The Prophets –

Prophecy to Other Nations

Daniel 1, Introduction
Daniel 2:1-19, The King has bad dreams.
Daniel 2:24-49, Daniel interprets the dreams.
Daniel 4:1-18, More bad dreams
Daniel 4:19-37, Daniel interprets again and Nebuchadnezzar praises God.
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 2: Daniel 5:10-25, The Handwriting on the Wall

Obadiah 1:1-10, The Vision of Obadiah.
Obadiah 1:11-21, The Vision of Obadiah, concluded.

Jonah 1:1-3, 3:1-10, 4:1-11, Jonah and the Plant

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Daniel 1, Introduction

Here's surprising fact:  God loves your enemies as much as He loves you.  After the death of good King Hezekiah, there were seven more kings of Judah.  Number three, Josiah, was also a good guy, and he put through some comprehensive reforms (see 2 Kings 23).  Unfortunately, the rest were as bad as any of the kings of Israel, and Josiah's reforms were too late.  God allowed Judah to be conquered by Babylon in 586 B.C., during the reign of King Zedekiah.  Just about everybody was deported to Babylon. 

Babylon has a bad name among Jews and Christians.  (The book of Revelation, for example, uses "Babylon" as a code word for a really evil nation.)  So it might come as a surprise to you that God sent prophets to the king of Babylon, just as he sent them to the kings of Israel and Judah.  Four of the young men who were deported were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  You know the latter three better by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  (Daniel also had a Babylonian name, Belteshazzar, but we rarely use that one.  Go figure.)  These four young men were mighty witnesses to the true God in Babylon, and Daniel prophesied to King Nebuchadnezzar, as we will see this week. 
Daniel 2:1-19, The King has bad dreams.

In the very early spring, when the days begin to lengthen, my system goes out of whack.  So for about ten days, I've been in roughly the same condition as a two-year old who's cutting a tooth—crabby, impatient, easily frustrated, and whiney.  I had this really long, involved dream about being dropped into the middle of a society which had a small group of powerful overlords dominating a huge population of oppressed slaves.  I was supposed to be one of the slaves, but in my crabby mood, I was not having any of that!  So I led a revolt.  With a little work, this would be a terrific science fiction book.  Anyway, after a few days, I thought, "It's spring.  I am crabby and irrational.  This dream means that I am stressed out and need my annual B-12 shot."  I went in and got shot, and all is serene.

Nebuchadnezzar was also having bad dreams.  He was also crabby and irrational.  Possibly he needed a B-12 shot, but what God was about to send him was a prophet, Daniel, to interpret his dream.
Daniel 2:24-49, Daniel interprets the dreams.

How easy it is to say, "I am wise, because God has revealed mysteries to me!"  How difficult to say, "I am no wiser than anyone else, but God has revealed mysteries to me!"  Emphasis is important in prophecy, and Daniel got the emphasis in the right place.

Another important point about Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is that they leapt at the opportunity to be of service to God and to people where they were.  They didn't whine about being exiles.  They didn't say, "This isn't my country, so I'm not going to be helpful."  They didn't even disparage their abilities so as to be left alone.  Instead, they worked hard at learning what there was to learn and then sought out opportunities to be of service.  Would you or I have exerted ourselves to save the lives of a bunch of foreign astrologers and magicians?  Daniel did.  Let's take him as our role model this week (and next week, too, since Jonah would be a  bad role model).
Daniel 4:1-18, More bad dreams

Do you dream that you go into the classroom and discover that there is a test you haven't studied for?  Everyone I talk to about dreams who has had a lot of schooling has that dream.  It means you are stressed out at work.  In my dream, not only is there a test, but this is the first time I've been to class, because I forgot that I signed up for it! 

Do you dream that you can fly?  Apparently everyone has that dream.  Personally, I think it's because when you are a baby, you can fly – or at least, you move around through no effort of your own.  If your dad is in charge, you fly up and down in free-fall.  (What is it with dads, anyway?)  So I think flying dreams are a happy memory that show that you are not stressed out.  The amazing thing is not that we have weird dreams, it is that we all have the same weird dreams.  Occasionally, though, we have useful dreams that solve a problem, or troubling dreams that alert us to a problem.  These dreams are usually unique.

Earlier this week, we saw that King Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream about a giant statue.  God gave Daniel the power both to tell the dream and to interpret it.  The King was impressed.  Naturally, when he has another troubling dream, he turns to Daniel for help.

Daniel 4:19-37, Daniel interprets again and Nebuchadnezzar praises God.

One important reason to study the Bible is that by seeing what great things God has done for His people before you, you gain confidence that God wants and is able to do great things for you. 

Nebuchadnezzar is in a similar position with respect to Daniel.  When he had troubling dreams before, only Daniel could interpret his dream.  This gave him confidence that Daniel could interpret a second troubling dream.  The interpretation of the first dream was pleasant – no later empire was going to be so good and successful as his own.  It's always gratifying to know that things will go downhill when we are no longer here to supervise them.  When Daniel is speechless after hearing the second dream, Nebuchadnezzar is not alarmed.  He has had a positive interpretation before, and he expects another one now.  Unfortunately, this time the interpretation is negative.  Terrible things will happen to him, in order that he will learn humility.  Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson.  Will we learn ours?

Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 2: Daniel 5:10-25, The Handwriting on the Wall (3/3/15)

Here’s another take on Daniel’s interpretation of the handwriting on the wall. In yesterday’s image, Daniel and the king and queen dominated the scene. Today’s artist, Gustave Doré, has chosen to emphasize the grandeur of the palace and the consternation in the king’s court. The room is several stories high, with galleries, rich carvings, and an overall opulence well-suited to an oriental potentate.

The people in the woodcut are almost an afterthought, and I’m not certain which ones are the king and queen. The courtiers are throwing their hands in the air, clutching at each other, and falling down in faints. This is in line with what we read yesterday in vss. 5-9 about their reaction to the hand. Daniel, of course, is the dark, majestic figure pointing to the writing on the right.

The writing itself is Hebrew, although for some reason it says, “TEKEL and PARSIN MENE, MENE.” The creature in the lower right is a Babylonian cherub. Typically these appeared as colossal statues on each side of a door or city gate, where they had a protective function.

Previous Step. Next Step.
Daniel interprets the writing on the wall for the king of Babylon. Click to enlarge.
"The Handwriting on the Wall" by Gustave Doré, from the Thomas Family Bible, currently in the possession of a family member.

Obadiah 1:1-10, The vision of Obadiah. (2010)

We’re going to read the entire book of Obadiah, but don’t panic, because it’s only 21 verses long – the shortest book in the Old Testament, and the third-shortest in the Christian Bible. No one knows who Obadiah was or when he prophesied.

Remember Jacob and Esau? Esau was the older son of Isaac, and Jacob the younger son. Through a combination of shrewd dealing and outright trickery, Jacob inherited both Esau’s birthright and the blessing that Isaac intended for Esau. Esau was angry and breathing threats against Jacob, who got out of town fast. Back in the old country where his grandparents were from, he met and married his cousins, Rachel and Leah, and had twelve sons, who became the ancestors of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel.

Meantime, God also blessed Esau and made him the ancestor of another nation, Edom. In our reading today, “Esau” and “Edom” refer to the nation, not the older brother, and “Jacob” refers to the nation of Israel, not the younger brother. The nations of Edom and Israel were normally on terms of quarrelsome tolerance – not overtly hostile most of the time, but also not the best of allies. There seems to be substantial agreement among scholars that Obadiah’s vision condemns the Edomites for their unbrotherly behavior in refusing to assist Jerusalem when the Babylonians besieged the city.

Obadiah 1:11-21, The vision of Obadiah, concluded. (2010)

We are all perfectly familiar with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” which is a bit of a paraphrase of Mat. 7:12 and Luke 6:31. When Jesus said, “All whatever that you want people to do for you, this you should do for them,” he said he was paraphrasing and summarizing the Law and the Prophets, specifically, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (found in our old friend, Leviticus 19:18). This Judeo-Christian form of the rule is positive.

Other major religions and philosophies – e.g., Baha’i, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Jainism – have a similar rule in negative form: “Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you.” Islam seems to have the negative rule, but it joins Taoism in suggesting that wishing your neighbor well and rejoicing in his good fortune are desirable. My mathematician son points out that this negative form of the rule is much weaker than the positive form, mathematically speaking.

Many moderns subscribe to the preemptive form, “Do unto others before they do unto you.”

Obadiah says that as Edom has done, so will it be done to Edom. Ouch! This form of the rule is punitive, and the one we need to watch out for, both as a nation and as individuals.

Reader Question: Are the Edomites and Canaanites the same people?"

Jonah 1:1-3, 3:1-10, 4:1-11, Jonah and the Plant

Warning:  The opinions expressed here about Jonah are my own.  You may not agree with them.  That's okay.  You probably won't like them, and that's okay, too.  I don't like them much myself.

Bad News!  There is no whale in the book of Jonah.  I looked at 13 translations and the Hebrew, and there is no whale.  There is a great fish, but the fish is almost irrelevant to the story.  God's ability to make a great fish is not in question – anybody who's ever seen a neon tetra knows that God can make a great fish; however, that's not even close to the point of the story.

The book of Jonah contains one of the profound theological statements in the entire Bible.  It presents this point in the most biting satire found anywhere in the Bible.  If you read the whole book, which we can't here because we've only got one day, you will see that Jonah – the Jewish prophet – is disobedient, irresponsible, illogical, and bigoted against foreigners.  The foreigners are respectful toward God and sympathetic toward Jonah. 

When Jonah finally, reluctantly, arrives in Nineveh, he preaches the most uninspired and uninformative sermon of all time.  Then a terrible thing happens!  The Gentiles repent!  The king repents, the people repent, and even the cattle repent.  Even worse, God forgives them!!  Jonah is furious, because he knew this would happen.  That's why he ran away in the first place! 

I call the story "Jonah and the Plant," because, unlike the nonexistent whale, the Plant is important.  God creates a miraculous plant to give Jonah some shade, and then God creates a worm to kill the plant.  Jonah is upset about the plant.  God says, "You know, Jonah, you didn't do anything to create that plant, and it was here one day and gone the next, and yet you feel sorry for it.  I created Nineveh, and all the little innocent children and cattle.  Shouldn't I feel sorry for Nineveh?"

The point of Jonah is that God loves – and calls to repentance, and forgives – people whom I despise, and my response is to be angry.  The book of Jonah is not about a whale, and it's not even about Nineveh.  It's about disobedient, irresponsible, and illogical Christians and Jews.  It's about me and you.

More about Prophets

The Prophets: Miscellaneous Comments
Primary message of Pre-Exilic prophecy
Messianic Prophecy

Copyright 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016 by Regina L. Hunter.  All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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