Deliverance

God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was accomplished by means of signs and wonders that were intended to establish the LORD’s supremacy over human kings and kingdoms. God told Moses, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5). One of the primary uses of the Hebrew word yadaʿ (yaw-dahˊ), which is translated know in this verse, “means to know relationally and experientially: it refers to knowing or not knowing persons” (H3045). God’s desire to make himself known to the Egyptians was based on his pronouncement of judgment on them (Exodus 7:4) and his determination that Pharaoh would harden his heart against him (Exodus 7:3). “The natural inclination of man is to oppose God (Romans 3:9-23), and God sometimes allows men to follow the evil desires of their own hearts and experience the subsequent consequences (Romans 1:24-32). God allowed Pharaoh, in his pride and sinfulness, to do as he desired” (note on Exodus 7:3) because it served the purpose of his will, which was to save the Israelites from their bondage (Exodus 6:5).

After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 14:29), Moses declared, “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30-31). Moses indicated that the LORD saved Israel from the hand of the Egyptians. The Hebrew word that is translated saved is yashaʿ (yaw-shahˊ). “The underlying idea of this verb is bringing to a place of safety or broad pasture as opposed to narrow strait, symbolic of distress and danger.” Yashaʿ refers to “the salvation that only comes from God (Isaiah 33:32; Zephaniah 3:17)” (H3467). As a result of being saved, the people of Israel feared the LORD and believed in the LORD, which meant that they recognized God’s power and position and rendered him proper respect (H3372), as well as, experiencing a personal relationship to him (H539). Hebrews 11:29 tells us that the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea as on dry land by faith. The Greek word that is translated faith, pistis (pisˊ-tis) is “spoken by analogy of the faith of the patriarchs and pious men from the Old Testament who looked forward in faith and hope to the blessing of the gospel” (G4102). “It is related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ.”

The Song of Moses expressed the Israelites’ attitude toward God after he delivered them from slavery in Egypt. It states:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a man of war;
    the Lord is his name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
    and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
    they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,
    your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
    you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
    the floods stood up in a heap;
    the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
    I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
    I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
    the earth swallowed them.

You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
The peoples have heard; they tremble;
    pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
    trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
    all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
    because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
    till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
    the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,
    the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
The Lord will reign forever and ever.” (Exodus 15:1-18)

In Exodus 15:2, it says, “The LORD is my strength and my song and he has become my salvation.” This verse implies that something had happened that changed the Israelites’ status from unsaved to saved. The Hebrew word that is translated salvation, yᵉshuwʿah (yesh-ooˊ-aw) means “something saved, i.e. (abstractly) deliverance.” The name Jesus is a Greek form of yeshu’ah and it might be said that when the Israelites experienced salvation, they experienced what Jesus’ death on the cross intended to make possible for them; but at that point, it was not understood as a salvation from sin, since the word denoted broadly anything from which “deliverance” must be sought (H3444).

Jesus used the Greek word soteria (so-tay-reeˊ-ah) when he told a man named Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). “Soteria denotes ‘deliverance, preservation, salvation.’ ‘Salvation’ is used in the New Testament of material and temporal deliverance from danger and apprehension,” as well as, “of the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept his conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, in whom alone it is to be obtained, Acts 4:12” (G4991). Soteria is derived from the word soter (so-tareˊ) which means “a deliverer, i.e. God or Christ” (G4990). Jesus went on to tell Zacchaeus, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus used the word sozo (sodeˊ-zo) to describe the act of being saved and made it clear to Zacchaeus that it was his mission to save people who were identified as the lost. The Greek word that is translated lost, apollumi (ap-olˊ-loo-mee) “signifies ‘to destroy utterly’; in the middle voice, ‘to perish.’ The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (G622). Apollumi is used in Matthew 10:28, where it says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy (apollumi) both soul and body in hell.”

Jesus used the parable of the lost sheep to illustrate his point that it is not God’s will for believers to experience apollumi. Jesus said:

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (apollumi).” (Matthew 18:10-14, NKJV)

Jesus associated being lost with going astray. The Greek word that is translated goes astray and straying, planao (plan-ahˊ-o) is derived from the word plane (planˊ-ay). “Literally, plane means a wandering whereby those who are led astray roam hither and thither and is always used of mental straying, wrong opinion, error in morals or religion, 2 Thessalonians 2:11, ‘delusion.’ It is akin to planao, ‘a wandering, a forsaking of the right path’” (G4106). James used planao and plane in the concluding paragraph of his letter that was addressed to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion. James said:

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20).

