Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sabbath School Insights No. 3, Qtr 3-06

Special Insights No. 3

Third Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“The Gospel, 1844, and Judgment”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“Daniel 2”


In five simple but concise verses, God describes thousands of years of earth’s history in Daniel 2. Seventh-day Adventists have a special interest in this image because of the light it sheds on end time events. But is the special 1888 message understanding of righteousness by faith in the story? Or is the story just a mere historical curiosity, devoid of the gospel? Exploring the details of the image is interesting, but the real lesson is in the reactions of the people involved.


The king had forgotten his message from God. The collective wisdom of Babylon couldn’t read the king’s mind, in spite of a death decree. Daniel interceded for the pagan “wise” men, asking for time to pray to his God. The king could have interpreted this request as defiance and hastened the executions. Daniel’s request was courageous but not reckless. His faith was mature enough to openly stand for his God even in the face of death.


Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have already had severe tests of their faith. Torn from home as teenagers, the forced march from Jerusalem to Babylon provided time to make decisions. Like Joseph on the trip to Egypt, they made the right choice, to serve God, come what may. Only an unembellished reference to their master being “chief of the eunuchs” (Dan. 1:3, KJV) tells of the personal cruelty they have suffered. Their first recorded test was on diet, and from that and most likely other tests, they knew that God was using them to witness for Him. Faith does not mature without trial.


Daniel logically believed God would use this event as an opportunity witness. His prayer of thanksgiving (Dan. 2:19-23) and his attribution of the interpretation to God (vs. 27-28) is evidence of Daniel’s humble walk with his Lord. He concluded confidently (verse 45), “the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure” (KJV).


Daniel then did a most unselfish thing by asking that his friends be included in the reward given to him. Thus, it can be said that by his intercession they were to sit with him in places of honor and responsibility.


Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction turns from gratitude to gadol, the Hebrew word for self-exaltation, which is what the king demonstrated by revising the dream. Nebuchadnezzar is accustomed to selecting what to accept from the gods. Ignoring Jehovah’s prediction of Babylon’s overthrow, the king likes the idea of making the image entirely of the metal used to represent his kingdom. Even better is the suggestion that everybody come to worship it. The notable characteristic of Babylon, literal and symbolic, is the willingness to force outward conformance in religion without concern for heart change. Babylon refuses to believe there is any Power that has the ability to create a genuine change of the heart, so it always has to settle on outward show. Force is an acceptable and necessary component of this system.


God cannot accept outward show without a genuine change of heart. Because He is the essence of love (agape) He will never force. But, with consent, He can and will change the heart. The 1888 message explains that a special change of heart is required before the church is ready to be tested like Daniel and his friends. A lukewarm form of legalism will never survive a severe test. Outward performance without genuine heart change cannot provide the faith necessary to believe their sacrifice will be rewarded.


The secular political leadership (Dan. 3:3) kneeled down in worship when the celebratory music played. But three young men chose to stand, ironically without Daniel, their mediator. Their insistence on glorifying only the true God and their willingness to face death illuminated the minds of the leaders of the whole world. The church that will give the great message of the fourth angel in Revelation 18 is no longer concerned for her own welfare, but only for that of her bridegroom, Jesus Christ. She has come out of all interaction with the religion of Babylon.


The king is furious, but instead of ordering immediate executions, demands that they be brought to see him. I can imagine the rationalization tempting them during the walk to the palace. “We now have the king’s attention. If we stay alive, we can give him Bible studies and he’ll get baptized. We could just half-way bend over with a mental reservation that we don’t believe it.” Practical, expedient, good human reasons. Not these boys. This was another opportunity to witness during great tribulation, but not by compromise. They have come out of Babylon, and are not afraid to declare their position. There is no sitting on the fence.


The king thinks they weren’t “ready” (Dan. 3:15) and gives them a second chance. Their confidence in their God is unshakable. Like the five virgins in the parable whose lamps were full of oil, they needed no more time (v. 16). The decision to continue trusting their God has become a way of life, they live in readiness. Even if not rescued in this life, they will go to their sleep-death knowing that God could use them to witness. They will not disappoint Him. Daniel, who has always interceded for them, is not with them, but intercession is no longer required. They have been sealed by daily choices. They “could not see through the portals” of that fire, but they chose to trust their God.


An entire verse (Dan. 3:21) is devoted to describing the clothing the young men were wearing when they were thrown into the furnace. This is not insignificant “filler” in the story. Clothing in the Bible generally describes character. The character we take to heaven is the righteousness of God frequently described as “linen, clean and white” (Rev. 19:14). When they landed in that furnace, these young men were clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness “woven in the loom of heaven, which has in it not one thread of human devising” (The Signs of the Times, Nov. 22, 1905).


That their lives were preserved is only one of the miracles in this story. The real miracle is that before what looked like a fiery end, God had prepared a small remnant who were willing to stand without their mediator, knowing by faith that regardless of outcome, their God could preserve them.


Were they given that kind of courage before they needed it? No! Our assurance does not come from present courage and strength, but by believing that we will be given what we need when the time comes. It is sad indifference to the cause of God when people fear the time of trouble, hoping to get to heaven “on the sleeper car.” What if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had decided to get to heaven that way? Maybe they would have made it anyway, but they would have deprived God of an unequivocal instance where He changed fearful human hearts.


“The Lord abhors indifference and disloyalty in a time of crisis in His work. ... All through the ages, God has had moral heroes, and He has them now—those who, like Joseph and Elijah and Daniel, are not ashamed to acknowledge themselves His peculiar people. ... Such men make their wills and plans subordinate to the law of God. For love of Him they count not their lives dear unto themselves. Their work is to catch the light from the Word and let it shine forth to the world in clear, steady rays” (Prophets and Kings, p. 148).

Arlene Hill


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