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Rainbow Divider

PEOPLE WHO KNOW THEIR GOD

by Phil Enlow

Rainbow Divider

Eternal choices are being made right now. People are choosing either to side with this present evil world and its “god” or with the one true God and His Son Jesus Christ. The darkness that is spreading across our planet will make those choices evident. It is no time to sleep but rather a time to get to know our God, to experience His faithfulness in all kinds of circumstances.

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As long as I can remember I have heard preachers refer to part of a verse in Daniel to exhort and encourage God’s people. That verse is Dan. 11:32 – “… the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits” (KJV).

Daniel was a prophet who lived during the time of Israel’s Babylonian captivity. God enabled him to occupy a position of great honor and influence in the Babylonian empire and also the Persian Empire that followed. It is a testament to God’s ultimate sovereignty in human affairs that he was able not only to survive the Persian conquest but to retain that position of honor in the new order.

Remember the revelation of that truth to which Nebuchadnezzar was brought, recorded in Dan. 4:34-35 – “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’”

That is surely a truth we need always to remember, especially when it appears that evil is triumphing. Nothing is ever out of God’s control or an obstacle to the fulfillment of His purpose, however it may seem.

Another result of Nebuchadnezzar’s experience was that people wherever his empire held any influence heard about Daniel and his God, no doubt including the Persians. What a great God we serve!

That verse in chapter 11 of Daniel is part of a series of visions and revelations given concerning the future. There is a lot of theological debate concerning their fulfillment but at the very least it is safe to say that Daniel was shown a number of things that were to unfold during the time of the Persian Empire and beyond.

Persia was to continue its position of dominance until a great king from Greece would arise and conquer them. From our perspective it is obvious the prophecy referred to Alexander the Great. Alexander is considered one of the most influential people in history. He began his reign at 20 and died shortly before his 33rd birthday yet in that short time transformed the world of his day.

He not only conquered vast territories extending from Greece down to Egypt and over to northwest India but spread Greek culture everywhere as well. Descendants of his armies can be found throughout the region to this day. Alexandria in Egypt is named for him.

After his death the empire was broken into four parts by various factions each seeking to wield power. Of these, one, the Seleucids, was north of the restored nation of Israel and another, the kingdom of the Ptolemies, was in Egypt to the south. Israel was frequently caught in the middle of their conflicts. All of this was foretold to Daniel by heavenly messengers including Gabriel.

Heavenly Battles

Chapter 10 gives us an interesting glimpse into the spirit realm. Daniel has fasted and sought God in earnest prayer for three weeks. He is overwhelmed when the angel comes but is encouraged and given strength to stand up and listen.

In Dan. 10:12-13 the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.”

Here we see a demon prince connected with Persia and a very real battle between the angelic and demonic kingdoms. This is an example, not only of the kind of thing that happens beyond the realm of our senses, but of the fact that although God is over all, there are real battles for both men and angels to fight in the outworking of His purposes.

The Book of Truth

The angel also makes reference in verse 21 to “the Book of Truth.” The “Truth” the angel shared with Daniel from that book had to do with events that were in the future from Daniel’s point of view. That reminds us that although we on earth experience the unfolding of events over time yet in a very real sense history has already been written! Guess what! The devil loses! Notice the references to “the appointed time” in chapter 11, verses 29 and 35, for example. When God appoints something, it happens!

Beginning in verse 21 we find a ruler arising in the northern kingdom who is described as a “contemptible person.” He is known in history as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a wicked man who did whatever it took to gain both power and wealth.

The major conflicts Antiochus had were with Egypt but he hated the Jews and their religion. He sought to undermine them in various ways but finally crushed them without mercy. He famously defiled the temple, slaughtering a hog on the altar and rededicating it to Zeus. He outlawed any observance of the Jewish law, committing atrocities against any who resisted.

His deeds bring to mind many of the things done by ISIS in our day. Some who kept the Sabbath were betrayed and burned to death. Mothers with their infants were thrown from the city wall over the issue of circumcision. Tens of thousands were killed or sent off into slavery.

Compromise and Betrayal

Of course times like these tend to expose people’s true condition. Many among the Israelites had no true faith, no real loyalty to God or His covenant and were easily compromised. Verse 32 begins, “With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant ….” Their primary motivation was self-interest, self-preservation. Gaining favor from a wicked ruler by betraying fellow Jews was a small price to pay. Where was their supposed God in all that was happening? Why didn’t He stop it?

