10Jun18 - Preacher Diary
1. The Anti-Babylon Movement
About three decades ago in parts of Nigeria, the United States and the Caribbean, there was a thriving doctrine that upset not a few Christian establishments. Forlack of a better adjective, the simple Christian folk who did not have much time for grandiose religious terminologies, especially in Nigeria, simply described the adherents of that doctrine as the ‘Anti-Babylon’ brethren. The doctrine itself they summarised as, ‘Come out from among them.’ The theological outlook of the Anti-Babylon movement subscribed virtually everything under a ‘world system’ that went by the name of Babylon. The serious ‘remnant Christian’ was to be no part of such Babylon-systems, especially the Babylon-church system. That Christian needed to ‘come out from among them.’ It was one zeal stretched too far in certain respects.
The Anti-Babylon movement was very word-based, so it could not be easily flipped off by mere Bible wish or commonplace ‘Sunday School’ passages. One day I found a New Testament breakthrough scripture in 1 Peter 5:13, which went viral in answering the Anti-Babylon creed: “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.”
Wow, a church in Babylon? Did Apostle Peter really call it a church, or something else? And its members were elected in no less measure than the holy others outside of ‘Babylon’? Marcus was a son, not a rebel, in Babylon? And from Babylon could come a message of greeting fit to be communicated to the holy rest of us; a greeting that would become a global and eternal message that we would still read today? Wow, one would have wondered what any ‘serious’ Christian was doing “at Babylon”?
If Peter was right, we conjectured, then something must have been lacking in the Anti-Babylon presentation that said one could not be a ‘proper’ ‘end-time’ Christian if they remained ‘in Babylon,’ where ‘Babylon’ especially meant any other Christian worship group, especially the denominational establishments. So, from the New Testament days of Peter, God has had His people also in Babylon, to say nothing of the Old Testament days of Daniel and Ezekiel.
Why have I brought in this story? I came upon a video in which a preacher, with an air of pugnacious triumph, was stating how he had prophesied ahead of the last general elections in Nigeria, as it eventually turned out, that Buhari would be president, even though his prophecy was being challenged by others who claimed they also could hear from God. He seemed to have been suggesting in that edited video that Buhari was a redemptive Cyrus whom God had sent to Nigeria, and that the Christians in Buhari’s government were the Daniels that God had meant for the benefit of His Kingdom. The preacher seemed however disappointed that that ‘Cyrus’ and his ‘Daniels’ have not performed well, and he was blaming it on the Church that did not properly support or pray for those Daniels of the Cyrus. That was the aspect that worried me.
2. A Cyrus or a Hazael?
I will not argue whether or not God was in the second coming of Buhari, but to the little measure of my study of Cyrus, I am unable to ascribe his name to one who has not supported the rebuilding of Jerusalem or its Temple but, on the contrary, in speech and by body language, has been on the side of the destroyers of the temples and the people of God. That God said somebody was coming does not also mean that God was the One sending them; that He said somebody was coming does not also mean that He said He was the One sending them. Compare 1 Kings 19:15 and 2 Kings 13:3, 7; 8:2. For example, the word of God elaborately tells us about the coming of the Anti-Christ in the last days; are we to say therefore that the Anti-Christ is coming from God or is being sent by God because God had spoken about that coming? God told King Hezekiah that he would certainly die. Did that king understand that message from God to mean that he was to climb into his bed and await the death? No, he faced the wall and prayed, turning the case around to his benefit (2 Kings 20:1-6). Did that mean that Prophet Isaiah who had brought that message did not hear God properly? No.
3. Perception and Discernment
Nineveh the capital city of Assyria received a prophecy: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh SHALL BE overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). Did the Ninevites understand that message to mean that the looming overthrow of their city was the great pleasure of God to be welcomed with fireworks and fanfare? No, they took steps of spontaneous national repentance, which averted the ‘coming’ of judgment (Jonah 3:10). A message and its interpretation are not always the same. That one has correctlyreceived a word does not always mean that they have correctly interpreted that word. That was where the prophet Jonah also made his mistake.
It is important not only to be able to receive but also to be able to properly discern a message, because it is possible to wrongly communicate a message rightly received; it is possible to wrongly interpret a message righty received, and the fact that the interpreter himself had been the receiver does not make the wrong interpretation right (Jeremiah 1:11-12; Genesis 35:18; Acts 8:30-31). A watchman was put on duty with instructions to “declare what he seeth” (Isaiah 21:6). As he watched, he saw chariots of domestic animals: horses, asses, and camels; but as he “hearkened diligently with much heed” to discern what he had been perceiving, he announced something different from what we had all seen with him; he declared: “A lion!” (vv.7-8). We all know that that was not what he had seen, but it is we who had been wrong. What had been disguised to seem to us as domestic animals was an approaching predator; a lion. Such watchmen don’t always make sense to everyone, not especially to those who also think they can see with their eyes; but such sincere watchmen may save us before the lion arrives that we had thought by our ‘seeing’ eyes was a burden-bearing ass.
