Daily Inspiration

Latest posts below… and you can check out the full back catalogue here.

The Book of Daniel

Monday 15th July – Daniel 5:13-31 ‘Numbered, weighed, divided’

And so today we finally get to the original ‘writing on the wall’.  Graffiti is a polarising subject – it’s been around for thousands of years, and much of it is dismissed as vandalism.  But not all of it: Banksy’s designs are now so celebrated that a new one which was painted over in Lowestoft a couple of years ago became the subject of a criminal investigation: not for the graffiti itself but for whoever wished to restore the original white wall!

Some graffiti is also recognised to have enduring value.  In the Reichstag in Berlin the messages scrawled on the walls by Russian soldiers taking the city in April 1945 have been preserved and put on permanent display as a powerful reminder of our past, and especially of the horrors which are made possible by the abuse of power.

We see a similar backdrop to our famous graffiti today.  Belshazzar, after a lifetime spent pursuing political ambition, has overstepped the mark one last time by committing an act of gross blasphemy.  While he parties, suddenly a mysterious hand writes a message on the wall: ‘Mene, mene, tekel, parsin.’ (‘Numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.’)  None of his regular advisers can interpret it for him – though one wonders if one or two had an inkling, but were afraid to deliver bad news? – so Daniel is called and interprets it for him, wise and courageous as ever.

The message is uncompromising: the ruler’s days are numbered, he has been weighed on the divine scales and found wanting, and so his kingdom will be divided and given to others.

Belshazzar tries to make amends by showering Daniel with promotions and privileges: but it is too late, the judgement has already fallen.  His life ends and his kingdom is conquered.

Stories about the great and powerful often seem remote to us – their world is not ours.  However, it does remind us of two things: first, no human power or organisation lasts for ever.  However invincible they may seem, eventually they are all held to account.  There are many nations today who suffer from poor or even wicked leadership, including those who deliberately and systematically oppress God’s people.  Belshazzar’s feast reminds us that these leaders will one day be held to account, one side of the grave or the other.  Let’s pray for all who suffer in those circumstances, that God might grant them hope, courage, protection, and the peace ‘that passes understanding’.

Second, and appropriately for our nation with its new government, this story reminds us to pray for our leaders: for wise decisions, integrity and compassionate hearts – and perhaps, above all, for that sense that they are themselves accountable to Someone Greater, the ‘Most High God [who] is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth.’

Saturday 13th July – Daniel 5:8-12  ‘Infectious integrity’

To end the week, a related reflection from the ‘Wildfires’ series:

Every year or two I go on a pilgrimage.  Not the usual kind of pilgrimage, I must confess. Mine is to the Rembrandt rooms at the National Gallery in London.  Mostly I go to gaze at the two self-portraits: one painted when Rembrandt was 34 and at the peak of his powers; the other a few months before his death aged 63, penniless and broken.  The old Rembrandt almost fades into the canvas, and yet carries a new humility and compassion which touches me profoundly.

In the room you can also see one of Rembrandt’s most famous and greatest paintings, which depicts the scene described in our story today from Daniel 5. (You can take a look on their website here.)  Like the story, it’s called Belshazzar’s feast, and perfectly captures the dramatic moment when the King sees the ethereal divine hand appear and is seized by terror (vv5-6).  Here is a fantastic image of human pride and power laid low, humbled by the greater power of the Almighty.  The most powerful man in the world at the time (not for much longer!) is revealed for the fragile human being he was.

King Belshazzar was a pagan, but what is remarkable about this story is how the terrified court quickly turns to an elderly Jew for help.  Daniel had faithfully served Belshazzar’s father for decades, and had helped out King Nebuchadnezzar in a similar way in ch2.  Although their worldviews were very different, Daniel’s spirit-filled wisdom was plain for all to see, and held in high honour even by a pagan court.  By bravely living his faith out in the public square, Daniel’s infectious integrity had quietly exercised profound influence at the heart of power, and continued to do so.  Through Daniel and others like him, God revealed his glory, such that even Nebuchadnezzar met with God in a deep and life-changing way (ch4).

The whole book of Daniel – including this story in ch5 – is a healthy reminder that when the Spirit of God is at work, the effects can be seen even among those who would not profess the same faith.  They may describe it in different ways – ‘the spirit of the holy gods’ (sic, v11) – but they knew divinely inspired wisdom when they saw it.

Many of us today are very conscious that followers of Jesus are very much in the minority, that most of our colleagues, friends and maybe even family do not share our beliefs.  But we can take heart from Daniel today that a deep spiritual life always speaks to those around us, perhaps in very unexpected ways.

And who knows, we too may be given opportunities to speak and to bring the presence of the true and living God, just as Daniel was.  Thanks to the indwelling Spirit of God, we may be far more influential than we realise….

