Daniel overview

It’s about scale, about the kingdoms and evil of this world having more grip, for a longer period, and with more power, than we could imagine. But also it’s point is to emphasise the larger scale of hope. That God’s presence and his plan, the now and the future, are stronger.

It’s set when things were about as bad as they could be for Israel. Daniel is a talented Israelite marked for success in Babylon, who have destroyed and pillaged Jerusalem’s temple. The assumption is that he will lose his Jewish identity and faith, as a symbol of it being vanquished in general.

So he and his other Jewish friends don’t, a model of encouragement and God’s protection. In three stories the theme recurs in the book: his refusal to eat unclean food in the palace, the fiery furnace and the lions den. God is present honouring those choices. In the fiery furnace, God walks around in human form, a striking incarnation.

There is also the battle of earthly Kings and God. Nebuchadnezzar is depicted as a gleefully impossible narcissist until the fiery furnace experience, and then a dream and it’s fulfillment of his complete madness so he became like a beast. He accepts God’s dominion and praises God.

His son sees the writing on the wall (“your days are numbered”) at a feast devoted to desecrating the artefacts plundered from the temple, but will not acknowledge God and is assassinated that night.

So there are concrete stories of God’s presence and dominion despite Israel’s low state in the book. But dreams and visions weave through too. And they are bleak as well as exalting. The hard times of evil kingdoms will last much longer than the exile, and be far worse than Babylon.

BUT God’s victory will be total, and a “son of man” will be present with us, and then prove to be God, leading the way to glorious resurrection of the dead for all God’s people to be with God of forever.

God promises to be present now and in the future and forever, as he has been in the past; despite things seeming impossible and getting dramatically worse.

This prophetic book is not at all about Israel’s sin. It has inspiring examples of people trusting in God, and of kingly pride being broken. It’s full of promises that the oppressive rule of powerful nations and men are no match for God. It’s one of the most deeply weird, in the reading, but the most optimistic of the prophets.

I’m summarising it a long time after I read it. The are no biographical notes at all, it records simply my impressions of what the book tells me about God without relating it to my life at all. It was 2016, second year of working at Fredon constructions. Good money, secure job. Boring 9-5.

2020, two redundancies, drought, fires and global pandemic since then, I’m feeling it a lot more. I liked how I summarised it in chapter 12. Daniel just wanted Jerusalem and the temple back, but has to struggle with how inadequate that dream was andhow much worse the world could be even if it came true. But also how much bigger God’s plans and love are. I clinging to that promise right now.

God is stronger.

Events in Daniels life

1 During exile, Daniel is a jew in Babylon, in service of the King. He refuses the food on religious grounds, living on water and veggies
2. Daniel interprets the king’s dream, a career masterstroke on many levels by God
3  The burning fiery furnace – the Jewish men didn’t know God would save them, they just knew bowing to another God was wrong
4 written by the King, about his madness and hearing God’s voice.
5 the next King has words from God written on a wall at a feast, aging Daniel is bought in to read them: “your days are numbered”
6 Another King, another salvation, from the lions den

Daniel’s dreams and visions

7 Daniel has a stunning dream of the son of man and the final destruction of the evil one. He finds it disturbing
8 A vision of empires rising and falling, a long term thing that still teaches us to trust that God is in control
9 Daniel reads Jeremiah and prays movingly for return from exile, but is disturbed by a larger, confusing vision of God’s plans
10 Daniel has a gleaming vision of God in the form of a man, again talk of future politics
11 a vision of the future persecution of the Jews by two rival Kings.
12 A truly stunning conclusion to the vision of these three chapters, predicting the return from exile but also the larger heavenly plan of God to resurrect the dead to be with him forever. A revolutionary concept in old testament writing.

Ezekiel 47

This is a picture of abundant blessing. In Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple, a river flows out from it, growing longer,wider and deeper the further, bringing life and blessing to all the land it passes through. The fruit of trees that grow near it bring healing, the leaves bring blessing.

It flows into the valley of the dead sea, so salty that not much lives there, and it makes everything new, a new creation.

At this point it’s obviously a spiritual parable about the hope that is revealed in the whole Bible about god’s love and promises.

It’s like Ezekiel’s vision picked up the deep longing of the exiled people, after the news in chapter 33 that the temple had fallen. It started where their hearts were, talking about restoration of the nation to a new better temple. But now the vision has enlarged to restoration of all creation.

We talked about heaven as a family the other day, the three of us. A rare event. We’ve seen it, we’ve seen it this week that this world is a blueprint for how heaven could be. Maybe heaven is a future plan of God, a new place of escape.

But we know what heaven is like, and there’s no reason not to start now, doing what we can to make our world match god’s blueprint for existence.

The last day in Queenstown South Island, before flying back to the North Island. We stayed in a airBnB that was pretty much a glass box with views about this wide, but water level, of this beautiful lake city. Rennie and I rode down that track on cute little carts. I remembered, on the gondola and chair ride up, that I’m more afraid of heights than I remember.

Psalm 132

This psalm reads a bit like an excerpt from a talk. It’s about David, one of the few that mentions a third person other than God.

It’s how finding a dwelling place for God was very important, David named where the temple would be built. And God did choose mount Zion.

I recall it was also a vulnerable moment for him, where he repented of the arrogance of wanting a legacy to his greatness, as an older man, by doing a counting of the people. God sharply taught him that was not right.

The psalm ends by affirming God’s promises, for David’s sake, that he will dwell in and bless Zion and David’s crown forever. It’s a promise that was fullfilled in Jesus, the Messiah, and in the new, not the old Jerusalem. I’m not sure the psalmist here had any inkling of that, the language is consistent with him believing in a literal fulfillment of that promise.

Whatever the visions of the new Jerusalem in Revelation are about, for now and part of the future is god living in us.

So I suppose… I should have thought this through before writing, it’s a praise of grace. By favouring his kingdom, and growing it in strength, God is favouring little old me.

It’s Monday and I’m nervous / keen to get back to work with a renewed focus.

Rennie is coming with me for work experience in the in house cafe. The guy who serves there is a really great bloke, so I’m hoping he’ll have a good time and make a good friend.

So you know, praying for abundant provision, satisfaction and salvation, just like the psalm says.

Psalm 87

A psalm about Zion, the city, the metaphor for salvation. It inspired the hymn ‘glorious things of thee are spoken’.

I took from it consolation that salvation extends to anyone who becomes a citizen of the holy city – Augustine was also inspired by this surprisingly short psalm when he wrote his most significant work, ‘The city of God’.

Feeling a bit bleak, they told me I didn’t get the manager job today, but in other news, no one got it. They are rethinking and making an adjustment to the structure and they are saying hold on, they will probably create a new job I will be interested in… what talk is that! Its good that they seem to want me around and are working on some plan about which they are not at liberty to divulge. I’m grateful really… about as grateful as you can be for, so far, a handful of actually nothing. I’m feeling either keep me or let me go, but get on with it!

But I did get the citizenship of Zion, and I feel less worthy of that than I did of the manager position I applied for, yet its a better position.

The weather is hot, the family are miserable and the funds are low, its all a bit much. ‘Solid joys and lasting treasure, none but Zion’s children know…’

Psalm 84

Another for which I simply have to include a choral setting. It inspired gorgeous soaring, light, sweeping romantic music in Brahms that I can’t not hear when I read it.

It’s about being in the presence of God, describing it as lovely, describing how much the writer yearns for it.

I think of it as heaven, and also the joy of having found God, knowing him. God’s presence now.

For the writers it could have described the journey to the temple, that dwelling place of God.

But all have in common the security, the joy, of being connected to the author of life.

On Friday I went to the funeral of Haley the 2 years 4 months child of a co-worker who had a brain tumour. I only ever saw her very unwell, but they showed video of her playing Peekaboo, delighting in some bread, and enjoying presents on her second Christmas, before the diagnosis

It was a short life, but it was a precious life. It says in the psalm that one day being merely a doorkeeper in the courts of God is worth 1000 anywhere else.

On days like last Friday the certainty of grace in Jesus means we looked back on her life but only with sadness but as beautiful and joyous. Her middle name was joy, and she gave it, knew it and will know it for eternity.

How lovely are your dwellings fair oh Lord of hosts! My soul ever longeth and fainteth for the blessed courts of the Lord.

This video is from the funeral for the Queen mother, and when they get to the cascading peals of the blessed ever praising God the camera seems to rise up the Westminster Abbey pillars almost to the heavens. The chords and overlapping melodies are more glorious and luscious than I remember!

Job 24

Oh no, bad night’s sleep, very difficult chapter. Eyes keep closing.

Job seems to argue that justice should be seen to be done as well as be done.

This is possibly a way of reconciling his belief in God and the arguments of his friends.

He’s sort of saying it all comes down to timing. If God could relieve the suffering of the vulnerable during their lives, and bring about the downfall of the wicked exploiters by means other than the termination of their years on earth, then he would accept the words of his friends.

The argument has been heading this direction for a few chapters. It’s like they are reaching a consensus on God’s cosmic and eternal justice. Job’s refusal to deny God includes an underlying belief in his justice.

But he doesn’t understand why he can’t be seen to be just. Try as they might, the others can’t spin the experience of life here on earth as reflecting God’s justice, particularly to one who has lost everything to a series of misfortunes as job has.

Between Christians today, the struggle continues between those who put their hope in heaven after we die, and those who emphasise ‘thy will be done on earth’.

Christianity almost has too many ideas. It almost works as a gospel of earthly ethics, with no supernatural, afterlife element needed. And it almost works completely as a system of eternal reward, with the corporeal virtually disposable except as an opportunity to hear and accept the word about God’s eternal plan.

