A Sermon No One Should Preach

David and GoliathI know it’s often easier to critique than to offer positive contributions, but I was just meditating again on the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. And I was remembering poor sermons I have heard over the years on this favorite Sunday School story (you know it’s fun when talking veggies have their own rendition). At the time, they seemed like poignant Biblically-based messages that spoke to my life, but as a pastor now (and wanting to be faithful to the intent of Scripture) they were simply atrocious (even when offering valuable points that have little if anything to do with the text’s intent itself).
So here’s one: “You need to slay the giants in your life!” The preacher begins to name those giants: pride, lust, fear, smoking-drinking-and-chew, and going-with-girls-who-do (or something like that). It’s animated. You bring to mind all the sins you have committed and all the potential challenges you may face in life. You swing your air sling, followed by a chopping motion…and now the head of victory is in hand. It’s powerful. You are ready for any altar call given. The problem is…it just isn’t the point of this story.
Another day, another preacher: “God has given you five stones to defeat your enemies!” The stones are rattled off with exaggerated booming-voiced, staccato-like gunfire. The giants from the last message won’t stand a chance. Your stones of faith, forgiveness, prayer, reading your Bible, and going to Sunday School (or something like that) are powerful weapons in the arsenal of any David looking to be victorious over the enemies of their soul. The problem is…this also is not the point of the story.
Yet another day and another preacher (indicating the rejection by David of Saul’s armaments): “Use what has been tested and proven!”- followed by six more points every David-like leader needs to know in order to succeed (you have to have at least seven to be a truly spiritual leader after all). The litany of kingdom-wise business bullet points is overwhelming. You know you will actually need to have a couple of pens just to take all of the notes, because this message is LOADED with truthiness. Again, not the point of the story.
Is there no end to the directions this favorite tale has been taken? What is the point anyways? Put simply, the LORD (the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…the God of Israel) is lord of all. The LORD will not be mocked. The LORD is truly God. The LORD is the champion of His people. The LORD will act to deliver through those whom the LORD chooses to anoint.* This is ultimately a story about the LORD.
So the next time you preach 1 Samuel 17…make sure you know the point of the story…and don’t just start loading your slingshot with whatever you find along the way, try using what is already there. You may be surprised what the LORD will do with His own word.
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* I just realized I gave five points…now that should go in my pouch for future slinging. 🙂
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Adapted from my post authored at bluechippastor.org on July 1, 2013.

Worship, the Arts, and the Spirit

David Plays the Harp for Saul by RembrandtI just submitted my proposal for the Society for Pentecostal Studies 2016 meeting in San Dimas, California (most excellent, dudes!) which is broadly themed “Worship, the Arts, and the Spirit”.
I am hoping my proposal gets accepted as in most previous years. I’ve titled my paper (which will end up as a part of my PhD thesis) “When Prophets Play the Lyre: Saul and the Strings of the Spirit”.
Here is my summary that I submitted (which is always fun to write when NONE of the paper has been written yet 🙂 ):

A recurring notion in 1 Samuel (chapters 10, 16, 18-19) appears to highlight the relation of King Saul to the Spirit, prophesying and the playing of the lyre. Saul initially receives the Spirit of the LORD and begins to prophesy as predicted by Samuel once Saul hears the music of the prophets at Gibeah. Later, the Spirit of the LORD departs from Saul and comes upon David. With the departure of the Spirit of the LORD a “troubling spirit of God” comes upon Saul causing sudden violent outbreaks. The only relief from the troubling spirit is the music of Spirit-endowed David on the lyre. Further, the “prophets prophesying” appears to function musically throughout this literary unit including with the overcoming of Saul twice to “prophesy” when encountering a group of prophets prophesying (in the first instance explicitly with music and suggestive in the second). A literary and theological interpretation of the relevant texts is offered for discerning the role of the Spirit in the instrumentation of the prophets in 1 Samuel with several proposed implications for Pentecostal practice.

Esther 9-10 – The Day of Reckoning and Rejoicing

9:1-4 – The day arrives.  After all that had been done and the joy of chapter eight, the actual day for the struggle of the Jews had yet to be decided though things were increasingly in the favor of the Jews.  The Jews had been authorized to defend themselves against anyone taking aggression against them on the thirteenth of the twelfth month.  Not only could they take action against such persons, but they also had the support of the government officials and so “the tables were turned” (cf. Jer.30:16).  The rise of Mordecai lent tremendous support to the upsurge of Jewish support by the various government personnel including those who were earlier mentioned as caring for the monies that Haman would have contributed to the coffers of Persia (9:3-4; cf. 3:9). 