Friday 12th July – Daniel 5:1-13 ‘Call for Daniel’

A couple of years ago, Alise and I were gripped by the TV drama ‘Manhunt’.  It tells the true story of the hunt for a serial criminal in South London, who evaded capture for 17 years.  His crimes are not for the faint-hearted, but the series re-told fairly faithfully (sufficiently so, I am told, that it is required viewing for the current police training course for new officers!) how he was eventually captured and brought to justice.

The week after the series ended, a documentary also told the story of the investigation, including interviews with some of the officers involved.  One of the most poignant reflections was how little media coverage the case received for many years. It was observed that because the offences were entirely against elderly people, mostly living alone, they simply didn’t have ‘news appeal’.  Both Senior Investigating Officers connected with the enquiry made the point that if these offences had been committed against the young, the news would have been saturated with coverage right from the start, and he would probably have been caught much more quickly.

We live in a society which idolises youth.  Most cultures in history have honoured older generations as being those with wisdom and life experience, but this has been eroded in our modern culture.  However, today’s iconic story reminds us of the true value of a ‘wise old saint’. 

Daniel is, by this stage, a very old man: at least 80 years old, which in the sixth century BC is an extremely unusual age to live to.  He has served for decades at the Babylonian court, but it is probably reasonable to assume that he has been ‘out in the cold’ for a long time, if Belshazzar – who has ruled in all but name for 17 years – is unaware of his gifts.

However his mother remembers the past more clearly, and urges her son to call for Daniel.  It is particularly noteworthy that it is Daniel’s spiritual insight which is remembered (v11).  He is not just another astrologer, he is revered as having something deeper to share.

God can still use all of us.  We are never too old, never ‘on the scrapheap’.  Indeed our age and experience might just be the thing that is most needed.  It was a police officer on the verge of retirement who was called in to help with the Manhunt enquiry which eventually captured the culprit.  Not a younger officer with new ideas, but an older one with deeper insight. 

Whatever stage of life you find yourself in, take encouragement from today’s story.  You still have gifts to offer, wisdom to share, people to bless.  And may God grant us all opportunities to do so.  Amen!

Thursday 11th July – Daniel 5:1-4 ‘Short term memory’

Chapter 5 is another of the iconic stories of the bible – it’s amazing how many such stories you can find in the first six chapters of the little book of Daniel!  This particular story still retains a place in our culture via the phrase: ‘the writing on the wall’.  It’s used to describe a moment when the outcome of a situation becomes inevitable – usually a bad moment or downfall, and the connection to this story will become clear in the next couple of days.

But today we begin our brief tour of this story by being introduced to a grandson who is certainly not a patch on his illustrious grandfather.  King Belshazzar suffered the fate of many heirs who succeed great rulers: they pale by comparison.  Nebuchadnezzar died in 562BC, to be succeeded by Labashi-Marduk.  Belshazzar then helped engineer a coup in 556BC which placed his elderly father Nabonidus on the throne for the next 17 years, and, though he never actually became king, effectively ruled in his stead for much of his father’s reign, acting as Regent of Babylon for more than 10 years during this time.

So Belshazzar is a cunning political operator, and by no means weak or ungifted.  He was a royal ‘insider’ and attempted to maintain the legacy that Nebuchadnezzar had left him, with a certain degree of success.

However, he failed in one crucial regard – he forgot the one vital lesson that Nebuchadnezzar had learned: ‘the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth, and gives them to anyone he wishes.’  Nebuchadnezzar had learned this lesson the hard way, as we’ve seen over the last few days; but he had also learned this lesson very publicly and deeply.  No-one connected with the court could have failed to perceive it.

But in the 20 or so years that elapsed since the death of the great king, this lesson was forgotten.  The sure sign of this is made clear in verse 2 of chapter 5: when hosting a party, Belshazzar uses the sacred vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem.  Not even King Nebuchadnezzar in his pomp had dared to carry out such an act of sacrilege, and it betrays an astonishing arrogance that leads fairly rapidly to Belshazzar’s downfall.

Whilst Belshazzar ends up as a tragic-comic figure in the story, there is a valuable reminder of how easy it is to forget God’s ways, the lessons He has taught us along the way.  As the wonderful old hymn goes: ‘Tell me the old, old story, for I forget so soon: the early dew of morning has passed away at noon.’

Perhaps take a moment today to ‘remember your first love’, to remind yourself of all that God has shown you along the way – that we might continue to walk in humble joy, and stay close to our Lord.

Wednesday 10th July – Daniel 4:28-37  ‘The Humble King’

Until the first century AD, the phrase ‘humble king’ was an oxymoron.  Kings and other rulers were meant to be proud and glorious, manifestly greater beings than the people they ruled.  The idea of a king being humble was ridiculous – Nebuchadnezzar may have been a tyrant but he conformed to the pattern expected of him. 

So what happened in Daniel chapter 4 is truly extraordinary.  Not just that the world’s most powerful ruler had such a downfall – but that he learned his lesson in the process. 

