June 30, 2021
The Biblical book of Daniel opens with a pretty dire set of circumstances. Jerusalem is under siege. The armies of Nebuchadnezzar have conquered every other nation in the area, now they are about to sack the capital of Judah. God’s people are facing a threat to their existence. Then the text says: “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand…” That’s a pretty powerful statement when you think about it. God gave his people over to the Babylonian empire. They had been in rebellion and disobeying God for many years, now they are being handed over to their enemies. The Babylonians would destroy the nation and drag the population away as slaves to serve Babylon. The 70 year period that would follow is called the exile. The crazy, kinda subtle thing that is easy to miss in the English translation of the book is that the name used for God is not one of the more popular ones. You see, people used names to describe the attributes of the person named. God is worshipped using multiples names that describe aspects of his person. God is often called by the name “Yahweh,” which is the most holy name of God. Instead of the regular name, he is called “Adonay.” Adonay is the name for God that means “sovereign, ruler, or owner.” This means that God isn’t throwing his people away or bad things aren’t happening to them based on God’s lack of care or weakness. Instead, he is operating according to his choice. He has a plan. In fact, the popular line: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” is literally speaking about this time in exile when the people would be taken away from their homeland into slavery. It’s hard to think of going into exile or a dark, difficult time in our lives without assuming that God has abandoned us or that he is powerless to help or even that he despises us. Instead, what we can learn here is that God desires to make his people better, and the miserable time they will endure in the years to come will make them better. After 70 years, the Jewish people left the exile with a stronger identity, a love/devotion/obedience that they never had before, with the rabbis (a word that means teacher) in place teaching the people how to live out what they believe, and with a focus on being God’s people. That growth as a nation was hard, but all growth is. Paul offers an interesting perspective on hardship in one of his letters to the church in Corinth. He speaks of a “thorn in his side” that he begs God to remove. In the end, God answers: “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made complete in your weakness.” This is a bit hard to understand, but Paul explains it. God takes care of us when we are weak. In fact, we are stronger when we are weak, because we must rely on God’s strength to carry us through. When we need him to carry us through depression, financial worries, relationship difficulties, or whatever else, then it is not us, but Him who does the heavy lifting. This doesn’t mean that everything will be a picnic, but it does assure us that as long as we follow and lean on him, he will work for our good. That good may be our maturity or something we never get to understand in this lifetime. However, if God is there and He is good, then we must trust him in good times and the low spots in the road.