The phrase brings back has to do with a reversal in thinking or you might say, unlearning something that is incorrect. When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). It says in Matthew 18:2-3, “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In order to become like children, Jesus may have been expecting his disciples to unlearn some of the traditions of the elders that the prophet Isaiah referred to as the commandments of men (Matthew 15:1-6). Isaiah’s prophecy dealt with the upside down religion that had permeated Israel’s culture before they were sent into exile. Isaiah 29:13-16 states:

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

The Hebrew word that is translated turn things upside down is similar to the Greek word that is translated brings back in James 5:20, both are associated with the process of conversion and suggest that there are two sides, or if you will, states of salvation. A person may be saved and sanctified, that is an active adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God is taking place (G342); or one may be saved and unsanctified, meaning that the sinner has been removed from the kingdom of darkness, but is not living according to the truth of God’s word (James 5:19-20).

The Israelites’ experience after they entered the Promised Land is an example of what it looks like to be saved, but not living according to the truth of God’s word. It says in Joshua 2:11-13, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and Ashtaroth.” “Canaanite deities, such as the Baals and the Ashtoreths, remained a problem for Judah until the Babylonian exile…It took seventy years in captivity to finally cure the Israelites of their idolatrous ways” (note on Judges 2:13). The LORD warned the people of Israel about disobedience before they entered the Promised Land and told them that curses would come upon them and overtake them (Deuteronomy 28:15). Moses said, “The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:20). Judges 2:15 tells us, “Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.”

The terrible distress that the Israelites felt was indicative of them being out of the will of God, but it didn’t mean that the LORD had abandoned them. On the contrary, God was using their circumstances to develop their faith. Judges 2:16-19 states:

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.

The Israelites’ salvation wasn’t dependent on their behavior, but their behavior did determine the measure to which they experienced the positive effects of being saved. When it says that the judges saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them, it means that the Israelites experienced a military victory that bolstered their faith and gave them the confidence they needed to put their trust in God. The problem was that the judges were only providing temporary fixes because when that person died, the Israelites turned back to their idolatry (Judges 2:19).

Judges 3:1-2 tells us that the foreign nations that were left in the Promised Land were left, “to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.” Warfare played an important part in the development of the Israelites faith because their dependence upon God for victory was evident to them. James opened his letter to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion with the statement, “Count it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). The key words James used: trials, testing, faith, steadfastness, and complete; all reflect aspects of the process of sanctification that believers must go through in order to be delivered from their practices or their stubborn ways, what we might refer to today as business as usual. James went on to say:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

James encouraged believers to receive with meekness “the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). James’ reference to the implanted word was likely related to Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:5-8). Jesus likened the word of God to seed that is sown in a person’s heart. Jesus said, “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:12-15). Jesus indicated that the word of God must take root in our hearts and not be choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life in order to bear fruit. The Greek word that is translated hold fast, katecho (kat-ekhˊ-o) “stresses holding fast in order to hinder the course or progress of something or someone” (2722). In the instance of the Israelites, they were expected to hold fast to the commandments of the LORD in order to hinder the course or progress of the nations around them that were practicing idolatry. Instead of doing that, the people of Israel “abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:13).

It says in Judges 3:9, “But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them.” The Hebrew word that is translated cried out, zaʿaq (zaw-akˊ) means “to shriek (from anguish or danger). Zaʿaq is perhaps most frequently used to indicate the ‘crying out’ for aid in time of emergency, especially ‘crying out’ for divine aid. God often heard this ‘cry’ for help in the times of the judges, as Israel found itself in trouble because of its backsliding (Judges 3:9, 15; 6:7; 10:10)” (H2199). The deliverance that the LORD gave the Israelites was based on their anguished cries for help. It was similar during Jesus’ ministry in that many of the people that Jesus healed cried out to him for help (Matthew 15:23; 20:30; Mark 10:47; Luke 18:39). On one occasion, when Jesus came to his disciples walking on the sea, Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ’Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:27-31). The fact that Peter cried out, “Lord, save me” indicates that he still viewed salvation as temporal deliverance from danger, but in his first letter, Peter used the same Greek word, sozo to refer to “the present experiences of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin (1 Peter 3:21)” and “the future deliverance of believers at the second coming of Christ for His saints, being deliverance from the wrath of God to be executed upon the ungodly at the close of this age and from eternal doom” (1 Peter 4:18-19). It is clear from Peter’s statement that he considered Jesus to be the source of his deliverance, the person who could save him. Later, when Jesus asked his disciples, “who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “’You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’” (Matthew 16:15-17).

