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.

Hosea 5

I’ve stumbled in writing about this chapter, which describes god’s judgement like a lion attack. There’s no where to hide from god’s judgement.

The realisation is sinking in that there is no avoiding this pandemic. I should diarise my journey through this dramatic moment in world history. For many, it is judgement day, timewise… Their time is up.

It’s a lot to process. I’m thankful that daisy is coming home from her holiday in Japan, world travel is going down to a trickle.

I’ve started the three month contract at work. The working conditions in my new team are good, positive vibe. It might be a hard time for job searching, with business shrinking all over. Well see what comes, it is the least of my worries right now.

Preserve us Father through this crisis. I keep thinking about vulnerable people I love, keep them safe.

Show us how to care for one another, increase our thoughtfulness and compassion, it’s easy to become self focussed during times of upheaval.

Reassure me of your love, father God.

Ezekiel 41

Another chapter of Ezekiel relating detail from God about the design and dimensions of a temple to replace the destroyed temple of Solomon.

One commentator compared it to people who plan to build a house, and the pleasure they get from obsessing on the plans or going to the empty block of land, to pace out a dusty plot imagining where their kitchen and bedrooms will be.

For the Israelites stuck in Babylon without hope, it was no doubt a wonderful source of comfort and hope. And they did get back as promised, and build a temple. They had these plans but not the resources to execute them for the second temple.

Never having planned an overseas holiday before, a had friends warning me when to start booking things, and I realised you don’t have to just just turn up to a place and look for a car hire place and some accommodation, then get out a map and figure out what to see. In fact, it’s probably a really bad idea.

Heeding their advice, planning the itinerary and filling it in with bookings, watching the back account disappear, I started to see why people get so addicted to travel. It got exciting. I see how people use it as an escape, sitting in their dull offices planning this little heaven, this holiday.

I’ve always been turned off by feeling sad that is so short, and guilty that it’s so indulgent. I still feel that a bit, but I won’t die having never done it I suppose.

And despite the greed it can inspire, the arguable waste of resources it can represent, that part of us that imagines something better and dreams and schemes to make it happen is a connection to the divine.

Psalm 106

My unbelievable inability to stay constant.

It’s a bunch of historical psalms in a row. This is the end of book 4 of psalms… The last I’ll read for a while.

Yesterday’s talked about God’s great deeds. Today’s talks about the people’s faithless response. Or rather, temporarily faithful. They could love God… But only momentarily.

Again and again, in Egypt, during the exodus and in the promised land, they slipped into scorn for God. Tried something new, because Jehovah wasn’t working for them. Diverted from clarity by an urge for gratification either denied or supplied, dangled in front of them.

It’s written from exile, from remorse. They’ve lost the promised land. You can tell because of the anticipation of being gathered in by God, from all nations.

All they have at that point is God’s character. It’s all any of us have. His constancy, his promises.

Vs. our lack of focus, our rapid cycle always back to our own comfort, the grip of our self- obsession, greediness.

We stand or fall on the promises of God.

Remember me, Lord, when I forget myself!

Psalm 89

Truth is so counter cyclical. Indeed, it has no cycle, it just sits there being true.

Life has ups and downs that make the truth sometimes appear ridiculous. Utterly implausible.

Then it will appear to have extraordinary prescience, like prophesy. But the truth never changed, just the circumstances of our time-bound existence did.

This psalm starts on a high, beautifully extolling God’s extraordinary power, greatness and goodness.

It’s by Ethan, one of King David’s best musicians. A tough gig, as David himself was no slouch in that department. He’s probably the Ethan mentioned as David dances the ark into Jerusalem, a day certainly capable of inspiring this eloquence.

The psalm then talks about David’s special place in the plans of God. His throne will last forever, like the moon. God has uniquely blessed him, anointed him, made promises to him and given him extraordinary success that displays God’s might and favour.

Oh and by the way, the last third of the psalm reports, everything has completely gone to shit.

David’s sons have rebelled and blown it, foreign powers are picking us off, David may still technically be king, but he’s is somewhere on the run. Strongholds are in ruins, the crown has been put to shame, trodden in the dirt.

‘How long’, he pleads, like Psalm 40. What does it all mean, why do I have to give my precious years on earth to this futility!

Then slapped onto the end of the psalm with little ado, ‘praise be to God!’. It’s a praise psalm? What is this?

The tragectory is similar to the last, painfully sad Psalm, 88. A bit of light, descending to bleakness.

It’s not your usual narrative arc. You wouldn’t even call them tragedies, because In both there is a strong sense of faith. Here, the misery is wrapped both ends in praise.

They aren’t tragedies because regardless of how bad things seems here in this space and time, the truth of God’s power, his might, his all encompassing love, will stand forever. The truth seemed ridiculous when the psalm was written, but it wasn’t.

And don’t we know it now that Jesus is on the throne of David.

