Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah

Another one of my favorite stories from Daniel is the story of the three young men thrown into the fiery furnace.  As you may recall, their names were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  What may be slightly less familiar to you is that those were not their real names.  In the first chapter of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem, and Judah falls into his power.  After this, he calls for young men from Israel to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.  Four of these young men were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.  As a way of expressing that they were now servants of the king of Babylon, they were given Babylonian names.  This is another situation where knowing the meaning behind there names can give us a bit more insight into the significance of these changes.  Here are the (approximate) meanings of their names. both before and after they were changed:

Daniel - God is my judge
Belteshazzar - Bel/Ba'al/Marduk (Babylonian gods) protect the king

Hananiah - God is gracious
Shadrach - Command of Aku (Babylonian god of the moon)

Mishael -Who is what God is?
Meshach -(possibly means) who is what Aku is?

Azariah - God has helped
Abednego - Servant of Nebo (Babylonian god of wisdom)
As you can see, their new names strip away references to God and replace them with references to Babylonian gods.  Now, on to the story of the fiery furnace.  As with yesterday's story, I will give a brief summary, but you can find the whole story here.

King Nebuchadnezzar has a giant, golden statue of himself built and sends out a royal decree that everyone was to worship this statue.  Anyone caught not worshiping the statue was to be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to worship the statue.  They are brought before the king and given another chance to worship the statue or be thrown into the furnace.  He said to them
'[If] you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?’

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’ -Daniel 3:15-18
The king, filled with rage, orders the furnace to be heated up to seven times its normal temperature and has the three young men thrown in.  When the king looks into the furnace, he sees that, not only are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walking around in the furnace unharmed, there is a fourth man walking in the fire that has the appearance of a god.  The king then asks the three men to come out of the furnace and, when they do, sees that they show no signs of having been in the fire at all.  They don't even smell like fire.  The king is so impressed by their devotion to (and deliverance by) God, he promoted them in Babylon and proclaimed, "'Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.’" -Daniel 3:29

While their deliverance from the furnace is amazing, I find their devotion to God that much more so.  They knew that God was capable of saving them from the fiery furnace, but they were still going to be devoted to God even if they were not saved.  I pray that we may all find that kind of devotion.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Writing On The Wall

Daniel is one of my favorite books in the Bible. There are so many different stories that I enjoy from Daniel, so the next few days will be all about Daniel (or his friends, but that's for another day). Today, as you may have guessed from the title, I'll be talking about the writing on the wall as found in Daniel 5. Since this story is the entire chapter, I'll give a brief summary of the story instead of the full text (but feel free to read the whole story here).

Essentially, this story begins with the king of Babylon, along with his lords, wives and concubines, defiling vessels his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem.  A hand appears and writes a message on the wall.  The king, who is understandably terrified at this point, tries to find someone in his kingdom who can interpret the message.  None of his wise men can, but the queen remembered a man whom, because of his ability to interpret dreams and solve puzzles, the king's father highly regarded.  This man was Daniel, and he interpreted the message on the wall after rebuking the king for his inability to honor "the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways."
"And this is the writing that was inscribed: mene, mene, tekel, and parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; tekel, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.’" -Daniel 5:25-28
 That night, the king was killed and a Mede received the kingdom.

One of the things I like about this story is the simple "justice" aspect: If you mess with God's stuff, you might end up dead.  My favorite part of this story, however, is the interpretation of the message.  Daniel tells the king why the message appears before interpreting it, then uses the words of the message as a form of passing judgment against the king. 

Tomorrow, look for another story from Daniel.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tibia Connected to the Patella

As noted at the end of yesterday's blog, I will be focusing on some of my favorite Bible stories this week.  Today, I'd like to highlight this past Sunday's Old Testament lesson: The Valley of Dry Bones.
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord." So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act," says the Lord.
-Ezekiel 37:1-14
One of the reasons this is my favorite passage is that the transition from very dry bones to living, breathing beings is a 2-step process.  First, Ezekiel prophesies as the Lord commanded, and the bones come together, sinew and flesh and skin all come upon the bones, but they are not alive.  It is not until Ezekiel prophesies a second time and the breath comes into them that they can live.  The word used for breath (ruach) can also mean spirit and is the same word used in the Creation account in Genesis 1 for the spirit of God.  The connection this makes for me is that, even with everything else necessary in place, I cannot truly be alive until I have the spirit of God on my very breath.  May you find God's spirit in your life this day and always.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Let My People Go!

There are many stories in the Bible that, for as long as I can remember, have always captivated me.  One of those is the story of the Exodus from Egypt (the actual narrative portion, not the section on the laws).  Perhaps this is due in large part to the fact that one of my favorite church songs is based on this story (bonus points if you can guess the song). 

It is easy to see the fascination that so many people have with this story.  So many spirituals have been sung about this, and who could forget Charlton Heston's role as Moses?  This is such a wonderful story of a people who were once in captivity yet have gained there freedom through the grace of God.  The road wasn't always easy, and the people complained a lot along the way, but they eventually make it to the promised land.

I've already posted a blog about my desire to find connections between church and technology, so you can imagine my excitement when, earlier today, I came across a video of how the Exodus may have happened had Moses had access to Google, Twitter, Facebook and other similar technologies.  Towards the end of last year, I found a similar video titled "Advent 2.0".  These videos are a great way to reinterpret these ancient yet relevant stories for us through the lens of our current society.  For your viewing pleasure, I have posted "Google Exodus" below.  I especially like all of the random references that can be found throughout the video (e.g. translating "Let my people go" from Hebrew to Egyptian.  You may want to watch the video a couple times and see if you can catch some more of these references.

PS - Stay tuned for more of my favorite Bible stories throughout this week.