Willing to Lose Everything (Daniel 3:28)

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.”

Daniel 3:28

One question that has, I guess, plagued people about the account of these three and the fiery furnace is: Where was Daniel? I mean, he purposed in his heart not to defile himself and now, all of a sudden, he is not mentioned as standing up for the True and Living God when everyone else is bowing down to an idol — or so some think. I suspect that the answer is much simpler.

The account mentions that certain Chaldeans … brought charges against these three. In fact, those Chaldeans name these three guys specifically. I think the omission of Daniel is for a few reasons. Daniel had, just one chapter prior, shown that his God is God and Nebuchadnezzar had acknowledged it. So Nebuchadnezzar is definitely going to let Daniel worship his God. In addition, Daniel’s revelation and interpretation of the king’s dream had saved the lives of all the Chaldeans, so they owed him a thing or fifty. But the story also notes that Daniel asked the king to promote Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They prayed with him, it seems reasonable that they should also share in the reward with him. But that also means that someone else got passed over for a promotion. Knowing human nature, it is not so far-fetched to surmise that the certain Chaldeans mentioned are those very ones who were passed over.

Why take the time to explain why Daniel is not going into the furnace? Because, I suspect that he was going to his knees in prayer for his friends. They had prayed with him when they needed an answer to save their lives, it is entirely reasonable to conclude that Daniel is praying for them now so that God would yet again save their lives and show Himself mighty to save. It jives with his character — the kind revealed through actions, not the kind an actor plays.

Back to the three who went into the fire and found God waiting there for them. That is precisely what happened. They continued their refusal to defile themselves, simply not bowing to the idol. This landed them in the fire. Nebuchadnezzar says something that fascinates me. In part, I am fascinated because it is echoed by Paul when he writes to the believers in Rome. He tells them to offer up their bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Nebuchadnezzar notes that Shadrach and friends yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. This tells me that the body has a part in worship. Not only that, but it tells me that God is concerned for my body. Shardach and friends came out of the furnace not even smelling like fire. That is some hardcore concern for the physical on God’s part.

I notice that the refusal of these three to worship the king’s idol results in moving the king even closer to trusting in the True and Living God. With Daniel, he recognized that the God Daniel worshiped is way higher than any other purported god. With these three guys, the king goes so far as to say that no one gets to talk smack about the God of Shadrach and friends. That same God who gave Daniel supernatural insight and preserved three men from even smelling like smoke when thrown into the fire is the God I worship today.

Which brings me around to application. It is not enough to merely purpose in my heart to obey, I must recognize that obedience may lead me right into the fire. I must be willing to take that risk; willing to lose everything for the sake of obeying God’s command. Also, my obedience is not merely for my sanctification — though it is most definitely for that purpose — but may also be used by God to move an unbeliever that much closer to belief. By the time Nebuchadnezzar leaves center stage in the book of Daniel, it appears that the king has reached a point of belief. Maybe I am too hopeful, but it seems that the first few chapters lead us that way. The obedience of four young men impresses a guard. The devotion of these four to their God saves uncounted lives and also reveals to the king that their God is higher than any other purported god. Their continued faithfulness reveals that their God is able to save no matter the circumstance. Eventually, God speaks to Nebuchadnezzar directly and there is even a chapter in the book which is ostensibly written by Nebuchadnezzar himself. It seems to me that the opening portion of this book is about God bringing unbelievers to belief through the faithfulness of His children. To do that, His children must be determined to obey and willing to sacrifice everything they have and are for their obedience. Am I determined to obey and willing to lose everything in pursuit of obedience?

Heart Set On It (Daniel 1:8)

But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought [permission] from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.

Daniel 1:8

While this verse is often pointed to as an example of how a believer ought to live, it bears repeating … especially for me.

The context. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had carried off captives after laying the smack down on Israel. The king decided that he wanted some of the prisoners to be part of his advisory council (rather egalitarian, I think) and had them trained for three years. During their training, these youths were given a portion of food from the king’s table. We are talking about gourmet food here. Daniel and three of his friends — Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael — decide they will not eat the gourmet and will, instead, eat veggies and drink water. This was risky for more than just them, the guy given charge of these three would lose his head — literally — if they seemed to be doing worse than their counterparts. So Daniel and friends proposed a test period and things went well and the four young men were able to remain as ceremonially clean as possible during their captivity.