9:5-17 – The defeat of the Jewish enemies and the end of Haman.  Rather than this being a Jewish killing spree, it was an organized and authorized response to aggression against the Jews.  In fact, the author of Esther repeats three times that the Jews did not take any plunder as they had been authorized to do by the edict from Mordecai (9:10, 15, 16; cf. 8:11).  It is stated that the Jews “did what they pleased” which would be a reversal of what Xerxes had told Haman he could do to the people he plotted against (cf. 3:11).  What they “pleased” was not the same level of destruction that had been plotted against them though.  However, the sons of Haman were all put to death and thus their names were listed in order to signify the complete destruction of Haman’s family line.  As an aside, the names of his ten sons are listed in the Hebrew text with the name to one side and the definite direct object marker to the other creating a clearly distinct list-type following the pattern of the list of defeated kings in Joshua 12:9-24 and cities gifted by David after defeating his enemies at Ziklag in 1 Samuel 20:27-31.  There was a clear accounting to the king of all those killed in the citadel of Susa (9:11-12), Susa proper (9:15) and throughout the empire (9:16).  After reporting to the king the initial slaughter of the Jewish enemies in the citadel of Susa he asked what more could be done for Esther giving her a sort of carte blanche to do as she desired.  So Esther requested that the enemies in Susa proper be dealt with the next day.  Were they expected to try to continue to attack the Jews?  Why should she ask for another day of killing?  The text does not answer this.  The killing that lasted an extra day in the city of Susa became the reason that the celebration of Purim was observed on two different dates by Jews in the cities and those in the country (9:18-19).  Esther also asked that Haman’s ten sons that were killed be hung on gallows for a public display of their shame (cf. 1 Sam.31:1-13 – the public display of the bodies of King Saul and his sons by hanging).  The numbers reported killed (500; 300; 75,000) have been considered nothing more than items of farcical comedy by some (Berlin 81-82), but records of factual history by others (Jobes 199) despite the excessive numbers. 
9:18-32 – The institution of Purim.  The “day of feasting and joy” was not observed on the days of killing and battle, but on the day after when things were peaceful finally.  Also, the “celebration is…different from the feasts prescribed by the Torah.  Rather than being imposed on the people from above as God’s command met, Purim began as the spontaneous response of God’s people to his omnipotent faithfulness to the promises of the covenant” (Jobes 214).  The institution of this day (though celebrated on different days in different locations) became one of celebration for having gained “rest” from enemies (contrast how Haman plotted to take “rest” from Jews by their enemies – 3:8).  It was not a celebration of battle or destruction.  It was a celebration of joy having come from sorrow and rest from enemies and thus a day for blessing others including particularly the poor (9:19, 22).  Thus, Mordecai wrote and sent letters about these events to all of the Jews throughout the empire and described what should be done concerning this celebration that it should be carried out in perpetuity (9:27-28; cf. Exo.17:14).  The Jews received this gladly (9:23, 27).  As part of the closing remarks the story was written in summary fashion (9:24-25) as an “‘official version’ of the story…simplified and sanitized” to make the king seem to be the one responsible for saving the Jews from wicked Haman and thus leading to the reversal of events (Berlin 90).  This all was used for an etiological explanation for the name “Purim” as the casting of the pur (an Akkadian term that had the Hebrew plural affixed to it for unknown reasons in naming the festival) or lot which would otherwise apparently be lost to the readers of the book since it was some time after the initial events.  Esther also wrote a letter of commendation for this celebration.  Both of their letters were sent to all of the provinces of the empire as a message of “goodwill and assurance” (Heb. shālôm wə’ĕmet “peace and truth”; cf. Isa.39:8; Jer.33:6; and the reverse order in Zech.8:19).  Not only was there to be feasting, but this appears to have been preceded by a time of fasting (likely over the days of conflict leading to the celebration with rest and feasting).  Why should Esther have written something more than what Mordecai had written and what might this have added to the credibility of that writing?  Perhaps this adds to the established authority of Esther who earliest in the story was submissive and now was one who acted the part of the queen as one with authority.
10:1-3 – The continued rise of Mordecai.  The conclusion of the book (technically 9:18-10:3) acts as a sort of appendix to summarize what happened after the events of the victory of the Jews against their enemies where the Lord had turned their “lot” from sorrow and destruction into one of joy and blessing.  The final few verses enumerate how Mordecai continued to exercise authority throughout the empire as well as to be recorded in the annals of Persia for all he did (following the identical pattern for recordings of the kings of Israel and Judah, for example: 1 Kings 14:29; 15:7, 23, 31; 16:14; 1 Chron. 27:24; 2 Chron.25:26).  Mordecai was exalted among the Jews because of all he did on their behalf (cf. the celebration of “Mordecai’s Day” in 2 Macc.15:36).  Why should Mordecai be so exalted in the conclusion of a book named after Esther?

Esther 3-4 – A Time for Action

3:1-6 – Haman…the Agagite.  Whereas the last we read would have suggested that Mordecai should have been rewarded by the king, we find only the mention of another man who instead receives honors and acclaim from the king…and this man will seek for the destruction not only of Mordecai, but of all the Jews.  Haman is introduced by stating that he was an “Agagite” which would suggest an immediate tension for the reader who has just recently discovered that Mordecai is not only a Jew, but even a descendant of Kish the father of King Saul.  This seems intended to bring to mind the age-old conflict between the Amalekites (which used “Agag” for their royal family name) and Israel (Exo.17:8-16; Num.24:7; Deut.25:17-19) and was exemplified in Saul’s nearly destroying all of the Amalekites with the exception of king Agag in 1 Sam.15.  According to Josephus and several of the targums “Amalek” is actually given in place of “Agagite” here (though the Greek versions completely alter the name destroying any connection to this historical conflict).  The term “Agagite” in Esther functions in a nearly synonymous way with “enemy of the Jews” (Esther 3:10; 8:1, 3, 5, 10, 24; Bush 384).  This may, in fact, answer why Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman despite the command of the king.  The text does not explain a reason and there was sufficient precedence for bowing to kings, rulers and others (Gen.27:29; 1 Sam.24:8; 1 Kings 1:16).  Certainly Mordecai had bowed to the king, so why not to Haman?  The only reason suggested by the text is that Mordecai was “a Jew” and this must be read then in light of Haman being “Agagite”.  The targums and the LXX versions add several different explanations about the worship of God alone for the reason that Mordecai would not bow down, but this goes well beyond what the text actually says and tries to spiritualize his reasoning.  It seems more likely it was the ethnic identity that was the factor involved.  The questioning of Mordecai about why he would not bow and pay homage may be more to force him to do this rather than to actually discover why.  Mordecai’s actions so enraged Haman that he actually determined to destroy not only Mordecai, but all of Mordecai’s people—the Jews.  “There is a parallel between the decree against all women because of the disrespect shown by one (Vashti) and the decree against all Jews because of the disrespect shown by Mordecai” (Berlin 37-38).

