Writing on the Wall

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Photo credit to Keith Patschka.

 

“Then Daniel answered and said before the king, ‘Let your gifts be to yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.’” (Daniel 5;17)

 
Today I’m thinking about seeing the writing on the wall. The problem is that most of us can see the writing on the wall but we have no idea what it means. There it is, right in front of us plain as day, but we are clueless to it’s impact for us. Sometimes we’re just as clueless as Belshazzar.

 
Belshazzar was king of Babylon. His reign followed that of Nebuchadnezzar. He’s also frequently referred to here as the son of Nebuchadnezzar. That’s a constant implication that he should have been more alert and have responded differently in his ruling than he chose to, considering the things that Nebuchadnezzar had learned about God before him. But let’s look back at the immediate story.

 
Let’s set the stage. It’s the beginning of the third year of Belshazzar’s reign. He calls a great feast with hordes of important people and lots of wine drinking. That can be a normal thing for kings. But then he decided that wasn’t enough. His pride got the better of him and he called for the sacred golden and silver vessels that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem. Those he would use to drink his wine and thank the the gods of his choosing. It was a way to mock God and say that He was no god. So they drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, and of iron, of wood, and of stone —all those idols made by men’s hands and imaginations, and mocked the God of creation who created their very hands and the intimate workings of their bodies that were able to sustain them and enable them to even appreciate the taste of the wine they were mocking Him with.

 
I’m wondering if Belshazzar was aware of what Daniel knew, that the 70 year reign of Babylon was coming to a close?  I mean, after all, he was surrounded with all these counselors who would be aware of prophecies about the kingdom. Daniel himself was the chief of the chief of counselors. But Belshazzar was a human being like us, and sometimes we choose to ignore the truth and choose, instead, what we want to believe. But you can only ignore the truth for so long. See, lies are like idols. They are not real and have no weight when push comes to shove. But truth, it always comes through in it’s time. Truth will always make itself known. You can’t hold it back. Especially when it’s God’s truth.

 
And that’s what happens. God shows up. It’s pretty terrifying. These fingers of a human hand appeared. It was just the fingers; not the rest of the body. And it was big enough for everyone to see. Now that’s a party stopper! And these fingers write on the plaster of the wall of the palace. The king is watching and his color changes, and he’s thinking, “Holy mackerel, what in the world?!” He was terrified, his legs forgot how to hold him up, and his knees clattered together. He called for the Chaldeans, the wise men to come in and interpret the writing but not a single one could. He even promised to cloth the one in scarlet and with a gold chain and make him third ruler. It didn’t matter. Everyone could see the writing on the wall but not one knew what it meant.

 
Belshazzar’s face was probably white as snow. His leaders were just as perplexed. It seems that the queen was the only one with a little understanding as to how to find the answer. I wonder if that was because her heart might have contemplated differently about the gods and things she had seen and learned about Daniel’s God? I don’t know, but of all the advisors she was the only one with the advice that would lead to the answer. “There is a man in your kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar your father, the king, I say, your father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers…”(Daniel 5:11) “ He is alive still and can show you the answer.”Why? Why can Daniel do this?

 
The queen actually lists 6 qualities or evidences of Daniel’s ability. Let’s look at them. The first was an excellent spirit. That didn’t just mean he had a great personality. That word for spirit is the same word, ruach, used for when God breathed His spirit into the first man Adam. This excellent spirit is the spirit of God Himself inside of Daniel that is over and above all spirits. This is the Only Spirit who is able to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” (Ephesians 3:20) The Holy Spirit of God Himself imparted wisdom and knowledge from above and of below to Daniel because that’s where Daniel sought his wisdom.

 
This Spirit of God imparted to Daniel that second quality of being able to rightly divine knowledge, wisdom, understanding, intelligence, and reason. I think it corresponds to how we relate our thoughts to the things around us like science and the things we’re conscious of. Maybe this is the practical and scientific application of what we know. And this most intelligent man above all others in the kingdom, retained his intelligence while retaining and promoting his personal belief in God in the midst of all he knew and in the midst of a foreign culture who didn’t know or want to acknowledge his God. Yet that knowledge and application of the inter-relatedness and power of his God in all of men’s affairs, was what led him to the top and brought him before the king of a whole nation as the only one with the answer.