A couple of things jump out at me as I read this verse this morning.

First, Daniel made a determination. Often, believers know what the right thing to do is, but we fail to follow through. I suspect that it may have to do with us not having done as Daniel did. Daniel made up his mind that he would stay pure in this regard. The footnotes for this phrase tells me that it literally means set upon his heart that he would do one thing and not another. We have a similar phrase in English. We talk about having our heart set on something. We want desperately to do something or have something and the phrase used is that we had our heart set on it. This is exactly what Daniel did with regard to obedience. He had his heart set on it. If I am failing to obey God in some respect, I need to examine whether or not I truly have my heart set on obedience in that or find out if my intention is split between obedience and wanting to flirt with wrongdoing. Daniel and friends were successfully obedient, in part, because they had their hearts set on being obedient. Nothing else would satisfy them.

Second, Daniel sought [permission] from the commander of the officials to do what he meant to do. There is a level of respect for the other’s position and the risk at which that man would be putting himself by allowing the four youths to do what they intended to do. This commander was not a believer. I find myself drawing out a principle about how I, too, should be dealing with unbelievers. There are many places in which obedience may present not only an obstacle to me — not being promoted, losing out on a raise, losing friends, and so on — but also prove dangerous to those in authority over me. Jesus commands me to go and make disciples of all nations. Obedience would have me witness in my workplace. If my workplace allows that, then I absolutely should. If there is some policy that could be interpreted in such a way as to put not only me, but also my supervisor at risk if I witness, then it is right and proper for me to seek permission to talk about salvation. While some would argue that obedience to one edict — do not witness at work — is disobedience to the other and higher edict — go and make disciples — I maintain that God also tells me to respect the authorities He places over me and that Daniel and friends asked permission to be obedient. This implies that they would have submitted to the commander’s decision had he refused. In addition, the verse following states that God granted Daniel favor and so the request to be obedient was granted. I have often struggled with this notion of workplace witnessing and how some are terribly gung ho about witnessing no matter the cost without considering that they may not be the only ones at risk … at it may be an unbeliever who is put in jeopardy by our decision. One of the New Testament writers tells wives that they can witness without saying a word by their chaste and Godly conduct. I suspect that workers can do the same thing in our workplace. My conduct can speak for itself and others can see the character of God’s child played out in front of them. If my conduct cannot stand on its own, then I have yet another issue to which I must attend. Does this mean I never witness? Not at all. But it does mean that I should be mindful and respectful of the situation around me at work. It is a thought, and one that bears more consideration before I conclude that the principle is sound.

While the second thought percolates, the first demands attention. Is my heart set on obedience? If not, I need to sort that and set my heart on obeying God.

Possession (Ezekiel 44:28)

“And it shall be with regard to an inheritance for them, I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel—I am their possession.”

Ezekiel 44:28

God brings me back to this truth periodically. The priests were to have no inheritance in Israel; no part of the Promised Land to call their own. Instead, their inheritance was to be God Himself and their part in the Promised Land the Giver of Promise. It is a simple thing to slide right over these verses. But God likes to remind me, particularly when I am stressing out about temporal things, that He is also my inheritance and possession.

The Old Testament has a few verses that speak of God making the entirety of Israel into a priesthood. I could rummage them up, but I know full well that they are there, having read them several times. The New Testament repeats these promises, turning them on believers. Now the royal priesthood includes those who place their faith in Jesus Christ; in the Messiah (Revelation 1:6, 5:10, 20:6).

What does this have to do with anything? Actually, it has to do with everything. If the believer — myself included — is part of the priesthood, then we have no possession in this world; no inheritance here. We are sojourners; passers-through; residents of a kingdom in which we do not yet reside. Paul writes as much to the believers at Philippi (Philippians 3:20). We can receive things and hold them a while, but they are never really our own. Our possession; our portion is God Himself.