Historical evidence doesn’t shed light conclusively as to when and how this actually happened, so this is one episode we have to take on trust. Its veracity is most probably located in its unlikeliness.  This sort of thing was so far outside the realms of what would be expected that it’s improbable anyone would think to make it up – and even more improbable that a conquered people would dare to write it down and circulate it unless it was sanctioned.  Truth, in this case, is stranger than fiction.

And so, unlikely as it sounds, perhaps the great Nebuchadnezzar really did undergo a spiritual transformation.  Having suffered a prolonged season quite literally in the wilderness, he ‘raised his eyes towards heaven,’ and now praises, honours and glorifies the Most High (v34). 

Indeed, lest we miss it first time, he makes it clear that this change is not just a self-preserving response to a crisis which is soon forgotten when success returns, but a permanent change – the most remarkable sentence of all is found in the final verse (37): ‘Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the king of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.’  The greatest earthly king now bows his heart before Someone even greater.

And whilst we may marvel at this remarkable transformation – and may it give us hope to keep praying for those close to us who seem hardened to God’s love – King Nebuchadnezzar is also, in his way, a prophetic sign, paving the way for a new understanding of what true leadership is. 

600 years later another king entered this world, and another tree took centre stage, one on which this king was lifted up – not to be worshipped, but to be mocked and insulted.  The placard which hailed him as king was designed to be ironic but spoke a greater truth than those standing nearby realised.  This king had taught that the only path to greatness was humble service, and just 24 hours previously had washed his friends’ feet, the task assigned to the lowliest slave in the household.  Shortly after his death his followers began to live in the same way, and the idea of humility before the Most High took root as a defining quality of real leadership.

The old Nebuchadnezzar of chapters 2 and 3 would have had no idea what this kind of king was about; but perhaps the Nebuchadnezzar of chapter 4 would have understood, after all.  Today, we worship this King – the King of kings – who comes to us gentle and lowly, and who alone can grant us rest.

Tuesday 9th July – Daniel 4:19-32 ‘Cut down?’

By a strange coincidence, when I first wrote this reflection a couple of years ago, a large part of one of our biggest trees fell down in the churchyard.  I watched it happen from my study window shortly before writing!  There was a large cracking noise followed by the sobering sound of falling timber – and suddenly a bigger gap in the sky than we had a few seconds previously.

Thankfully no-one was nearby, and the clear up operation was successful – but it provides a timely example of just what is involved in the felling of a big and glorious tree.  Today’s passage continues the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s second vivid dream, which Daniel is once again called to explain.  And, as Daniel makes clear, Nebuchadnezzar is himself the mighty tree he has dreamed of.  A tree that is about to be cut down….

But there is a second chance offered.  Daniel advises the king that a change of ways – or rather a change of heart – may yet save him from the dream coming true.  And perhaps Nebuchadnezzar did change – briefly.  But a year later, old patterns re-emerged (or had never altered), and the great king was humbled, just as the dream had foretold.

Whilst we might naturally perceive little in this story which affects us directly, there is a universal truth here.  Pride comes before a fall, as the old saying goes – and if this story teaches us anything, it reminds to beware believing our own hype.  We humans are good at giving ourselves too much credit for our successes, and too little responsibility for our failures.  Humility is one the greatest and most prized of all virtues: perhaps not in the eyes of much of society, but certainly in the eyes of the One whose opinion really matters.

There is also the offer of a second chance.  Whilst Nebuchadnezzar did ultimately fall victim to his own hubris, our gracious God gave him time to amend his ways.  How much more can we rest on the promises of Christ, the great giver of second, and third, and fourth, and multiple chances: ‘The time has come: the kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news!’

May the Lord draw us back to this good news today, to the true freedom effected by life-giving repentance and faith.  And may we, too, walk in the dusty glory and wonder of humility. 

Monday 8th July – Daniel 4:1-18 ‘Who’s the boss?’

It usually takes most of us a while to really learn a lesson.  That’s human nature – there’s a stubborn streak in most of us, and patterns take time to be unlearned or re-formed.

It’s true for ordinary human beings, but no less true for the great and powerful.  Probably more true, in fact.  It was certainly the case for King Nebuchadnezzar. Chapters 2-4 of Daniel describe a life-changing journey for the world’s most powerful man at the time, and we can see a progression in Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding, albeit a slow one.

In chapter 2, the king is confronted with a terrifying dream, and experiences a miraculous revelation given by one of his Jewish advisors. It causes him to wonder, but his ego is undiminished: indeed, having been told that his was the golden head of the statue (2:38), he goes right ahead and constructs a golden statue (3:1), even demanding that his people worship it!

And so he encounters Operation Revelation Part 2, where God meets with him again in the form of the miraculous rescue of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; and this time he actually sees an angelic vision (3:25).  His heart is moved a little closer to the Lord: he now praises the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, which is something he didn’t do at the end of chapter 2.  But he remains a human who sees power in terms of coercion and prestige: threatening disaster on all who do not worship the same God (3:29) and glorying in his own prosperity (4:4).