Satan’s army

Jesus demonstrated his authority over demon spirits by casting them out of the bodies they chose to possess. On one occasion, Jesus took his disciples to an isolated burial ground avoided by most people in order to free a man that was possessed by as many as 2,000 devils. It says in Luke 8:27, “And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.” The demon possessed man’s unusual behavior suggests that he was unable to gain control of his own body. What seems clear from Luke’s account of the incident was that Jesus wasn’t able to speak to the man, but was forced to interact with a devil god named Legion that lived inside the man’s body (Luke 8:30). It says in Luke 8:28, “When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee torment me not.”

Legion’s reaction showed that he not only recognized Jesus, but was also subject to his authority. His plea that Jesus not torment him was most likely a reference to the place he would have to go if he was forced to vacate the man’s body. The Abyss, a place of confinement for evil spirits and for Satan, is described in Revelation 9:1 as “the bottomless pit” which is conceived as the subterranean abode of demonic hordes (note on Revelation 9:1). The Greek word translated devils, daimonion (dahee-mon’-ee-on) is derived from the word daimon which refers to a demon or super natural spirit (1142). The name Legion is a Greek term that refers to a Roman regiment (3003), which typically consists of 1,000 – 2,000 men. Apparently, Legion was the commander of a demonic force similar to an army that overtook the man and turned his body into a camp from which they could operate on earth. Rather than being sent to the Abyss, Legion requested that Jesus allow his regiment of devils to enter into a herd of about 2,000 swine that were feeding on a nearby mountain (Mark 5:13).

The reaction of the people that heard about what happened showed that they didn’t have any interested in following Jesus. It says in Luke 8:35-37, “Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid…Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gaderenes round about besought him to depart from them.” Most likely, the reason the people wanted Jesus to leave after delivering the man from his demon possession was because his action to free the man had a huge financial impact on their economy. As a result of Jesus’ decision to let the devils enter into the swine, “the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters” (Matthew 8:32). Although, what Jesus did dramatically changed a man’s life for the better, the people of the country of the Gaderenes couldn’t seem to reconcile the fact that the cost of his deliverance was the loss of a herd of 2,000 pigs.

No turning back

The Persian Empire stretched from Ethiopia to India and consisted of one hundred twenty seven provinces with varied languages and customs. One of the ways the king of Persia managed communication in his kingdom was to make his laws irrevocable. Once a decree was sent out, there was no turning back. In order to avoid any confusion or mistrust among his magistrates, the king could not repeal a law once it was established. This meant that Haman the Agagites’s order to kill all the Jews would still be carried out even though he had been hanged on the gallows he had built for Esther’s uncle, Mordecai.

King Ahasuerus’ remedy for the situation was to allow the Jews to defend themselves.  It says in Esther 8:11, “Whereas the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and providence that would assault them, both the little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.” It might seem like self-defense was a natural solution to their problem, but the Jews status (exiled) in the kingdom of Persia prevented them from fighting against their captors.

An unintended, but advantageous outcome of the Jews obtaining permission to fight against the people that wanted to kill them was the destruction of the Amalekites. God had commanded Israel’s king, Saul to utterly destroy the people of Amalek hundreds of years earlier (1 Samuel 15:3), but Saul disobeyed and let some of the household of Agag, the king of Amalek, escape. Due to his mistake, Haman the Agagite was able to threaten the Jews existence. But, after the tables were turned, the Jews finally accomplished a long overdue objective, the elimination of their fiercest enemy.