This comforts me when house hunting yields no results and I must resign myself to being a renter. This comforts me when I look at what drives other people and realize that I neither understand nor am I motivated by it. This comforts me when my possessions are decidedly inferior to those of others with whom I have dealings. The things which God offers to me; the things which I can keep, are Him and the blessings He pours out. He offers me Himself and with Himself the love and joy and peace and all the good that flows from Him. He offers me a home with Him that will never wear out or need maintenance; a place where there are no threats to my safety or the safety of those with me; a place where I can truly be at rest. He offers me so much more than this world can offer and He reminds me that all of that is not only on offer, but is mine for the asking at any moment. This morning, as I have begun to allow myself to be burdened by stresses which are not mine to bear, I am reminded and comforted that God is my possession and inheritance. He is my exceeding great reward. I may never own property in this world, but I have a place prepared for me in Heaven which has been in the works since Christ’s ascension almost two thousand years ago.

God will resolve the issues of the here and now, but my eyes needed refocusing. I had become myopic and God wants me to have a long view. Thank You, God, for the reminder and the comfort and the recalibration of my vision. I pray it lasts and trust that You will revisit this truth with me until it becomes part and parcel of who I am. Thank You, in advance, for Your patience with me in learning things which are difficult for me to learn.

Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:3)

He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.”

Ezekiel 37:3

“Son of man, can these bones live?” It is the question to which I do not have an answer. I look around at the world and realize that there are lots of dry bones walking around. God explains that the bones are Israel. I went looking for other verses to compare and try to understand the notion of dried up bones. What I found leads me to think that “bones” are a stand-in for well-being and health. If one’s bones are moist, then one is hale and hearty and full of vim and vigor. Dry bones seem to be indicative of sickness and distress. These people do not feel well or strong or any such thing. They are without hope. The actual question being asked is this: “Can people who are unsound in themselves; unwell to the very core; hopeless and helpless be made whole, healthy, sound, and alive to the very core?” I know that nothing is impossible where God is concerned and I know that He has given us choice in the matter.

Ezekiel’s answer is insightful. His “O Lord GOD, You know.” reveals that he does not know for certain, but knows Who does. The prophet turns back to the God Who asked the question and says, in essence, “I do not know whether or not these bones can live, but You, God, are quite certain of the answer to that. Can they live?” So many believers were once like those bones; seemingly devoid of life and all potential for it. Find them now and they overflow with life.

What is the point? Why is this important to me today? In essence, I need to take a cue from the prophet. He looks at the valley filled with bones so dry and to seem like they will turn to dust and be blown away by the wind. Instead, God tells him to prophesy (speak God’s Word) to them and they begin to come back to life. God tells him to talk to the breath (can also be rendered: wind, Spirit) and the Spirit enters them and makes them alive. I, too, need to speak God’s Word to all, especially those who seem least likely to receive it, and pray that the Holy Spirit will use those words to bring Life into dead lives. I confess, I am terrible about sharing the gospel with people. The challenge of this passage is to speak and pray and leave results to God. I may never hear the bones clatter to standing or see them cover over with muscle, sinew, and skin. I may not b present when the Spirit breathes life into a dead being, but that is not relevant. Will I speak God’s Word to the dry bones in my world? Will I pray for the Spirit to breathe life into them? The answer to both questions needs to be: Yes.

The Process (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

These verses are a description of salvation. The verses that follow complete the picture, painting an image of the glory to come. This morning, I feel that I need to zero in on the first two phases of salvation.

The first part of salvation is often called justification. We are made right with God. God tells Israel that He will cleanse [them] from all [their] filthiness and from all [their] idols. That, in brief, is justification. God cleanses me from all my filthiness. He noted, in preceding verses, that the uncleanness of Israel was comparable to the uncleanness of a woman during her menstrual cycle. I know that it is a bit graphic, but I appreciate knowing just how nasty my sins and transgressions are in God’s sight. It is actually worse than that, because God compares my best acts of righteousness done without His empowering to menstrual cloths. Yup, the best I can do is about as desirable as a used tampon. If that is the best I can do, then it should not surprise me that God does not stop with cleaning me up.

God moves on to the second part of salvation, often called sanctification. This is the phase wherein He changes me. This is where ever believer I have ever met spends the preponderance of their time walking with God. God gives some detail about the process, saying that He will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I have noticed that I can be stone-hearted at times. There are things which simply do not touch me. The world is such that we can become desensitized to the pain around us — there is quite enough to callous any heart. But God wants better for me than that. His own heart has not grown hard, despite the pain in the world. He wants my heart to be like His. So He takes my stony heart and replaces it with a fleshy heart; takes my insensate heart and replaces it with one that feels as He does; takes away the spirit that is effectively dead and replaces it with one that lives. David prayed, in the psalms, that God would create in him a clean heart and renew a right spirit within him. That, in essence, is what God says He will do.