3:7-15 – The Lot Cast.  The time indicated in 3:7 places these events five years after Esther’s choice as queen, sixteen years after the return to Jerusalem of Ezra and the rebuilding of the Temple, and sixty-four years after Zerubbabel and the first return from exile (Breneman 328).  In the first month of that year Haman cast the pur (an Akkadian loanword from which the celebration takes the plural form for its name – Purim) that was explained as the “lot” (Heb. goral).  He did this to determine the best time to destroy the Jews.  This was a normal manner for determining certain matters of great importance and allowing for either the fates or divine direction to lead one (cf. Josh.18:6; Ps.16:5-6; Prov.16:33).  The date selected by the lot was to be exactly eleven months later.  So Haman then went to Xerxes to convince him to make the edict and used truth (“scattered”), half-truth (“different than all others”) and outright lies (“do not obey”) to convince the king to give his approval.  He never once mentioned the people he was referring to, but only referred to them obliquely as “a certain people”.  His appeal was made primarily to the empires and king’s self-interest and greed.  The amount offered of 10000 talents of silver (or about 333-375 tons) equaled nearly the entirety of tribute collected by the Persians in a single year (Herodotus 3.89)!  Perhaps Haman thought to collect this by pillaging the Jews, but the king seems not even to care about such matters.  He simply issues the decree.  “Haman is unmitigated evil, but the king is dangerous indifference personified” (Bush 387).
The exact date that Haman of the edict being issued was the thirteenth of Nissan which was the eve of Passover when the Jews would be celebrating Israel’s deliverance by the hand of God (Exo.12:18; Lev.23:5; Num.28:16).  Would God again deliver His people?  Would the LORD be faithful to His covenant?  None of this is appealed to, but all of it remains implicit.  The edict was made available in every language throughout the empire in order to encourage people everywhere to prepare to take action against the Jews on the 13th of the twelfth month.  According to Herodotus it took approximately three months for a message to be carried across the entire empire (5.52-53).  The chapter closes with the king and Haman drinking together while the rest of the city of Susa was “bewildered” as the edict went out.
4:1-5 – Sackcloth and Ashes.  Mordecai immediately tore his clothes in mourning and put on sackcloth and ashes, publicly wailing (cf. Num.14:6; 2 Sam.1:11; 3:31; 13:31; Ezra 9:3; Isa.36:22).  These were the normal ancient cultural ways of demonstrating ones sorrow.  He would not even change his clothes to approach Esther with the news, but instead stayed outside the city gate wailing.  The effect upon the Jews everywhere else was similar as they heard the news of their impending destruction.  When Esther heard the news she tried to get Mordecai to put on fresh clothes so she could speak to him, but was forced to speak to Mordecai through her eunuch-servant Hathach.
4:6-17 – A Call for Action.  Mordecai relayed everything to Hathach who in turn relayed it all to Esther including bringing a copy of the royal edict concerning the destruction of the Jews.  Further, Mordecai pleaded with Esther to go to the king on behalf of her people.  Esther relayed that she, though the queen, could not simply go to the king for fear of losing her life unless he should choose to receive her or call for her.  She had not, for whatever reason, been invited to the king’s presence for a month and did not know when this would next happen.  Herodotus records that a message could be sent to the king requesting an audience (3.118, 140), but apparently Esther must have had her reasons for not wishing to send a message to request an audience.
Mordecai’s reply to Esther suggests that she will die if she does nothing.  She must take action if there is to be hope for her and her family (which presumably would include Mordecai).  Bush reads the first part of 4:14 as a rhetorical question with an emphatic “No!” as the answer.  This reading would then suggest that there would be no deliverance for the Jews if Esther did not do something now (395-7; but see the contrary in Breneman 336fn4).  Mordecai also questions Esther that she may have come to her position for such an opportune moment despite whatever the previous circumstances may have suggested.  These are the usual verses that are used to point to God’s providential care, but why at this moment (above all others) didn’t the author of Esther choose to refer to God explicitly in any way whatsoever?  The LXX makes God’s action very explicit both here and at other specific points, but
the Hebrew text used in our canon does not.  How should we understand this?  “One logical conclusion from God’s absence is that human action is important.  Time and again, Esther and Mordecai’s initiatives are what make the difference for the Jews; we do not see them passively waiting for signs from God or for God to perform a dramatic miracle of some type….[T]he author is intentionally vague about God’s presence in events.  He affirms on the one hand, that God is indeed involved with his people, but, on the other hand, he admits that it is sometimes difficult to perceive God’s involvement” (NIDOTTE 4:583-4).  “These unfolding events begin to show the inscrutable interplay between circumstances thrust upon us, sometimes unjustly, and those the result of our own behavior, often flawed.  God’s providence marvelously moves through both in his own good time” (Jobes 124).
Esther called for a severe fast of three days whereas normally fasting seems to have only gone from sunrise to sunset (NIDOTTE 3:781; cf. Judges 20:26; 1 Sam.14:24) and that there would be nothing to drink for the time Esther spoke of.  Esther and her maids would also do this and then she would go to the king whatever the consequences to herself.  Here we note that Mordecai does as Esther has commanded.  Why is there no object for their fasting and no spiritual explanation?  Again, this is implied in the text, but is not in any way stated.  Fasting could be carried out for very secular reasons (as it is in our own day), but this would seem to be for an entreaty to the LORD despite His not being named.  The time for action would be prepared for by a call for solemnity and fasting.  When one realizes that the Jews only had one day a year for mandatory fasting (i.e., the Day of Atonement, though there were numerous other days later added – cf. Zech.7:5) this adds to the solemnity of the occasion.  Further, when one realizes that this fasting would be occurring during the Feast of Passover (much as Daniel’s did in Daniel 10:2-4) which was a commanded feast (Num.9:13).
There are often propitious moments where we must take action despite what may appear to be the consequences to ourselves.  The following is a relevant poem by Martin Niemöller who was a leading German pastor that realized all too late that action should have been taken by the true Church of Germany to oppose Nazism and its desire to exterminate certain people including particularly the Jews:
“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Esther 1-2 – Parties That Bring Change

1:1-3 – The stage is set.  According to Adele Berlin, chapter one “portrays the Persian court in all its decadent lavishness” and “sets the tone of the book” which is a “tone of excess, buffoonery, and bawdiness” (3).  This would characterize Xerxes and Haman, but does not seem to accurately describe either Mordecai or Esther.  The author of Esther lays out the pomp and “glory” of Xerxes (derived from the Persian khsyay’rsha) in all of his supposed power by establishing the extent of his domain.  He apparently reigned in Susa (cf. Dan.8:2; Neh.1:1) during this account which normally served as a winter palace among the four capitals of the Persian rulers (Susa, Ecbatana, Babylon and Persepolis).  The 127 “provinces” (compare the 120 “satrapies” of Dan.6:1; cf. Ezra 2:1) give particular emphasis to the supposed greatness of the king who threw a banquet in his third year (483BC) for all his officials.  This may have been to determine the best course of action against the Greeks that Xerxes would carry out in the upcoming years before returning in defeat in approximately 480-479BC.