 

His arrival

In preparation for their Messiah’s arrival, God cleared the way for his people to experience a different kind of life in the Promised Land. For centuries, the Jews had lived in fear of being overtaken by their enemies. God intended to remove the threats to his people’s existence in one fell swoop. The agent of His judgment was Alexander the Great who not only turned the Jews world upside down, but also transformed the world into a single united kingdom through a series of military campaigns that lasted ten years. Alexander was able to overthrown the Persian Empire in its entirety and established a Hellenistic civilization that was still evident in the world until the mid-15th century A.D. God told his people, “And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them anymore; for now have I seen with mine eyes.

Zechariah’s announcement of the Messiah’s arrival was quoted in the New Testament as Messianic and as referring ultimately to the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (note on Zechariah 9:9). He said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). This picture of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem just before his crucifixion shows that his arrival as the Jews Messiah was linked more so to his death on the cross than to his birth in Bethlehem. The  purpose of the Messiah’s arrival was to make a way for God’s people to live in peace and prosperity. Clearly, the only way that could happen was for Satan to be defeated and the kingdoms of this world to be overtaken by Jesus, the King of the Jews.

Speaking of Jesus’ authority on earth, God said, “And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:10). In other words, the Jews would no longer have to engage in military battles to conquer their enemies. Jesus’ authority would be their key to overcoming the world. The picture of deliverance God gave his people was one of hope. He said, “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Turn ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee” (Zechariah 9:11-12). The Hebrew word translated hope, tiqvah is derived from the word qavah which means to bind together. “This word stresses the straining of the mind in a certain direction with an expectant attitude…a forward look with assurance” (6960). God wanted his people to once again expect him to do a miracle on their behalf, which would be the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Gabriel’s explanation

Daniel’s second vision provided further details about the difficulties God’s people would experience before their Messiah was born. The location of his vision was significant. Daniel said, “And I saw in a vision; and it came to pass, when I saw, that I was at Shushan in the palace, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in a vision, and I was by the river of Ulai” (Daniel 8:2). Shushan was the capital of Persia and it was noted several times in the book of Esther as the place where the Jews would face extermination. It could be that God chose to show Daniel the future of his people at this location because it marked a critical turning point in their deliverance from their enemies.

In his vision, Daniel saw a ram “pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great” (Daniel 8:4). Then, Daniel saw a goat with a notable horn between his eyes come against the ram and defeat him (Daniel 8:5-7). As a result of his victory, the goat became stronger, but eventually, his great horn was broken and out of it came up four notable horns “and out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land” (Daniel 8:8-9).

Daniel’s vision concluded with a picture of God’s temple being desecrated by the little horn. At the time of Daniel’s vision, about 551 B.C., God’s temple lay in ruins. It had already been destroyed by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Daniel was confused and  needed God to help him understand what was going on in his vision. It says in Daniel 8:15-16, “And it came to pass, when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, and sought for the meaning, then behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.”

The angel Gabriel is believed to be one of only three archangels identified in the Bible. The fact that he was specifically directed to explain the vision to Daniel indicated that the information was probably only available to this high ranking official in God’s kingdom. Gabriel said of himself in Luke 1:19, “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee.” Unto Daniel, Gabriel said, “Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision” (Daniel 8:17). What Daniel was expected to understand was that there would be a conclusion to the Israelites’ story. God would one day bring to an end the earthly kingdom that he had once inhabited.

Preferential treatment

Daniel was an extraordinary man for many reasons. His ability to interpret dreams and endurance over time in a kingdom that was hostile toward Jews made him not only unique, but also a living testimony to God’s preferential treatment of his people while they were in exile. Daniel was a part of a select group referred to by God as the remnant. Isaiah said of the remnant, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD, The Holy One of Israel in truth. The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God” (Isaiah 10:20-21). According to Isaiah, the remnant would survive when God’s people were subjected to punishment and would bring hope for their expected return to the Promised Land (7605).

After Darius conquered Babylon, Daniel was made the first or head of three presidents that presided over the Persian empire. It says in Daniel 6:3, “Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.” The Aramaic term yattiyr, which is translated excellent, is related to the Hebrew word for remnant (3493). To remain or be left meant that those who were members of the remnant would not or could not be killed by Israel’s enemies. The Aramaic term netsach, translated preferred, corresponds to the Hebrew word natsach, which means to glitter from afar (5329) or “the bright object at a distance travelled toward (5331). Daniel had an irresistible quality that caused Darius to be drawn toward him as a leader. Even though Daniel was advanced in age, more than 80 years old, he was highly respected and given significant responsibility considering he was a prisoner of war.