A right word not fully understood and not rightly interpreted leads to wrong instructions, which is dangerous. For example, Moses had often heard God clearly, but on one occasion, he was instructing the people to stand still when God wanted them to keep moving, even though following God’s interpretation of the moment had seemed they were going to be marching stupidly and suicidally into open danger (Exodus 14:13-15). Secondly, the fact that one had previously prophesied rightly never means that every other prophecy thereafter should be unquestionably swallowed. The next could be a word from Satan, as Jesus teaches us from the experience of Peter (Matthew 16:17, 22-23).
My worry now is not whether Buhari was a Cyrus, a Pharaoh, or a Nebuchadnezzar, all of whom were prophesied ahead of their coming. I have read a minister of God who would rather call him a Hazael, whom God named to Elijah but whom that prophet did not anoint, whom Elisha anointed in proxy but in tears at seeing the troubles that he would bring upon the people of God. God had said Hazeal was coming upon the throne of Syria, and in fact that he should be so anointed, but the prophets wept about it; they did not celebrate it, and they tried to dodge that anointing, because that ‘coming’ was not to be for their good. Reception and discernment; perception and interpretation.
I do not know where you stand, but please, do not stone me. I have sometimes been stoned or smitten by someone who thought I did not prophesy right because I did not speak according to their words and their camp. I am not the first (1 Kings 22:24). My concern is with the said ‘Daniels’ that failed because the Church didn’t pray for them. Agreed, some Christians have gone into seats without fully appreciating the spiritual mysteries about those thrones they were approaching to sit on, and things were sometimes further spoilt for them by commercial Christians and Balaam-priests who sought to profit themselves (not the Kingdom) by the position of those messengers in the palace. Daniel survived Babylon not by prayers from Jerusalem which at the time had been ravished and its priests scattered; he survived primarily because, from the start, he made up his mind where he stood in and with Babylon: not to corrupt himself with the royal and lavish seductions of that new land; not to “defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank” (Daniel 1:8). Esther also made up her mind to stand with her people or perish trying to do so (Esther 4:16). The Nigeria ‘Daniels’ of which that prophet spoke have been of a different breed. Maybe the priests in Jerusalem should truly have prayed better. They got lost in Babylon, even if they were sent by God; even if…
Ever before Daniel and his team had arrived Babylon, strangely, that kingdom had prepared for them, had set up a system with an agenda by which to swallow those expected young Jewish ambassadors of God. It was a four-pronged agenda to ‘Babylonize’ them:
1. change their “learning” or worldview; re-educate and reprogram them (Daniel 1:.4),
2. change their language (v.4),
3. change their appetite, their food (v.5),
4. change their names, replacing the ‘God’ suffixes with idolatrous options (vv.6-7).
The aim was to ultimately erase their Jewish identity and replace it with a heathen Babylonian identity. We speak of ‘Islamization,’ they spoke of ‘Babylonization.’ If one develops a Babylonian appetite and begins to eat Babylonian food; if one speaks the Babylonian language with a native accent, ‘speaking’ no differently than other heathen folks would do; when one adopts a Babylonian worldview or learning, and can no longer see matters from God’s Kingdom perspective, what is left? That Jew has become a Babylonian; how much worse when he is also called by a Babylonian name!
Daniel means ‘God is my Judge.’ That ambassador from Judah was to drop that God-ly name and be called ‘Belteshazzar’ which means ‘favoured by Bel,’ Bel being the name of the principal deity of Babylon; the ‘El’ in Daniel (which stands for God, as in Samu-el and Beth-el) was to be dropped for the ‘Bel’ of Babylon. ‘Bel’ sounded like ‘El,’ but they were as opposite as light and darkness. A Babylonian prince and king (Belshazzar – meaning ‘the prince of Bel’) bore that kind of name, yet the name was not fit for the prince of God.
Next on the list was Hananiah, whose name meant, ‘gift of God’ or ‘God has shown mercy.’ He was to be called ‘Shadrach,’ which meant ‘the command of Aku.’ Aku was the moon god. The -iah suffix in his name, which stood for Jehovah (as in Isa-iah, Jerem-iah, etc), was to be replaced with something ‘more contemporary,’ something more acceptable to his new society. However God felt in the matter was to be no part of the consideration; that was being old-fashioned.
