Exposition of Daniel 9:15-21 Daniel’s prayer – the desolation of Yahweh’s “holy hill”

15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill — 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice.

Having spoken of God’s greatness and his people’s sin, Daniel turns his attention to specific actions he is seeking. Specifically, he asks that Yahweh withdraw his wrath from Jerusalem (verse 16) and treat both Jerusalem and the desolate temple there with his favor (verses 17–18). This request rests upon God’s promise in Lev. 26:42b.

Verse 18b deserves special attention: “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” Everything we need starts with God’s mercy. As Christians, we do not stand on the same ground as Daniel. Because Jesus has died for our sins, the Scriptures say, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We are not descendants of Abraham, as Daniel was, but we rely on God’s mercy as surely as he did. Even better news, Yahweh is full of mercy!

In the moment that Daniel’s prayer reaches “a passionate crescendo,”[1] the angel Gabriel swiftly approaches to reveal a vast span of God’s plans. In effect, Gabriel will reveal that God’s people are nearing the end of the original 70-year punishment, but the seven-fold enhancement of their penalty still lay in Daniel’s future.

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 249.

Exposition of Daniel 9:1-6 The context of Daniel’s prayer

Daniel 9:1-6 

1 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom — 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

Daniel follows his normal practice of connecting to historical events by providing a date tied to the name of a ruler (verse 1). NIV is almost alone in giving the ruler’s name as Darius son of Xerxes, where the italicized word is the Greek for the name Ahasuerus. Both Xerxes (Greek) and Ahasuerus (Hebrew) are transliterations [spelling in another language] of a throne-name similar to “Pharaoh” or “Caesar.”[1] In another 2500 years our word “President” will similarly need explanation.

Although the matter is disputed, we identify this ruler, “Darius son of Ahasuerus” (ESV),  as Cyrus the Great, also known as Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:31) and Cyrus the Persian; Cyrus’s mother was Median and his father was Persian; because he was a great success, everyone claimed him! The first year of his reign was 539-538 B.C., at which time Daniel was likely more than eighty years old.

God keeps his word — all of his word

It is important to realize that the issues presented in Daniel 9 did not begin with Daniel or even with the deportation of Judah to Babylonian captivity. By studying the words given by Yahweh to Jeremiah the prophet, whose messages Daniel heard while living in Jerusalem, Daniel uncovers a fraction of the history leading to his people’s captivity in Babylon.

In verse 2, Daniel understands from Jeremiah’s prophecies (Jeremiah 25:11-12) that “the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” Other Scriptures, such as Dan. 9:11b and 9:13, inform us that the reason for this number 70 was that God’s people had failed to obey the Law of Moses. In particular, 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 relate the captivity years to “sabbatical years” (NET).  What does that mean? To answer this question we must return to Mount Sinai where the exodus generation was being instructed how to behave in the land God had promised but not yet given to them, the land of Canaan.

At Sinai, Yahweh told Moses that “the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord” (Leviticus 25:2). Every seventh year in the land, the people could not sow their fields or prune their vines. They would live on the bounty granted in the previous year to let the land rest during the seventh year. Further, the people were required to count off “seven sabbath years — seven times seven years — so that the seven sabbath years amount to forty-nine years” (Lev. 25:8). That forty-ninth year was a sabbath year, and was followed by the Jubilee Year when slaves were freed, debts forgiven, and land returned to those who received it from Yahweh as their inheritance in Canaan.

Eventually, the people neglected these sabbath years and often failed to observe them. That was a grave mistake that brought severe consequences. As Harold Hoehner, a New Testament scholar and historian, puts it, “Each year of captivity represented one seven-year cycle in which the seventh or Sabbath year had not been observed.”[2] Yahweh keeps track of everything going on with his people, and with everyone else as well.

In the first instance, those seventy ignored sabbath years determined the length of the captivity in Babylon and the desolation of Jerusalem. But that is not the full story! In Leviticus 26, Yahweh warns the people that if they ignore his blessings and disobey him, the result will be: “I will punish you for your sins seven times over” (Lev. 26:18). To reinforce the point, he repeats this seven-fold enhancement of punishment two more times (Lev. 26:21, 28). Yahweh also promises that the land will certainly gets its prescribed sabbath rest during their absence in the land of their enemies (Lev. 26:34-35)!