And so God meets with him a third time, through another vivid dream.  It is noteworthy that while the dream appears obscure, the punchline is direct and its meaning quite clear even before Daniel is brought in to explain it: the messenger in the vision declares that God is the Lord of all and even the leaders of nations are in his hands (v17).

So it’s possible that Nebuchadnezzar already knew the meaning of the dream, but was desperately hoping it was aimed at someone else!  Perhaps that might be a prod for some of us as we read today: has God been speaking to you about something, maybe a word you’re reluctant to hear, or a change you’re reluctant to make?

Either way, there’s a simple lesson in chapter 4 for all of us: there is only one true God – the Lord God Almighty – and this God has the whole world in His hands.  For Nebuchadnezzar this caused a great downfall, followed by a marvellous restoration, as we’ll see over the next couple of days.

But for us, may it be an encouragement.  Wherever we see corrupt human leadership anywhere in the world, we know that it doesn’t last forever.  Kingdoms fall, leaders are replaced, and there is one Kingdom that ultimately prevails.  Let’s pray with confidence to our great God today, and for the nations that desperately need better leaders, that the Lord might intervene, for His glory and for the sake of those who suffer.

Saturday 6th July – Isaiah 43:1-7 ‘Because I love you’

A brief interlude from a famous passage which (possibly) references the courage of Daniel’s friends:

Life can be overwhelming.  This is true for pretty much everyone, at certain points.  I had a trivial example today – I should have known that the day I wrote this particular reflection, my workload would be under real pressure, and I would feel the waters rising around my neck!  What better moment, then, than to turn back to the promises in this amazing text.

Today’s reading is one of many people’s favourite portions of scripture.  As with the first part of Isaiah 42, there are so many promises, but the one that people cling to perhaps most of all is verse 2: ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.’

For the original readers, this text was full of collective memory.  The waters would have reminded every Israelite of the great story of the Exodus, and the crossing of the Red Sea.  The fire would have reminded people of Moses, and the bush that didn’t burn.  Subsequent generations would also have thought of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace – although that story hadn’t happened yet, at the time of writing.

But it’s not just a memory, the Lord says – it is a present reality.  What happened then is my promise to you now.  I am still the Lord who brings you through these trials.  And notice that it’s not ‘if’ but when – when you pass… when you pass… when you walk.  Trials are a part of life in this fallen world.  What we need to know is not that, somehow, we can ensure they won’t happen – but rather, that, in the midst of them, we have Someone to rely on.  We are not alone.  We will overcome.

And we can do that, ultimately, because this Someone loves us (v4).  Our God does not uphold us grudgingly; it is the freely-given loving care of a divine parent, to whom we are precious (v4) and for whom we are created (v7).  This is the foundation of the wonderful verse (2), that has sustained and blessed so many people.  I’ll leave the last word to the great David Wilkerson, in his commentary on this text:

‘It is absolutely imperative that we believe — quickly, firmly, today — that God loves us and delights in us… Dear saint, don’t look at your mounting bills. And don’t try looking into an uncertain future. Your part is to trust in your loving Father’s covenant promises, and to lean on his great love for you. You’re going to come out victorious, because he’s holding you in his loving arms.’  Amen.

Friday 5th July – Daniel 3:19-30  ‘Divine deliverance’

‘When you walk through the fire you will not be harmed, the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.’

Famous prophetic words from Isaiah 43 – and it’s quite possible that the prophet was referring to this very story.  It may well be that the courage of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was already well-known enough for this to sit alongside the iconic Crossing of the Red Sea in Isaiah’s prophecy.

Either way, the story of the three friends’ miraculous deliverance reaches its climax today.  The furnace is brought into play – with fatal consequences for the guards – but ultimately God does indeed rescue his servants and demonstrates (again) to King Nebuchadnezzar that He is the one in charge – the ‘God of Gods and the Lord of kings,’ as the king put it at the end of chapter 2.

Crucially, this time the king sees for himself an angelic being (v25) which clearly persuades him that God is actively involved in this saga.  Nevertheless, he still has some way to go to understand what this God might be saying to him directly – the decree of verse 29 still relies rather too much on coercive violence!  But it is another step in the right direction.

The image of the fire has long been used as a metaphor for a situation in which God reveals his work in a person’s life.  As fire refines metal, so crises or challenges refine us.  We never like the heat being turned up, but so often God blesses us in unexpected ways through the time of trial, and we develop an intimacy with him that maybe we didn’t think possible in normal circumstances.

In saying this, we should never trivialise the pain of a crisis – but we can cling with hope to the One who walks with us through it.  Take a moment to pray for all who walk through crises today – whether that’s you, or others.  The God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is our God, too.