1:4-9 – A Party in Persia.  Perhaps the 180 days mentioned in verse 4 refers only to these meetings with the officials as well as the demonstration of Xerxes opulence.  At the end of that time, he threw a party for seven days by inviting everyone.  The descriptions of the location for the feast are unparalleled in Scripture except by the descriptions of the construction of both the Temple (1 Kings 6-7) and the Tabernacle (Exo.26, 36).  This creates an aura of greatness concerning the scene and also suggests that at the time of the writing of Esther the glory of that scene had passed, but the Temple had been rebuilt (though all of this remains completely unspoken).  The wine flowed freely (or “as befits a king” – Bush 348) at this party and it was, according to Herodotus, customary for the Persians preferred to make important decisions when drunk (1.133).  It is important to the narrative that Queen Vashti gave her own banquet as a separate affair from King Xerxes.
1:10-22 – The King and Queen at Play.  On the final day of the party, King Xerxes  called for his Queen to be brought before him and his whole party to show her off, but Vashti refused and so Xerxes was furious.  So Xerxes sought the advice of his counselors who proposed that in order to save face Xerxes should send out an unrepealable decree (cf. Dan.6:9,13, 16) against Vashti appearing ever again before the king, so that other women will not treat their husbands like Vashti has treated Xerxes.  This is exactly what Xerxes does, but instead of this saving face it ironically reveals the very thing he wished to hide…that Vashti had scorned him.  This is part of the satirical nature of this account (Bush 355).  Further, the lists of the Persian names of the seven eunuchs sent to fetch Vashti (1:10) and the seven nobles asked for advice (1:14) all may be intended to sound “ludicrous to Hebrew ears” (Bush 350).  Whether this edict was ever even enforceable does not even seem to enter into the equation for the advisors and Xerxes, however the Hebrew may suggest that the goal of the edict was assure of husbands of their wives’ respect (1:20) and of ruling their houses (1:22) than that this should be the actual edict (Berlin 20).  Why might Vashti (who after verse 19 is never again referred to with the title “Queen”) have not appeared before Xerxes?  Should we moralize this account to either vilify her for not honoring her husband or should we honor her for not appearing?  Or should we simply recognize that whatever her reason it ultimately did not matter to the author other than to set the stage for someone else to become Queen in her place without any comment as to the wrongness or rightness of any of these actions?
2:1-14 – The Search for a Queen.  Xerxes later seemed to wish he still had his Queen, but since he had decreed that she could never return to him, he sought the advice of his counselors again.  And they advised that he should issue a decree to find among the most beautiful young women of the empire one who “pleases” him to be made queen in place of Vashti.  These women would be put into the harem of the king and would have one night to impress the king after undergoing extensive (one year according to the text of which six months were aromatic in nature) “beauty treatments.”  Suddenly a man by the name of Mordecai is introduced and his lineage is signified as being from the tribe of Benjamin with Kish (the father of Saul[?] in his family tree; cf. 1 Sam.1:9).  He is further connected as either one of the exiles from the time of Jehoiachin (cf. 2 Kings 24:6-17) in 597BC (but this would make him about 120 years old) or as a descendant of one of the exiles.  It is very significant that Mordecai is called “a Jew” (Heb. yehudi) which refers to the ethno-religious origin rather than to the tribal origin (Judah) since he was from Benjamin.  “Mordecai’s most outstanding characteristic” is not his morality, but “his Jewishness” (Berlin 24).  He had adopted his orphaned cousin Hadassah (meaning “myrtle”), daughter of Abihail (2:15; 9:29), whose notable characteristics here are her beauty and body (2:7) and whose name is everywhere else called Esther (from either Babylonian “Ishtar” the goddess of love and war or from Persian stâra for “star”).  The women chosen for the harem were all appointed to Hegai the King’s eunuch who provided for their preparations and who favored Esther.  Mordecai would regularly check on her during all of this time and in the days to come as he had also tried to protect her (knowing what might lay ahead for them?) by telling her to keep her ethnicity a secret.  Can we appropriately accept the actions of either Mordecai or Esther in her allowing herself what will become of her in the life with a gentile King? (cf. Deut.7:3; Ezra 9:12; 10)  In what sense must each of us seek to obey the Lord in a world where it is not always easy to do so?   “Regardless of their character, their motives, or their fidelity to God’s law, the decisions Esther and Mordecai make move events in some inscrutable way to fulfill the covenant promises God made to his people long ago” (Jobes 103).
2:15-18 – A Queen is Found.  Esther chose to make herself appealing by doing what she was told.  This brought favor from those she was surrounded by (cf. Gen.39:4; Dan.1:9).  She was taken to Xerxes after three more years some time in either December of 479BC or January of 478BC.   The king was particularly please with Esther though we are not told exactly why.  Certainly something about her pleased him more than all the other women he had taken to “try out” as a potential queen.  So another banquet was held and this one was in honor of Esther as the new queen.
2:19-23 – A Plot is Foiled.  Mordecai served somehow in the administration (which is what it means to sit at “the king’s gate”) and overheard an assassination attempt was going to be made on Xerxes life.  Rather than use this as an opportunity for a new king he told Esther who told the king and this will prepare for the events in chapter 6 when Mordecai will ev
entually be rewarded for this deed according to the reading of the annals of that day.  The two potential assassins were “hanged” but this more than likely does not refer to either impalement or to crucifixion, but to exposure of their bodies post-mortem (Berlin 32; Bush 373; cf. Gen.40:19; Deut.21:22; Josh.8:29; 10:26).

Daniel 1 – When In Exile….

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Brief Introduction to the Book – Daniel was taken into captivity in the summer of 605BC while Jehoiachim son of Josiah was king of Judah some time after the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish.  Jehoiachim had actually been placed upon the throne by Egypt and thus it seemed only fitting that the defeat of the Egyptians spelled the defeat of Judah.  Nebuchadnezzar, son of Nabopolassar, was officially made king of Babylon later that summer upon the death of his father (Miller 56).  Daniel and his friends were among those initially taken and he survived until some time after the Babylonian captivity ended with the defeat of the Babylonians by the Perians in 539BC.  The book of Daniel was included in the Hebrew canon among the writings because he does not belong particularly to the prophets (as in the LXX canon and our own), but this does not mean the book was regarded as non-prophetic.  Daniel contains several additions in the Catholic canon (Song of the Three, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon; and in the original KJV[!]), but this was not received into the Protestant canon of Scripture (these will be briefly discussed at the conclusion of this series).  Many reject Daniel as being written in the 6th century and instead date it to the Maccabean period (250-167BC), but Archer (421-448) Baldwin (14-80), Walvoord (11-25), and Miller (22-41) have argued rather persuasively for a 6th century date of authorship perhaps shortly after the date of the Babylonian exile in 539BC.  The book has been variously divided between the Hebrew sections (Dan.1:1-2:4a; 8:1-12:13) and Aramaic section (Dan.2:4b-7:28), but the most helpful distinction is between the stories (Dan.1-6) and the visions (Dan.7-12).  “This biblical witness challenges the faithful to be awake for the unexpected intervention of God in wrapping up all of human history.  The stories of Daniel and his friends picture men who bear eloquent testimony is both word and deed to an unswerving hope in God’s rule.  As a consequence, they were made free to hang loosely on the world because they knew their hope rested elsewhere” (Childs 622).
1:1-2 – The beginning of captivity.  The time note that Daniel provides refers to the year 605BC and though there are no records of any actual siege of Jerusalem, it is not necessary that Jerusalem was laid siege so much as taken captive in that year.  Nebuchadnezzar is called “king” because either it refers to his functioning role in the very end of his father’s reign or because it refers to him this way as one who later was king of Babylon.  Who is emphasized as responsible for the victory of Nebuchadnezzar over Jerusalem and what is the significance in relation to the book of Daniel?  The Lord rules all the nations…great and small.  The “temple articles” were promised to be taken to Babylon because of the sin of Hezekiah in showing the Babylonians his treasures (cf. 2 Chron.36:7, 10, 18, 20-23; Isa.39:2, 4, 6; Ezra 1:7-11 and comes into play later in Daniel 5:2-4).  Literally, the articles were carried off to “Shinar” (cf. Gen.10:10) which was an ancient name of a city recognized to be a place of opposition to God (Gen.11:1-9; Zech.5:11).  What is the significance of putting the articles of the temple of God into the temple of Nebuchadnezzar’s gods? (cf. 1 Sam.4-5)  “To all appearances, the God of Jerusalem has been defeated by the gods of Babylon” (Goldingay 21), but Daniel will point in a radically different direction.
1:3-7 – The training of the best of the young exiles.  The descriptions of those who were to be trained were that they were taken from the best families (royal and/or nobility; cf. Isa.39:7) and of fine appearance and high aptitude.  The terms used are those of the wisdom literature (cf. Prov.1:1-6) with regard to the acumen of these young men (Heb. yělādîm which “covers men from birth to marriage” – Goldingay 5).  The literature and language of the “Babylonians” (lit. “Chaldeans” Heb. kaśdîm, Aram. kaśdāy) included magical, astrological, medicinal, temple, wisdom, and legal texts among others.  How could Daniel and his friends spend three years of intensive training in such things and yet remain true to the LORD?  John Goldingay astutely notes that the “wise person knows how to learn from the wisdom of other peoples without being overcome by it” (24).  The food and wine they were assigned came directly from the king’s table and thus was luxurious but would also have been offered to the god/s of the king (cf. Oppenheim 188-92) before they received it.  Four of the chosen young men are named as particularly faithful and deserving of mention: Daniel (“God is my judge”; became Belteshazzar “Bel, protect his life!”), Hananiah (“The LORD has been gracious”; became Shadrach “Command of Aku” the moon god), Mishael (“Who is what God is?”; became Meshach “Who is what Aku is?”), and Azariah (“The LORD has helped”; became Abednego “Servant of Nebo” the god of Nebuchadnezzar’s namesake) – on name changes see Gen. 41:45; Esther 2:7.  Why were their names changed and why did they not protest this and the learning of the Chaldeans, but did protest the diet that follows?
1:8-16 – The ten day test of food and faith.  What might have been Daniel and his friend’s motivation for refusing the food and wine of Nebuchadnezzar and choosing to have “vegetables” (technically refers to “vegetables, grain, and non-mean products generally” Goldingay 6) and water instead?  One suggestion has been that they were not “kosher” (cf. Lev.11, 17) and thus would “defile” them, but this would only pertain to meats and not to wine. As was previously mentioned it had been offered to the god/s (cf. 1 Cor.8-10; Rom.14), but so would the “vegetables” have been (cf. Bel and the Dragon 3; Oppenheim 192; those who denied consuming e
ven the “vegetables” for this reason: cf. Judith 10:5; 12:2; Add. Esther 14:17; Tobit 1:10-11).  It is also notable that Jehoiachin was recorded to have eaten daily at the kings table according to 2 Kings 25:29.  Goldingay proposes that they refused as symbols of “avoiding assimilation” (19).  They had taken the names, learned the wisdom, worn the clothes and by outward appearances become “Babylonians”, but they would hold this one thing as to the LORD.  Though Daniel’s request found favor with the chief official, the official was too afraid to grant it directly so the “guard” (or more properly the one given direct responsibility over them) exchanged portions with them thus relieving the chief official of responsibility.  This act of Daniel and his friends was an outright act of faith on their part.  At the end of the ten days they were found to be in much better appearance than the rest of those who ate the royal food so they were permitted to continue with their diet of faith.  This is not in any way offered as a vegetarian command since the Law specifically commanded certain sacrifices of meat to be made and eaten every year (though the temple was destroyed at this time and thus the sacrifices could not be made then).  “Even a small act of self-discipline, taken out of loyalty to principle, sets God’s servants in the line of his approval and blessing.  In this way actions attest faith, and character is strengthened to face more difficult situations in the future” (Baldwin 92-3).
1:17-21 – An insight into the end before getting to the end.  It is stated the God Himself gave the four young men understanding of all the things they were studying during their three years of Babylonian tutelage.  How might this be understood in light of the contents of what they studied?  What relation does God’s wisdom and knowledge have to the world’s?  It is specifically noted that Daniel was blessed with being able to understand and interpret dreams (cf. Num.12:6) which comes into play later in the book (though it is not something inherent to him, but something he still prays and seeks).  When they finally made their appearance before the king it was noticeable that these four far surpassed all the others, but they would still have opportunities to demonstrate the superiority of their God.  The note in verse 21 concerning King Cyrus (see the prophecy in Isa.44:24-45:7) maintains that while Daniel when into captivity he lived to see the end of it under the Persians (cf. Deut.30:3-5; the “seventy years” of Jer.25:12).
Bibliography
Archer, Gleason.  “Daniel,” A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.  Chicago,
IL: Moody Press, 1994.  pp. 421-448.
Baldwin, Joyce G. Daniel. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries vol. 23,
Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1978.
Childs, Brevard S.  “Daniel,” An Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture.  
            Philadelphia, PA: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1979.  pp. 608-623.
Goldingay, John. Daniel. Word Biblical Commentary vol. 30, Nashville, TN:
            Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.
Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. The New American Commentary vol. 18, Nashville,
TN: B&H Publishing, 1994.
Oppenheim, A. Leo.  Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. 
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
Walvoord, John F.  Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation. Chicago, IL: Moody
Press, 1971.