Now we do the math. Seventy years of punishment for missed sabbath years times an enhancement factor of seven yields 490 years (70 x 7 = 490). In his prayer Daniel expresses concern about relief at the end of seventy calendar years of captivity, but Gabriel’s answer spans all 490 years of additional punishment that is due because of the enhancement.

Here is a key idea for using the above information in the interpretation of chapter 9: Yahweh will apply those 490 years of punishment in whatever way pleases him. He is not bound by the common but misguided expectation that he will start the clock at 0 and let it run continuously to reach 490 years. Later we will learn how Yahweh will distribute the punishment.

Daniel’s prayer — A necessary confession of rebellion

Certainly Daniel’s prayer is profound and theologically significant. But, since God has already revealed that the captivity in Babylon would last seventy years, why does he think it necessary to pray for an end to God’s anger against his people? The answer lies in Lev. 26:40-42, verses that record Yahweh’s promise to respond to the confession of sin and demonstration of humility by the people in Babylonian captivity. Perhaps it was Daniel’s earnest attention to these issues of confession and humility that satisfied what God had stated in Leviticus 26. In other words, Daniel carefully considered what Yahweh had said and acted accordingly.

ESV skillfully presents Daniel’s description of Yahweh: “the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (verse 4). Note the sequence covenant-love-love-commandments; this type of A-B-B-A structure is common in the Old Testament. God’s covenants usually include both blessing sections and cursing sections, corresponding to his people’s obedience or disobedience, respectively. People today are often drawn to emphasize God’s love and to downplay his commandments. That emphasis can put us just one step away from thinking that we can risk a little disobedience since God loves us. That is exactly how God’s people ignored many sabbath years and wound up in Babylon!

The Hebrew verbs in verse 4 are significant. The first verb (translated by “prayed”) stresses the function of intercession, in which Daniel takes on the role of advocacy on behalf of God’s people and his desolated holy place, including both the temple and Jerusalem. This is not a prayer about relative trivia; it addresses subjects worthy of attention from the ruler of heaven and earth. As believers, we too are worthy of his attention, a fact that is a result of his mercy and kindness.

The second verb (translated as “confessed”) stresses acknowledgement — a fascinating, double-edged verb that, when it concerns Yahweh, amounts to praise, and, when it concerns Daniel and the people, amounts to confession.  When we properly acknowledge God, we are praising him for who he is and what he does. When we acknowledge our own condition, we must confess that God is not finished with us, and — worse — that our hearts are sometimes in rebellion against him.

Verse 9b is stated a bit better by the ESV: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” Note particularly the italicized portion. Yahweh always upholds his side of the relationship, and he always extends loyal love toward those who are loyal to him and obedient. The fact that the Jews suffer in Babylon is not the result of any failure on Yahweh’s part to keep the covenant; their condition flows directly from their disloyal worship of idols and their failure to carry out their role under the covenant.

Verses 4-6 name many types of sin and make the point that Yahweh had repeatedly warned his people through the prophets, but they did not listen. Those who fail to listen to God are cruising toward the rocks.

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] According to Goldingay, Daniel, 239, the name Ahasuerus is the Hebrew spelling of an Old Persian throne-name likely meaning “hero among rulers.”

[2] Harold Hoehner, “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (January–March 1975) 49.

Exposition of Daniel 2:17–36a Words to heaven and from heaven

Daniel 2:17–36a

17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.

22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.

23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

24 Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”

25 Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.”

26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”

27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:

29 “As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. 30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.

31 “Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue — an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.

36 “This was the dream …”

Words to heaven and from heaven

In reading the story of Daniel, it is vital to remember that Daniel did not foresee how events would go. In particular, during this long night Daniel did not know whether Yahweh — here called “the God of heaven” (verse 17) — would answer his prayer or not. The biographer James Boswell once wrote: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Confronted with this emergency, Daniel did not rush to the library for Babylonian wisdom; he briefed his friends and then led them before a higher throne than Babylon’s. Daniel urged his friends to seek God’s mercy (verse 18). Daniel understood what many people today do not — that Yahweh’s identity is grounded in his mercy and compassion. This is most obvious in Exodus 34:6, where Yahweh reveals himself to Moses by saying, “Yahweh — Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (HCSB).