Due to Daniel’s popularity with the king, a conspiracy was formed against him to have him killed. The entire governing body decided to implement a law that would ensure Daniel would be found guilty of treason. They told king Darius, “All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellers, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:7). Later, when it was discovered that Daniel had broken the law, it says in Daniel 6:16, “Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.” Darius believed Daniel would be saved from punishment because of his faith in God. After spending the night in the lion’s den, its says of Daniel, “no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God” (Daniel 6:23).

The fiery furnace

Nebuchadnezzar’ experience of having his dream interpreted by Daniel did little to change his opinion of himself or God. Even though Nebuchadnezzar identified Daniel’s God as a God of gods, and a Lord of kings (Daniel 2:47), Nebuchadnezzar did not believe in God, nor worship him. As a result of having his dream interpreted, Nebuchadnezzar actually became more conceited and arrogant in his behavior. It says in Daniel 3:1, “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits.” The identity of the 90 feet high image is not given, but it may very well have been a statue of Nebuchadnezzar himself. In his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel told the king, “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee a ruler over them all” (Daniel 2:37-38). And with regard to the image he saw in his dream, Nebuchadnezzar was told, “Thou art this head of gold” (Daniel 2:38).

After his golden image was erected, Nebuchadnezzar demanded that everyone in his kingdom bow down and worship it (Daniel 3:7), “And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:11). The fiery furnace may have been symbolic of hell or was a sadistic means of satisfaction to the king who had been given power over everyone on earth. When Nebuchadnezzar was told there were three men in his kingdom that did not bow down and worship the image, he went into a rage. It says in Daniel 3:19-20, “Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Mesach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heat. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace.”

In stark contrast to Nebuchadnezzar’s blatant disregard for God’s dominion over the earth, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were completely devoted to the one true God. When they were told they were about to be burned in the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego replied, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s miraculous deliverance from the fiery furnace was not only a tribute to their faith, but also a sign that God was with his people even during their captivity in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar himself testified to the appearance of a pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. It says in Daniel 3:24-25:

Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.

The Philistines

The Philistines were like a thorn in the side of the Israelites. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the Philistines were occupying the coastal region of Palestine and had established five major cities along the Mediterranean coast: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. “Originally a part of Judah’s tribal allotment, the coastal area was never totally wrested away from the Philistines, who may have begun their occupation as early as the time of Abraham” (Five Cities of the Philistines). Some of the Israelites most notable battles were fought with the Philistines. Samson was captured by the Philistines who “put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza”  (Judges 16:21) where he later killed more than 3,000 men and women by toppling two pillars of a temple. David killed Goliath, a giant from Gath who threatened Saul’s army (1 Samuel 17:10).

The Israelites inability to drive out the Philistines left them vulnerable to attack on the western side of Judah. When Assyria invaded Judah during the reign of Sennacherib in 701 B.C., the Assyrian army marched down the coast through Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza, and then proceeded west to Jerusalem through Gath. Sennacherib drove out more than 200,00 people of Judah (Sennacherib’s Campaign Against Judah), leaving the nation with little resources to defend itself against Nebuchaddrezzar king of Babylon when he invaded Jerusalem in 605 B.C. The last mention of the Philistines in Israel’s history indicated they had encroached on territory previously occupied by the nation of Judah and were being used by God to humble his people (2 Chronicles 28:18).

The message Jeremiah received concerning the Philistines emphasized the sudden destruction they would experience when they were delivered into the hands of Nebuchaddrezzar king of Babylon. Jeremiah declared, “At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his strong horses, at the rushing of his chariots, and at the rumbling of his wheels, the fathers shall not look back to their children for feebleness of hands; because of the day that cometh to spoil all the Philistines, and to cut off from Tyrus and Zidon every helper that remaineth; for the LORD will spoil the Philistines, the remnant of the country of Caphtor” (Jeremiah 47;3-4). The superior power of the Babylonian army was not given credit for the Philistine’s defeat. God intended to remove the Philistines so that they would no longer be a threat to his people. Setting the stage for the return of the remnant of Judah to the Promised Land, God was securing their borders and ensuring that their enemies would remain contained until the arrival of the Messiah.

