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Monday, May 15, 2017

Lions, Bears, Leopards, Monsters and More: What Did Daniel See?

It's the end of another Coffee Break Bible Study year, which doesn't seem at all possible. But here we are, back at Daniel, looking at his future that's already our past, before we start with everybody's future in September. Enjoy.

(50) What Daniel Saw

Shortly before the Medo-Persian conquest (i.e. before Cyrus, and before the last parts of Isaiah and Zechariah were being read to the Jews of the return) Daniel, still at the Babylonian court, received some amazing visions. Remembering that prophecy often has three applications – to the time of the prophet, to a time of trials when comfort comes from God, and to a future event – we’re going to look at how Daniel’s visions applied (and were applied) to future of his people – and to the present day (which doesn’t mean this is the end of days – just that this could be one of many future times of trials).
Daniel’s first vision concerns four winds, four beasts, eleven horns, and the Ancient of Days.
1.       Read Daniel 7:1-6 At first thought, what significant might be attached to:
a.       Four winds
b.      The Great Sea.
c.       Lion, bear and leopard
d.      Four wings and four heads (Imagine cartoons – what might these represent?)
2.       Read Daniel 7:15-18 Daniel is told the creatures represent kingdoms. He might have been familiar with two…
a.       Jeremiah and Ezekiel used an eagle to represent Babylon, characterized by fast-moving armies, swift battles). Why might a lion also represent Babylon?
b.      The bear was the symbol of Syria—the Medo-Persians—which conquered Egypt (south), Babylon (west) and Lydia (north-west), characterized by slow steady expansion
c.       The leopard might represent Greece. Alexander the Great conquered swiftly to take over the whole (four-cornered) known world. Interestingly, Alexander’s kingdom split into four under Ptolemy, Seleucus, Philip, and Antigonus—hence four heads (in the future) perhaps?
d.      What animals might be used to represent modern world powers? Why?
3.       Verses 7-8 introduce a fourth kingdom, presumably Rome. Some critics suggest Daniel can’t have predicted Greece and Rome. They conclude the book was written in the style of Daniel to encourage readers. But…
a.       Josephus describes Alexander the Great visiting Jerusalem and being shown the book of Daniel in 322BC (before Greece and Rome became strong). Alexander interpreted this part of the book as God’s blessing and assurance that he would conquer the Medo-Persians. Therefore he didn’t attack Jerusalem.
b.      Copies of the book of Daniel have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s unlikely they’d have gone to such effort to preserve a “recent” fiction.
c.       So, how do you feel at the thought that God knew which kingdoms were coming next, or that he knows about our rulers, or that he lifts our nations from the chaotic Great Sea?
d.      And how do you feel about verse 18?
4.       Read Daniel 7:7-8 What are the usual symbolic meaning of:
a.       Horns
b.      Ten
c.       Eyes
5.       Read Daniel 7:9-10 Who is the Ancient of Days? What is the significance of white?
a.       Where have we read about wheels before? (Read Ezekiel 1:16)
b.      What might ten thousand (10 times 10 to the power 3) times ten thousand (i.e. to power two) mean?
6.       Read Daniel 7:11-14 Who is one like the Son of Man?
7.       Daniel asks the angel to explain. Read Daniel 7:23-27 Of course, we might want to ask the angel to interpret the interpretation…
a.       If ten is a limited/countable number of rulers, do these have to be Roman?
b.      If three is divine intent, what might three horns (rulers, kings, leaders) be? Which three influential groups does Jesus frequently mention in his teaching, and who would they correspond to today?
c.       It seven is the completeness of God’s plan, and three-and-a-half is the half-way mark, what happened after a time (one), times (two), and half a time?
d.      Why might some Christians believe we’re living in the second half rather than the first half of the story (living in the victory, with the kingdoms already given to us, but perhaps not well governed by us)?
Now Daniel drams of a Ram and a Goat.
1.       Read Daniel 8:1-8, 20-23. Daniel probably wasn’t at Susa (the future center of the Medo-Persian empire), just transported there from Babylon in a vision.
a.       Why would Alexander have been pleased to read this?
b.      And why would he have been in a position to read it (invading from the sea, heading toward Babylon)?
c.       How might Alexander have felt about verse 8?
2.       Read Daniel 8:8-11 The Seleucids were one of Alexander’s four successors. Judea was fought over by the Ptolemies (Egypt) and the Seleucids (Syria), ending up under Seleucid control. The Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes tried to solidify his rule with his own version of religion. In 197BC he burned scriptures and sacrificed pigs to Zeus in the Temple. The story is told in Maccabbees and is the foundation for Hannukah. Judea is still fought over by rival nations.
a.       What might stars signify? (Whose descendants were going to be as numerous as stars?)
b.      Do nations still use religion to subdue their enemies?
c.       What else do nations use? What is our nation accused of using to subvert and convert culture?
3.       Read Daniel 8:11-14
a.       A mathematical question. A generic year was 360 days long. How many years is 2,300 days?
b.      There are lots of different interpretations of Daniel’s 2,300 days.
                                                                           i.      One suggests that the Temple will be defiled when the high priest is killed in 171BC, and restored when Antiochus Epiphanes dies in 164BC. Do you think the people would have been encouraged by this interpretation in the time of the Maccabees? Do you think God intends the prophecy to be encouraging or confusing?
                                                                         ii.      Interpreting days as years meant the world was going to end in 1844. Does this remind you of end-times arguments about the millennium?
4.       Daniel looks for an explanation and talks with an angel again. Read Daniel 8:16 Where else do we know Gabriel from? (Read Daniel 9:21, Luke 1:19,26) And who might the one telling him to speak?
a.       Read Daniel 8:17,19 The angel mentions the time of the end. Does this mean the end times, or the end of Israel’s punishment under Antiochus Epiphanes?
b.      Some interpretations use Antiochus as an image or precursor of the anti-Christ. Do you think we’re meant to know for sure, now? Should Christians argue over interpretations?

