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As a background for studying the book of Daniel, this lesson reviews God's glorious purpose for Israel as His chosen people in Old Testament times, the situation that made the Babylonian exile necessary, and God's purpose in it. Attention is also given to His choice of Daniel to be Heaven's ambassador at the court of Babylon, and to be the recipient of timely messages for His people upon their return from exile and during future generations. Understanding what the visions and the words of Gabriel meant to Daniel and his contemporaries, we may discern in them a new vividness and beauty, and thus be better prepared to gather from them their deep lessons for ourselves today.
God's people are often placed in difficult and even life-threatening circumstances. This has been the lot of God's faithful people in all ages. As the apostle Paul put it, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Tim 3:12) Among the bright stars who have shone brightly for their faithfulness in standing up for God and His principles, Daniel and his three captive companions, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are among the most prominent. In a time when it would have been easy to compromise, when no one would have blamed them for letting down their standards, when their entire nation was being punished for apostasy, the four young men refused to deny their faith and their God in even the slightest degree.
In this age when we are facing the greatest crisis that the world has ever seen, the word of God predicts that God's people are about to face circumstances equally challenging to faith as were those which Daniel and his friends had to face. It is important that we carefully examine the factors which enabled these young people to stand so unyieldingly for the things they believed in.
The first four chapters of the book narrate the steps by which God eventually won Nebuchadnezzar's wholehearted allegiance. Daniel, God's personal ambassador to the court of Babylon, is introduced as a man of vigorous health, giant intellect, tactful personality, and, above all, loyalty to principle. His outstanding character and ability won Nebuchadnezzar's esteem and confidence. Then came a cries of providential episodes-the dream of the metallic image, the fiery furnace, and the seven years of insanity-through which God revealed Himself to the king. In the first of these experiences he learned that Daniel's God is "a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets"; In the second, that He is able to protect those who are loyal to Him, and to change the king's word; and in the third, that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will."
With all of this Nebuchadnezzar's grandson Belshazzar was acquainted, but he refused to humble his heart before God as his iliustrious grandfather had done. As a result, Babylon was weighed in the divine balances, found wanting, and given by divine mandate to the Medes and the Persians.
One outstanding difference between the Bible and other religious books is the element of prophecy. While the Bible contains many hundreds of prophecies, many of them very specific and detailed, the religious books used as the foundation of the faith of other major religions are conspicuously silent in this area of prophecy. The Koran (Islam), and the Bhagavad Gita (Hiduism), are highly revered by those who believe in them, and are said to contain many deep and pious ideas and teachings. The God of the Bible, however, is the only who dares to foretell the future so frequently and in such striking detail as we see occurring in the Bible. This sets the Bible apart from all other religious books because in the Bible God has dared to put Himself to the test. These prophecies, some of them covering thousands of years are the proof of the authenticity of the Bible. They can be measured, examined, tested, proven. Thus, the sure word of prophecy should be an important part of any study of the Bible.
In approaching the study of the Bible our method of interpretation is extremely important. This is especially true in the area of prophetic interpretation. The Bible was written in the language of men, but it contains the thoughts of God. In approaching it, man must lay aside the attitudes, the perspectives, the values, the limitations, and especially the traditions of men. The biases of others must not be allowed to constrict our thinking. At the same time we want to be guarded against extreme and fanciful ideas. The question is, how can we achieve both an open mind and a balanced and cautious mind? The secret lies in a conscious and total dependence on God's guidance as we approach the study of the word. God will work outside of our rules of context, grammar, hermeneutics, exegesis, etc. because the understanding of the Scriptures is not for the most learned person, but rather, for the one who is most dependent on, and submissive to God. Dependence on God is the first, the most important and only inflexible rule of biblical interpretation
According to the Scripture record, Nimrod was the first human being who attempted to bring people together under his control and in subservience to him. However, since the time of Nimrod, thousands, perhaps millions have followed in Nimrod's footsteps in establishing earthly kingdoms. Among these earthly kingdoms, some stand out because of the fact that in extent, power and grandeur they exceeded all others. Some, in fact, reached the status of empires by subduing other kingdoms and sujecting them to their rule. Among these empires were the Egyptian, the Assyrian, the Babylonian, The Persian, The Greece and the Roman empires.
Great as these empires were, in some cases ruling over the entire known civilized world, the time came when each one passed from the scene of world dominion, its glory faded and it returned to realtive obscurity and unimportance, or was completely removed from existence as a nation. This cycle of the rise and fall of world dominion will not continue forever. The remarkable prophecies of the book of Daniel reveals with great clarity that we are about to have the final overthrow, and the last great empire of the world is about to come to an end.
In this lesson we are concerned exclusively with the great future crisis that was to come to God's people prior to the establishment of His eternal, righteous reign. When all that Gabriel revealed to Daniel on four separate visits (cbs. 7, 8, 9, and 11, 12) is brought together, a much clearer and more complete picture is possible than when each of the four visions is studied separately. The word tyrant aptly expresses all the various aspects of the persecutor's character and conduct as set forth by Daniel. In his dealings with God's people this villain proved to be shrewd, arrogant, treacherous, and cruel.
In contrast with his specific identification of the great empires of antiquity, Gabriel did not divulge the identity of this figure, but left it sealed until "the time of the end."
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