While we can certainly imagine that the prayers were earnest and heartfelt, there is no reason to think that it went on for hours or required the kind of bizarre behavior seen among the Babylonian astrologers and sorcerers. A case in point would be the many hours of loud prayer and bloodletting by the four hundred prophets of Baal in their confrontation with the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:2-–40), who spoke roughly 58 words (English translation) before fire fell from heaven.

The great acts of God always move his people to praise. Initially, Daniel praises God as eternal ruler of both time and kings; he changes both as it pleases him (verses 20–21a). Next, Daniel says that God is the source of all wisdom and knowledge, even the knowledge of hidden things (verses 21b–22). He concludes with more personal language, thanking God for revealing to them “the king’s matter” (verse 23, ESV, against the more narrow “the king’s dream”–NIV). God had revealed to Daniel both the dream and its interpretation.

There is no reason to believe that Daniel delayed in arranging to see Nebuchadnezzar, but imagine the mixed feelings for one condemned to death to approach the chief executioner to set up the audience (verse 24). Daniel first speaks to block further executions, giving the clear signal that no such killing will be required (verse 24). The words describing Arioch (verse 25) reflect both urgency and fear, both quite fitting for a man serving so volatile a ruler as Nebuchadnezzar and the pending order to execute all the wise men of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar gets straight to the point: “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” (verse 26). Leon Wood describes both Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude and Daniel’s response: “The young man had said he would return with the information, but Nebuchadnezzar would have had serious doubts that he could. … Note, however, that [Daniel] did not begin with the information itself, but with making clear to the king to whom the credit for it was due.”[1]

First, Daniel gets the Babylonian wise men off the hook — possibly a literal hook — by saying they cannot reveal the mystery. This also means that the gods of Babylon were powerless to know or reveal Nebuchadnezzar’s thoughts. However, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (verse 27). Consider that if God knows the thoughts of the king, he knows your thoughts as well!

Daniel’s summary of the vision is inadequately captured by the NIV: “He has shown Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come” (verse 28). The italicized phrase is better translated by ESV (“what will be in the latter days”) and HCSB (“what will happen in the last days”). Wood provides an excellent explanation for the phrase in question and supports ESV and HCSB:

This [Aramaic] phrase be´charit yomayya´  is used fourteen times in the Old Testament and regularly refers to the closing portion of a time period then in the mind of the speaker or writer (cf. Gen. 49:1). From the nature of the dream, the time period in view here is Gentile history, brought to a close by Christ’s millennial kingdom (cf. verses 44, 45).[2]

Both John Collins[3] and John Goldingay[4] translate the relevant Aramaic phrase with “at the end of the era” (verse 28b), thus placing the emphasis on the final kingdom in the vision soon to be described.

But, while the dream was ultimately used by God to show Nebuchadnezzar events extending to the end of the era (Christ’s return and millennial kingdom), Nebuchadnezzar’s thoughts begin much more modestly as he lies in bed thinking about “what would be after this” (verse 29b, ESV). The italicized phrase “refers only to days which Nebuchadnezzar could expect to occur within his own lifetime.”[5] This conclusion by Wood is supported by extensive research on the comparable Hebrew phrase found forty-three times in the Old Testament.[6] The king merely wonders what comes next, but God shows him so much more!

The terrifying colossus

Before Nebuchadnezzar has a chance to see details, he is overwhelmed with fear due to the huge, dazzling image that suddenly stands before him. ESV: “Its appearance was frightening” (verse 31b). HCSB: “Its appearance was terrifying” (verse 31b). NLT: “It was a frightening sight” (verse 31b).

Getting a grip on his fear, Nebuchadnezzar realizes that the statute has several zones: the head is fine gold; the chest and arms are made of silver; the belly and thighs consist of bronze; the legs are made of iron; and the feet are a mixture of iron and baked clay (verses 32–33).

Transfixed by the sight, the king continues to watch as a stone breaks of from a mountain (see verse 45 for this extra detail) and smashes against the feet of the statue (verse 34). The violent impact shatters the entire image into material carried away by the wind, like chaff during the threshing of wheat (verse 35a). After the wind carries away the fragments of the shattered image, the stone becomes a mountain that encompasses the whole earth (verse 35b). “This was the dream …” (verse 36a).

The ease with which the stone destroys the terrifying image sends a compelling message, but what is that message?

