For the second time in the Book of Daniel, we observe Nebuchadnezzar exalting the God of Israel with elaborate praise. Through the lips of unbelievers, exclusive declarations magnified Yahweh as the only God worthy of worship. What caused these remarkable confessions? In a word, faith. Because Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego displayed faith under pressure, God’s beauty and majesty were clear to all. In addition, their salvation from the fire made His strength and power undebatable. Our lives have the same potential. Remaining faithful while suffering will inspire others to follow our God. And oftentimes, the miraculous intervention of God in our lives while we hurt compels others to praise Him. Likewise, the transforming effect of salvation magnifies the reality that God has rescued us from the flames of hell. When it is obvious that God is at work, His name will be exalted among believers and unbelievers alike.
Does your life compel unbelievers to see God’s worth and glory? Why or why not?
God is always present with His people. The incredible deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego illustrates this encouraging truth as vividly as any biblical passage. Though caught in a deadly fire, one of the worst circumstances imaginable, these three devoted servants of God were not alone, and possibly they were joined by the Son of God Himself. The comprehensive protection of God not only prevented their clothes from burning but also prevented the stench of smoke from following them out of the furnace. Even when our outcomes are not so favorable, the abiding presence of God is just as certain. God is with us in the fire even if He does not allow us to come out of it. He comforts and cares for us when nothing about our lives makes sense. He will not forsake us even though the world does. He is there even though we cannot always see or feel how. We look forward to the day when God makes all things new and wipes away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). But until then, He remains faithfully by our side.
How confident are you of God’s presence in your life when you face great difficulties?
Despite witnessing the glory of Daniel’s God firsthand, wicked Nebuchadnezzar chose to erect a monument made of gold and commanded his people to bow and worship it. Though we cannot be sure whether the statue represented the king or one of his gods, it does seem clear that Nebuchadnezzar was declaring, contrary to his dream, that his kingdom would never end. Standing alone, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to insult the true God by kneeling before the idol. The logic behind their countercultural stand is still instructive today. These committed Hebrews were content to let God choose the course of their lives, knowing that He is good and trustworthy. Why is it so difficult for us to do the same? Though God is able to prevent all things in our lives, we must learn to trust Him even if He chooses not to. Harsh circumstances should not limit our willingness to obey the Lord. If He, for reasons we cannot understand, allows our worst-case scenario to unfold, we must continue to believe that He is working for our ultimate good and for His divine glory.
What hardships in your life tempt you to disobey the Lord?
The prophetic impact of Daniel 2 is just as significant today as it was originally because we are still looking for the final kingdom to be revealed—the messianic kingdom. With Babylon (head of gold), Medo-Persia (chest/arms of silver), Greece (legs of bronze), and Rome (feet of iron and clay) in our rearview mirror, we long for the coming of a new heaven and new earth where our Savior King will reign forever and ever. Until then, Daniel models how we should live in a fallen world. With his life in jeopardy due to the king’s decree, Daniel sought the Lord faithfully in order to report and interpret the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. Ultimately, his ability to do so was the direct result of God’s mercy and goodness toward him and his friends (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah). Realizing this, Daniel refused to boast or promote himself while speaking God’s words. In fact, he celebrated God’s power and glory so much that the king also declared that Daniel’s God was God of gods and Lord of kings (2:46). The faith of a faithful prophet revealed the glory of the Lord over all.
How can you better reveal God’s glory with the gifts He has given to you?
This passage tells us of God’s plan to restore a united Israel to the promised land. The Lord committed not only to bring them back home but also to set over them one king who would act as a servant-leader—“My servant David” (v. 24). God’s plan to appoint a servant king over Israel was ironic in light of the historical events surrounding the original schism between Israel and Judah. The split of the kingdoms was essentially the result of King Rehoboam’s unwillingness to serve the people of God as his elder counselors advised.
Ezekiel’s prophecy, of course, pointed to the messianic King—Jesus Christ. Jesus embodied for us what servant leadership looks like. Examining Jesus’ life, we see that servant leaders seek the glory of God (Mark 10:42; John 7:18) while not being preoccupied with their own (Mark 10:43-45). They forgo their own rights for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:15-19) and understand the joy in serving others (Mark 9:35). Jesus’ life was marked by service and our lives should be as well.
How are you embodying servant-leadership in your life for the sake of the gospel?