And the western church is on the nose. Sigh.

Amen!

That endeth book 3 of Psalms, a collection with lots of judgement and not many unalloyed joy psalms. I’ve really valued thinking about judgement, time and eternity. Our last with God, the bigness and intimacy of God.

I’m thinking Proverbs next. Will I ever emerge from the old testament! But I really want to finish the wisdom books. And I’m getting to some of the best… Song of songs and Ecclesiastes, what gems!

I’m also thinking in life, read the new testament twice or even three times as often as you read the old testament, because with O.T. being 2x or so longer than new, it’ll mean your life is equally devoted to each. The maths could be more precise, but the principle is strong, I think.

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…’

Job 29

Aww this is a beautiful picture of Job’s lost contentment. It the first of a three chapter response by Job, so he really just starts his points.

He talks about being respected with lovely nuance. It’s a portrait of his goodness, which could be self righteous bragging in another context, except he has lost so much, it seems fair enough.

I love how he uses cream and olive oil metaphorically to reminisce about how smooth and easy his life was.

He paints a picture of going to the town square and being respected from young to old, rich and poor, for his goodness and wisdom. They all fall silent as he starts to speak, and his word silences the prattle after he’s done, as they quietly savour his wisdom.

He a champion of the poor and needy, he anticipated a long, secure, comfortable, happy personal life. Good and blessed, humble and respected.

It is the dream still for a good respectable citizen. It’s the later life entrepreneurs like Bill Gates aspire to, once they’ve been hard and mean in their youth and gotten their millions. A philanthropist. An elder. It’s what I’d love to be! I’m a bit chuffed about being a warden at my church.

He’s portraying himself as having had the wisdom discussed in the previous chapter. He feared God, he departed from evil.

But the blessings of his life were not what God promises. He’s miserable, he’s pathetic and sick. Is the wisdom still as precious? More than gold or silver? Now that it’s delivered misery?

It’s like the marriage vows… For better or worse. Turns out the majority of couples can’t live that way.

I’m praying for good things, but I must accept I may not get them. In some of my friends’ views, that proves Christianity wrong. But I’m like Job, I can’t imagine giving it up.

Gee though, this chapter seduces through time as a still potent picture of the decent, respectable life we must lay on the altar. Begone dreams of comfortable respectability! You may be my circumstances, but not my desire.

Job 3

Job’s suffering may be well towards the extreme end of most people’s, but he’s not a robot. He may have given us the cliche about the ‘patience of Job’ but here we get all the emotion you would expect from anyone in his situation, except expressed with perhaps less swearing and a lot more eloquence.

He curses the day he was born like Jeremiah did, with all sorts of memorable language about darkness obliterating the day on the calendar. He envies stillborn babies their peace, envisaging them in the ground with Kings and princes, freed from concerns about their material gains or losses.

Life means nothing to him: ‘Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure.’

In that moment he would be an advocate for both abortion and euthanasia, and they are certainly questions that still animate us today.

This is not cursing God. He curses when life came to him, every step of the process from conception to first breath, and he curses that life continues. The place he will not go is to say God got it wrong, to despise God.

I never realised that classic Christian song, I’ve sung it 100 times, ‘blessed be the name’ came from Job. Back in chapter 1, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.

I hope my kids will be alright, I hope I’ll get a job, but the are no guarantees, it’s not how God works. Jeremiah’s misery came directly from his obedience to God’s word. No promises of an easy life.

2 Chronicles 36

The last three Kings of Judah in quick succession. Their fate is already controlled by forces larger than themselves. Egypt and Babylon plot to put in puppet Kings until Babylon destroys Jerusalem and disperses the people into exile.

It’s economically told. We skip the misery and death that the siege involved. In a way it’s typically upbeat.

Being written post- exile, the writer is able to quickly sketch in the return from exile after 70 years. So it ends much less bleakly than Kings and Jeremiah, which have just the barest thread of hope at the end.

But all three accounts have strongly in common that it is God’s judgement, Babylon is simply his means of judgement. It’s God’s doing, because they rebelled against him and rejected his prophets.

2 Chronicles 23

In the last chapter, an evil woman bought to the South by a marriage alliance with North tried to kill everyone in the house of David. One heir was hidden in the temple by his aunty, wife of one of the priests. 7 years pass.

They stage a perfect coup, and the boy is made king.

God is in the background, he’s promised a great destiny for the Davidic Kings. But he’s not mentioned and doesn’t speak.

It is a religious struggle, the usurper has established a temple of Baal, which is a folk God from the north.

Levite guards kill the usurper and the Baal priest when the boy is declared king.

I find out the restructure of the salvation army section in which I work today, it may mean that it is clear I have to leave, or that there is a clear position for me to apply for.

It could be the road to uncertainty or security.

I’m nervous about it but I do have a sense of God being behind the future, so I’m quite resigned and calm about it too.

True then, true now.