Ezekiel 47-48 – The River And The Land

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47:1-6 – A trickle from the temple becomes a great river.  The location that Ezekiel is shown may indicate where the “sea” was once kept in Solomon’s temple, but there is no mention of such a thing in this temple (1 Kings 7:23-26).  While the directional descriptions are difficult it seems that the trickle flowed through the temple and out the eastern gate that was closed (Ezekiel even uses a Hebrew term that sounds like gurgling from a jug for it coming out the gate).  Again, the man has his measuring rods and begins taking notes.  At 1000 cubits (1500ft.) it was ankle deep, at 3000ft. it was knee-deep, 4500ft. it was waist-deep and at 6000ft from the temple it was already so deep that Ezekiel was forced to swim…and all of this without tributaries and from a trickle!
47:7-12 – The river from the temple brings miraculous life wherever it flows (cf. Gen.2:10-14; Ps.36:8-9; 46:4; Joel 3:17-18; Zech.14:5-11; John 7:38; Rev.22:1-2).  “The scene calls for a miraculous act, the converse of that experienced by the Israelites at the Red Sea.  Instead of creating a dry path through the sea, this holy stream produces a water course through the desert” (Block NICOT II:694).  On the banks are many trees whose leaves will not whither providing “healing” and whose seasons have become months because of the life they receive from the river (cf. Ps.1:1-3;  Rev.22:2).  The river will flow to the Arabah (or the Jordan valley) and into the Salt Sea (the aptly named “Dead” Sea because it sits at 1400 feet below sea level and cannot sustain life) where it will not only turn its waters to fresh water (cf. Exo.15:25; 2 Kings 2:19-22), but will cause its waters to have more life than even the Mediterranean (the Great) Sea.  In fact the whole (“from En Gedi to En Eglaim” refers to the western and eastern shores respectively) of the Sea will be changed to give life, with the exception that the low areas will still produce salt.  Why should they be left?  “It is necessary that salt should be available as an element of covenant consummation” (Duguid NIVAC 533).  It will also serve as a blessing to those who fish and those who harvest. 
47:13-23 – The boundaries of the land of Israel (cf. Num.34:1-15; Josh.15-21).  Why does Joseph get two portions?  Because there must still be twelve (this was also the counting of the tribes) and Levi receives his portion as a priestly portion and because Jacob blessed Ephraim and Manasseh as his own (Gen.48:8-20).  Of particular significance are four things: first that they receive their portions as “inheritance” in the form of gift from a sovereign and not by right, and second that they “are to divide it equally among them”.  This is significant, because this had never been done before.  There was a greater equilibrium to be accomplished in Israel by this act.  As part of this they each had a portion that ran from the Mediterranean inland and was exactly the same distance north-to-south.  Third, all twelve of the tribes were to be reunited into one land again which had not been possible for several hundred years.  Fourth, their boundaries were to exceed anything in their previous history.  It is also notable that Ezekiel mentions the “aliens” (Heb. gēr) as being permitted to receive an inheritance if they settle and have children (cf. Lev.19:33-34; or the “foreigner” in Isa.56:3-8).  In other words, this was not only a promised blessing for ethnic Israel, but for all who would identify themselves with the covenant community.
48:1-29 – The tribal, princely, sacred and city allotments.  The tribes are largely rearranged from their earlier portions and there is no longer any mention of the territories possessed in the Trans-Jordan.  Dan Block notes that in the allotment Bilhah and Ziphah’s sons are furthest out with Benjamin and Judah on both sides of the sacred precinct (cf. Josh.18:28; 1 Sam.9; 2 Sam.5:5-6)—though Judah is on the north and Benjamin the south—and Rachel and Leah’s sons are closest with Ephraim and Manasseh by each other (NICOT II:723-724; for the matronage see Gen.35:22-26).  In the midst of verses 1-8 and 22-29 describing the tribal allotments is the focus of the chapter—the special allotment that is for the prince, the city and the sacred precincts.  We have previously discussed this area in chapter 45 (for more detail see the notes there).  Some of the new things emphasized here pertain to the workers that would be necessary for maintaining the city and the supply of food for all of the tribes as they take their turns in coming to the temple and the city.
48:30-35 – The exits of the city.  There are twelve gates to this city which is considerably more than any normal city not to mention that it would be exceptional that any city should be square to begin with which has sacred connotations.  The city is approximately one mile by one mile (contrast this to the New Jerusalem that is described as a cube-like structure approximately 1400 miles by 1400 miles by 1400 miles! Rev.21:16).  Interestingly, Levi has a gate and so Joseph has a gate (which would be for both Ephraim and Manasseh). 