Thursday 4th July – Daniel 3:13-18 ‘But if not….’

‘But even if he does not…’ – one of the greatest lines in the bible, I think.  Certainly one of the bravest and most awe-inspiring.  The lives of Daniel’s three friends are on the line, and from the king’s point of view it rests on one decision: will they bow down to his golden statue or not?

However, this is not the key decision as Daniel’s friends see it.  The one decision that matters is: will they be faithful to their Lord?  They serve Someone Greater, and they are prepared to trust their lives into this Someone’s hands. 

Which means that the decision is already made, only the consequence of that decision remains: either God will save them miraculously, or they will die but be rewarded with eternal glory for their faithfulness.  Whichever it proves to be, they will not be coerced into idolatry by the king.

We know the ending of the story, but let’s not skip to that point yet – tomorrow comes soon enough!  Very few of us will face such a life-or-death decision in our lives.  But we will face daily or weekly small decisions where we have to decide whom we serve.  And the point is that God always blesses our faithfulness.  Not always as we expect, but always in some way or another.  Or to put it another way: God always repays.

So let’s seize faith to live with the same mindset as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  Those who are faithful do not need to defend their position – God will do that for us.  Hallelujah!

Wednesday 3rd July – Daniel 3:1-12 ‘Following the crowd’

Humans are social beings (as well as spiritual ones!).  We are made to relate, and we also have a deep desire to ‘find our place’ in the community.  We all know what peer pressure feels like – that subtle power to conform to a particular set of expectations, or ‘approved’ beliefs or behaviours.

Daniel chapter 3 is all about control (on the part of King Nebuchadnezzar) and courage (on the part of Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego).  At the heart of both themes is the question of conformity.  The king demands conformity to cement his power; the friends refuse because they worship Someone even greater.

I love the narrative of this chapter, because the endless repetition of the job titles (vv2,3) and the musical instruments (vv5,7,10) uses language to weave a narrative of conformity.  The underlying message is: ‘everyone is falling into line, whether they like it or not – so should you!’

But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego don’t fall into line.  Not because they like rebelling for the sake of it, but because only one Being deserves their worship and adoration: the Lord God Almighty.  Indeed, the astrologers testify to it in their denunciation to the king: ‘They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold.’ (v12)

As orthodox Christian faith finds itself under increasing attack in our culture, we too face greater pressure to ‘swim with the tide’ than for many decades.  Let’s acknowledge that not to do so is hard – we are social beings who like to fit in, to ‘find our place’.  For some, choosing not to is agonising, and it’s right to recognise the courage required.  We can also note the significance of the three friends choosing to stay faithful to the Lord together – it’s one reason why we need each other more than ever.  Faith was never designed to be a solitary occupation.

This is a story for our times, and let’s take heart from its message over these three days.  Today, may we be inspired by the simple reminder that in the end we are God’s, and our calling is to live for the Audience of One.  May God grant us grace to do that in all of our lives, and to support each other in prayer and friendship as we journey on ‘the road less travelled’ together.

Tuesday 2nd July – Daniel 2:44-49 ‘The God of gods’

Humans are spiritual beings.  We are all made to worship – and since the dawn of civilisation, every generation of human beings in every culture across the globe has done so.  Even now, those who apparently reject God, faith, or organised religion simply direct their worship towards something else.  The question is not if we worship but who (or what) we worship. 

It is now customary in the West to characterise faith as a minority pursuit, but in fact this is a myth – we’ve simply directed much of our faith and adoration elsewhere.  We all live by faith, to some extent – what matters is where we direct our faith.  When life gets hard, where do you go?  What pulls you through?  Who or what can you rely on?  Who holds the ultimate authority?  Who desires the best for us, and enables us to flourish as human beings? 

This is when the direction of our worship really matters.  Nebuchadnezzar may have been the world’s most powerful human being, but when he encountered something beyond his power, the source of his faith (essentially himself and his power) was left brutally exposed.  Suddenly he was looking for answers, he was open to the idea that he needed something – or someone – more than he had in his life at present.

And in the God of Daniel – the Lord Almighty of heaven and earth – he found such a One.  When Daniel miraculously revealed both the dream and the interpretation (and was careful to make clear who provided the inspiration – v28) Nebuchadnezzar was confronted with a greater reality, and was moved to a new kind of worship: ‘Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries.’ (v47)

It took many years for this spiritual awakening to produce genuine and deep change, as chapters 3 and 4 make clear, but Nebuchadnezzar’s journey towards the God of gods begins here.  The Lord had captured his attention, if not yet his heart.

We too are called to be Daniels today – perhaps not at the level (or with the danger) Daniel faced, but simply to point a confused culture towards the one true source of worship, the One who alone can satisfy our deepest needs and longings.  Our great God is more than able to do the rest, and to Him alone is all the glory.