 
When we as speakers of English see the words wisdom and knowledge and understanding, we think on the same terms. But these are different words in Hebrew and Chaldean and retain separate identities of meaning. Daniel had understanding, soklthanu, intelligence and understanding. How is that different? It’s from sekal which means to consider. So maybe truly understanding the writing on the wall around us only comes when we truly consider things God’s way. This is where we sit down and take the time to look at something closely, and set our minds or our eyes to it with attention. But I think this isn’t just looking at things and sitting down with them and thinking closely about them. That could bring us into a multitude of conclusions, each his own. But this is considering, sitting down with God, and thinking with Him, close by His side, and setting our thoughts to Yours, Lord. This is the kind of considering that led Daniel to be able to read the writing on the wall.

 
God gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams. That was evidenced by the time he interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. But Daniel could also figure out the solutions to hard riddles or enigmas that others could not solve. No matter how concealed by obscure language, Danielle had the ability to figure out the hidden meaning. Proverbs 25:2 tells us, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” How do you find out something concealed by God? Do you seek it through false idols? Or do you go to the God who knows the answers? Daniel knew who to go to and God blessed him with the knowledge he sought from Him.

 
The last characteristic is that he could unravel riddles. The root of that is about freeing what has been captured. The King James Version says “dissolving of doubts.” Can you hear that? Some of our thinking and understanding and confusion over answers can cause us to be bound, to be knotted up. They can cause us to feel like Belshazzar. And we can be trapped and bound by those thoughts and feelings, feelings like guilt, pride, fear, insufficiency, worthlessness, superiority, anger, hurt, whatever. Or we can be set free by knowing the One who is the Truth, like Daniel knew Him. After all, Jesus declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19) This was the God of the Old Testament, the Isaiah 61 God, identifying Himself to the world in Jesus. This is the same God that Daniel worshiped and the same God who calls us to worship Him today.

 
So here is this woman, who seems to refer to Daniel more by his Hebrew name than his Chaldean name. And maybe that’s because she realized that Bel or Nebo weren’t gods who saved but Daniel’s God was. And you know, Daniel could care less about the scarlet robe or golden necklace or being third in the kingdom. Daniel just cared about God being made known. And he interpreted the writing. But before that, he reminded Belshazzar about the things he had forgotten or overlooked or chosen to ignore. Because Belshazzar should have remembered and acted upon those memories. Belshazzar should have remembered how all of Nebuchadnezzar’s power was given by the Most High God. He should have remembered what happened when Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was lifted up in pride and his spirit hardened to God, how he lived like a beast all those years until he remembered and knew that God rules the kingdom of man.

 
But Belshazzar was not like the queen. He had disregarded it all and lifted himself up against God. “Mene, mene, tekel, and upharsin.” Therefore, God had numbered his days and brought an end to his kingdom. He was weighed in the balance and found lacking. His kingdom would be divided and given to Medes and Persians just as had been foretold by Daniel according to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. And that very night, it came to pass. What did the purple robe, gold necklace, and third place in the kingdom mean to Daniel then? Nothing. It’s all emptiness if God isn’t in the heart of it. It was the end of Belshazzar and what a sad, empty end. But it was not the end for Daniel. The new ruler, Darius, noticed something about him and, get this, made him one of the three high officials. Belshazzar’s appointment didn’t matter. But God’s appointment does.

 
I want to be able to read the writing on the wall. I want my life to be totally guided by considering You and Your ways, Lord, all the days of my life. I want people to see something different in me that causes them to seek my two cents, my counsel on things. I don’t want it because they see me, but I want them to see something that leads them to You and to Your council. I want to be like a Daniel in this world today of so many gods. I want to live in Your wisdom, and knowledge, and blessing, and presence, and counsel. If kings won’t act like kings, I will. I’m not afraid to search Your ways and Your answers out, O Lord. So teach me to understand all that You are writing on the walls and floors and sky and people around me.

I’ve Been Judged

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Photo credit to someone on the internet.

“I said, ‘Please listen, leaders of Jacob, rulers of the house of Isra’el:  Shouldn’t you know what justice is?’” (Micah 3:1)

Here’s that warning again, shama, or hear and listen and do.  Micah is beseeching, not just asking.  Who is he speaking to?  He’s speaking to the leaders, both the government leaders and religious leaders of Jacob and Israel.  And we shouldn’t just think that this message is only good for Jacob and Israel and only good for those days back then.  This is need to know life information for today.  If we don’t learn from this life lesson of the past, it will unfold again right in front of us today, and again and again in the future.  Oh, wait!  It is unfolding in front of us from nation to nation today!