Remember the words of Jesus foretelling a time of persecution to come in Matt. 24:10-13 – “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

The principles we see at work both in Daniel 11 and also in Matt. 24 have occurred throughout history, but will be especially evident at the end of the age. The devil’s purpose is to destroy any divine influence among men and God’s purpose is to separate and purify those who are His.

And so we see that even in the time of Antiochus and his attempt to destroy the Jews’ religion there were those who remained faithful, refusing to compromise. It is easy to suppose, when we read in the scriptures about great victories won through faith, miraculous deliverances from fire, lions, and giants, that God’s response to those who remain faithful at such a time would be to immediately enter the scene and once again do something amazing.

But that didn’t happen. Dan. 11:36 tells us that “The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place.”

What is Victory?

That doesn’t fit many people’s ideas about God, that He would stand back and allow evil to reign to the point of seeing His faithful ones suffer and even die. That is because our thinking is so earth-bound. We don’t see the big picture of what God is doing. To us it is a great victory when God delivers someone from trouble and a seeming defeat when He doesn’t, particularly when that one dies at the hands of evil men.

But read once again Hebrews chapter 11 where the so-called heroes of faith are listed. Yes, God did many great and miraculous things through those who had faith. But look at verses 35-38 where it says, “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”

Then note what follows in verse 39: “These were all commended for their faith….” ALL! God’s purpose was served in every instance regardless of the earthly outcome and all were equally worthy of honor in His sight. We are in need of a more heavenly definition of “victory.” In fact 1 John 5:4 reminds that faith IS the victory, a victory that overcomes the world.

From time to time my mind goes to Isa. 57:1-2. There the Lord gives us a glimpse of how He sees the death of His faithful ones. “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”

Far from being a tragedy, the death of a saint is deliverance and victory! The more we grasp this the less we will fear death. Remember Paul’s words in Phil. 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Often we look for escape from trouble. God is looking for faithfulness, however circumstances may unfold in a particular life. Remember Rev. 2:10 where the church at Smyrna was told of persecution to come and then exhorted, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

And so evil reigned for a time. In Dan. 11:33-35 we read, “Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.”

I sense that these are truths that God’s people especially need in this hour as evil is being allowed to reign among men in ever-increasing measure. We haven’t seen anything yet. I am convinced that the greatest expression of evil the world will ever see is yet to come. Many of our brothers and sisters live under persecution right now but many others are asleep and unprepared.

God is seeking even now to get His people ready for all that lies ahead. Thank God we are on the winning side but there are still battles to be fought.

The Secret

But what is the secret? What was it that enabled some to stand strong in the days of Antiochus and others to just crumble? Our text tells us: “… the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits” (KJV). In the NIV: “… the people who know their God will firmly resist him.” In the ESV: “… the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.”

Each translation says the same thing using slightly different wording. The key is obviously that certain people “knew their God.” We all are aware of the difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing them. All of the Israelites knew about God. It was their national heritage, embodied in traditions that dated back to Moses and Abraham.

But that clearly was not enough – and it’s not enough today. Multitudes practice some form of Christian “religion” that embodies traditional beliefs in God and Jesus Christ. But how many have actually come to know Him in a transforming encounter resulting in the new birth? And how many who actually have been born again have learned to know Him in a really practical way.

Paul

There is a difference between coming to know Him in the sense of the new birth and that kind of knowledge. Think of Paul’s words in Phil. 3:10-11 – “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Obviously Paul knew Christ in the first sense yet in this scripture he expressed an intense desire to know Christ in ways that were yet future. And remember, Philippians was written quite late in his ministry. In other words, he sought after the kind of knowledge that comes only with maturity and very personal experience.

One simple example is in Phil. 4:12-13 – “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Paul had learned. How had he learned? Did he merely sit in a class and listen to a lecture? Of course not! In the course of his life and ministry he found himself in a great variety of real life experiences in which he learned to look to God. He experienced many very difficult things, including persecution with real suffering, dangers, imprisonments, beatings, a stoning in which he survived, and many other things. See 2 Cor. 11:23-33, for example.

In those experiences he sought, not just good principles to live by, but rather to go through them in close communion with Christ, learning to see them through His eyes. He sought to do as Jesus invited in Matt. 11:29, to take his yoke and learn from him. In it all he found there was One Who strengthened him.

Suffering became “sharing in his sufferings,” a natural part of being a Christian in a hostile world. He saw the need to become “like him in his death,” that is, to die to his old life with all of its corrupt motivations. But he also sought to experience in practical ways the power of the new life he had been given.

There is no substitute for these things. Everyone wants to experience Christ on the mountain top but few in the valley, and fewer still in the kinds of valleys Paul went through. And we only truly learn when we go through things while humbling ourselves to what God is seeking to do in us. 1 Peter 5:6-7.