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998) 63.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 64.

[3] John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) 150.

[4] John E. Goldingay, Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1989) 31.

[5] Wood, Daniel, 65.

[6] B. Applewhite, “Chronological Problems in Joel,” Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976, 48–9.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:26–27

Genesis 9:26–27
He also said, “Worthy of praise is the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem!  27 May God enlarge Japheth’s territory and numbers! May he live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave!”
(NET Bible)

 Prayer and long-range consequences

Perhaps we are too timid in prayer. So many people express rules for how prayer is to be done that it can become a memory exercise to follow the formula. Is that what God intended?

And, of course, we are told never to pray selfishly. But what if we found a prayer in the Bible that would affect all humanity, and it was affirmed by God? And what if we found that the man who prayed it did so because he was angry about how he had been treated? Do we need to rethink prayer?

Perhaps Noah sees that the Lord stands behind Shem’s worthy behavior in limiting the damage of sin. Noah praises Shem indirectly by praising his God, and then he becomes more direct in asking that Canaan become slave to Shem.

Kenneth Mathews speaks about all the verbs in Genesis 9:25–27 when he says: “Noah’s words held no magical powers that destined the fates of future generations. His appeal was to God, whose will alone counted for what would become of the nations.”[1] When Mathews mentions “nations,” he is looking ahead to the prolific expansion of humanity that will take these individuals and make their many descendants into nations (Genesis 10). Noah was praying for things of momentous significance for the entire human race.

Contemporary people seldom realize that ancient names morphed into things that are more familiar to us today. The name Shem came to refer to Semitic peoples in the Arabian Peninsula and in ancient Mesopotamia, where many descendants of Shem settled. It was from the area that is now Iraq that Abraham migrated, at God’s direction, back to Canaan. In time the concept of Semitism came to mean the culture and ideas originating with the Jews, the descendants of Shem. Anti-Semitism is persecution of or discrimination against Jews, who are Semites. Note that since Abraham descended from Shem, the Jews consider themselves Semites.

In a similar way the word “Hebrew” (Gen. 14:13) is thought to derive from Shem’s great-grandson Eber (Gen. 10:21).[2]

Ham’s children, except for Canaan, settled in the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, notably in what is now Egypt. Canaan, of course, settled in what is now Israel, but it was called “Canaan” for millennia.

Genesis 9:27  May God enlarge Japheth’s territory and numbers! May he live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave!” (NET Bible)

The descendants of Japheth initially settled what is now Turkey and Europe. In its open way, the NET Bible Notes say concerning Genesis 9:27, “The words ‘territory and numbers’ are supplied in the translation for clarity.”[3]

Apparently, Noah asks for a situation which includes Shem worshipping the Lord in peaceful alliance with Japheth and under terms of oppression for Canaan. In the context of Genesis 10 (the Table of Nations) and especially Genesis 9:19 (“from them the whole earth was populated”), Shem, Japheth and Canaan represent peoples who would descend from them.

After saying that God is under no obligation to comply with Noah’s prayer, John Walton adds:

Nevertheless, such pronouncements were accepted with utmost gravity and confidence by the people of Israel, and there are numerous occasions where the statements do end up being fulfilled as the plan of God unfolds. In such cases their significance has been seen in retrospect.[4]

The exact fulfillment of Noah’s requests is debatable. Gordon Wenham quotes a notable Old Testament scholar with one interpretation: “Gentile Christians are for the most part Japhethites dwelling in the tents of Shem.”[5] In retrospect, it seems clear that Japheth and Shem have prospered considerably in comparison to Canaan. But the Canaanite poison of sexual depravity has penetrated all of humankind to our universal harm.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996) 422.

[2] ESV Study Bible, notes for Genesis 10:21.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 9:27.

[4] John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 350.

[5] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 203, quoting Delitzsch, 1:298.

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:7-11

Matthew 7:7-11

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

The disciples refuge

Though the Old Testament — the Bible to those in Jesus time — has plenty of examples of prayer, there was some feeling that God was inaccessible. Living after the coming of Jesus, we feel much closer to God than those who had to approach God through priests and sacrifices.

Jesus enhanced our prayers by directing us to the Father and by promising the Fathers willingness to hear us. The question is not whether the Father will listen; the question is: will we pray?