What do You, God, hold leaders responsible for?  “Is it not for you to know judgment?” (KJV)  “Shouldn’t you know what justice is?”  So I guess the question is, “What do You mean by that?  What do You consider justice or judgment?”  And how can we know it?  What does that mean?

Micah isn’t the only prophet helping us to understand this.  Zechariah shares, “Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’” (Zechariah 7:8-10)  What did this mean in ancient societies?  Well, first, the word for justice in Hebrew is mishpat.  It’s real meaning is about the administration of government but not just by man.  It’s about the administration of government according to Your rulings, God.  And that administration is given by You not to a political body but to leaders, who in Israel were the tribal chiefs and the patriarch or the king.  Individuals personally administered justice.  In other words, these individuals carried forth Your will and saw that the people carried it forth in their lives.  Well, at least that’s what they were supposed to do.  But whether they did or they didn’t do that, You held and still hold each personally liable for whether they carry through their decisions according to Your directions or not. 

The standard for justice isn’t whatever floats a judge’s boat.  It’s not whatever society wants or thinks they need.  The standard for justice is God’s word.  That’s what our leaders are to live by and rule by.  That’s the example they are supposed to be setting for us.  So the personal involvement goes deeper than with the rules of God.  It’s a personal involvement with You, God.  Personal involvement with You leads to personal involvement with what You love and uphold and against what You abhor.  Take away the personal involvement, and who gives a hoot about the rules?

What’s happening in the world today when someone wants their rights so much that they strip someone else of their rights even to the extent of thinking it’s ok to rob them of their life?  Where are the leaders speaking out against this?  Micah accuses leaders of hating good, and loving evil, of plucking skin off the people and the flesh off their bones and eating it.  Yuck!  But what are our own leaders inciting others to do in our world or in our country?  And why is this happening?  Because we’ve lost the personal knowledge of the compassion of God.

God’s compassion is a real thing.  His mercies are truly new every morning.  In Zechariah, the leaders had forgotten compassion, raham.  Skip Moen says that raham is, “an intense, deep personal connection comparable to the feelings a mother has for her unborn child in the womb.  Very personal.”  Now think about this.  Why are our leaders supposed to feel this way about those they rule?  Because this is the way God feels for us.  Is this what our leaders practice today?  Are we in leadership positions in our homes or churches or communities?  Are we practicing this kind of leadership?  Am I?

Jeremiah continues this thinking, “‘but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:24)  So here is another word to think about.  It’s in Micah and Zechariah and Jeremiah here.  It’s that word know.  What does it really mean?  We think of knowledge today and we think of knowing a lot of information.  But that’s a Greek idea and not the Hebrew idea here.  This is the word yada and if you want to understand true religion, you need to understand yada.  True religion is sake, understanding and yada, knowing.  Without both, you can’t have a right relationship with God.  And without a right relationship with God, You can’t do it right in the world.  Understanding is about really thinking and grappling and getting down to the really deep stuff about following Him.  It’s serious questions that lead to serious answers.  But searching out the answers till you find them isn’t enough.  We have to know Him.  How do I do that?

It goes from knowing about Him, about the extent and facts of all He’s done, including coming to earth as man and God, teaching, living, being crucified for the glory of God and our sins and redemption, dying, rising again, and reigning over all.  And it extends to the closest intimacy of knowing Him like when a man and woman become one through sexual intimacy in the wholeness of marriage and unity.  It’s not enough to understand who God is.  We have to experience who He is too.  Skip Moen states again, “the intimacy of deep relationship, the friendship, the honesty, the confrontation, the instruction, the familial bonding, are all part of ‘yada YHVH.  He’s your best friend, your protective parent, your mentor, your examiner, your guide, your lover, your comforter, your doctor, your judge” and more.  Maybe the problem why our leaders are failing and the people are following is because of what they are missing out on, this real relationship with One who truly cares.

Without giving You complete sovereignty in our lives we can’t be full of what You are full of.  How can we exhibit qualities like faithfulness, justice, and righteousness in their true form without knowing what their true form really is like?  I can’t just know about faithfulness, I have to convert my knowledge into action.  I can’t just know about justice, I must convert it into action.  I can’t just know about what’s right, I must do it and convert it into action.  But who is going to show me what these all translate into in our lives?  The One who is each of these is the Only One who can show me. 