Paul learned enough about God’s ways to know that “… suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Rom. 5:3-4.

When Paul experienced his “thorn in the flesh” he learned a deep lesson. Of course, his first reaction was to plead with the Lord to take it away. 2 Cor. 12:9-10 gives us the Lord’s answer and Paul’s reaction. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

That kind of experience and knowledge makes all the difference when things get difficult. Where an inexperienced believer might panic, one who has learned these things is able to remain strong and push through, not because they are strong but because they have experienced God’s faithfulness and learned to rely on His strength alone.

David

David was a man after God’s own heart. Where his fellow Israelites knew some things about God, David had, from his youth, made it his business to get to know God in his everyday life. God used every experience to prepare him for his life’s calling, to be a king over God’s people.

While David was tending his father’s sheep God allowed both a hungry bear and a hungry lion to come around looking for a meal. Others would probably have run but David stood his ground, trusting God, and was given victory over both. Those victories stood him in good stead later when he was confronted with Goliath. He had a real knowledge of God to draw upon and was once again given a great victory.

David’s lifelong experiential knowledge of God resulted in some bedrock convictions that he powerfully expresses in Psalms that have encouraged God’s people through the ages. Psalm 103 is one example among many.

He praises God for “benefits” like forgiveness, healing, deliverance, and renewed strength. He speaks of God as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (verse 8). The greatness of God’s love is compared to the height of the heavens above the earth (verse 11). His forgiveness results in our sins being removed from us as far as the east is from the west (verse 12).

David saw God as a compassionate father (verse 13). His love for those who fear Him is “from everlasting to everlasting” (verse 17). Verse 19 says, “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.”

But the kind of knowledge and conviction David expresses in Psalm 103 came at a price. It is true that there were times that the Heavenly Shepherd led him through green pastures and beside still waters but there were also times he spent in the valley of the shadow of death. Often he expressed the depths of his anguish in Psalms that were preserved for our learning.

How Long, O Lord?

In Psalm 13:1-2 he writes, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Have you ever felt like that?

In Psalm 22:1-2 we find a cry of David that is partially quoted by Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.” That’s not a cry of unbelief but rather the anguish of an embattled soul fighting the “fight of faith.” 1 Tim. 6:12.

The wonderful convictions David expresses about God in the Psalms can be summed up in that word “faith.” Faith is a conviction that comes about when we open our hearts to the work of God’s Spirit. It is a supernatural gift of God. It produces a conviction that enables us to trust God, to hope, to persevere.

Everything about human nature and this present evil age stands utterly opposed to real faith. And God allows the faith He imparts to His own to be tried. Life’s pathway often leads us through places where everything seems to rise up against faith. Circumstances seem not only contrary but totally impossible. Feelings are absent. God seems silent. Demons are allowed to relentlessly spew their evil “wisdom” into our minds. Our strength is insufficient. All seems lost.

Yet, however strange it may seem to our natural minds, it is in those very times that much of the knowledge of which Daniel 11:32 speaks is nurtured. It is wonderful that God’s Word can be planted in our minds through ministry but far greater when its truths are tested in battle and the God of that word is found trustworthy.

There is a saying that we often hear: if God brings you to it He will bring you through it. That, indeed, is a wonderful truth simply expressed. It also explains many things that God brings about in the lives of His own, things we would not naturally choose. He knows what lies ahead. His plans involve working in us and through us. He knows what it takes to accomplish His plan. Yet how readily to we shrink from life’s battles, seeking to escape from them rather than fighting through them.

The Heart of our Warfare

Much of David’s warfare involved real physical battles against enemy armies. And the trials prophesied in Daniel 11 also involved outward persecution. But the heart of our warfare as believers is not external circumstances but what happens in our hearts and minds.

The enemy of our souls knows this and is merciless in his attempts to find vulnerable places in our minds. How we need to guard our hearts and minds and learn to recognize the source of many thoughts that arise in difficult times. What believer has not experienced this?

“If God really loved you this wouldn’t be happening.” “You did something wrong and God is punishing you.” “God won’t hear your prayer.” “Why doesn’t God answer your prayer? You pray and nothing has changed.” “You got yourself into this mess and God is expecting you to fix it.” “God is disappointed in you.” “You know you’re going to lose this battle; why don’t you give in and save yourself all this trouble?” “Your situation is hopeless.” “Look at all your failures and shortcomings; why would God care about you?” “Evil is winning; what a fool you are to trust in God.”