The most unsettling teaching I’ve heard in recent years was from N T Wright, partly because as an Anglican Bishop respected by serious types in my circles, I was conditioned to exist he was ‘safe’and mainstream and not likely to be a whacky heretic.

But he teaches we wont go to heaven, heaven will be a fixed up version of where we are now, earth. Literally, I think. For example, his book on the environment is called ‘God is coming, plant a tree! That idea has never crossed my mind. We’re staying here? This is it?

Whether metaphorical or not, thinking of it that way gives a whole extra impetus to that line I’ve said all my life ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.

Eternity is inherently a present tense and past as well as a future concept. But so often we talk about it as something confined to the future.

However, as they say, ‘we should start as we mean to carry on.’ Slavery can console itself with visions of bands of angels coming to carry them home, but also should be abolished. Both.

So in my job interview yesterday when I said I got it, this Salvos idea of holistic mission, practical and spiritual Christianity, it wasn’t just so they’d give me a job!

Perhaps it’s time for all of Job’s friends to stop talking. I mean come on guys 24 chapters, what is this, a theological college?

Psalm 48

The city, the temple, the Lord. All to be greatly praised.

If I can stay awake.

I’ve been getting the flu, I see now, since daylight saving came in on the weekend. My body clock is all over the place. Wasn’t ready for the alarm this morning. Having second thoughts about not having a second day off work.

All three are intertwined, God, his City, his temple, all sorts of positive connotations are piled on all three: beautiful, strong, loving, astounding.

This could well be talking about the event in chronicles where the sons of Korah, writers of the psalm, are mentioned.

Local countries teamed up to destroy Israel in a weak moment, but they became overwhelmed with confusion and fought each other, annihilated each other.

King Jehoshaphat of Israel showed tremendous trust in God. Faith in him was his military strategy: ‘we look to you’.

The singing of songs praising the splendour of God’s holiness was an integral part of the victory. It bought a generation of peace.

This is exactly the song for that moment.

But being the Bible, the truth about God’s home has larger eternal meanings, after Jesus’ words about destroying and rebuilding the temple in his death and resurrection, and the vision of the new Jerusalem in Revelation.

We sing the psalm today and it still makes perfect sense. It reflects our own salvation, the God we know and love. I’m a temple, I live in the holy city, among God’s chosen. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, in me he sees God. I am beautiful, strong, astounding. I am channel of his love through the whole earth. With him my soul finds an eternal dwelling.

1 Chronicles 16

The second half of the celebration of the ark of the covenant coming to Jerusalem, this box they’ve carried through the wilderness with the 10 commandments written by God the food God provided, and Moses’ staff, which turned into a snake before Pharaoh.

They appoint priests to run worship at the place it is and make music. Singing and music are key to uniting the people under Jehovah.

Then we get a big bold song about God being over all and his love being eternal. And they feed everyone, roast meat, bread and raisins.

It is a sensational day, the making of a people, a godly people, their destiny, a golden freeze frame moment.

The last verse says then they all went home, and David spent time with his family.

Isaiah 65

The wicked and the new Jerusalem.

We are back to God’s voice after the last two prayers.

First is a fierce rejection of the wicked, people who refuse to acknowledge God, repeatedly rubbing his nose in their worship of their own Gods.

Then a promise not to judge them all, and the promise of a new Jerusalem, where pain is gone, aging is gone. It is his holy mountain. (there is so much mountain imagery in the Bible!) God delights in it.

So for me that is a bit now, because Jesus said the kingdom of God was at hand, and a bit at the end times.

I can revel in the promise of the new earth of God’s presence, but I should also sense the urgency of telling people about God’s judgement. I’m terrible at this. All I can do is blog!

Isaiah 61

It’s the passage that Jesus read in the synagogue when he staked his claim to be Messiah. The sermon got a definite reaction. They didn’t fall asleep, they tried to throw him off a cliff.

It’s a great promise that the Lord’s timing is on a cycle, it is a season, a year of favour. It ends with the blessing compared to blossoms pushing forth from mud.

It’s also political, or quasi so. Justice, release for the captives, Good news for the poor. A revolution in the sense of an upsetting of the existing order.

A theme here repeated from the last few chapters is the rebuilding of ancient ruins. That literally came true when the exiled Israelites returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls and temple.

NT Wright blew my mind a little this year when he described heaven as being still on earth, this earth, but remade to be perfect as it was in the time of Eden. Why not?

Revelation speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, for the former had passed away.

I really don’t know, they are all pictures. The promise is of truth and justice and love reigning eternally, as god intended creation to work.

It’s the evolution of the idea of Jubilee from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The idea that regularly, seasonally, all debts are cancelled, and justice, equality is bought about. Very anti-capitalist!

God’s eternal kingdom is the permanent year of Jubilee, the coming of Jesus was the arrival of the season. He is the means by which creation is fixed.

All so mind blowing, is a huge promise, one that is wonderful but also hard to envisage what will actually be like to experience.

God says “trust me”. Who else have I to trust?