c.       What general message do you get for difficult times from Daniel’s vision?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Are we living in an insecure, unfaithful, dangerous world?

Our study group follows the school year, so we're stopping soon for summer. Which is kind of weird. We started the previous year with Samuel, hoping to finish all the prophets in a year. Then we broke for summer, starting this year with Daniel and hoping to get back to Daniel's visions of the future by the end of the year. Now we're in sight of the finish line but we know we're not going to reach it. Maybe next week we'll look at Daniel in the light of the "future" from there to John the Baptist (our intended finish-line), and look at the end of the world after summer.

But first we'll take some end-of-the-word, and some end-of-tradition glimpses out of Zechariah, following on from the end of Isaiah.

(49) Zechariah and the Promise of Salvation

An angel interprets each vision in the first half of Zechariah, but the second half is more obscure. The chapters are believed to have been written (or at least edited) at the time when Jerusalem was being rebuilt (as a city with walls), the Temple was functional but far from perfect, and the political situation was scary as the Greeks (Zechariah 9:13) increased in power.

In what sense is our world similar—
1.       Do we worry about the security of our cities? Do we take steps to make them safe?

2.       Is the faith in our country frequently corrupted?

3.       Is the world a dangerous place?

Geographical background: Damascus was to the North of Judea. Tyre and Sidon were to the west, on the coast. The Philistines (also on the coast) had been squashed between Assyria and Egypt, fought over, conquered, freed, and finally taken over by Persia. By 331BC they will have pretty well disappeared completely as a culture. Meanwhile little Judea sits in the middle, important because of the trade routes that go through it, marched through by armies heading North, South and West, a buffer zone against Greek invasion…

1.       Read Zechariah 9:1-2,6,8. What image do you get of society, politics, the movement of armies etc?

a.       Has the world changed much?

2.       Read Zechariah 9:9-10 Are you surprised to find this verse in this context?

a.       In a world of war, how often do we remind ourselves of the conquering king on a donkey?

b.      What would change if we kept this more in mind?

3.       Read Zechariah 9:16-17 What image does this give of God’s victory?

a.       (And why are the women drinking wine?)