While we are in such a battle the terrible things the devil tells us can even seem true. And that is the crux of the battle: will we cast away our confidence or will we stand and believe God’s word? Heb. 10:36-39. The prizes won in spiritual battles are worth those battles. They build a store of experience and confidence that is critical to moving forward in God.

All We Need

And think of the fact that David had such an amazing and personal relationship with God in the days of the Old Covenant. We have the rich storehouse of truth and spiritual provision in Christ under the New! All that we need for life and godliness is available to us not through commandments to keep but through the “great and precious promises” of God. 2 Peter 1:3-4.

And, as Paul said in Rom. 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” God has given us an amazing hope and we have “… this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Heb. 6:19.

That is what has enabled God’s people to stand firm through the ages. It is not that they have learned correct theology but rather that they have experienced God in all kinds of ways in real life. They know their God. It is not a matter of debate but of personal experience. Note the word “their” in Daniel 11:32. God wasn’t just “God”; He was “their God.” Is He yours? Do you know Him like that?

It should be self-evident that the various spiritual conditions of the Jews in the days of Antiochus didn’t happen overnight. Clearly some had been nurturing what Heb. 3:12 calls “a sinful, unbelieving heart” long before Antiochus showed up. Some had no doubt kept up the outward forms of their religion and culture but God knew what was in their hearts and allowed events to uncover their true condition.

Likewise those who remained faithful did so, not because of mere theory or cultural tradition but because they had had real life experience in getting to know their God. They knew He was real and to be trusted and served in a way others did not.

More Than Standing Firm

I like the English Standard Version translation of our key phrase: “… the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” It highlights well the results that follow truly “knowing” God.

The first thing is that they stood firm. This expresses the uncompromising position they took when Antiochus outlawed their covenant relationship with God and persecuted those who didn’t submit. Forced to choose sides under threat of torture and death they chose to remain faithful to their God, even when He for a time continued to allow evil to reign.

The second thing is “take action.” The Hebrew word translated “take action” simply means “do” in the broadest sense. That is probably why translations vary as there is little that is specific to go on. Nevertheless it should be clear that there is action involved. Standing firm is necessary and involves a firm defense of one’s position but “action” or “doing” goes beyond that. It means going on offense.

It may well be that the Lord deliberately left the specific action vague since it could involve different things in different situations. But one thing it surely does mean: even when evil reigns God’s kingdom still takes action and advances one way or another. Whatever God may allow the devil to do He nonetheless has an eternal purpose that will continue to unfold till Christ returns in power and glory. And He works through people.

God is even now working in His people to prepare them, each one according to his or her unique place in His kingdom, for all that lies ahead. I believe many will be called and prepared to lay down their lives as a testimony to a perishing world. Isaiah 57:1-2 will apply and heaven will greatly honor them. But I believe others will be mightily anointed to advance His kingdom in the face of Satan’s onslaught.

There is nothing God has ever done that He cannot do again and more. He rescued Daniel from lions and gave him a high place in the greatest empires of his day. He opened the Red Sea and destroyed Pharaoh’s army. He preserved Paul in spite of great persecution to spread the gospel across Asia Minor and Europe and even win some of Caesar’s household to Christ. Other apostles spread the good news throughout the known world of their day. Philip was carried in the Spirit from one place to another to preach. Only God knows what He has planned but I am convinced that God’s people in the last hour will not only “stand fast” but will also be enabled to “take action.”

Choices

Eternal choices are being made right now. People are choosing either to side with this present evil world and its “god” or with the one true God and His Son Jesus Christ. The darkness that is spreading across our planet will make those choices evident.

It is no time to sleep but rather a time to get to know our God, to experience His faithfulness in all kinds of circumstances. We certainly don’t need to be presumptuous and run ahead of God but we do need to respond to what He brings our way by looking to Him in faith for His strength and wisdom.

It is always good to remember a favorite scripture of believers everywhere: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Cor. 10:13. Note that the “way out” is that we might “stand up under it.” In other words, God allows many kinds of circumstances in our lives, some of them difficult, but He always provides what we need to stand up and push through.

Thank God Rom. 8:28 is still in the book: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

And what a wonderful conclusion we find in that passage: “… I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 8:38-39.

I’m so glad that the Lord does not always lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. Sometimes we experience the green pastures and the still waters! But He knows what is needed in every life all along the way. And His way leads home.

The wonderful truth of Daniel 11:32 is echoed in 1 Cor. 15 where we see an exhortation that involves both standing and doing. Paul sets forth the glorious truth of the resurrection to come when death itself will finally be destroyed. In the light of that victory, given to us by God through our Lord Jesus Christ, he says, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Cor. 15:58.

Where do you stand in all of this?

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