My women's group is doing a Kay Arthur study right now called, As Silver Refined (affiliate link.) If you have ever done a Kay Arthur study you know they aren't fluffy. They are intensely deep and have some very thought-provoking concepts. They aren't easy studies - long and a lot of reading. But these women are week-in and week-out doing their "homework" and I couldn't be more proud of them about being purposeful in their spiritual journeys.
This week we discussed the chapter called Facing the Pain - The Safety of His Sovereignty. This concept of God's sovereignty is a pretty deep one. We want a God who will deal with the evil in the world. But then when horrific things happen to us, we tend to question God's sovereignty. Why did He let this happen to me? The pain is intense. Surely, a loving God wouldn't allow my child to die in a car crash. Surely, a loving God wouldn't allow my daughter to commit suicide. Surely a loving God wouldn't give me cancer. Surely, a loving God wouldn't....
Since we have a couple week break from the study for Thanksgiving, I asked the women to on their own read the book of Daniel and to look for where there were examples of God's sovereignty and we would discuss via email. We are going to do a couple chapters every couple days.
The theme of the book of Daniel is God's sovereignty. Before we started I gave them some historical background. I believe it is crucial to understand the context of a book before reading it. Yes, you can read Daniel and understand what it says. But if you understand what has gone on in world history at that point of time, the text becomes vibrant and so much more meaningful for you.
So we had to back up to the kingdom books (Joshua through 2 Kings) and I gave them a run down of what occurred in 1 and 2 Kings. This is an incredibly interesting time in world history! [I briefly cover this history in my Connecting the Dots of the Bible class and much more in depth in my The Kingdom Books class. If interested in scheduling a class in the Charlotte, NC area, contact me.]
The kingdom was united under the kings Saul, David, and Solomon. Then Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, became king and civil war erupted. 10 of the 12 tribes split off and became the Northern Kingdom (also called Israel.) They had a series of 20 kings - all who were bad and their religion was a mixture of Judaism and idol worship. God sent prophets to them and warned them. God finally judged them in 722 B.C. by having Assyria conquer them. All reports of the Assyrians was that they were brutal in every horrific way possible - skinning people and putting their skin on the walls of their cities; impaling their heads and lining the roads;... This is as bad as it could get. Assyria moved people of pagan religions into the area. The people left from these 10 tribes intermarried with the Assyrians and pagans. And these 10 tribes of Israel were wiped off world history. Some call them the Lost Tribes. Their descendants who had intermarried with the Assyrians and other pagans were called Samaritans. It was because of this mixed religion and their history that in New Testament times, the Jewish people hated them. Puts a whole new light on the story of the Good Samaritan!
The two tribes in the Southern Kingdom (called Judah), were Judah and Benjamin and lived in the area around Jerusalem. They had a series of 20 kings. Some were good and some were bad - mostly bad. By "bad" I mean they had turned from God. In His infinite mercy He sent many prophets to them to warn them. Sometimes a king would hear the prophet and turn back to God. But then the next king would be bad. After a series of several bad kings who were into idol worship, God judged the Southern Kingdom (Judah) by bringing King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon into Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar was a pagan king. I'm not sure why a lot of Christians think he was Jewish. He was not.
The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand,...
Jehoiakim is Jewish and was a king of Judah. The Lord GAVE Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand! This happened in 605 B.C. and is where the book of Daniel starts. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t originally destroy Jerusalem. He left their king to rule them, carried off some of their treasures from their temple, and in 597 B.C. carried off 10,000 of their finest men. Years go on like this. Finally in 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar comes in and destroys the beautiful temple Solomon built, burns down Jerusalem and carries off the people into exile.
Don’t miss the significance of this. The people of Judah were God’s people. He loved them. Our Savior came from Judah, from the line of David. But His people weren’t acting like His people. They were worshipping idols. They had turned from God. He tried to get them to come back. God sent the prophet Jeremiah to them to warn them. Poor Jeremiah talked and talked to them, but they would not listen. And so God judged them and used their circumstances to bring them back to Him.
[Geography: So where is Babylon? Babylon is the main city in Babylonia. (Just like NYC is in the United States.) Babylonia is roughly the same geographical position as modern Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Babylon would be just south of Baghdad.]
Later Persia defeats Babylon and the Persian king allows a remnant of Jewish people to return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. This remnant was in exile 70 years just like the Lord said they would be prior to it happening. (Jeremiah 29:10.)
From the time of the Babylonian defeat in 586 B.C. - the Jews were no longer a nation. From this point on in world history (except for the brief Maccabean Era 165-63 B.C. - during the time period between the Old Testament and New Testament when Hanukkah came about), the Jewish people were ruled by other nations. Well, until 1948 when God permitted Israel to be formed.
Here is an excellent post I came across that sums up what happened in world history in the time frame of the Babylonian captivity. It is much better than how I just told it.
So why am I spending so much time explaining the history to you? I believe if you understand the history behind the books of the Bible then they come to life for you! It is so easy to read the words, but not get the full impact of what they are saying. People were slaughtered. They brutally died. An estimated 50,000 people were taken from their home and marched off to Babylon. These were real people. They were God’s people. Real history. And they weren’t allowed to return for 70 years. That is a long time! But God used that judgment and long period of time to bring His people back to Him. God purged their hearts of idolatry.
There is such a thing as collective accountability. While Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Daniel were godly men - they suffered along with their people. God judged the entire nation to bring about good for His people. That is a pretty big concept to grapple with. I’m sure some of the people died and never saw the purpose and reason for the judgment on Judah.
God is in control of everything.
God is sovereign.
God is in control of the fate of the nations.
He is in control of our lives, whether we are a believer or not.
And so just like bad things happened to God's people, it is with our lives. We may never know why this awful fill-in-the-blank thing happened to us. But we learn about God’s promises to us. We cling to them. God always fulfills His promises. He is a God of His Word. He will never leave us nor forsake us. We are assured that God has a plan and a purpose and it is for our good. (Jeremiah 29:11) We may never see that good in our lifetime though. And that is where faith comes in. We just hold onto His promises and trust the One who we know is good.
Once you truly understand and accept the sovereignty of God - not that it always feels good, but that it is good - your faith will grow in leaps and bounds.
We want a sovereign God to judge the evil in this world, but we don’t want to have to suffer for Him to bring about that good? Think about it.
God is sovereign over it all.
All of it.
I totally agree with Kay Arthur when she said on page 117 of As Silver Refined:
“The single most powerful, liberating, peace-giving truth I’ve ever learned in God’s Word is the fact that He is sovereign.”
Amen to that.