I can’t become a doer of the word unless I personally know the Word first.  Maybe our leaders don’t know all this.  But I think, living in this country, and living in a world where every day nature screams out the glory and presence of God, I’m not going to say they aren’t aware enough to be held accountable.  The fact is that the true Judge of all mankind will hold us all, every one of us, up to His measure of justice, not ours.  If my life and rulings don’t look like His, then they aren’t.  I’m the one who needs to re-examine my thinking and my ways and change my understanding, not You, Lord.

Judgment was coming for Israel.  And judgment will come for each of us too.  And I have a feeling that You hold leaders to a very high standard, you know, “to whom much is given, much will be required.”  John warned, “This is the judgment, that the Light [Jesus] has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”  You know, you don’t have to tear someone’s flesh off to be evil, poneros.  Poneros comes from “a group denoting poverty or need, has the senses 1. ‘sorrowful,’ ‘unhappy,’ ‘laden with care,’ 2. ‘bringing trouble,’ 3. ‘pitiable,’ ‘poor,’ ‘unfit,’ ‘unattractive,’ ‘bad,’ ‘unlucky,’ 4. ‘unsuccessful,’ 5. ‘plebeian,’ 6. ‘politically useless,’ ‘worthless,’ and finally 7. ‘morally reprehensible’ with the various nuances.” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament)  It’s everything that God knows is not good.  It’s what is “bad, unfavorable, worthless, unhappy, hurtful, futile, and evil.”  Later, Micah is going to share what God considers good.  “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Do you know that man here is every human being?  Every one can know and everyone can have a relationship with God.

When we do and say things that cause sorrow or dissension or unrest, it’s evil, short and simple.  When I set up people to fail, when I deliberately make someone else unhappy, when I cause someone to be unsuccessful, when I’m unattractive because of a wrong attitude, when I make life futile, or make people feel worthless, or when I’m disobedient, I’m guilty of evil.  What about when I’m all about being burdened about me and how I’m being treated instead of being burdened for others?  Wonder if that thinking leads to police brutality or to civilians shooting innocent policemen just like that? Self-pity can be a dark evil, can’t it?  Now the reprehensible isn’t so far away.  See what despising what God has created in His image can lead to?  It’s dangerous stuff that we’re overlooking here.  Maybe we ought to call evil what it is, evil.

It’s for all of us to know judgment.  It’s for all of us to understand and know You God and know Your ways and live by them because You are Light and anything outside of You and Your ways is darkness.  It’s really easy for us to turn to the dark side, just look at what happened to sweet little Anakin.  It tears me up throughout that whole movie where he keeps holding on to those dark thoughts and seeing where it takes him.  It’s so sad.  And that’s where many of us are turning today as we follow self-pity and our rights and our pride.  We’re entering a place of sadness and darkness and separation from God and separation from true fellowship with mankind.  Selfishness is much different than selflessness. 

God is inviting us to know and feel with Him.  He is actively concerned, He is pursuing inner engagement, true dedication to us, and attaching Himself to us.  He has genuine sympathy, pity, and affection for us.   He truly feels.  He feels hurt and humiliation and heaviness and hopelessness for us and with us.  With a heart that loves and clings and wants our greatest benefit, He watches as His beloved bride sleeps with others and doesn’t give a hoot about Him.  Man, that’s sad.  That’s awful, isn’t it?

See, Israel wasn’t giving a hoot about her faithful Husband.  She didn’t have any feelings for Him like He had for her.  All her sympathy had dried up because she was all about herself.  And isn’t that the way our culture has adapted?  Where is sympathy today?  Where is it for God?  Where is it for others when it’s so easy to shoot and kill or destroy people’s lives because they don’t agree with us?  Maybe we’ve become less human and more like corrupt animals the farther we walk away from You, God.  And yet You still cry for our loss. 