Ezekiel 43-44 – The Glory of the LORD and the Temple Torah

43:1-5 – The glory returns.  Why does the glory of the LORD approach from the east? (cf. Eze.11:23)  There is no ignoring the approaching glory which radiates the land and comes with a great tumult of sound.  This vision is likened to the appearing of the glory in chapters 8-11, but also to the appearing in the very beginning of the book.  Note that the reference is to the vision by the Kebar River when the glory had first come to destroy Jerusalem.  Ezekiel’s posture is as it was before when the glory appeared: prostrate.  And just as the Spirit had previously lifted Ezekiel up for action, here the same thing occurs.  Note what the glory of the LORD does. (cf. Isa.6:4)

43:6-12 – The temple torah is given.  Ezekiel hears an undisclosed person’s voice that gives him the temple instructions (torah).  Contrast the presence of the LORD in this temple to the one which Solomon built (1 Kings 8:48-49; Isa.66:1).  It was always the LORD’s design to live with His people Israel.  However, His continuing presence depends upon the holiness with which His people live.  The LORD promises that Israel and her kings will no longer do what they had done before in defiling the temple and rejecting Him.  In particular are the sins of the kings against the sanctity of the temple of the LORD when they set up idols for themselves (NIV’s “their high places” Heb. bāmôtām should likely read Heb. bemôtām “at their death”; see Duguid NIVAC 490fn5) and fornicated themselves.  It is notable that the glory of the God of Israel no longer is enthroned upon the ark of the covenant, but upon Jerusalem itself and His temple (Jer.3:16-17; Block NICOT II:581).  How might the plan of this temple cause Israel to feel shame for their sinfulness?  It would appear that the whole of this temple area is designed for guarding the holiness of the LORD.  The torah of Ezekiel and his function in the process of sanctifying the temple likens him to a second Moses (cf. Exo.29; Block NICOT II:606-7).
43:13-27 – The altars design and sanctifying.  Why might the dimensions of the altar be of significance to Ezekiel’s audience?  This altar area was approximately 1100 sq. ft. while the alter itself was nearly 600 sq. ft. and stood some 15 feet high.  The trench on the outside of the altar could handle nearly 3800 gallons! (see Block NICOT II:601).  This made it actually smaller than the one in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 1:50-53; 2:28-29; 8 ½H x 17W x 17L) and much smaller than the one in Herod’s temple (Josephus JW 5.5.6§§222-226; 15H x 50W x 50L).  The steps (against Mosaic instruction in Exo.20:26) to the altar notably face east when traditionally all of the altars had the officiating priest facing east.  The altar still needed dedication through purifying (Heb. hattā’t traditionally read as “sin offering”; see Duguid NIVAC 491fn10) sacrifices and burnt offerings that were supposed to last the course of a week for atonement and then on the eighth day the priests would begin making regular offerings upon it.  The animals were to be salted (cf. Lev.2:13; the “covenant of salt” in Num.18:19; 2 Chron.13:5; and see Mark 9:49-50) and their bodies disposed of outside the sanctity of the temple.  How will the LORD treat this sanctifying work and what will be His response?
44:1-4 – The eastern gate was shut permanently once the glory of the LORD had entered through it.  The prince (Heb. nāsî’) was the only one permitted into the gate to eat a fellowship offering before the LORD, but not through the gate.  While this would offer some special blessing to the prince, he was still excluded (as the rest of Israel) from entering the temple itself and could not enter through the gate which the LORD had entered.  Again, note Ezekiel’s response to seeing the glory of the LORD as the glory fills the temple.
44:5-9 – The entrances and exits of the temple.  It was not only the priests and the kings of Israel that were responsible for the defiling of the temple, but the whole of the house of Israel.  They were responsible for bringing foreigners into the temple (cf. 2 Kings 11:14-19) when the Levitical priests were supposed to have guarded the sanctity of it (Num.18:7, 21-23).  It was not that foreigners weren’t allowed, it was that these foreigners were not a part of the covenant people of God and had not purified themselves.
44:10-14 – The restoration of the Levites.  While the Levites had sinned they were promised to receive restoration as those responsible for the gates and certain of the sacrifices on behalf of the people of Israel.  However, their idolatry was not without repercussions.  They would not be given responsibility to actually approach the LORD, but instead would represent the people’s presence in the temple itself.
44:15-31 – The Zadokites priest’s blessings and responsibilities.  It was not because the Zadokites were sinless, but they were more faithful than the Levites in general (cf. 1 Sam.3:11-14; 1 Kings 1:5-8; 2:26-27, 35).  Therefore, they would be given the particular blessing and responsibility of serving directly before the LORD and making the necessary sacrifices.  Their clothing was regulated in order to avoid both contaminating it with sweat (i.e. body fluids; see Deut.23:11-13) and to not “consecrate” the people when they leave the inner court before the LORD.  On holiness as a dangerous contagion see Lev.10:1-3; Num.4:15; 1 Sam.6:19; 2 Sam.6:6-9.  Their hair was never to be either unkempt or shaved off (cf. Lev.21:5, 10; 19:27), they were never to have alcohol when ministering (Lev.10:9), nor were they to marry any woman that might allow for the common Israelites to share in their inheritance.  They were to teach the people, to serve as judges and to celebrate all that the LORD had commanded.  They were to be kept from that which was dead (Lev.21:1-3) and to receive their inheritance in the LORD (Num.18:20) enjoying the sacrifices given by Israel (Exo.22:31; Lev.22:8; Num.15:20-21; 18:8-20).

Ezekiel 24-25 – A Time To Mourn And A Time Not To Mourn

24:1-5 – The siege begins. The exact date (January 5, 587BC according to Daniel Block NICOT I:772-774) is given in order to verify that indeed the word of the LORD declared what happened before it could be verified. Note the emphasis on the date in the second verse. The siege would be finished within 18 months. The LORD addresses those in Jerusalem as “this rebellious house”, but who is Ezekiel speaking to when he proclaims this message? Why does the LORD give a “parable”? Jerusalem is the cooking pot and the inhabitants are the “choice pieces” of meat for cooking. This could actually have been initially taken in a positive way by Israel if not for the following explanation.

24:6-8 – The “choice” portions ruin the pot. It is the blood which has been shed and treated contemptibly that Israel is charged with ruinous judgment (note the commands about “blood” in Lev. 17:10-16 and the failure to “cover it” in Deut. 12:16, 24; 15:23; and Job 16:18).

24:9-14 – The explanation of the parable is that the LORD will cook (judge by the suffering through the siege by Babylon) the inhabitants of Jerusalem and they will be completely cleansed from the pot (city) because of their rebelliousness and lewdness. It is guaranteed to be accomplished by the LORD. Why would He not have pity or relent? Will He really have no pity or relent?