Anyone who reads the Sermon on the Mount prior to todays section would agree that it challenges disciples in ways that are daunting. Those who follow Jesus will not live according to this worlds values and will certainly encounter not only temptation but even hostility.

The only way to face such challenges is to take your needs to the Father, and that is exactly what Jesus stresses at this point. He does so using a typical pattern of parallel clauses:

A: Ask and it will be given to you; (7:7a)

B: seek and you will find; (7:7b)

C: knock and the door will be opened for you. (7:7c)

A: For everyone who asks receives; (7:8a)

B: and the one who seeks finds; (7:8b)

C: and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (7:8c)[1]

The letter pairs work together; the first A tells what to do, and the second A tells why. Further, the verbs ask, seek and knock are all in present tense, implying habitual action. As Jesus disciples, we take our needs and concerns directly to the Father on a continual basis.

Each of the three verbs (ask, seek, and knock) is a way of referring to prayer. The need for our prayers to be habitual is a strong argument against weighing down prayer with a host of supposed conditions or rules. Prayer to our heavenly Father should be as simple as making a request to our earthly fathers, and Jesus next uses that exact example (7:9-10).

Jesus uses the care of human parents for their children to set up a how-much-more style of argument about the Fathers care for the disciples. Jesus begins by asking that any man in the crowd identify himself if he would give his son a stone in reply to a request for a loaf of bread (7:9). This ridiculous situation comes in the form of a question that expects no for an answer. Jesus then repeats the question by asking if anyone would give his son a snake when asked for a fish (7:10). [Can you imagine the smiling faces at such a crazy idea?]

In Matthew 7:11, Jesus caps his argument by moving from the lesser case (human parents who are all prone to sin) to the greater case (the Father in heaven who always does what is right). If mere sinners care for their children, how much more will the Father care for the disciples!

The Father will care for his own!

The author of Hebrews reminds us, the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6). This is exactly the assurance and the push Jesus was giving by commanding us to ask, seek, and knock.

The apostle James rebukes believers when he says, You do not have because you do not ask James 4:2). We must never neglect speaking to our Father about all of our needs. When we do so, we show our obedience to Jesus and our faith in the kindness of God.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 244.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:9-10

Matthew 6:9-10

So pray this way: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored, 10 may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

What concerns should occupy the disciples prayers?

Prayer is one of the least understood corners of Christian theology. You may hear a score of alleged rules for prayer, only to find that many biblical prayers do not match them. Are our prayers based on a relationship to God, or do we behave like sorcerers uttering set formulas to get what we want?

Jesus has just stated that the Father knows what the disciples need before they ask (6:8). That sets up his conclusion: So, you should pray in this manner (my translation of 6:9a). Though we call what follows The Lords Prayer, it is clear that he is telling the disciples to pray the following prayer or one that contains its themes.

In the clause So, you should pray in this manner (my translation of 6:9a), the pronoun you is emphatic. Jesus is contrasting the prayer of his disciples with the powerless prayers of the hypocrites (6:5) and the Gentiles (6:7). By praying as Jesus instructs, the prayers of his disciples will be effective with their heavenly Father.

By beginning the model prayer with our Father in heaven (6:9a), Jesus bases our prayer on an intimate relationship with God. Craig Keener accurately says, Effective prayer is not a complex ritual but a simply cry of faith predicated on an assured relationship.[1] Think about it! God listens to your prayers not because you say the words perfectly but because he loves you! While we revel in Gods closeness (our Father), we also stand in awe of him (in heaven).

The power of Jesus words may be seen in the fact that the phrase our Father in heaven later became part of synagogue Judaism[2], probably to blunt the allure of faith in Jesus the Messiah. Further, this opening phrase accounts for the theological idea that prayer should be addressed to the Father in keeping with the model Jesus gave us.

The first three appeals to the Father deal with your name (6:9), your kingdom (6:10), and your will (6:10). We might say this means Gods reputation, the scope of his rule, and what he wants to be done by his children. These ideas are tightly interrelated: they are the context in which a disciple of Jesus lives. We live to uphold Gods honor, to serve as we wait for the fullness of his kingdom, and to do as God directs in our daily lives.

The clause may your name be honored (6:9) — or hallowed be your name (6:9, ESV) — is the expression of a desire that people recognize and acknowledge its holiness by giving God the reverence which is his due.[3] When the disciples pursue God faithfully, his name is honored.

