We are finished reading the major prophets and as you have seen, much of what we are reading we have heard before in the books of Kings and Chronicles. Now we are looking from a different vantage point. Apocalyptic literature is challenging on a good day and downright crazy on others. Today is a free day so let’s take a look at some random things.
Ezekiel could be called one of the most visionary prophets. God showed him spiritual insights that still stir imaginations some 25 centuries later. Like other prophets, Ezekiel’s ministry among his people had two distinct phases: condemnation and consolation. The first 32 chapters of the book speak of the sure and certain judgement of God on His own people and seven other nations. It is amazing to think that although Jerusalem had been defeated, and many of the people deported, the people still hung onto the vain hope that God would never let His city or temple be destroyed. But they missed the point that God was committed to people and not buildings. The destruction and exile served to purify God’s people. Ezekiel focused early on the coming of God’s judgement and the immediate need for repentance. When Jerusalem fell God’s terrible judgement had finally come. The exiles were weary and hopeless but God eventually invited the people to return to Him and put their confidence in Him. After all, God was still in control. His plans were specific, so much so that they could be measured. The dimensions of the temple vision showed that. This plan has not been used in rebuilding the temple but it was a reminder that God would create beauty out of ashes. That is true for us today as well.
Another thing we have seen is a peek at the doctrine of the Trinity. We saw the Trinity at creation when God the Father created through Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters. This doctrine is not fully revealed until Jesus’ time but we see clues that God was preparing humanity for this truth. When King Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed that the fourth man walking about in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was like the Son of God, it might be an overstatement to say he recognized Jesus. But even though Nebuchadnezzar worshiped other gods he somehow knew that this mysterious fourth figure was divine. In the Old Testament, such foreshadowing of God or the Pre- incarnate Christ in a visible form, are called theophanies, meaning appearances of God. Some we have seen include the Angel who comforted Hagar, the visitor who revealed to Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son, the Lord’s appearance to Moses in a burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire that led the Israelites from Egypt, and Moses’ glimpse of God on Mount Sinai. Others would also include as a theophany the appearance of Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, who gave bread and wine to Abram. The Old Testament contains nearly 80 references to the Spirit of God and anticipates the arrival of God’s Son, the Messiah, who would deliver His people. These theophanies were temporary though. They were hints of the incarnation of Christ, fully human and fully divine, who would live among and redeem His people.
Daniel was a trusted advisor of the king. He is a strong example of faith, wisdom, and endurance under difficulty, oppression, and challenge. His life and prophecies affirm that God is in control…always. And, He will have the final victory despite apparently dominant forces. Daniel was a young man of Judah’s royal family when the Babylonian army first attacked Jerusalem in 605 B.C. He was deported to Babylon with his three friends. King Nebuchadnezzar trained these young men to serve his growing empire. Daniel and his friends were the brightest and healthiest of the students, so they assumed important positions in the kings court. Daniel’s court career lasted almost 70 years. It didn’t take long for him to establish his reputation for intelligence and absolute faithfulness to God. When Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream, God revealed its meaning to Daniel, who explained it to the king. Later Daniel interpreted a second dream about the king’s pride. Daniel urged the king to repent but he chose not to. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar became temporarily deranged. Daniel always treated Nebuchadnezzar respectfully and he had high regard for Daniel. Later in Daniel’s career, Belshazzar, the vice regent profaned the sacred vessels from the Jerusalem temple at a banquet. A lone hand wrote words on the wall of the palace. Daniel interpreted this vision too, telling the Babylonians their end as a kingdom was imminent . The same night, Belshazzar was killed by the Persians who captured the capital. Under Darius the Mede, Daniel became an administrator of the realm. This angered his enemies who persuaded Darius to sign an edict they knew would bring harm to Daniel. They proposed a 30 day period where everyone had to worship the king and he alone, knowing full well Daniel would never do that. The penalty…being tossed into a lions den. Daniel did exactly as his enemies expected and, though it pained Darius to punish Daniel, he had no choice. Daniel remained unscathed by the lions but his enemies did not fare nearly as well. They and their families were eaten by the lions, and Daniel was restored to his position. Daniel’s prophecies are difficult to understand in detail but their message is clear. Evil forces are now in power but God is in control and He will save His people. Daniel head no doubts that God Most High would be victorious.
And one final thing today. I wrote yesterday of the Maccabees but felt I should provide a bit more information. These folks were a group of rebel Jewish warriors who took control of Judea during the Seleucid empire of which Antiochus IV was a ruler. He severely persecuted the Jews, executing those who kept the sabbath or copies of the Torah, or would not worship at the altar of Zeus that he placed in the temple in Jerusalem. This act provoked the revolt of Matthias Maccabaeus and his sons. They managed to gain semi autonomy for the Jewish state for nearly 100 years under the leadership of their descendants who were called the Hasmoneans. This independent kingdom ruled from 167-37 B.C. They managed to reassert the Jewish religion, expanded the boundaries of Judaea by conquest, and reduced the influence of the Hellenistic Jews who were promoting greek gods and religious culture. Some of what occurred between Antiochus and the priesthood in Jerusalem amounted to palace intrigue. Antiochus saw the high priest as merely a local governor within his realm, a man he could appoint or dismiss at his will. But the Orthodox Jews saw the high priesthood as divinely appointed and a position passed down from Aaron, the first high priest. Eventually Antiochus turned the position into one that went to the highest bidder and he replaced the high priests at whim, filling his coffers in the process. One priest killed another, and another priest stole holy vessels from the temple. The resulting riots from that killed the man who stole them. Antiochus pillaged the temple, attacked Jerusalem and began Hellenizing Judea. Eventually Antiochus issued decrees forbidding Jewish religious practice. This led to a revolt after a Hellenistic Jew stepped forward to offer a sacrifice to an idol…a Greek god. The revolt resulted in many battles and the Maccabees became known for their guerrilla tactics. After their victory over the Hellenists, the Maccabees entered Jerusalem in triumph and ritually cleansed the temple, reestablished traditional Jewish worship there and installed Jonathan Maccabaeus as high priest. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple following Judah Maccabee’s victory.
Whew! That’s a lot. But through it all, God is still in control. And even when we look at the events going on today, God is still in control. And that is great news!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W