4.       Read Zechariah 10:2-5 Who are the false shepherds?

a.      Who are the false shepherds today?

b.      Who is the cornerstone?

c.       Read Zechariah 11:1-3 What happens to false shepherds and the land they fail to protect?

5.       Read Zechariah 11:7-12 Are you surprised finding this prophecy here?

a.        Read Exodus 21:28-32 Zechariah is seeing visions. How might this be interpreted as a vision?

b.      The dismissed shepherds (verse 8) might well be governors appointed by Persia. What position do governors hold in God’s eyes?

6.       Read Zechariah 11:13-17 What defines a bad ruler/shepherd?

a.       Can you think what might be the significance of the potter? Read Isaiah 64:8

7.       Read Zechariah 12:2,7 Why shouldn’t the honor of the house of David be greater than that of Judah?

a.       What might this mean today?

8.       Read Zechariah 12:10 Does the prophecy surprise you? (The Jewish translation is slightly different—They shall lament over those who have been slain...)

a.       Why might we find this prophecy (and others about Jesus) here?

9.       Read Zechariah 12:11, 2 Kings 23:29-30, Revelation 16:14-16 Another surprise?

a.       Do you think God delights in our surprise?

b.      Do you think God delights in history? The city Megiddo controlled trade and war routes and was the site of many important battles. Manasseh failed to conquer it in the initial invasion of Canaan (Joshua 17:11, Judges 1:27); David conquered Megiddo and Solomon fortified it (1 Kings 9:15). Then Pharaoh Shishak destroyed it. Why do you think the name remains so important in apocalyptic literature?

10.   Read Zechariah 13:1,14:8-9, Jeremiah 17:13, John 4:13-14,7:38, Revelation 21:6 Who is the living water?

11.   Then, coming back down to earth, Read Zechariah 13:2-6. Prophets of foreign gods often injured themselves. Does this passage mean that all prophecy will cease?

12.   Read Zechariah 13:7, Matthew 26:31 Okay, we’re probably expecting surprises now.

a.       How was this borne out when Peter and John were imprisoned in Jerusalem? (Acts 4)

b.       When Steven was stoned? (Acts 7)

c.       Is scattering the sheep necessarily a bad thing? Does God bring good out of apparent evil?

13.   Read Zechariah 13:8-9, Revelation 8:7-12

a.       What might be the significance of a third?

b.      Of refining by fire? (Malachi 3:2-3, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

14.   Read Zechariah 14:1-2 Do you think this is a literal gathering of nations? At Jerusalem?

15.   Read Zechariah 14:3-5 Who stood on the Mount of Olives in the New Testament? When? (Debris from ancient landslides shows the western slope of the mountain has split and slid into the valley to Azar in the past. Some translations of verse 5 say the “valley of the mountain shall be blocked,” rather than you shall flee through it.)

16.   Read Zechariah 14:6-9 Where have we read recently about an end to day and night, living water …?

17.   Zechariah has just proclaimed God as king over all the earth, not just the Jews. Now he goes on to describe the destruction of those who don’t accept God’s rule. Read Zechariah 14:12,15. Does this remind you of Revelation? Of Exodus? Why does God allow plagues?

18.   Read Zechariah 14:16,20-21, Revelation 21:22. Who is invited into this future? And where does the Temple fit in? (Where would you usually find pots inscribed to God’s service?)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Which Matters More: The Age Of The Prophets or The Age Of A Prophet?

We're coming to the end of Isaiah and Zechariah - coming to the end of the words of the prophets in history - and coming to the end of this year's Bible study. 

So... did Isaiah live to an enormous age and continue writing in a rebuilt Jerusalem? Did his followers rewrite or revisit his words? Did a follower write in the voice of Isaiah? Or are the words in the book even more ancient than they appear?

Perhaps a better question would be: are details of dates and age of a prophet as important as the message conveyed from that "age of the prophets"?

I'm still hoping we'll reach John the Baptist by the summer break, but we'll see. Meanwhile, whenever we believe Isaiah and Zechariah were written, their words were surely read in that rebuilt Jerusalem, where enemy nations warred over coast and highway, and rebuilding/nation-building led to thoughts of an age to come.