Monday 1st July – Daniel 2:29-45 ‘The rock cut without hands’

Human empires come and go.  For a while they might seem invincible – but eventually they always decline, and their place is taken by another.  There is only one kingdom that lasts forever – the kingdom of God.  A kingdom not reliant on a territory or an army, but on the presence and power of the Almighty.  This kingdom may often appear weak and insignificant, but in the end it is the one which prevails, and eventually, ‘the kingdom of the world [will] become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ.’

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream tells the story of the kingdom, in visual form.  A great statue is pictured, made of different parts, and Daniel reveals that these parts represent human empires.  Whilst there is some uncertainty as to which are described, it is most likely the Babylonian, Medean, Persian and Greek empires, in that order.  Alexander the Great is probably the ‘iron’ kingdom which smashes the others to pieces (v40), but which then divides into a number of competing dynasties (vv41-43).  At that point, something dramatic happens: a ‘rock cut without hands’ smashes the statue (v34), fills the whole earth (v35) and lasts forever (v44).

The Greek Empire remained the dominant force in the world until it was conquered by the Romans, a process which took over a century, but which culminated in the Battle of Actium in 31BC – just three decades before Jesus was born and a new world order came into being.

Jesus is the rock cut without hands, the decisive intervention of God in our world (v44) whose kingdom prevails over all the others and now fills the earth.  When he was born, he was laid on a stone feeding trough (sorry to disappoint your images of a wooden manger!); he won the salvation of the world on the rocky outcrop of Mount Moriah; and, ultimately, a large stone was rolled away to declare the victory of God on Easter Day.

Daniel didn’t know any of that, of course.  But we do – and now we can read this amazing passage with wonder and joy in our hearts.  The dream was true – as was the interpretation.  Thank God for the ‘rock cut without hands’, who defeated our enemies, won our life and salvation, and now welcomes all into the family of the one, true everlasting kingdom.  Amen!

Saturday 29th June – Daniel 2:24-28 ‘But I know someone who can…’

‘I know a man who can.’  You may remember the famous advert for the AA – and with apologies for the non-inclusive language, it was very much of its time!  A child has buried the car at the beach, a truck carrying a giraffe is stuck at a low bridge… can you fix it? ‘No, but I know a man who can.’  (He’s a nice man, a very nice man, I like him, he’s a very nice man – but I’m getting carried away!)

When we face an insoluble problem, what we really need is ‘someone who can’.  Whether it’s cars, boilers, computers – or spiritual troubles – we need to know where to look for the answer.

King Nebuchadnezzar has his own breakdown to repair – a disturbing dream – and he has put the lives of his advisors at stake to find out.  And now that Daniel has the answer, he is shown in to the throne room to face the king directly (verses 24-25).  Not surprisingly for a king, Nebuchadnezzar gets right to it, no chit-chat: ‘Are you able to tell me?’ (v26).

‘No.’

‘…but I know someone who can.’

It’s hard to overstate the courage required to start with the word ‘no’, especially when your life depends on it.  But Daniel is here to do more than just fix the king’s problem: he wants to point Nebuchadnezzar to someone greater, the ultimate problem-fixer – Almighty God.  In doing so, he takes no credit for himself, but instead gives all the glory to God – something which is repeated by the king himself at the end of the conversation, as we’ll see in a couple of days’ time.

We may not face the sort of life-threatening challenge Daniel does – but there is here a wonderful model for attractive witness to our family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.  We may not have all the answers – but we know Someone who does.  We may not be able to solve their crises – but we know Someone who can.  We may not be able to fill the gap in their lives – but we know Someone who can. We may not be the answer to their prayers – but we know Someone who is.

When Jesus comes, he doesn’t say ‘this is the way’ – he says ‘I am the way.’ The path to life is found not in knowledge or expertise, but in a relationship.  When anyone faces challenges, the best thing we can do is to point beyond ourselves, to the One who is greater.  Because we know Someone Who Can.

Friday 28th June – Daniel 2:14-23 ‘When we need it’

‘Give us today our daily bread.’  A well-known line – indeed the central line – of the world’s most famous prayer, and one many of us pray every day.  And of course it does have a literal meaning, especially for many around the world, for whom daily physical sustenance is not a given.

But there is a broader meaning, too.  Bread in this case means ‘everything we need for the day.’  And there are days when this request takes on extra importance.  An unforeseen crisis, an extremely heavy workload, a big event which we’ve dreaded for ages. 

Today’s passage takes the promise of daily bread to its extreme!  What Daniel and his friends need is a miracle to save their lives.  The king will execute them the following day, along with hundreds of their fellow officials, unless they receive divine revelation concerning both the content and the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

And so they ‘plead for mercy from the God of heaven’ (v18).  And God is wonderfully gracious: a vision is given and Daniel receives the answer he needs, saving not just his life but the lives of many others.