And He keeps going. God also promises that He will put [His] Spirit within you and cause you to walk in [His] statutes, and you will be careful to observe [His] ordinances. This is not a reviving of my own spirit, which God has already promised to do, but a filling with His own Spirit; a filling with Himself. And that filling of me with Him causes me to be able to walk in [His] statutes and to observe [His] ordinances. I am not perfect and the process is not yet complete, neither is my obedience perfect nor my observance of His ordinances complete. When I am perfected and completed, so, too, will my obedience be complete and perfect. The day is coming, but is not here yet.

That completion; that perfection is the final stage of salvation. It bears note, since it is not included in this morning’s verses. Later in the chapter, God describes what can summed up as a return to glory. And that is the final stage of salvation: glorification. God glorifies those who are His own as a reflection of His glory.

This morning, I am reminded that salvation is both an accomplished act and a process. From the perspective of God, looking in from eternity, the process is completed; fait accompli. From my perspective within time, the process drags on — day-by-day; moment-by-moment; rising, falling, ebbing, flowing, obeying, rebelling, succeeding, failing. I fall and God picks me up; dusts me off; and sets me to walking again.

Two nights ago, my daughter was in a rough place. She is experiencing discomfort and there is very little that her parents can do to alleviate her suffering. What we can, we do, but that was insufficient for the night. My daughter would not sleep and I, to my shame, was not a good father. I was unjustly angry and allowed that anger to color my actions and words. When I reflected on my night, the following day, I wept. A part of me is still weeping over that failure, it was so complete. That is the heart of flesh within me, feeling the hurt of my wrongdoing. That is the new spirit wanting to obey and not succeeding. That is me, in the process of being sanctified; set apart; made different than I was. And that encourages me — one who sometimes wonders if he was ever really saved at all. To know that the process marches on is to know that it began. And, right now, I need that confirmation and encouragement.

Fat Sheep. Lean Sheep. (Ezekiel 34:20)

Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them, “Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.”

Ezekiel 34:20

God has been speaking to Ezekiel about the shepherds of Israel; the leadership, particularly the religious leadership. God has already said that the leadership have been feeding themselves and not taking care of the flock, making them the worst kind of shepherds. After that, God turns His attention and His discourse to the fat sheep.

I know that God is speaking in metaphor here. I know this because God explains His metaphor in verse 31. It is one of those places in scripture where God just comes right out and says, “This is metaphor.” Since the metaphor is equating people to sheep (or goats), what does it mean that there are fat sheep and lean sheep?

God gives some insight, but it is also metaphorical, so this interpretation is subject to revision in light of better understanding. God speaks of the fat sheep feeding on the good pasture and trampling the rest; drinking the clear water and fouling the rest; pushing with shoulder and butting with horns.

My understanding of pasture and water is twofold. First, those terms, in their most obvious sense, refer to the basic needs of life. It is entirely possible that God is calling out people who not only have plenty of the basics, but also ruin what basics remain so they become unusable. Essentially, they grow prosperous while ruining the livelihoods of others. It is possible, and God knows there are plenty of people — even, I am sad to admit, believers — who do this today. Second, those terms might refer to the basics of spiritual life. The people might have been pushed away from nourishing spiritual fodder for things that kill; from worshiping the True and Living God to worship of idols and things that cannot really accomplish anything on our behalf.

The other images — those of jostling and butting heads — feel a little on the nose to me. There are plenty of instances in life where we jostle one another for position; for what we perceive to be something good. Examples abound of places in life where we lock horns and butt heads with one another. We even use that very language to describe the action.

All of the imagery boils down to a couple truths that come to my mind. I am sure that others will see it differently, but it is metaphor and can hold up to multiple interpretations.

Truth number one is that God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. This truth is reiterated all over The Bible, so I am confident that it is true, regardless of whether or not it is what was intended to be communicated by this metaphor. Pride lifts us up in our own eyes and makes us think that we are more important than others. This self-importance can and often does lead to the kinds of behavior God describes: taking for yourself and ruining for others, jostling for position, butting heads with others. Humility recognizes the importance of others over self. Pride asserts the self over others. As Paul wrote: Do not just look out for yourself, but also look out for your brethren (Philippians 2:4).

