This week, we’re covering three books! That’s quite a change from our patterns over the last few weeks. I think a little diversity will keep things interesting for us. We’ll finish Ezekiek with a reversal of what happened at the beginning of the book. Joel will help us see the big picture of the Old Testament. Finally, Daniel will show us what it looks like to be faithful in the midst of an ungodly nation – which should be very relevant for us these days.
The disaster we read in Ezekiel 10 is reversed as the glory of the Lord returns to the Temple with instruction for its purification and restoration. The Temple, which had been destroyed, is now being re-created with new instructions for new service in the Lord’s work. It’s much bigger and more expansive the Solomon’s temple, which should stir up questions in our mind about the new thing the Lord is doing among his people. In a place of hopelessness, the Lord is working something new.
With the concluding chapters of Ezekiel, we’re given a vision of the restored Temple in which the presence of the Lord dwells and we’re given a vision of the new city of God deliberately not named Jerusalem but rather “The Lord is There.” I submit to you that this is a vision of the new creation where the presence of the Lord gives life to all creation and the original intent of Adam and Eve’s priestly task (to work and keep, be fruitful and multiply) reaches is intended goal. Language from the Garden of Eden and the Creation narrative is present in Ezekiel’s vision and is picked up in Revelation 21-22, too.
You’ll recognize several images and phrases in the book of Joel that the apostles pick up and reference in their New Testament preaching. The Day of the Lord brings both salvation and judgment – depending on how you relate to the Lord. Though the Lord is just toward our sin, he longs to show mercy and invites his people to return to him with all their hearts not just their actions. The Lord’s nature, his character is to have mercy. He promises to pour out his Spirit on all flesh (which Peter preaches about and sees fulfilled in Acts 2 and 10). The Lord will also judge the evil among the nations and afterward restore all of creation. In the book of Joel, we see the broad story of the Old Testament re-told. Again, the Lord is after the heart of his people.
We’ve already noted that Daniel and his friends grew up under the reforms of Josiah, who led Israel in repentance and restored the Passover and feasts. But, lest we think God has abandoned his people in this first wave of exile, pay attention to who’s driving this narrative (hint, it’s God). He gave favor. He gave learning and skill. He gave interpretation to Daniel, who rightly gives God the credit and glory. Yet, in the face of God’s work, chapter 3 introduces us to Nebuchadnezzar’s prideful idol indicating clearly its origin with the repeated phrase “King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.” The second half of chapter 3 details the familiar “showdown” between God and Nebuchadnezzar.
In stark contrast to the kings of Israel and Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, the foreign king of Babylon, is the one who hears the words of the Lord, experiences his judgment, and repents. Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar, does not humble himself or walk in the ways of his father – and the Lord removes the kingdom from him. Make no mistake – the Lord God is king over the whole earth. He sets up kings and removes kings at his will. He gives favor to those who honor him. Irrespective of who’s in control, the Lord will not desert or abandon his people – even in the face of persecution. In life and in death, God is our refuge and strength.
Welcome to the “weird” sections of Daniel that we like to skip over. These are less prophecies and more apocalyptic literature – which means it’s less “prediction/forthtelling” and more “unveiling.” Basically, these visions peel back the curtain of reality to show what’s actually happening. So, Daniel 7, in the context of the transition of power from Nebuchadnezzar to Belshazzar, sees four kingdoms come and go – but the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days and receives a never-ending, glorious kingdom that shall not pass away. It ought to inspire hope because God has a kingdom that does not fade away. In the same way, Daniel 8 reveals God’s plan for the rise and fall of kingdoms. It reveals that the Lord is in complete control and nothing takes him by surprise. Daniel 9 records a beautiful prayer by Daniel for his own sin and the sins of his people in accord with his knowledge of Jeremiah’s prophecy. His heartfelt prayer is met with an immediate response from the Lord delivered by Gabriel. To understand this often misconstrued passage about “seventy weeks,” here’s a summary by biblical scholar Peter Gentry,
“The vision of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks, then, can be explained simply. It refers to a period of seventy sabbaticals or periods of seven years required to bring in the ultimate jubilee: release from sin, the establishment of everlasting righteousness and consecration of the temple. During the first seven sabbaticals the city of Jerusalem is restored. Then for sixty-two sabbaticals there is nothing to report. In the climactic seventieth week, Israel’s King arrives and dies vicariously for his people. Strangely, desecration of the temple similar to that by Antiochus Epiphanes in the Greek Empire is perpetrated by the Jewish people themselves, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem. These events are fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the coming king. His crucifixion is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices and the basis of the New Covenant with the many.”
Again, the Lord God has a plan for the nations and to make known the glory of his name. His purposes will be accomplished and his rule will be established over all creation.
These final chapters of Daniel seem to reveal two things. First, in immediate context it shows what will happen to the people of Israel at the end of exile. The kings of the Medes and Persians will war against the Greeks. Chapter 11 in particular speaks of the three Persian kings after Cyrus, followed by Xerxes who would invade Greece and be defeated. Then, the chapter moves onto to speak of Alexander the Great, who ruled a vast empire which was divided across four generals – none of whom was his posterity (11:4). The “kings of the north and south” are two of those kingdoms split from Alexander the Great’s empire. The visions and prophecies of Chapter 11 were fulfilled with remarkable precision except for 11:44-45, which might be looking toward a greater fulfillment at the end of time. This is a great seque into the second, in more distant context, which shows what will happen at the final resurrection and end of “exile” for all people. There is an appointed end of all things when there is a final resurrection. In the meantime, the people of God will not be left alone and will persevere through suffering to glory.