In the midst of this extraordinary act of God, let’s not miss: (a) the practical steps Daniel took to ‘create the space’ which allowed God to work – verses 14-16.  This required both tact and courage:  God’s supernatural work complemented Daniel’s natural activity; (b) the power of community.  Daniel shared with his friends and they sought this miraculous ‘daily bread’ together; and (c) the importance of gratitude – how easy it is for us to forget to thank God for the ‘daily bread’ we receive!  Perhaps Daniel’s wonderful prayer in verses 20-23 can be ours this day.

What ‘daily bread’ do you need today?  And when you have received it, don’t forget to thank our loving God, too.  ‘Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever!’

Thursday 27th June – Daniel 2:1-13 ‘The power of dreams’

Nearly all of us dream.  It’s part of the brain’s way of processing and ordering our experiences, though it often leads to some strange combinations, and some even stranger recurrent dreams.  For some years in my 20s and 30s I dreamt regularly of being attacked by killer cats – yes, really.  If recurrent dreams are meant to provide insights into our basic psyche then I would probably be a psychologist’s nightmare.  I really don’t want to know what that signifies!

God also speaks through dreams, too.  The prophet Joel – the passage we often read at Pentecost, quoted by Peter in his famous sermon – promises that in the age of the Spirit ‘your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.’ (Joel 2:28)  Stories abound of how many thousands of people have recently come to faith in countries with no access to bibles or missionaries simply through dreams.  Jesus appears to them directly, and they awake with a profound assurance of God’s love.  Never under-estimate the power of a God-given dream.

And in our passage today, the world’s most powerful human being, Nebuchadnezzar – military genius, cruel tyrant, unstoppable force – encounters the one foe he fears: a vivid and disturbing dream.  In a culture which assumed that ‘the gods’ only communicated through mysterious things, this was a big deal, and potentially signified either triumph or disaster – no wonder he was terrified and unable to sleep (v1).

And in typical fashion he tries to bully his way to wisdom, saying in effect to his Magi (name sound familiar?): ‘Tell me what it means or I’ll kill you.’  Not sure that kind of pep talk ever really works… about as effective as a sign I keep in my room, which always makes me chuckle: ‘Floggings will continue until morale improves.’

But what is clear is that this dream is a pathway to divine revelation (v11) – and even today we too need to be open to the possibility that God might use a dream to speak to us.  Most of the time he doesn’t need to, we have bibles and pastors and lots of other ways to meet with God – so we need to beware overdoing this line of thought, or being ‘hyperalert’. 

But let’s rejoice with those who have come to Christ through them, and let’s pray that God continues to use dreams in cultures which oppose the gospel in other ways, to draw many more to the glorious awareness of his love and grace.  If God can speak to Nebuchadnezzar in this way, he can speak to anyone.

Wednesday 26th June – Daniel 1:17-21 ‘Real wisdom’

‘Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?  Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?’  These words of T.S. Eliot written almost a century ago are probably more true now than ever.  Apparently the amount of information created and stored on the web doubles every two years: vast amounts of data about anything and everything.  Information has become the idol of the 21st century, ironically obscuring our path towards knowledge, and pushing us even further from real wisdom, which seems more precious – and also more scarce – than ever.

But what is wisdom?  Wisdom is what makes life really work.  Someone once defined it in biblical terms as ‘godliness in everyday clothing.’  It’s about spiritual, emotional and relational health, the capacity to make wise choices, and to live with good, just and life-affirming purpose.  It cuts through the noise of information and sharpens the tools of knowledge.  In short, it’s how we were designed to live, and to flourish as human beings.

Today’s passage tells us that Daniel and his friends abounded in this kind of wisdom – ‘in every matter,’ and ten times better than the king’s other advisers, who are described as ‘magicians and enchanters’ (v20).

This last description is instructive because it makes the root of wisdom clear.  If wisdom is rooted in the character of God, then it’s vital to know who this God is.  Much religious practice of that day – including here in Babylon – assumed that the gods (probably plural) were essentially unknowable in any meaningful sense: they were capricious and unpredictable, and could only be sought through a series of bizarre rituals for, essentially, ‘yes or no’ answers.

The one, true God, on the other hand, worshipped by Daniel and his friends, is nothing like that.  Our God can be known: this is a God who, from the beginning, speaks.  This God communicated his will for human beings in detail through the giving of the law and the instructions of the prophets – all of which was available to Daniel.  And this God is not capricious or unpredictable, but constant in character – full of mercy, loving-kindness and near to all who call on him.  This God doesn’t need to be bribed or cajoled, but can be approached, loved and worshipped.

It’s no surprise, then, that Daniel and his friends gain a reputation for great wisdom.  You just have to look in the right place!  For us, too, despite the increasing pressure for us to abandon the wisdom of biblical truth, we can take great comfort and inspiration from knowing that we have the same access to real, divine wisdom – even greater, perhaps, than Daniel, because God’s Holy Spirit now writes this wisdom on our hearts. 