Truth number two is that God is the One Who will ultimately judge between us all. If I think I have been wronged, I need to let it go — God will render judgment in the end. This does not mean I should not confront my fellow believers and speak the truth in love, but that I need to let go of the butt hurt that came with it. This both unburdens me of the emotional distress and sets me on a path to being able to exhort my fellow believer. I am much more likely to be able to speak truth in love if I have let go of the hurt that the action caused.

This whole thing makes me think it could be written up as a Seussian bit of rhyme, à la:

Fat sheep, lean sheep,
Kind sheep, mean sheep

I will have to consider that as I go through the day. With that, I need to meditate on the reminders that I need to be humble and look out for my fellow believers as well as let go of the hurt that comes with others not being obedient to this command, since God will render judgment.

To Trust Is to Obey (Ezekiel 33:25-26)

Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “You eat [meat] with the blood [in it], lift up your eyes to your idols as you shed blood. Should you then possess the land? You rely on your sword, you commit abominations and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife. Should you then possess the land?”’

Ezekiel 33:25-26

In context, these verses are part of a larger narrative. Jerusalem had fallen and most of the Israelites had been taken into captivity. Those who remained in the land thought that the promise made to Abraham regarding the land — viz., to give it to him — was passed through to them. God’s response to their thought process is this morning’s verses. In essence, He asks them if He should bless their disobedience.

The covenant with Abraham was contingent on only one thing: faith. Abraham had to believe that God would do what He said He would. At least once, God makes a promise to Abraham and the author of Genesis notes that Abraham believed God and God counted that belief to Abraham as righteousness. So, faith was at work in the life of Abraham.

The Law given to Moses did not come for a while and carried with it all manner of promises — both promises to bless obedience and discipline disobedience. What I see in God’s response to the remnant in the land is commentary on failure to obey the covenant of The Law as well as a failure to believe.

The eating of meat with blood in it and defiling neighbor’s wives were acts of disobedience against things that are part and parcel of The Law. Committing abominations and lifting up their eyes to idols are also infractions against The Law. So there is a clear case of failure to hold up their end of the covenant of The Law.

What about belief? The covenant with Abraham seems to hinge on Abraham’s belief; his faith and trust in God. The idols and the reliance on their sword — a metaphor, I think, for their own strength and ability — are failure to believe; to trust in God.

There are two principles I derive from these statements to the remnant.

One, God will not bless my disobedience to His commands. Jesus gave two commands, boiling down the entire Law into these two things: Love God with everything and love my neighbor as I love myself. If I am in rebellion against either of these commands, I should not be surprised if I see God’s discipline in my life instead of His blessing. In truth, I am always failing to obey one of these to an extent, but God is looking at my intent. Am I seeking to obey or seeking to disobey? The answer makes all the difference in the world.

Two, failure to believe; to trust forestall the fulfillment of promise. God has made some amazing promises to those who believe. Revelation has a series of promises made to the one who overcomes that are overwhelming once one begins to unpack them. The first promise made to those who believe is, I think, Jesus’ statement in the Great Commission wherein He promised that He would be with us to the end. God’s promises of blessing, however, are contingent on belief. Those who would come to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Why would God point out actions? Simply put, actions reveal faith. My works do not save me. Rather, my actions reveal that I am saved. If I do only what those who do not walk with Christ do, then I must take a serious look at whether or not I have truly trusted in Christ. My trust; my faith determines my actions. If it does not, then there is every possibility that I do not trust.

As an example of actions revealing trust, I must trust quite a bit to strap on a harness and slide down a zip line. I have done it and tried very hard not to think of just how much trust I was putting in so many things and people with which I was unfamiliar. I must trust that the harness is sound; that the zip line can bear my weight; that the integrity of the line has not been compromised; that the anchors on either end are secure; that the things to which the line is anchored are stable; that the crew know what they are doing; that the person orientating me on how to do this thing did not forget to tell me anything. The list just keeps going. There is a terrifying amount of trust involved in an action that occupies a minuscule amount of time. When I step off the platform and slide down that line, I reveal my trust in all of those things.

Have I stepped off the platform where trusting God is concerned? As one of my favorite lyricists has it: To trust is to obey. My faith will reveal itself in obedient behavior. If I do not see such behavior, let me examine myself and determine whether or not I trust the God I claim to trust.