Even though Israel’s Babylonian captivity was the result of their disobedience to God (see Jeremiah 25:1-14), God didn’t abandon them. He didn’t just leave them there and walk away. God is never absent even when we blow it. He was still with them and working on and for them in Babylon. While throwing the Israelites into captivity may seem like a harsh way to make a point, sometimes God uses discipline to get our attention. I can’t explain it any better than this passage from Hebrews 12.
4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Hebrews 12:4-8 NIV
Discipline, whether we like it or not, and most of us don’t, is an often-used tool in God’s toolbox. While we usually view discipline negatively because It’s not fun and often painful, it’s extremely important for our growth and maturation. It is a tool that when used the right way can effectively get us back on the right track. God’s purpose in using it is not cruel. He doesn’t enjoy it any more than a loving parent who disciplines or corrects a child. He loves us and gives us ample opportunities or chances to avoid unwanted consequences and having to endure His discipline. Unfortunately, we can’t always “resist” the urge to disobey and must learn the hard way.
Discipline is the “practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience”. It is also a “branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education”. How many times have we referred to something as a “teachable moment”? Discipline is a great teacher. Sure, it can be distorted and abused, but again its ultimate purpose is not negative, even though it feels that way.
I just wanted to point out that the verses from Hebrews 12 are not from the Old Testament, but from the New Testament. God’s discipline is commonly associated with the Old Testament because God’s punishment that is handed out for those who disobey. The book of Daniel is just one example. I only bring it up as a reminder because many today feel that the Old Testament or “old covenant” is irrelevant in our current culture, overly harsh or cruel, and that is putting it mildly.
God disciplining those that He loves didn’t stop when Jesus showed up. God didn’t suddenly reinvent himself. There is a consistent flow between the old and new, an unbreakable link or bridge between the Old and New Testaments/Old and New Covenants, like Hebrews 12:12-18. (For more on Old & New Testament/Covenants check out my “Tale of Two Covenants” Series on our blog page at andrewsumc.org)
Probably the most powerful link or bridge between the old and the new comes from Jesus himself in Matthew 5:17-20. Read the whole passage because there is more to it, but Jesus begins by saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”, so unhitching from the Old Testament is not as easy as some make it sound. Jesus certainly brings a new revelation, but He’s not throwing the old one in the trash or under the bus. So, for us to say that Jesus didn’t support or agree with the major themes of the old covenant or law found in the Old Testament would be false according to Matthew 5:17-20. After all, we learned a couple of weeks ago that Jesus was not only there when the original law was given, but He, as God and part of the Trinity, signed off on it. As John 1:1-3 tells us, “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Jesus, or “the Word” that John is referring to, was there in the beginning with the Father and the Holy spirit at creation. Jesus and the Holy Spirit don’t just “show up” in the New Testament. They have always been here. We talked about Jesus’ “pre-incarnate appearances” a couple of weeks ago as well, including His presence in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3.
All of this is important as we study the context of the book of Daniel because Israel’s disobedience is the main reason why they were having to endure God’s discipline and had to live under difficult circumstances as captives-slaves in Babylon. However, the good news is that God hadn’t given up on them and uses this opportunity to reach out to an unbelieving nation.
It’s interesting that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are not being used to speak to or get Israel’s attention, like all the other Old Testament prophets. God seems to be using these young men and dreams to speak directly to the kings of Babylon and Persia (Nebuchadnezzar II, Belshazzar, Darius I, and Cyrus II), like an ambassador. Even though, Daniel is in the “major prophet” section of the Bible, he is not really a “prophet” of Judaism. In the Hebrew Bible Daniel is not included in a list of the “prophets of Israel”. Mainly he is included in the Hebrew Bible out of respect for his unsurpassed piety, good deeds, and his firm adherence to the Law despite being surrounded by enemies. He’s more of a legend or an MVP (Most Valuable Player) of Jewish history and faith.
Chapter 4 of Daniel is God’s third and last attempt at getting Nebuchadnezzars attention, and this time He is going to turn up the heat so to speak. The first was a dream in Chapter 2, and then the fiery furnace in chapter 3. We might think that Nebuchadnezzar would have gotten the message by now or enough evidence that Daniel’s God was indeed the only true God, but he doesn’t. In the excitement of the moment, he recognizes “the God of heaven” as the one true God, but then he’s not quite sure, unconvinced, and falls back on what he knows, but maybe the third time will be the charm. Read chapter 4 for next week. As we’ll see, God is determined to get Nebuchadnezzars attention even if he must use desperate measures to get it. God does offer the king an opportunity to repent and avoid the impending consequences, but will ole king Neb finally figure it out, or will he have to learn the hard way yet again?
I have posted the transcript from my sermon “Living In The Tension” last Sunday, June 19th. If you missed it, you can read it here.
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC