Book Review: The Derision of Heaven

I am a little behind on posting this because I had a very busy week last week, but I just wanted to share The Derision of Heaven by Michael Whitworth. I had previously read and reviewed The Epic of God, Whitworth’s book on Genesis, and since I enjoyed that book so much, I made sure to check out The Derision of Heaven, which focuses on the Book of Daniel.
a little bit about

If anything, I think I liked Derision even more than Epic. Part of this may have been because I read it in paperback rather than a digital version (I am old school when it comes to reading), but it was a really good book, and possessed the same tandem of qualities that made its predecessor such a joy to read as well: a balance between style and substance. By that, I mean that the book is very readable while still being very well-researched.

Before I get into the good stuff (sharing my favorite quotations), let me just add one point. The Book of Daniel is 12 chapters long. The first six chapters consist of relatively straightforward historical narrative, while the last six are filled with wild apocalyptic prophecy. Based on those last six chapters, all sorts of people have predicted all sorts of things, usually with little success. One of the things I appreciated most about this book was the author’s humility in interpreting these difficult passages while still covering them thoroughly and repeatedly emphasizing their main theme: God is at work behind the scenes, and is in control of the universe.

Now, on to the quotations (with my comments in brackets):

“As long as God lives and reigns, his people have hope. Christians should never fear the state; the book of Daniel assures us God has numbered the days of every wicked leader who wields power irresponsibly.” (6)

“Whether in times of disaster or disorientation, we can navigate turbulent waters, not by being the strongest, savviest, or most obnoxious, but by being faithful to God and bringing him glory as Daniel did.” (25)

“Being a light in the darkness doesn’t require our being a burr under the saddle.” (27)

“To pretend that our own political leaders hold office by the will of the people and not also by the will of God is to foolishly assume that these two things are mutually exclusive. They are not.” (38)

“Our personal talents and abilities matter less than our humble willingness to be used by God for his glory.” (39)

“Empires and superpowers rise and fall at God’s will. It’s this realization that causes me to be quite concerned about those Christians who seem prouder to be an American than a member of the church, God’s eternal kingdom, one that cannot be shaken…it’s not a sin to be a patriot unless patriotism becomes your idol. I wonder if some Christians aren’t bigger fans of the Constitution than the gospel.” (48-49) [I agree with his concern and frustration. Many who claim to be Christians take to social media with more passion over some political issue than they ever show on behalf of Christ. Sad but true.]

“Our attitude and behavior when under trial is a powerful testimony to the glory and love of God.” (65)

“In God’s way of working, progress and success often occur so slowly that they are unobservable.” (98)

“I want you to appreciate the tension that exists between “God can” and “God will.” We live our lives within that tension. We know God can do something about our suffering, but will he? In this tense area of in-between is where Satan thrives. In this soil, he plants seeds of doubt in our hearts and nurtures them until they have borne the ugly fruit of indignation, rebellion, and death. But there is something we can place in that gap to frustrate Satan’s schemes—not faith in God’s deliverance, for he does not always do so, but confidence that God will do what’s ultimately best for us. God always does whatever will bring him glory, and God glorifying himself is what is ultimately best for us.” (111) [This is such an important idea, I think, that I gave it its own post. The sooner we can understand and embrace this tension, the better it will be for our spiritual maturity and our own peace of mind.]

“You and I would be better off if we spent less time worrying about gun control, runaway deficit spending, and where/how long the president spends his vacation. We would be better served worrying less about how Liberals, Conservatives, Muslims, Atheists, or others not like us are destroying America. Instead, how would things be different if we confessed daily that Jesus, even now, held dominion over all the earth? What would it look like if we spent more time urging people to willingly kneel before King Jesus now before being compelled to do so on the final day? What would it look like if more Christians spent less time griping about earthly empires destines for history’s trash heap, and celebrated instead Jesus’ indestructible and eternal kingdom?” (132) [This is kind of a soapbox, but a much needed one. I completely agree with him.]

“In the dark days that lie ahead, let us resolve to fight God’s way, not the world’s way.” (185)

Hopefully, these quotations give you a taste of the book, and make you want to get a copy to read yourself. It would be an invaluable resource for anyone preparing to teach or preach on Daniel, but also beneficial for personal Bible study as well.


The Best Prayers Are Short Prayers

Obviously the title of this post is not comprehensively true—there are certainly times when long, extended prayers are appropriate and necessary. The Bible teaches that, at times, Jesus went out and prayed for hours on end (Luke 6.12; Luke 22.39-46), and if He felt it was necessary to do so on occasion, how much more should we?

At the same time, I think we sometimes feel that brief prayers are less meaningful or less useful, and this certainly is not what the Bible teaches. In Matthew 6.7, Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” He then goes on to provide a prayer as model which is not lengthy at all.

I mentioned that I am studying Hebrew this semester, and in class, my teacher shared with us the words pictured above, which comprise a Hebrew Table Prayer (i.e., a prayer that would be said before a meal by an observant Jewish family).

Translated, the prayer goes something like this (words in [ ] convey additional meaning implied in the Hebrew):

Blessed are you, O LORD [God of covenant] 
Our God, [God of creation]
King of the universe [eternal king]
Who brings forth bread [food]
From the earth.

As this illustrates, the briefest of prayers can convey great meaning, and simplicity can possess great power:

As the God of covenant, we are reminded that God desires relationship with his people, and that it is through our relationship with him that all spiritual blessings come. As the God of creation, we are reminded that everything which exists exists because God made it—we owe Him our very existence. As the eternal King of the universe, we are reminded that God’s dominion and authority extends over all things, and throughout (and beyond) all times. And as the One who brings forth food from the earth, we are reminded that we are dependent on God for our daily survival; He is our Sustainer as well as our Creator.

Some very important reminders in just a few simple words. Don’t sell short the power of a short prayer; it can convey the deep truths of life and faith!


The Tension between God Can and God Will

I’m currently reading, The Derision of Heaven, which is a guide to the Book of Daniel written by Michael Whitworth. It’s been a great read so far and I plan on writing a review of it when I’m finished, but I came upon this quotation which was so good that I wanted to go ahead and share it:
“I want you to appreciate the tension that exists between “God can” and “God will.” We live our lives within that tension. We know God can do something about our suffering, but will he? In this tense area of in-between is where Satan thrives. In this soil, he plants seeds of doubt in our hearts and nurtures them until they have borne the ugly fruit of indignation, rebellion, and death. But there is something we can place in that gap to frustrate Satan’s schemes—not faith in God’s deliverance, for he does not always do so, but confidence that God will do what’s ultimately best for us. God always does whatever will bring him glory, and God glorifying himself is what is ultimately best for us.”
(The Derision of Heaven, p. 111) 


What Language Study Has Taught Me About The Bible

School-wise, this semester has been (and will continue to be) a challenging one, so my posting here has had to take somewhat of a backseat. Sorry about that.

I have written before about my (mis)adventures in the study of languages, and this semester is a continuation of that trend, as I am simultaneously taking my final Greek class and my first Hebrew class. 

The two languages are different enough that, so far, I haven’t gotten them too mixed up in my head, but studying both at the same time has been difficult and has required a lot of my brainpower. Greek is now pretty familiar (this is my fourth class in it) and I actually enjoy working and translating it, but Hebrew is just so foreign that it has been a strain.

Having said all this, I am repeatedly struck by three significant lessons that I have learned from language study:

(1) We owe such a debt to those who have gone on before us and have translated the Scriptures into our own languages. Language study takes a lot of patience, diligence, and perseverance. Translating from one language to another is difficult, and is especially more difficult when you are translating from hard-to-read ancient texts. There was a time when the vast majority of church-going people were unable to read the Bible for themselves, and were completely reliant on what others told them about it. We are in such a position of privilege to be able to read Scripture in our own tongue, and to do so with a great degree of confidence that what we are reading is an accurate portrayal of the original.

(2) It is important to read from and consult multiple translations. As I mentioned above, translating from one language to another is difficult. Anyone who has engaged in the process knows that often, a certain Hebrew or Greek word can be translated in multiple ways in English, and the different options have to be weighed. Ultimately, a lot of opinion and subjective interpretation comes into play when translating from one language to another, not because people are biased or dishonest or irresponsible, but simply because there is no other way to translate. A certain degree of interpretation is inherently involved. One of the great things about consulting multiple translations is that they tend to have a way of correcting the biases and weaknesses of one another. In other words, if you’re holding onto a particular doctrinal position based on one translation which is in disagreement with all others, you probably need to reevaluate your position.

(3) The Bible is a masterpiece. Studying the Bible in its original languages emphasizes to me how awesome it is. It is so intricately woven together, with certain words or literary devices emphasizing themes or creating links between different stories, books, and even between the Old and New Testaments. It has reinforced to me the unity and diversity of Scripture: composed by dozens of human authors whose individual voices shine through, but ultimately inspired by the Spirit of God, who works all pieces together into a complete and complementary whole.

To sum it all up, while studying biblical languages has been (and will continue to be) a challenge, it has also been a blessing because of these important lessons I have learned (or relearned). Hopefully they will bless your lives as well.


Syria, Obadiah, and Us

If you have paid any attention to the news over the last several days, you are aware that there is a country in the Middle East plagued by civil unrest and violent atrocities, and the United States finds itself in the position of determining if and how to intervene. Sounds like a story that we’ve heard several times before, doesn’t it?

Knowing the proper response to the messy situation in Syria is difficult. I am not a foreign policy expert, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. This helpful article has made the rounds on the internet, and basically suggests that although there is no good solution and military action is likely to be unhelpful in the long term, it is unacceptable for a brutal regime to attack its own citizen population with chemical weapons and not be punished for it (I recommend that you read the article linked to above if you haven’t already).

As I think about the situation in Syria (and similar conflicts in other parts of the world in which the U.S. has sometimes intervened in and sometimes not), I can’t help but think about the little Old Testament Book of Obadiah.

We don’t talk about Obadiah all that often. It is short—only one chapter long—and is hard to find tucked away in the minor prophets. Basically, the Book of Obadiah is a judgment against the people of Edom which proclaims their coming downfall. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, and thus cousins of the Israelites. Obadiah’s suggestion is that, as close relatives of the Israelites, the Edomites should have come to the aid of Judah during its conflict with Babylon, but they didn’t, and will be punished as a result (Obadiah 1.10-14). I find verse 11 to be particularly haunting (emphasis mine):
On the day that you stood aloof,
on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you were like one of them.”
Now, I am aware that the situation of Edom and Judah (and Babylon) in Obadiah’s time and the situation today in Syria and the U.S. response to it are not direct parallels. I am further aware of the need for caution when it comes to seemingly removing a passage of Scripture from its context and applying it elsewhere. 

But at the same time, I’m also aware that Scripture teaches certain principles that seem to apply regardless of context, and I think this is one of them. The Bible teaches repeatedly that God blesses people not so they can hoard those blessings, but so that they can be a blessing to others. The Bible teaches that we are supposed to consider others to be our neighbors, and rather than ignoring their plight, to step in and help them as we can. The Bible teaches that when we come to the aid of the “least of these,” we are coming to the aid of Jesus Himself. 

So, that brings us back to Syria. What are we to do? Again, I am not a foreign policy expert, and in a real sense, I’m not qualified to give an answer. But at the least, it seems that we should consider tactical missile strikes against chemical weapons stockpiles (as the article above suggests).  

But maybe a different question that I am (somewhat) more suited to answer: what would the Bible suggest that we do? Biblically, I think we have to do something. At least try to help. Something more than standing aloof and being like one of them, which is the response I have unfortunately heard from several Christians. They give excuses like:
  • We shouldn’t get involved because it will be expensive.
  • We shouldn’t get involved because it’s none of our business.
  • We shouldn’t get involved because we have problems of our own to deal with.
  • We shouldn’t get involved because it will make other countries more annoyed with us than they already are.
Are those good enough reasons to justify standing aloof on the sidelines? I really don’t think so. In fact, I think the Edomites could have used some of those same excuses, and God wasn’t too pleased with them.

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