Satan hates God, and consequently, Satan hates the people of God—the church. Satan does all he can to stir up disunity among God’s people, going to great lengths to create division and strife (1 Pet. 5:8). On the other hand, God loves when unity exists among His children. Ezekiel 37:17 paints a visual picture of God’s desire to restore unity between Judah and Israel. Illustrating this desire, God told Ezekiel to join together the ends of two sticks in order to create one unified stick.
The point is we worship a God who values unity, so we should as well. So how does valuing unity manifest itself in our daily lives? Valuing unity means we pray for unity. It means we judge ourselves before we judge others. It means we count the cost of disunity and seek reconciliation when we can. It also means pursuing humility, which acts as an antidote to selfishness.
How can you seek reconciliation and ensure unity with others in the body of Christ, the church?
A favorite cartoon growing up was Looney Tunes’ Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. I loved watching Road Runner foil Wile E. Coyote’s diabolical plans again and again, but eventually I found myself rooting for the coyote. After so many misadventures and catastrophes, how could you not? Plus, what’s more annoying than an arrogant, uncatchable nemesis? The fix was in against Wile E. Coyote because no matter how hard he tried, it was never within his power to win.
In reading the prophecy of the valley of dry bones, we are reminded that it was never within Israel’s power to save themselves. No matter how hard they might try, their devotion to the Old Testament law could never save them from their sin. Their spiritual restoration lay solely in the power of God. One way we see God’s active role in saving Israel is by reading verses 1-14 and underlining every time God uses the pronoun “I” in describing His role in bringing Israel back to life. Today we are still entirely dependent on the Spirit of God to stir our affections and to breathe life into our dry bones.
Why is it encouraging to know that we worship a God who offers mercy to people who are undeserving and may not even ask for it?
God wants us to have a “heart of flesh” that is pliable and responsive to Him. Much like a lump of clay in a potter’s hand, a tender heart is more easily shaped by God’s character and desires. The problem, if you have not noticed, is that our hearts are inherently rigid. To remove this rigidity, we read in the New Testament that God sent His Holy Spirit to indwell each believer in order to soften and sensitize hearts to His leading.
Ezekiel prophesied of the day when the Spirit would indwell the heart of every believer: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will … give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (vv. 26-27). When we submit to the Lord, He imparts great wisdom to our soft hearts. We are then more ready to deal with sin in our lives and return to a place of obedience and blessing.
What are warning signs that your heart’s spiritual health is not what it ought to be?
Have you ever had a really painful falling out with a friend? It may be that things ended so poorly that you were certain the relationship was beyond any hope of reconciliation. Imagine that in time you came to realize that the fallout was caused entirely by your own sin. Recognizing your fault in the situation, how shocked would you be if the other person came to you seeking to repair the relationship? Chances are you would be astonished by the person’s demonstration of forgiveness.
God’s capacity to forgive is astonishing as we read of His plan in Ezekiel 36 to restore Israel from Babylon and all the nations to the promised land. God’s relationship with His people lay in ruin because of their rebellion, yet He extended His hand of mercy even though they were undeserving. Part of the plan to restore Israel involved the fruitfulness of the land.
Verses 8-15 lay out four promises the Lord makes to Israel. First, the land will again be fruitful (vv. 8-9). Second, the people will return and multiply in the land (vv. 10-11). Third, their return to the land will be permanent (vv. 12-14). Fourth, God’s people will never again be insulted by foreign nations (v. 15).5 In short, God poured out His merciful love on a people who did not deserve it.
How does the gospel influence your outlook and actions regarding fractured relationships?
In the midst of darkest despair, a break in the black clouds hovering over Lamentations opens up and the brightest of lights shines down. Following sixty-five verses of gloom and doom over Jerusalem’s fall, the author turns the script toward God’s mercy: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).
God appoints every aspect of every day. He appoints the day’s troubles. He appoints the day’s mercies. Sometimes we wonder if we will be able to withstand the troubles of our day. But we can rest assured knowing every morning God’s mercy will be there waiting for us. We might be tempted to store up God’s mercy for a rainy day, but like Israel with the manna in the wilderness, there is no storing up. Instead, we are called to the daily exercise of declaring our dependency upon God and His mercy.
What practical steps can you take to remind yourself that God’s mercies are new every morning?