24:15-18 – The love of Ezekiel’s life is taken and he is not allowed to publicly mourn. Why would the LORD take the life of Ezekiel’s wife and what purpose might be served by refusing him the comfort of the normal public mourning process? (cf. 1 Cor. 7:29-31)

24:19-27 – The death and mourning of Ezekiel’s wife serves as a sign to Israel in exile. They will lose the love of their eyes (the LORD’s Temple and their children) and will not be allowed the normal rites of public mourning because all of this happens as a result of sin’s judgment. What is the intended result? When the news finally reaches the exiles that Jerusalem has fallen suddenly Ezekiel will be freed to speak (Eze. 3:26-27).

The oracles which follow in the next chapters until the thirty-third are against the nations surrounding Israel that persecuted and joyfully benefited from Israel’s judgment. Daniel Block (NICOT II:5) notes that the order of the nations mentioned (with the exception of the closing messages concerning Egypt): Bene-Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre and Sidon are listed in clockwise order from the north east of Israel to the north west. Iain Duguid succinctly writes concerning the shift to judgment of the surrounding nations that “Judgment may begin with the house of God, but it doesn’t end there” (NIVAC 325).

25:1-7 – The prophecy against Ammon. Who were the people of Ammon? (A son of Lot born by his daughter in Gen. 19:36-38; Deut. 2:19; Judges 10-12; 1 Sam. 11:10-11; 14:47; 2 Sam. 8:11-12; 10) Why was Ammon to be judged? Who would conquer them and what would become of their territories? What was the goal of the judgment of Ammon?


25:8-11 – The prophecy against Moab. Who were the people of Moab? (Another son of Lot born by his other daughter in Gen. 19:36-38; they enticed Israel to sin after several failed attempts to have Balaam curse Israel in Numbers 21-24; Judges 3:12-30; Ruth 1-4; 2 Kings 1:1; 3:4-27) Why was Moab to be judged? Who would conquer them and what would become of them? What was the goal of the judgment of Moab?


25:12-14 – The prophecy against Edom. Who were the people of Edom? (Gen. 25:30; 36:1-43; Num. 20:14-23; 1 Sam. 14:47; 2 Sam. 8:11-14; 1 Kings 11:14-16; 2 Kings 3:1-27; 8:20-22) Why was Edom judged? (cf. Obadiah) Who would conquer them and what would become of them? What was the goal of the judgment of Edom?


25:15-17 – The prophecy against Philistia. Who were the people of Philistia? (Gen. 10:14; 21:34; 26:1-18; Judges 3:3-4, 31; 10:6-7; 13-16; and the continual struggles against them in 1-2 Samuel) Why were the Philistines judged? Who would conquer them and what would become of them? What was the goal of the judgment of Philistia?

Ezekiel 20:45-21:32 – The Sword of Judgment

20:45-21:5 – What does the LORD mean by opposing “the south”?  There was never a forest of the Negev (one of the three terms used for “south” here and so not to be taken as referring to the Negev region specifically).  The “trees” of the south appear to actually refer to the leaders of Jerusalem.  The explanation is given in verses 1-5 (English versification): the first “south” (Heb. teman) = Jerusalem, the second “south” (Heb. darom) = the sanctuary (Heb. miqdashim lit. “sanctuaries”), and the Negev (or third “south/land” in some translations) = the land of Israel.  The unquenchable fire to be set is answered by the flashing of the unsheathed sword (cf. Gen. 3:24; Matt. 10:34; Luke 12:49).  Whose fire is unquenched and sword unsheathed?  The “green” and “dry” that are consumed refer to the righteous and wicked (LXX “unrighteous and lawless”) that will be cut off.  This is best “seen as a deliberately offensive rhetorical device intended to shock, designed to awaken his audience out of their spiritual lethargy” (Block NICOT 670).  Note the peculiar references “from south to north”.  Why might this be phrased in this manner?  Also, note the emphatic use of “all/every”.  What is the significance of Ezekiel being called a teller of parables?
21:6-7 – How might we understand Ezekiel’s prophetic groaning? (comp. Rom. 8:22-27)  What will be the reaction of those who hear the news of judgment? (cf. Eze. 7:17; 9:4)
21:8-17 – The Sword Song. (cf. Lev. 26:25, 33, 36-37)  Why is the sword sharpened and polished? (see Eze. 21:10)  Why would Judah think the sword a good omen and self-referentially be called “the scepter”? (cf. Gen. 49:9-10; 1 Sam. 7:14; Eze. 19:10-14; perhaps their hopes were based upon Jeremiah 50:35-38)  What does it mean for the sword to “despise”?  Note whose people are to be judged?  Why might Ezekiel clap his hands? (see Eze. 6:11; 21:17)  What kind of slaughter will it be and who will ultimately carry it out?
21:18-27 – The LORD’s sword has become the sword of Babylon.  Why should Ezekiel make a signpost pointing the way to Jerusalem?  Likely this was at Damascus where one might choose either the road leading down to Rabba of Ammon or to Jerusalem.  Three omens would confirm the signpost (cf. Prov. 16:33).  “The irony is that this use of pagan means of discerning the will of the gods is here an accurate discernment of the true God” (Duguid NIVAC 276).  Verse 27 refers to the end of Zedekiah’s reign.  “A ruin” reads literally “a twisting or bending” (Dan Block translates it as “topsy-turvy” NICOT 691).  Who is the one to whom kingship/judgeship “rightfully belongs”? (cf. Gen. 49:10)  Ezekiel’s usage of the patriarchal prophecy that pointed to a messianic figure of deliverance here is turned on its head through referring this promised one into the king of Babylon – Nebuchadnezzar (Block NICOT 692-3; Duguid NIVAC 279).
21:28-32 – A taunting sword song.  Possibly Dan Block (NICOT 695-7) is correct in seeing verse 28 as a taunting song in the mouth of the people of Ammon.  The “sword” (Babylon) would be finally sheathed in order to also be judged by the LORD.  Babylon though the sword of the LORD was not beyond the severe judgment of the LORD and would be judged so harshly as to not be remembered any longer.