(48) Isaiah and the Promise of Salvation

The latter parts of Isaiah and Zechariah must have seemed particularly relevant to Jews recently returned from exile, whether or not we believe that’s when they were written. They lived in a world that felt almost like home, but their neighbors didn’t understand, didn’t love their faith, didn’t want their success, and felt threatened by them. Do we ever feel that way about our world?
Returning to Judea was almost like hitting a reset button—a chance to get things right this time. What reset buttons might we find in earlier parts of the Bible? (Read Genesis 6:5-8) Is there a sense in which the life and death of Christ offers another reset button? What reset button do we look forward to?
The newly returned Jews looked forward to a permanent restoration. This time they wanted to get it right. This time they would be ready to deal with corrupt priests and politicians. And if they didn’t succeed today, then maybe tomorrow… They looked forward to a Messiah (city or person) and a Messianic age of triumph. Do we ever feel that way about our future?
The promised future and the promised end-of-days are both triumphant. Why might the end messages of Isaiah and Zechariah be of particular interest today?
1.       Read Isaiah 60:22, Genesis 15:5. Do you spot a theme?
2.       Read Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:16-22, Matthew 3:16. Another theme?
3.       What about Isaiah 61:4-5, Micah 4:2-3.
a.       How does this relate to rebuilding Jerusalem, and
b.      how does it relate to Christianity?
c.       Read Acts 10:9-15 How might Isaiah 61:5  relate to our relationship to non-Christians?
d.      Is there a theme of inclusivity or exclusivity looking toward the future?
4.       Read Isaiah 61:8  Is God directing our work? (Some translations  say; I will direct their work rather than reward.)
5.       Read Isaiah 61:10-11 Do we / should we rejoice?
a.       What things make you rejoice?
b.      What things should make us rejoice?
6.       Read Isaiah 62:2-4 We have choruses about God giving us new names. What would these names have meant to the first listeners?
a.      Read Revelation 2:17 What old name do you regret?
b.      What new name do you hope for?
c.       Read Revelation 3:12-13 Does this change the name you hope for?
7.       Read Isaiah 62:6-7 What is the point of a noisy watchman?
a.      Are we noisy watchmen?
b.      Do we make helpful noises or distracting ones?
8.       Read Isaiah 62:10,40:3, Malachi 3:1, Mark 1:2-3 What’s the theme?
9.       But God is not an indulgent spouse, blind king, or careless guardian. Can you paraphrase Isaiah 63:1-6?
a.       Does this remind you of Genesis 6:13?
b.      Why do we need a savior?
10.   Read Isaiah 63:8-9 Who was afflicted (distressed)? Why?
a.      Can you paraphrase Isaiah 63:10-14?
11.   Read Isaiah 63:16 Who are His people?
a.       Father might have meant ownership rather than generous parenthood. In what sense do both meanings apply to God?
12.   Read Isaiah 64:1-4 Have you ever wanted to make a similar prayer?
a.       When did mountains shake in the New Testament?
13.   Read Isaiah 64:6-8 The potter takes dirty clay and makes something beautiful. Can you think of a personal description for what God has done / is doing with your sinful self?
14.   Read Isaiah 65:1 Do we find God or does God find us?
a.       As individuals?
b.      As nations?
15.   Read Isaiah 65:3,5,7,11-12 We don’t often put food on the altars of fortune an destiny, but what do we do? And how do we respond to faiths that include the placing of food on altars to their god?
16.   Read Isaiah 65:17,43:25, Psalm 103:12,2, 2 Corinthians 5:17 How does this encourage you?
17.   Read Isaiah 65:18-20, Revelation 21:1-4 Another theme?
18.   Read Isaiah 65:25,11:6,Genesis 1:29-30 What image does this give you of heaven, or of Eden?
19.   Read Isaiah 66:1-2 Does God need perfect churches? Or perfect people?
20.   Read Isaiah 66:3-4 Who might this have referred to? Who might it refer to today?

21.   Read Isaiah 66:12-13,18-24 Does God love the Gentiles?