Jewish people commemorate the giving of the Law in the Old Testament on the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. It is still a holiday in Israel, and celebrated by Jewish people around the world. It is one of seven feasts they honor throughout the year. I remember discussing Pentecost in a Sunday school class at a Protestant denomination over 40 years ago while I was in Junior High. We read in the New Testament how the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles as they spoke to the crowds in Jerusalem. I did not give much thought at the time what it meant to Jewish believers. I just knew it as the day God poured out His Spirit into the world.
This morning I attended a Protestant worship whose liturgy included readings and a lesson concerning Pentecost as written about in the Book of Acts. Many in attendance had worn red articles of clothing symbolic of the Holy Spirit. I had taken with me a small burgundy red blanket to drape over my shoulders during communion. My way of inviting the Holy Spirit into my life; into my heart. The readings and lesson reflected on the new law that Christ had brought into the world, a law within our hearts. The written law that the Jews had observed for centuries was not to be ignored but a new law as witnessed by Christ had been ushered in. One that fulfilled the old law so to speak because all the hopes, purposes, intentions and directions that the old law tried to accomplish in bringing the Jewish people into relation with God were brought to greater meaning with the sacrifice of Christ. God’s desire for his people, the Jews, to be in relation with him had been initiated with the writings of the Old Testament prophets. After Christ death and resurrection, seven weeks later on the day of Pentecost, all peoples of the world were invited into God’s Kingdom. Christ promised his apostles he would send his Spirit into the world to those who believed in him. Long before Christ lived this had actually been prophesied in the Old Testament in the Book of Joel.
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams. Young men will see visions. In those days, I will pour out my Spirit even of servants, men and women alike.”
Joel 2: 28-29
The little blanket I took with me to the assembly of believers has some small words embroidered towards one of the corners that reads “Freedom is Not Free.” My Father-in-Law gave the blanket to my wife because he received it as a gift for giving to an organization to help wounded Veterans. He gives to a lot of charities so he receives a lot of thank you gifts. I like the little blanket because it not only reminds me of the sacrifice that our Veterans have made for our freedom, but it reminds me of the price our Savior paid for our freedom from sin. Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day to commemorate those of our nation who died in our wars. That blanket will be used again tomorrow. I also use it many times each week in devotional time as I remind myself of the sacrifice others have made for me, including the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus who won the war over Satan and his Kingdom.
Do you recall hearing the phrase, “We see the handwriting on the wall?” It is used in the context that someone knows something is about to happen, implying, “they know where this situation is headed.” I do not hear it in conversation much now, but it still occasionally pops up. I confess it is one that I have always liked because I know where the phrase originated from. Travel with me for a moment as we go back in time; a time when the world was ruled by empires, a time when kings had absolute power.
Our journey goes back to ancient times, many centuries before the Roman Empire. Long before the time of Alexander the Great and the Greek Empire. Even before the once mighty ancient Persian Empire that the Greeks conquered. For a moment we will explore the ancient Babylonian Empire, around the 6th century B.C. The one that had the famous, “hanging gardens of Babylon,” one of the eight wonders of the ancient world. A kingdom whose ruins are situated in present day Iraq. A mighty empire that ruled over many other kingdoms. The walls around Babylon were over 100 feet high, 30 feet wide, and circled the city state for miles. Babylon ruled the Middle East for about 70 years and it’s power was unprecedented. It ruled it’s conquered subjects very harshly. Most empires slowly decline. This one came to an abrupt end all in a single day.
The story is told in the book of Daniel of the Old Testament. A short book whose author Daniel talks about a number of kingdoms past, present and future to his day. Daniel was a very high ranking official who served in the King’s court. He is also the one who you may have heard about that was thrown into a den of lion’s, but that is another story for another day. Although Daniel honorable served the King, he revered and served God in his heart. Daniel was blessed with much knowledge, wisdom, management skills, and the unusual ability to interpret dreams. He served in the King’s court for many years under a number of successive kings. He was old when the following event took place.
King Belshazzar held a great feast attended by a thousand nobles. Much wine was flowing and the King ordered the gold and silver cups that had been removed from King Solomon’s Temple when Babylon conquered Jerusalem years before under a different Babylonian king be brought to the feast. As they drank toasts from these goblets in honor of the gods of Babylon, they mocked the gods of their conquered peoples including the God of King Solomon. At that very moment the fingers of a human hand wrote on the palace wall the following words, Mene Mene Tekel Parsin. No one knew what the words meant and King Belshazzar was filled with so much terror that his knees buckled under him. None of the King’s enchanters, astrologers, or fortune-tellers could decipher the meaning. Someone recalled a wise older official named Daniel who had been known to interpret dreams. He was summoned.
The King promised Daniel a gold necklace, a royal purple robe, and the third highest position in the land if he could tell the meaning of the words. Daniel told the King to keep his gifts but he would reveal the message.
Mene means numbered: God has numbered your days of your reign and has been brought it to an end.
