Today's sermon is the third in a series on the names of God, using Greek and Hebrew translations so we gain a deeper insight into what God is revealing about himself to us.
I asked us to do some homework this past week. We were to say aloud to ourselves every day "God sees me." I also asked us to read Philippians 4:6-7 & 1 Corinthians 10:13 – to note the promises God makes us and to note what we need do to receive these promises. I hope we continue saying "God sees me." - it's a good spiritual practice. I will refer to our scripture readings later in the sermon.
Today, let's look at Daniel 4, the story of Nebuchadnezzar, where God is called El Elyon (el el YOHN).
The theme of the Book of Daniel is God's absolute sovereignty over all the kingdoms of the earth and over history itself. Nothing and no one is outside of God's control. Nebuchadnezzar, the mighty king of the Babylonian Empire, captures Jerusalem in 586 BC, destroys the temple and carries the people of Judah into captivity to Babylon. Daniel is a Jewish captive, taken from Judah to Babylon when he is a young man. He trains to be King Nebuchadnezzar's administrator.
Nebuchadnezzar is proud and arrogant because of his many building projects. However, he changes his tune after he has an incredible encounter with El Elyon - the Most High God. The Book of Daniel contains the decree Nebuchadnezzar writes after his encounter with El Elyon.
Nebuchadnezzar has a disturbing dream and he seeks to understand the dream's meaning. Daniel interprets the dream to mean Nebuchadnezzar will lose everything unless he believes that the Most High God rules over all. Twelve months later, Nebuchadnezzar walks on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. He declares "Just look at the great city of Babylon! I, by my own mighty power, have built this beautiful city as my royal residence and as an expression of my royal splendor."
A voice calls down from heaven "O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you. You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the words and gives them to anyone he chooses." And, so it was.
After the seven periods of time passes, Nebuchadnezzar looks up to heaven - his sanity returns - he praises and worships the Most High, recognizing God rules over all - he understands God's ruling is everlasting and God's kingdom is eternal. Indeed, Nebuchadnezzar's honor, glory and kingdom return to him. El Elyon, Most High God.
Nebuchadnezzar writes his decree about his encounter with El Elyon. He writes to give God glory by sharing what God has done in his life - a testimonial. Nebuchadnezzar writes to all the people of the world - every race, nation and language and time - he writes to us today. God gives Nebuchadnezzar the dream so the world over will know El Elyon is the Most High God.
I want to encourage us to spend some time this next week reflecting - asking ourselves when we last looked up like Nebuchadnezzar did. We are called to humble ourselves before God - called to see and understand ourselves in the right perspective to God. Think of Moses - he humbles himself before God to such an extent, Moses hears God clearly and knows God well.
Now, let's turn to Genesis and learn about El Olam (el o-LAM), the Eternal God. Olam means eternal, everlasting, forever, lasting and ancient. Paired with El, we have the Eternal or Everlasting God. We learn God has no beginning, no end and stands outside of and beyond time. God's nature and purposes are timeless. God creates time but God is not limited by time. Before the creation of time and the universe, God existed.
Olam also means the unchangeableness of God - the consistency of God's existence. Everything in life changes but God does not. God's character, his Word, his promises, his purposes and his kingdom never change and never end. God is constant, dependable, reliable and faithful.
Genesis 21:22-24 is a short story of an interaction between God and Abraham. At this point of the story, Abraham has followed God's direction to "go where I show you." Abraham has left his home country and is now living as a stranger in a country not his; although, God has promised Abraham this country. Abraham is waiting for God's promise to be fulfilled.
In the meantime, Abraham is dealing with Abimelech (uh BIM uh lek) who asks Abraham to deal fairly with him and his decendents since Abraham is living on their land and they have shown kindness. Abraham swears to do so. Later, he complains to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech's servants seized. Abraham brings sheep and cattle to Abimelech as witnesses that he built the well. The two men make a treaty and this place is called Beersheba. Abraham plants a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and calls upon the name of the El Olam, the Eternal God.
Abraham honors his belief in God's promise to make the land his. A tamarisk tree is a large, long-living tree that provides green foilage for grazing animals and shade from the sun. Abraham plants a long-living tree on land that is not his and calls on El Olam and worships God. Abraham believes God is the Eternal God - that God's promises are eternal. Abraham suspends his understanding of time for God's time. Abraham stays in this land a long time.
God is outside of time. Time does not change God's promises to us. Hebrews 13:8 tells us that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. El Olam, the Eternal God. We tend not to be so good at waiting. We are not fond of delayed promises. Many religious scholars put forth that God sees all his promises as being already fulfilled. And, because of this, we can live as if we already have received what God promises us. Better said, we may need to learn to live as if we already have received what God promises us. We can lean on Abraham - learn to follow Abraham's path of experiencing God's love as a vital presence in our lives as we wait.
We struggle with wanting God's promises now - all of God's promises - all of our prayers answered our way and right away. We can get so ensnared by waiting for God's promises that we miss God's presence in our lives today as we wait. God is with us, loves us and blesses us as we wait. If we focus on God's presence when we are waiting we gain much comfort. We may be waiting but we are in the presence of God!
Let's look at God's promises from our homework in Philippians 4:6-7 “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
In this scripture, God promises us God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand – God’s peace can guard our hearts and minds. What we need do for this peace is to tell God what we need and thank God for all he has done for us. We are called to pray instead of worry. When you read the Bible, keep an eye out for God’s promises and then the conditions – what we must do to receive God’s promises - always requires interaction with God.
Abraham's life was full of issues and uncertainties. Abraham did not let his circumstances take over his belief in God. Abraham knew his circumstances were not eternal - that only God is eternal. On the flip side, Nebuchadnezzar let his successes take over his beliefs. Nebuchadnezzar had to learn his successess were not eternal - only God is eternal.