler and empire God chose as His instrument of discipline was the most powerful in all the world. The encouragement for God’s people was that God confronted that world-dominant ruler to say, in effect: “Your empire, your kingdom, and the next three of the world’s dominant empires will come and go, becoming…”
Daniel 2:35 … like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found.
“… but during the time of the kings of that 4thempire…
Daniel 2:44 … the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
Further, there would be a King.
Daniel 7:13 … One like the Son of Man…
Daniel 7:14 …given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed.
It's comforting to know that the Lord chose to reach out to His people with a word of hope when it was He who had placed them under His discipline. And a faithful response is well described by Jeremiah, who (again) endured it. In Lamentations, Jeremiah poured out his agony to the God who would listen, but then he wrote…
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear
The yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and keep silent,
Because God has laid it on him;
Let him put his mouth in the dust—
There may yet be hope.
Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him,
And be full of reproach.
For the Lord will not cast off forever.
Though He causes grief,
Yet He will show compassion
According to the multitude of His mercies.
For He does not afflict willingly,
Nor grieve the children of men.
- Lamentations 3:21-33
I know I've posted this video before elsewhere, but if you've not seen it, I hope you can be blessed listening to this brief interview with intern Graham Smith, as he reflects on his first face-to-face interactions with believing men under the discipline of incarceration.