Well, I want to feel the way You feel and I want to feel the way You feel about me, about You.  I want to love intensely and faithfully like You.  I want to understand and exhibit true sympathy.  I want to be real and really care and really act upon that caring.  I want to be like Micah.  I want to be of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might to not only declare sin as sin, but to live according to Your ways and according to You because I am Yours and You are mine.  And if the world chooses to walk another way, let me continue to stand for You, not because I’m a prophet or anything special, but simply because You are the only One worthy of standing and being Judge.  I just want to cling to You as tightly as You cling to me.  I truly can’t wait until the day that I become one with You because I’ve been judged as truly Yours in Jesus. 

The Bliss of Grace and Peace!

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Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”  1 Corinthians 1:3

In a greeting, we wish people well-being.  Paul, wishes for grace and peace from God and Jesus Christ unto the believers.  Grace takes me from here to there.  Grace walks me step by step, day by day to the throne of God.  I love this definition of grace: “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.”  I’m reminded of it in Your Word, here, Lord, “Being confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in me will continue it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Grace is underserved merit yet it is a continual process.  Grace came to me and saved me, sealed me with The Promise.  Grace continues to work through The Promise to continue the good work it began in me until it has brought me into a perfect and intimate relationship with You, Jesus.  Lord, I must realize that I shall not be complete or in my “perfected” state until both body and soul have been changed.  Like You, I must endure the flesh for a season as the flesh imposes upon me restrictions from complete intimacy with You.  Yet I now have power in You to control and guide those restrictions.  That’s probably part of the reason You prayed for us.

You were in complete intimacy with God in Heaven.  As man, You took on the restrictions of the flesh.  You know how it feels to long for physical and spiritual intimacy.  You can understand our longing.  You know what it is to be so busy in the world with the affairs and care of men that it would keep You from time with God if it could.  But You made time, probably after a long, hard, spiritually and physically draining day of expending Yourself for others, when sleep probably beckoned softly and sweetly.  Yet You turned her down for intimacy with God.  So I too, can order my day and make time to seek that same intimacy.  I can deny my physical weakness and receive strength through and in communion with You.  This is grace.

Peace.  The Greek word eirene has to do with “the absence of war” which leads to “health, well-being, and tranquility.”  But the Hebrew idea stems from the word shalom.  The Hebrew is all about relationships instead of conditions.  When I get relationships right, other things work out.  I mean tidyng my house all day doesn’t insure right relationships with my family.  Working to provide for my family doesn’t insure healthy relationships with them.  Throwing myself wholeheartedly into my ministry doesn’t mean I have a right relationship with You and those around me.

Peace is not about physical prosperity but richness in the Lord, confidence in the Lord.  This richness, confidence, and intimacy produced through the workings of grace allow me quietness and rest and patience and understanding knowing that You, God, are not only in control of my life but that You are in control of every situation and every life around me.  You expect, no, You daily perform in my heart and life what You desire at the rate and time You deem right for me personally.  And that goes for the others around me.   Grace is not a magic trick that all of a sudden appears and then is over.  It has a sudden onset through salvation, but then constantly works to mold, perfect, build, and lift up.   Peace takes me through all the changes in confidence and love with patience.  Peace helps me hold things together concerning others because I can remember the grace I was shown and given and extend that to them and myself.

Because grace is never disappointed in me but always looks to who I will be, I can have peace.  And I can look that way at those around me.  Grace retains the lesson of my sin, yet removes the stain of sin far from me so that I may be set free.  Peace is knowing this and extending it to others.  Grace holds no records of wrong.  Peace is experiencing that and extending it to others.

In John 14:27, Jesus comforted His disciples withthese words, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  Here You were, Lord, preparing them for Your coming death.  You weren’t leaving them with a greeting to grant them happiness and prosperity.  You were preparing them for events that would turn their world upside down by leaving Your peace.  Now You were alive but You knew You were going to die.  And You were telling them, don’t be afraid.  Why could they not be afraid because You have left Your peace?  Because Your peace was an unending relationship, an unending intimacy with You.  They could only have that relationship when You finished Your mission.  You gave it to us and left if for us.  Unbroken fellowship with God given to us, left for us.  You gave “present-moment peace” to know and have the confidence that my relationship with God has been repaired!

Lord, teach me to truly live in Your grace and peace, not just to know about, but to joyfully live in the exxperience of Your intimacy with me.  And teach me to show Your grace and peace to others, because it ought to be a natural outflow.  Now, Lord, help me to follow Your example of loving and seeking communion with God so that our relationship is right because only then will I be able to set my other relationships right and put everything else into right perspective around me.  May I run to You continually in grace and peace.