The clause may your kingdom come (6:10) may be a request for the onset of the fullest expression of Gods kingdom, the earthly kingdom ruled by the Messiah as promised by the prophets.[4] Or this request may be an appeal for a wider recognition and acknowledgement of the presence of Gods kingdom.[5] That might take the form of more people responding to Jesus message: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (4:17). The result would be an increase in disciples.

Finally, we have the two clauses: may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (6:10). R.T. France explains, Doing the will of God is for Matthew a potent summary of disciples lives (7:21; 12:50; and parabolically in 21:31).[6] Gods will is known — not unknown — which is why Jesus directed his disciples to teach new disciples to obey everything I have commanded you (28:20).

Who is hearing our prayers?

When people face great danger or trauma, they spontaneously cry out to God. If this happens as part of an ongoing relationship, it makes sense. Otherwise . . . ?

The one to whom you pray knows what is in your heart. Do you have concern f, Plano, Texasor what is in his heart? A disciple of Jesus Christ can meet that test.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 216.

[2] Keener, Matthew, 217.

[3] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 246.

[4] This position is taken by Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1980) 110.

[5] This view is held by France, Matthew, 246.

[6] France, Matthew, 247.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matt. 6:5-8

Matthew 6:5-8

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. 7 When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

What impresses God?

My favorite definition of an opportunist is a person who has a keen eye for the main chance. The guiding light for such a person is not principle — they take all kinds of contradictory positions — it is advantage. Short-term advantage is what an opportunist seeks.

An opportunist can often manipulate people, but can they manipulate God? How?

Some people know how to turn on the charm when the cameras are rolling. Since there were no cameras in the first century, some Jews did the next-best thing: they sought places where lots of eyeballs would be gathered, like a street corner or an assembly. There they would recite their daily prayers so that people can see them (6:5). We could also translate that phrase as “so that they might shine for men” (my translation).

Jesus did not deny that this strategy worked, but he vowed that momentary attention was all the reward such prayers would bring. Craig Keener points out that Jesus was not forbidding public prayer — as shown by 18:19-20; 21:13; and 1 Tim. 2:8 — but was banning prayer designed to gain personal approval from others.[1]

Jesus next provides the contrasting principle that should control his disciples prayers: privacy (6:6). Keener says that Galilean homes had one or two rooms, and the only one with a door would be the storeroom.[2] There you may pray to your Father who is in secret (ESV and HCSB for 6:6). While the Father is unseen, he sees the seeking heart of his children and rewards them.

Instead of understanding this instruction as a literal formula for prayer, the whole point is that the private person is seeking God while the public person is seeking people. While Jesus often prayed privately, he also prayed aloud in the hearing of others (11:25; 14:19; 26:39, 42), so it is plain that he is not forbidding public prayer. The actual, deeper issue is: why are you praying?

In 6:7-8, Jesus also criticizes the prayers of religious outsiders, people who do not understand what it means to know God as a heavenly Father.[3] The verb translated babble repetitiously means to speak in a way that images the kind of speech pattern of one who stammers, use the same words again and again, speak without thinking.[4] Jesus explains that this practice is based on a false belief that piling up words will move God to act (6:7). To the contrary, the Father already knows what you need (6:8) before you open your mouth!

A fascinating example of useless babbling is presented in 1 Kings 18:16-29. That is followed by a short model of public prayer by Elijah (1 Kings 18:30-39). Check out the difference!

I suggest that a key theological test of prayer offered in public is that the person praying must actually be speaking to God— perhaps on behalf of the gathered believers — and not to the people listening. You will know the difference! Further, if you do not speak to God frequently in private, allow those who do pray to lead you to his throne of grace in public.

The goal is to shine for God!

In explaining what Jesus taught about prayer, some may feel I have crossed over from teaching into meddling! Prayer practices are a sensitive subject, but Jesus is the one to tell us how it is done.

In private prayer, there is no temptation to play to the people, because the sole audience is God. All your prayer should be heart-felt, and delivered in plain words. Then your prayers will shine! Your Father in heaven already knows what you need, and he will hear all you say with love.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 211.

[2] Keener, Matthew, 210.

[3] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 240.

[4] BDAG-3, battalogeo, babble, speak without thinking, q.v.