Tekel means weighed: you have been weighed in the balances and have failed the test.
Parsins means divided: your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
The book of Daniel records that very night Babylon was conquered, Belshazzar killed and Babylon was divided into 120 provinces.
Footnote: For many centuries scholars debated if Babylon actual ever existed. The ancient ruins of the city were discovered in the desert north of Arabia in the middle of the 19th century. Historians and archeologists believe the Medes and Persians dammed up the river that flowed underneath and through the city allowing their soldiers to enter the fortified thought impregnable city.
On the game board for Treasure Trove one of the treasure spaces is titled “Kings and their Kingdoms.”
To learn more about the game go to www.TreasureTroveGame.com
The past few weeks my blog has touched on crowns, tiaras, and diadems. These are items of beauty as well as value that people of authority and royalty wear, especially in past centuries. In the context of treasure they are indeed items to be sought. That is why many illustrations in religious writings use the context of crowns to convey a message. For example, in Islamic teachings, a Crown of Pearls in the afterlife awaits those who have lived honorably for God in this life.
In the Old Testament the High Priests in the tabernacle wore crowns as they eventually would in the Temple. The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah had rulers who for hundreds of years wore crowns. The New Testament writers spoke of a crown of glory, a crown of life, and a crown of righteousness. I often think of this image of a crown of righteousness. Paul in the book of Ephesians speaks of the armor of a Christian. He uses the image of a soldier. The sword represents the Word of God, the shield represents faith, while the belt represents truth. The soldier also wears a breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation.
This image of righteousness is intriguing to me. Christ offered himself as a sacrifice in order for us to have the opportunity to be presented as righteous before God. I can envision a Roman helmet, but I ask you this. What is your image of a crown of glory or a crown of righteousness? Is it a Halo? Is it a gold diadem? It may be hard to describe what a crown of righteousness would look, and that is fine. The point is righteousness. What does that look like? Again, different images come to the minds of different people. Let me share with you images that are on my heart.
When Jesus lived as an adult, the absolute ruler was Tiberius, Emperor of Rome. He had absolute power and lived a life of opulence and indulgence. The later years of his life he lived secluded on an island with a predilection to sex. It has been written that he preferred young males and after a period of time would discard them by having them thrown over a cliff. Sounds like a depraved, evil existence. Contrast that with Jesus who walked and lived among ordinary people often staying in their houses. He chose to use his power to give to others by teaching, sharing his food, and healing. Not to mention the greatest gift of all, a crown of righteousness given to each of us if we choose to accept it. The next time you wonder if it would be cool to be rich, famous or have royalty, remember that it is not unusual to ponder such thoughts. It is also not inherently wrong to be rich, just that it is often a trap and can be destructive spiritually as it was for Tiberius who had it all in this life. During this Christmas season of gift giving remember Christ’s gift for each of us, the gift of life, a crown of righteousness.
The fabled wealth of King Solomon is legendary. He is thought to have been one of the richest men to have ever lived and many believe he was perhaps the wealthiest of all time. If what he possessed in his time was compared to today’s prices, his net worth would easily outpace the richest people living in modern times. He would have been richer than the oil baron John Rockefeller at the turn of the 20th century or the computer billionaires of the early 21st century.
His kingdom is written about in the Old Testament books of 1st Kings and 2nd Chronicles. The vastness of his wealth and how he managed the Israelite Empire he ruled over is quite detailed in these accounts. He lived almost three thousand years ago. He oversaw the building of the Temple in Jerusalem for the Israelites to honor and worship God. It was probably one of the most expensive architectural accomplishments ever completed. Rulers from distant places, such as the Queen of Sheba, traveled to visit him and marveled at his great wealth. It has been recorded that the utensils and drinking cups of his palaces were only of gold. It was plentiful enough in his household that silver was not considered of much value. (1st Kings, chapter 10, verse 21)
Hundreds of years after King Solomon lived, the Babylonian Empire(located in present day Iraq)destroyed the Temple and looted the treasures. Archeologists discovered Babylon in the mid 19th century but no treasures of King Solomon. Yet his greatest treasure remains with us to this day: his wisdom. He is regarded as the wisest man who ever lived. The recorded writings of his wisdom are in the book of Proverbs of the Old Testament. The following is a sample of his inspired words:
“Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. For wisdom is more profitable than silver and her wages better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. She offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left.”
When players compete in TreasureTrove, they are trying to collect as many treasures as they can as quickly as they can. Included in the playing of the game are situation cards that by chance allow players different options. Some of the cards allow players to acquire more treasure, some cause a lose a turn, while some send players to different places on the game board. There are also some cards that offer a quote of wisdom to remind of us life’s true treasures. A sample of one of such card reads as follows:
A card such as this one is not going to help one win the game but reminds us hopefully that treasure is held in our hearts not just in our hands.
To learn more about the game go to www.TreasureTroveGame.com