Gleanings from the Bible: Habakkuk

It seems ironic that people often blame God for all the things that go wrong in the world (“Why does God allow so much injustice and suffering?”) and then blame him again when his steps in to exact justice. Perhaps we don’t always recognise God’s judgement in the world and we are too quick to say, “No, that couldn’t be God. He just doesn’t act in that way. My God is all loving and wouldn’t hurt anyone.” We do of course have to be very careful about linking suffering with acts of judgement (see my earlier blog on Job for example). But this is where the prophets come in. They interpret world events theologically, as they affect God’s People. They have revelation from God and speak accordingly.

Nevertheless, in this case, Habakkuk presents the same questions that we might ask. “Why aren’t you listening? Why don’t you save me? Why do you put up with wrongdoing? Why do you allow justice to be perverted?” And God’s answer is that he is sending the Babylonians to sort out the evil that pervades Judah.

This is hardly a satisfactory answer for Habakkuk. “Why would you use them! A ruthless law unto to themselves! How can you associate with them and replace one evil with and even worse one?!” And God’s reply is, in essence, “Have faith.”

See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright –
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness. (2:4)

…the nations exhaust themselves for nothing… (2:13)

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (2:14)

In fact Babylon would not escape justice any more than Judah did. God may use Babylon for his ends, to bring justice and punishment from evil, but Babylon would still be held accountable their cruelty and oppression.

We know from history and the book of Daniel (see my earlier blog on Daniel) that Persia would replace Babylon, Greece would conquer Persia, and Rome would conquer the divided Greek Empire, but out of the Roman Era would come a Saviour, who would usher in God’s everlasting Kingdom.

Habakkuk lived in turbulent times but as he worked through the issues he could finish his prophecy with…

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
The sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

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Gleanings from the Bible: Daniel

Daniel is rather like a “Boys Own” adventure. Lots of action and some weird encounters with dreams and angels.

The Date?

The action occurs during the Babylonian/Persian exile. Daniel was one of the first to be carried off from Judea. Many scholars have accepted that it was written about 160 years before Christ in the intertestamental period as an encouragement to the Jews who were at the time being overrun by Syria. Some of the driving force behind this argument is the disbelief that the book could tell the future in the way that it claims and therefore must have been written after the events. I can see that chapter 11 in particular seems to have more detail than is usual for an Old Testament prophecy but, without going into extensive detail, there are still convincing arguments for the earlier date, and there remain outstanding prophecies, which are still not explained away by a later date.

God’s Kingdom

Either way, the message is the same. God’s Kingdom is not only more powerful than any other kingdom, but it is eternal. And its subjects, who remain faithful, will eventually prevail. It is the message of not just Daniel but the whole Bible and we will see it again in Revelation, where God’s people are exhorted to persevere and receive the crown of life.

The evidence of the power of God’s Kingdom is in Daniel’s ability to explain the king’s dream when no one else could; the deliverance of Daniel’s friends unscathed from the furnace; Nebuchadnezzar reduced to madness because of his pride; Daniel’s survival from the lion’s den and the “writing on the wall” preceding the fall of Babylon. In each case the might of Babylon and Media Persia are seen to bend to the foreknowledge and power of Daniel’s God.

A Future for the Jews in Captivity

As well as the “Court Scenes” there are the interpretations of dreams and visions, which have to do with the future of the Jews, scattered by the Exile. In short they acknowledge Babylon, followed by Media Persia, followed by Greece, followed by Rome, during which time God’s Kingdom is established to go on to fill the earth and put an end to all the other kingdoms. The Roman Empire is not mentioned by name but seems to be an obvious conclusion in the dream of the statue (chapter 2) and the vision of the beasts (chapter 7). The angel’s explanation of the future of the Jews in terms of “weeks” (chapter 9) has led to a plethora of interpretations, one of which, by starting with Artaxerxes’ decree to Nehemiah and working with a 360-day year and accounting for leap years, arrives at a date close to Christ’s crucifixion for the establishment of God’s Kingdom. Whether we are meant to take the numbers quite so literally is open to debate but the fact of Christ establishing the Kingdom seems clear enough.

Tantalising Insights.

There are other interesting morsels in Daniel. For example, when the impressive looking man appears to Daniel by the Tigris, he says this…

“ …your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.  But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.  Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”  

This all seems to be going on in the spirit world where nations appear to have angels assigned to them and battles take place, with reference to (and contingent upon?) earthly goings on. This insight into the interaction between the heavens and the earth leaves us wanting to know more and seems to lend weight to the power of prayer. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s observation,

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  (Ephesians 6:12).

The Encouragement of Daniel

Whether you lived under the power of Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome or Syria, or indeed whether you live today under an oppressive regime, which seeks to suppress your Christian faith, the book of Daniel stands as an example of courage, integrity and faith in the face of powerful adverse forces. It says, “Despite your circumstances God is in control. It is he who moulds history and not Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander or Caesar. It is not the USA or Russia or China or North Korea or even powerful multinationals who will determine the future of the world — or your personal circumstances. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, who has established God’s Kingdom through his life, death and resurrection, then you too shall rise for your reward at the end of days (12:13)”