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|Vol. 15 No. 9 September 2013||
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
The Hebrews writer paused in this the great faith chapter to provide the reader with critical commentary on the faithful principles common among the characters he thus far had cited. Among these, the Jewish patriarchs are especially fitting to illustrate the Christian pilgrimage. In the case of all those cited (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah), the pattern could be described as (1) a divine call or warning (2) belief in the divine message (3) obedience (4) divine acceptance and (5) expectation of divine blessings.
Today’s reader is well advised to apply the “strangers and pilgrims” concept to himself. As time marches onward and the world changes, its vices inevitably change as well. Each generation of God’s people is faced with new challenges to their faithfulness. Whatever form that lure of assimilation takes, it is all of the same spirit—worldliness. Philippians 3:20 reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. Peter admonished his readers, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). True distinction (holiness) means that God’s people must be more than just different from the world; they are a foreign tribe.
In what sense were these Bible characters strangers and pilgrims? Though all of them were spiritual pilgrims, Abraham and his family provide the most obvious answers to this question. As we closely examine the text, we notice that they all died, but they died in faith. Being faithful did not prevent their eventual demise, but it changed the character of it. While all must die, dying in faith is an entirely different proposition than just dying.
Abraham in particular had been promised a number of things. When God called him in Ur, He assured him that not only would He give him the land of Canaan, but He would also bless him personally, honor him, bless his friends, make of him a numberless family, and eventually bless all of the earth through him (Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham saw some of those blessings and the beginning of others. His confidence in God’s plan surely must have been bolstered by the assurance of having seen what was possible to God in his own lifetime. There could be no doubt that the God who provided a son to a couple of such advanced years would also live up to His promise to make of him a great nation. Likewise, Abraham lived for a century in Canaan, but certainly not as a conqueror. How he must have dreamed of the day when his descendants would conquer the land in which he was counted only a sojourner!
Abraham was assured and reassured of the promise. God appeared to him a number of times, seemingly to remind Abraham that His own plan was still valid. God also repeated His plan for this family to Abraham’s son and grandson. Life as a sojourner can be challenging, but God is willing to confirm His promises with additional reassurances. Hebrews 6:17-18 informs us that God confirmed His promise with an oath, both of which were immutable. Jesus reassured John that He was indeed the Christ (Matthew 11:1-6). It seems safe to conclude that in the assurances of God, He was doing more than just demanding belief; He also provided valid reasons for that trust.
Abraham and his family embraced their citizenship and confessed it. As true pilgrims, their values and behavior honored a foreign law and a higher power; they lived and died as foreign nationals. And while Abraham remained faithful to his calling, his nephew became a citizen of Sodom. How did Abraham declare his loyalties? His citizenship was superior to that of Lot, but not just because Lot moved into Sodom. Abraham’s life was superior because it was based on God’s morality. It is exactly the sense in which God’s people declare their citizenship today. They do so by refusing to be content with conformity to a fatally flawed national or neighborhood morality (Romans 12:2).
Mark N. Posey
Belshazzar was king (Daniel 5:1, 30; 7:1; 8:1; Jeremiah 27:7), but actually a coregent king with his father, Nabonidus, who had married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. Thus, he was a son [grandson] of Nebuchadnezzar. However, as Cyrus’ army was stationed about the city walls, Belshazzar raised his goblet in defiance of Jehovah; little did he know how soon all his power and wealth would be gone. Boasting one day, gone the next! Consider Daniel Chapter 5.
The Ball (5:1). The drunken feast revealed Belshazzar’s moral debauchery. Solomon was right: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler; and whosoever erreth thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). We are reminded of Ahasuerus (Esther 1:9-12) and Herod (Matthew 14:1-12). Thus, when the world throws a wild party, the child of God does not attend. We must remain pure (James 1:27).
The Gall (5:2-4). Belshazzar openly mocked God by drinking from the sacred vessels and blasphemed God by using the vessels in idolatrous worship. He committed the sin of sacrilege, something with which few people are concerned today. Christians respect that which is sacred (e.g., worship, heaven, baptism, Lord’s Supper, Bible, God, Christ, Holy Spirit, etc.).
The Wall (5:5-6). Suddenly a message appeared to Belshazzar, causing extreme fright. The feast of licentiousness became suddenly a feast of gloom and consternation. How quickly male bravado and boasting wilts in the presence of the Lord (cf. Felix, Acts 25:25; Jeremiah 38:19-24; Acts 5:1-11).
The Call (5:7-16). Belshazzar calls for someone to interpret the message. Daniel was the man with experience (2:25ff; cf. Proverbs 16:18; Genesis 40-41). All others in the kingdom were unable to do what Daniel did. Belshazzar initially went to the wrong source for counsel; many do that today (Psalm 1:1-2). We must seek the one called “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
The Fall (5:17-31). Daniel announced God’s judgment. Each word stands for a short sentence. Mene signifies numeration; tekel, weighing and peres, division. God had Belshazzar’s number, and it fell short; God weighed Belshazzar, and he came up light; God divided Belshazzar’s kingdom between the Medes and Persians. How quickly the proud and boastful fall in spite of their wealth and power (cf. Luke 12:15-21).
The conclusion is clear. We must heed the writing of Jesus to avoid eternal punishment.