Mishael was the third. His name meant ‘who is what God is?’ which is like the worship song we sometimes sing, “Who is like unto Thee, O Lord? / Who is like unto Thee, O Lord? / Among the gods, who is like Thee? / Glorious in holiness, fearful in praises.…” Babylon had a ‘new’ name for him: ‘Meshach,’ which meant ‘Who is what the god Aku is?’ Again, the -el suffix for Jehovah is dropped for an idol alternative. The last of them was Azariah, that is, ‘Yaweh has helped.’ The Babylonian system said that that name was not ‘politically correct’ and not ‘inclusive’ enough, so he would be called ‘Abednego,’ which meant, ‘servant of Nebo (or Nego).’ Nebo was another Babylonian principality, as featured in such other names as Nebu-chadnezzar, Nebu-zaradan, etc.
A person with a Zulu name would most likely be Zulu; a person with a Chinese name would readily be identified by that name as Chinese, even before one has seen their face or heard them express their ‘leaning’ or worldview. A Yoruba name is already an introduction of the person as Yoruba is some way. Any person with a Babylonian name announces that there is something they admire about Babylon; that they have a certain relationship with Babylon, or in fact, that they are Babylonian. A name is what they call you.
Babylon has been good at its game from ages. Of the ten thousand who had been sent into Babylon, we hear only of four in Daniel chapter 1; of those four that were ‘posted’ specifically into the palace, three got lost with time; only Daniel survived. In Nigeria, I have long carried a lantern, looking for Daniel, but I see Belteshazzar.
4 And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them.
5 And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money (Luke 22:4-5).
We have heard whispers that in Nigeria a priest in the palace has been communing with the high priests and Pharisees in fortified chambers in the West how to return their party to power. Shekels and shinny pieces of silver have changed hands not in thirties but in billions, and they are rehearsing the kiss for the night when it comes. “Aceldama – the field of blood”! (Acts 1:19). Shall we call them Daniel, Belteshazzar, or Judas?
5. Lost in Babylon!
Of the four whose names are listed in Daniel chapter 1, it is only of Daniel that it is said he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” in Babylon. He had decided that with himself ahead of time. We hear no such fundamental resolution by the others. Midway in the history when they are called out of the trying fire, they are called by the heathen names that Babylon had given them:
Then Nebuchadnezzar [note the name] came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire (Daniel 3:26).
That is the last we hear of them. Everybody is called by the name they answer. No name survives that no one answers. The name Judas, for example, ended in history with the son of Iscariot; and there are many other names we no more hear. If those three were called on such an occasion by those idol names, it may suggest that they eventually accepted those ‘foreign’ names. We don’t know how also they had handled the other three points of the Babylonization agenda. Commendably, they are also called “servants of the most high God,” but they had become Babylonians in other respects. Servants of God with Nego and Aku in their names!
Two chapters after ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,’ there is another flamboyant national feast. Maybe it was a Ramadan or a Salah. Daniel is absent from that feast extolling strange gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone (Daniel 5:1-4). Did Daniel throw ‘political correctness’ to the winds? Did he not fear offending his king? Did he excuse the feasters with the logic that everyone after all was worshipping the same God by different names? They searched there for Daniel but could not find him, then the queen commented thus about him: “the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar” (Daniel 5:12). What does that say? He had been unchanged by Babylon. He had been very un-Babylonizable. He had remained “the same Daniel,” and he was still being called Daniel – God is my Judge. Even the Babylon name ended in the mouth of the king of Babylon: “…whom the king named Belteshazzar.”
O, how far that team of four might have gone in that story if the other three had not fallen by the way to the fine-sounding but ensnaring names of Babylon! In Daniel chapter 2, when there was a national challenge, they were available with Daniel as prayer partners, and behold how expressly they received an answer from heaven – overnight (Daniel 2: 17-19); in chapters 9-10 however, when Daniel had to contend with the Prince of Persia for the ultimate deliverance of Israel from Babylonian captivity, those three had long expired. He had to battle alone for a gruelling twenty-one days, until angels came to the rescue (Daniel 10:1-3).
O, how much they would have supported Daniel and taken Jehovah’s mission further in Babylon if they had not eventually fallen to the snares of Babylon; snares carefully laid in their path one after the other, so that even after scaling one huddle, there still was the next to overcome! All the same… lost in Babylon!
Worse still, there came a generation after them who not only were lost in Babylon but danced with Babylon, married into Babylon, and joined with Babylon to fight the God of their fathers, as we read sadly in the story of Nehemiah the Reformer, about Sanballat, Tobiah, and “Eliashib the priest” that had “the oversight of the chamber of the house of OUR God” (Nehemiah 13:4). The story of those men is a sad story for another day.
From The Preacher’s diary,
June 10, 2018.