Lesson 1

From Reading to Understanding

(1 Corinthians 1, Daniel 2, Zechariah 9 & 14)
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Introduction: Currently, I'm reading a delightful book that explains why the outspoken opponents of God are idiots. That may sound a little undiplomatic, but this book is filled with humor and logic, and it pokes a hole in the so-called scientific gasbags that publically attack the existence of God. My problem is that when I read some of the logical arguments in the book, I have to think about them to be sure I'm understanding what I read. That should be our constant quest. Even when reading something that we think we understand, we need to take a moment to be sure. Then we need to explore whether what we just understood makes sense. That is our study this week. As we begin our exploration of the book of Daniel, are we prepared to really understand it? Do certain distinctions make sense? Let's dive into the Bible and see what we can learn!

  1. God's Wisdom


    1. Read 1 Corinthians 1:18. What caution does this suggest about sharing the gospel with unbelievers? (We should not assume that they will understand. They may think we are talking foolishness.)


      1. Even if they understand our words, will they understand our message?


      2. If you answered, no, how can we evangelize?


    2. Read 1 Corinthians 1:19 and Isaiah 29:14. What is God's approach to pagan wisdom? (He will destroy and frustrate it. I think the book that I am reading logically destroys pagan wisdom.)


      1. 1 Corinthians 1:19 refers back to Isaiah 29:14 when it says, "it is written." How does Isaiah suggest that the wisdom of the world will disappear? ("Wonder upon wonder" will destroy worldly wisdom.)


        1. What do you think that means? (The recent scientific discovery that the universe is expanding, and therefore logically had a starting point, resulted in the "Big Bang" theory. Prior to that, the scientific belief was that the universe was static, and therefore no outside force was involved.)


        2. Contemplate the "Big Bang" theory for a few minutes. What does it require? (It requires external intervention. It requires a lot of energy to suddenly show up. This "wonder" creates a lot of problems for scientists who oppose the idea of an outside god.)


    3. Read 1 Corinthians 1:20-21. Does this suggest that God does not want the worldly wise to know Him? That we cannot evangelize? (Read 1 Corinthians 1:27. I don't think that Paul is arguing that we cannot evangelize or that God rejects well-educated people. Instead, he argues that God works through human weakness. Consider how Jesus came to earth and how He died. Worldly wisdom rejects this. If God rejected smart, educated people, He would not have chosen Paul for he was a very educated man.)


    4. Read Daniel 2:31-36. We will learn that God bypassed all of the Babylonian wise men and revealed the meaning of the dream through Daniel, a Jewish captive. What do you know about the interpretation of this dream? (It lays out the future of the world! This shows that God works through weakness.)


      1. What does "weakness" mean in this context? Was Daniel weak? Was he dumb? Was he uneducated? (Weakness here means that he was not part of the pagan power structure.)


    5. What lesson do you learn about God's approach to understanding from what we have discussed? (The best the pagan world has to offer is unlikely to lead you to a correct interpretation of God's will.)


  2. Prophecy


    1. I recently read that there is a difference between "classical" and "apocalyptic" prophecies. Some scholars promote various forms of this theory. What I want us to consider is the specific assertion that classical prophecy might not end up being true because it depends on "human response." Apocalyptic prophecy, on the other hand, will always be true. Does this mean that we cannot trust all prophecy?


      1. Does the trustworthiness of prophecy turn on how we label it?


      2. What do you think about this claim?


      3. Do you think this distinction helps us to better understand what we read in the Bible?


    2. Let's look at an example. Read Zechariah 9:1-4. This is labeled a "classical" prophecy. But, slip down a few verses to Zechariah 9:9-10. This is a prophecy about the coming of Jesus and presumably would therefore be "apocalyptic" in the sense it is not subject to human response. Would you be able to tell the difference between these two prophecies? Does a prophet switch from one type of prophecy to another in the same chapter?


    3. Read Zechariah 14:1-4. This is part of a "classical" prophecy about the future of Jerusalem, meaning that it may not come true depending on human response. What do you say about this? (While I understand scholars' desire to categorize things, I think the claim about reliability is a problem. At least one proponent of this distinction uses it to dismiss the expectation that the final events of history will unfold in the Middle East. Since final events have not yet taken place, dismissing this possibility places human wisdom (the correct labeling of prophecies) over the word of God.)


      1. On the face of it, what reason is there to believe that the prophecy of Zechariah 14:1-4 is any less reliable than the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9-10?


    4. Read Jonah 1:2, Jonah 3:4, Jonah 3:10 and Jonah 4:1-2. Did Jonah think this was a conditional prophecy? (Yes and no. He is angry because he thinks it was not conditional. But, he recognizes that God is "gracious and compassionate.")


      1. Did God intend this prophecy to be conditional (classical)? (Look again at Jonah 3:10. "God relented." This means God changed His mind. It does not mean that He intended all along to let the outcome turn on how the people reacted.)


      2. If you reject labeling prophecies in advance as to their certainty, what theory would you suggest in its place? (Consider this: our God is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and His character is consistent with changing His mind about sending calamity. This leaves His followers simply trusting that God will do the right thing. I favor that approach.)


  3. Timing


    1. We previously read the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. Let's read the interpretation in Daniel 2:37-41 and Daniel 2:44-45. Scholars differ on whether this is merely symbolic, something that happened in the past, something that will happen in the future, or something that describes the arc of earthly history. How do you view this?


      1. What is the argument against this being a symbol of general ideas? (Read Daniel 2:37-38. Daniel says the prophecy has a specific application.)


      2. What is the argument against it describing only events that have not yet taken place? (Read Daniel 2:39. Daniel not only says that the events are happening now, he says that the dream describes a series of kingdoms that will rise and fall in the future - and we can now see that this has happened.)


      3. What is the argument against the dream describing only past events? (Read again Daniel 2:44-45. The prediction of the never-ending Kingdom of God which destroys all the other kingdoms has not yet taken place.)


    2. Why do you think God gave this dream to King Nebuchadnezzar? Why give it at this time in history? (Jerusalem was destroyed. God's people were taken captive by a nation hostile to the true God. A follower of God could reasonably worry that God was not in control. This dream and its interpretation showed that God has the entire history of the world planned out.)


    3. We are going to study this dream in more detail, but what does this say about the existence of our God? (First, it tells me that God is real. Nebuchadnezzar could never correctly dream the empires that would follow his. Daniel could never read Nebuchadnezzar's mind. That most of this dream has already been fulfilled gives us confidence in a God who is involved in the affairs of humans and who has established His eternal Kingdom.)


    4. Friend, why not trust God for your future? Will you commit to that today?


  4. Next week: From Jerusalem to Babylon.

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