ld Testament stories always fascinate me, especially those that have unpredictable twists and turns.
As a child I could never figure out why ancient people did such stupid things. I suppose its only natural to see ourselves as different from--or at least wiser than--those who lived in biblical times. But are we, really? We readily acknowledge the smugness of the Pharisees prayer: God, I thank you that I am not like other men (Luke 18:11, NIV). Yet we often turn right around and instinctively give ourselves high-fives for not being like that Pharisee!
The apostle Paul reminds us that its OK for youngsters to reason like a child, but that as adults we must put away childish ways of thinking (1 Cor. 13:11, NIV). One way to be more mature in our understanding of the Bible is to discern that in His Word, God not only communicates with us but also about us. We must realize that the men and women of the Bible are not the exceptions. Rather, they are the norm, the typical, run-of-the-mill kind of person--just like you and me! God desires to give us an honest, perceptive look at ourselves through the disclosure of their experience.
I dont really understand a biblical story until I see myself in the shoes of the main character: Thats me standing in the garden blaming God and everyone else in sight for the choice I made. There I am asking myself, What can be done by the school, the company, the church, for the person (me, of course) who is deserving of honor? Yes, thats me in the wilderness grumbling because theres nothing else to eat but manna. There I am heading for Joppa, turned off by Gods request to help some people I cant stand! And I can hear myself saying, All that the Lord has said, I will do! Nothing wrong with that, is there?
Im not suggesting that we should put ourselves only in self-incriminating situations. Seeing ourselves in positive circumstances is equally important. But the tendency is to avoid the former because theyre so painful. Thus the apostle Paul cautions us that whats been recorded in Scripture is written down to warn us that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience (1 Cor. 10:11, 13, NLT). Gods Word is an eye-opening revelation of self, whether in a personal sense or a collective capacity, traced in the pages of history or prophecy.
Lets illustrate with the book of Daniel.
The Babylon Banner
The opening salvo of Daniels story is Jerusalem besieged by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon (Dan. 1:1, NIV). Rulership looms as the primary issue at the very outset of the book. This initial text must not be relegated to a bygone political event, but should also be seen as a personal ongoing experience. Like the book itself, the very first chapter of every persons life tells the same story. All start out besieged by Satan, the king of spiritual Babylon. We begin life as slaves in the land of the enemy --under the Babylonian banner. For us, the head of gold in Daniels image is not merely an ancient empire. It represents the spiritual condition of those whose lives are centered on going for the gold rather than worshipping the living God.
Self-worship is the decisive trademark of those in Babylon. Because of Adams fall, everyone is born with self already seated on the throne. Thus the carnal heart knows nothing else but to rule, to devise its own plans, to call the shots. It is the measure of all things. Any opposition to such claims, even God Himself, means an all-out war. Its a life-and-death struggle, evidenced by the fact that every heart, to some degree, defiantly shouts out, Let Him be crucified.
Gods message to earths inhabitants is that Babylon the great is fallen, so come out of her, My people (Rev. 18:2, 4, NKJV). This is fulfilled through Jesus, who transfers our allegiance and worship from the creature to the Creator. We are out of Babylon when we are in Christ and self is dethroned and God reigns supreme in our lives.
The Median Mandate
Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed (Dan. 6:15, NIV). I still remember my feelings as a child toward this brazen attitude. How could they be so blatantly arrogant? So stupidly stubborn! I was glad there werent any Medes and Persians in my neighborhood.
For some of us, it takes a little longer to discover that the claim of infallibility is not limited to ancient kingdoms. The favorite pastime of mere mortals is still playing God. Exercising the divine attribute of immutability (I change not) is as popular as ever. In their Most High position, people cannot conceive of an authority any greater, laws any better, solutions any wiser, than their own.
The Median mandate is the modus operandi of the self when it holds the scepter in the throne room of the heart.
The Grecian Graduate
The Grecian Empires portrayal as a goat that became very great (Dan. 8:8, NIV) is not so much a divine appraisal as it is a revelation of human ambition. The Revised Standard Versions rendition that the he-goat magnified himself exceedingly makes this evident.
Spiritually adverse to the things of God, Greek mentality shifts the attack from the battlefield to the classroom. Once again the pen proves mightier than the sword. In the final analysis the object of conquest in the great controversy is the hearts of men and women. In todays world its the Grecian scholar, rather than the armed soldier, who leads the onslaught against the cross, the church, and the Christian campus. Paul declares that for the Greeks who proudly seek after wisdom, the message of Christ crucified is simply foolishness (1 Cor. 1:22, 23, NKJV).
Our hearts are Greek by nature, evidenced by the fact that the garb of intellectual attainment is so often of greater importance than the garment of Christs righteousness. The cross of Christ is offensive to the pride and selfish ambition that so often permeate academic halls. With its proud and egotistical bend, the heart strives for worldly honor, praise, and recognition. Simplicity and self-denial are seen as demeaning and foolish. Without the indwelling of Jesus, the heart is proud and self-righteous.
The Roman Religion
As accomplices of Satan, sinful human beings also put forth the pretentious claim that they are simply improving the divine system. Their ideas of how life should be lived are seen as an upgrade of Gods eternal principles. The truth is that they instinctively hate the divine standard, not only for what it requires of them but also for what it reveals about them. Their carnal spirit leads them to question the wisdom of the Almighty. And hiding behind a religious facade, they feel at liberty to revise, annul, or misinterpret Gods laws in order to substitute their own way for the will of God.
Daniel turns the divine spotlight on the papal system as a historical revelation of the pride and arrogance of the human spirit. But it is a serious mistake to suppose that such a spirit is confined to that which is papal. Roman religion is first of all a personal expression of self-worship--a religion turned inward to human wisdom, human authority, and humanly devised salvation. It pronounces anathema on salvation by grace alone through faith alone. It represents humankinds continual attempt to rule, as well as to save the world, through self-exaltation. All religious systems that have grown callous and corrupt have a common root--the selfish hearts of humans.
Martin Luther declared that self was the true pope enthroned in the heart, of which the supreme Roman pontiff is only a symbol.
The Bottom Line
From Daniels perspective, all earthly powers are collectively a grand and spectacular image. It has the admiration of the whole world. The heart naturally basks in dazzling displays of human dominion and accomplishments. But it fails to acknowledge that the image crafted in human likeness ultimately disintegrates, crushed by a stone cut out without hands.
The crumbled pile of gold, silver, bronze, and iron is a vivid reminder of the eventual demise of all worldly systems and empires, the end to all dreams of personal ambition. And how do todays unbelievers respond when this truth finally hits home? Like Nebuchadnezzar, they simply build another image, this one of solid gold. Thats the heresy of the human heart!
Gordon Kainer is a retired academy Bible teacher presently living with his wife, Jeanie, in Santa Rosa, California.