Our God still speaks, and still desires our flourishing.  Let’s recapture that joyful confidence in God’s wisdom to make life work, and may God grant us grace to find all the wisdom we need for our lives today.

Tuesday 25th June – Daniel 1:6-16 ‘Drawing the line’

Soon after I started office work in 1996, I was asked to work on a project for a large client in the gambling industry.  Our team had lots of clients, and gambling research was only a small part of our turnover.  I approached my director (quickly but quietly) and indicated that I had an issue of conscience with gambling, but would be very happy to work in every other client sector. 

My boss reluctantly accepted my decision, though I did get hauled into the Managing Director’s office a couple of days later and was given a telling off for my trouble.  But I worked there very happily (in the same team) for 12 years, with lots of clients in lots of sectors, and the issue never came up again.

On matters of faith and conscience, where do you draw the line?  That is the million-dollar question, and one which many of us have to face in our work, as well as in other parts of our lives.  It’s a multi-layered challenge: first, we have to know what we think about various things to start with – not always easy!  Second, we have to face possible conflict with family, friends and colleagues.  Third, we may also be worried that it puts our job or reputation at risk. 

Daniel and his friends faced these exact same questions 2,500 years ago.  They had been resettled in Babylon and forced to adapt to a totally different culture.   They had a deep faith, and resolved to stay faithful to the one, true God.  However, they also had to live and thrive in this culture – where should they draw the lines?

It’s fascinating to see that Daniel and his friends were happy to absorb Babylonian language, media culture and even names (v4, v6).  But their ‘red line’ was food (v8).  This may seem odd to our ears, but food laws were – and are – an incredibly important part of Jewish faith, and eating the wrong thing would have made Daniel unclean before God in a way that the other things didn’t.  So they chose to make a stand on this issue.

But what I love, and find inspiring, is the wise and gracious way they took this stand.  The talked to the right person privately rather than stand on a soapbox.  They were polite.  And they asked for a trial period to prove that they could do the job just as well regardless.

And God honoured their faithfulness.  Their health flourished, and the official could therefore afford to turn a blind eye.  It strikes me that this is a model for us, too.  Our ethical challenges may be different.  But we can still be wise and gracious – and above all, we look to our great God, who honours our gentle, loving obedience.  Where do you need wisdom today?  And how can God help you to act upon it?

Monday 24th June 2024 – Daniel 1:1-7  ‘A strange world’

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, by the end of 2023 approximately 117 million people across the world have been forcibly displaced.  Some flee drought, flood and famine; more flee conflict and persecution.  All of them are precious human beings, and their stories have touched many of us personally.  Whilst the majority were not forcibly taken – as the Jewish people were in Daniel chapter 1 – it remains, in many ways, a decision forced upon them.  Their lives are in danger: and, however thankful many must be to be living somewhere safe, that is weighed against the trauma of leaving their homeland, their culture, and most of their extended family and friends behind, perhaps never to see them again.

As their lives unfold, these refugees have to learn to live in an unfamiliar culture, and, as such, will face the critical decisions that all those in exile must face: what parts of their identity must be kept, and what must be adapted or even discarded.  This is the dilemma of exile.

The theme of exile is a crucial one in the bible.  It defines much of the story of God’s people, from Abraham onwards: in Egypt and in Babylon in the Old Testament; and then, in the New, a story of spiritual survival surrounded by a hostile host culture – first Jewish, then Roman.

It is, increasingly, our story, too.  For several generations our own culture in the UK has been moving away from the unquestioning acceptance of Christian truth as the bedrock of our culture, a process which is accelerating at present.  Many of us now feel ourselves to be strangers in a strange land: a minority swimming against the tide – albeit one which remains as spiritually hungry as ever, and is now able to hear the story of our faith with fresh ears.  So it’s not all doom and gloom: our good news is a genuine surprise to large parts of our nation, which brings enormous opportunities alongside considerable challenges.

But it is this cultural backdrop which makes the Old Testament Book of Daniel such an encouragement and an inspiration.  The world Daniel inhabits as a person of faith looks rather more like ours than it did 100 years ago.  There is so much gold for us to mine from its pages, and I hope over the next few weeks we will do just that.  It is a story of courage, of integrity, of surprising flourishing – as well as containing some of the best loved stories of the bible: the dreams, the fiery furnace, the writing on the wall and the lions’ den.

Above all, Daniel is a book about identity.  Not so much ‘who are we,’ but whose are we?  And if we are God’s (and God’s above all), how do we live out our faith in our culture?  What do we hold onto as non-negotiable, and where can we adapt?  How do we seek the prosperity of our city, our nation, and also worship and serve a Higher Power first and foremost?

As we delve deep into Daniel in this season, may God continue to make us strong in our identity: as his children, followers of Jesus above all, the One who ‘is the same yesterday, today and forever.’ And may we be equipped to live out our faith with fresh courage, integrity and inspiration.