Exempted

A key component of the Israelites’ sacrificial system was the Passover. The Passover was instituted on the eve of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Prior to that night, the Egyptians had experienced nine plagues because Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go into the wilderness and worship their God. The plagues were intended to demonstrate God’s miraculous power. The LORD told Moses, “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth my hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5).

During the plagues, God made a distinction between the  Israelites and the Egyptians. God told Pharaoh, “I will put a division between my people and thy people” (Exodus 8:23). The Hebrew word translated division, peduth is derived from the word padah. “Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition” (6299). Padah is usually translated as redeem or ransom. God was letting Pharaoh know that his people were no longer subject to Pharaoh’s command and would be exempted from the rest of his plagues.

The last plague God brought upon the Egyptians was the death of all their firstborn. Even though the Israelites were exempted from this plague, they had to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts of their home as a sign to God that he should pass over that household (Exodus 12:7). The lamb was later referred to as the Passover (Exodus 12:27) and the Israelites were expected to celebrate this event annually in remembrance of God’s deliverance. After the Israelites settled in the Promised Land, the Passover celebration was for the most part ignored or forgotten. It wasn’t until king Hezekiah ordered the people to observe it, that the Passover was kept as it was originally intended to be (2 Chronicles 30:5).

In 622 B.C., after the book of the law was found and read to all the people, king Josiah kept the Passover exactly as it was prescribed by Moses. Every person that was living in Judah and Jerusalem participated in the celebration (2 Chronicles 35:17). This may have been the only complete observance of the sacrifice since it was celebrated in Egypt. Josiah  himself provided 33,000 animals for the sacrifice, indicating there were probably only 100,000 – 200,000 people residing in the nation at that time. Around 800 B.C, there were 300,000 men alone in Judah, 20 years old and above that were able to go to war, suggesting the total population was over one million.

The significance of king Josiah’s Passover celebration was that it occurred within a generation of when Judah went into captivity. There were three kings that followed Josiah; all of whom were his sons. It seems as if the first Passover and this last Passover celebration served somewhat as bookends to the Israelites’ freedom. The only way God could get the people to celebrate it was through the threat of death. Given that the Passover exempted the Israelites from all punishment of their sins, you would think they would have been more diligent about its observance.

Power

In ancient times, the hand was a symbol of power. To be given into someone’s hands meant you were dominated by them and under their control (3709). To deliver someone out of another’s hands meant you released him from the other’s dominion or rule over him. One of the ways kings sought to increase their power, or at least their appearance of power, was to take other nations captive and rule over their people so that the size of their kingdom increased, making it seem as though they had become more powerful.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire existed for 300 years from approximately 911 B.C. to 612 B.C., during which time its population peaked and its territory expanded across more than a million square miles. The Neo-Assyrian Empire reached its greatest height politically and militarily under the reign of Sargon II who brought an end to the northern kingdom of Israel. Sargon’s son Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and conquered 46 of its strongest cities (Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah 701 B.C.).

When Sennacherib king of Assyria came and entered the fenced cities of Judah, it says in 2 Chronicles 32:1 that he “thought to win them for himself.” Sennacherib wanted to be the dominating power over Judah and Jerusalem so that he could claim himself to be their king. Sennacherib not only believed he was the most powerful man in the world, but he also believed he was more powerful than any god, including the God of the Israelites.

It says of Sennacherib in 2 Chronicles 32:17, “He wrote also letters to rail on the LORD God of Israel, and to speak against him, saying, As the gods of the nations of other lands have not delivered their people out of mine hand, so shall not the God of Hezekiah deliver his people out of mine hand.” The Hebrew word translated rail, charaph means to pull off or to expose as by stripping (2778). Another way of saying what Sennacherib was trying to do was to bring shame on God, to ruin his reputation.

Sennacherib was a very powerful man, and because of his position as the king of the Assyrian Empire, he was the most powerful man in the world in 701 B.C. His claim that no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of his hand (2 Chronicles 32:15) was partially true, but to compare God’s  ability to that of an idol was a huge mistake. God intervened in the situation and killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers in one night, while everyone was sleeping (2 Kings 19:35). It says of Sennacherib in 2 Chronicles 32:21, “So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that come forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword.”