Thursday, November 14, 2013
A SURVEY OF DANIEL, PART 2
In this survey of Daniel, I shall brush over the narrative portions of the book. It is not that these are unimportant. They are expressions of faithfulness in a very difficult time for the Jews. The Jews had lost everything, including their central focus of worship and relationship to God, the Temple and the sacrificial system. Yet, in the face of that, Daniel and his three friends remained faithful to God. God prospered them in the context of the Babylonian Empire, but did not return them to their former context of Temple worship in the land of Israel (at least as far as we know). However, the hope of return from exile and of restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple remained within the breast of Daniel (see 9:1-19). All of this personal experience was a direct reflection of the experience of the nation of Judah.
In a sense, the nation had come full circle. Abraham had been born in Ur (Genesis 11:27-28), near Babylon. He was first called by God in that pagan land (Acts 7:2). How did God appear to Abraham, communicate with him, lead him to Canaan, speak to him again and again? We have no clue. We do know that the Old Testament is an account of numerous encounters between God and people. These encounters were an important element in the development of the faith of the Hebrew people (see Hebrews 11). Eventually, there would be the Tabernacle and then the Temple. These structured forms of worship, together with the written word and instruction were the “organized religion” of Israel. That religion was a framework for the faith of the people. Nevertheless, there was a need for a “heart religion.” (See Isaiah 29:13 and Matthew 15:8-9. See also Jeremiah 31:31-34.) The Babylonian captivity was a devastating loss of the organized religion. It also was an opportunity for a renewal of the heart religion of Israel. Daniel demonstrated some elements of that heart religion. Jeremiah and Ezekiel demonstrated other aspects.
As Daniel experienced the living God in the land of Babylon and as he demonstrated how to live faithfully as a Jew in a pagan land, he also received revelations of God’s future faithfulness. These prophetic visions set Israel’s present situation in the context of world history. In the past, Israel had been somewhat insulated from the maneuvers of “the nations.” The Temple was in Jerusalem. The people could come to celebrate the various festivals and go back home and farm the land and enjoy God’s blessing. Only as Israel disobeyed the covenants did the nations—tools of God’s discipline—come to harass the people. But now Israel was humbled and helpless, adrift in a sea whipped by the winds of the empires. Yet, the Lord revealed to Daniel the nature of those empires before they had even been conceived. The implicit message was that God knows the future and the limits of the powers of the world empires.
Moreover, God has a plan: someday the whole human creation of earthly power—based on political skill and military might—will come crashing down and a new Kingdom will rule the whole earth. That Kingdom—the Kingdom of God—would be the fullness of what had been experienced in the theocracy of Israel. Daniel reminded the people that they were on the winning side. The God that they had worshiped from Sinai to Jerusalem would someday be worshiped by the whole earth. Though this empire or that one may be in ascendancy at the moment, the Jew could open his Bible to Daniel and know that this is only temporary.
I believe that the prophecies of Daniel are relevant to us who are Christians as well as to the Jews of the ancient world. I believe that they speak to us even today. Even as the world primps itself as a bride waiting for Antichrist, we can know that the final world empire will meet its end and the Kingdom of God will come. And I believe that we shall inherit that Kingdom. That concept is for another article.
THE FIRST VISION: THE DREAM OF THE STATUE OF DIFFERENT METALS (CHAPTER 2)
The first revelation of the future came originally to Nebuchadnezzar, not to Daniel. It did not come in the form that we usually call a vision, but rather as a dream. I am using the term “vision," then, not in a technical sense, but simply to designate a revelation. When Nebuchadnezzar had his dream, he was troubled by it and called for those who practiced occult arts. He demanded not only that they interpret his dream, but also that they first tell him what he had dreamed. It appears that he was onto their games. He knew they could make up something about the meaning of his dream, but that did not mean they were truly in touch with the spiritual sources of his dream. So, he threatened to kill them if they did not do what he demanded. They admitted that they could not tell him his dream, and so he ordered them to be executed. Since Daniel was a part of their company, he was due for execution. Daniel requested for time. He and his Jewish friends prayed. In the night Daniel received a vision that revealed both the dream and its interpretation (2:1-23).
Daniel appeared before Nebuchadnezzar and explained that the Lord had revealed the mystery. The dream consisted of a giant image of a man. Its head was made of gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, and its feet of iron mixed with clay. A large stone was cut—but not by human hands—from rock. The rock struck the image on its feet and they were shattered. Then the whole image was shattered and became like chaff and was blown away. The stone became a mountain that filled the whole earth.
Each of the parts represented a kingdom. The gold represented Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. After him would come another, and that would be succeeded by another and so forth. Just as the metals were of lessening quality, so the quality of the kingdoms would each be lesser in quality than the previous one. The iron kingdom would be a very powerful kingdom that crushed everything. The mixed iron and clay in the feet and toes represented a divided kingdom that would have some of the strength of iron and some of the brittleness of clay. Iron does not mix well with clay, and so this kingdom will be a mixture that does not hold together well. “In the days of those kings” (verse 2:44, referring to the ten toes) God’s kingdom would be set up. It will crush the other kingdoms and end them, and it shall stand forever never to be destroyed. (2:24-45)
Because he could interpret the dream, Nebuchadnezzar praised Daniel’s God and promoted Daniel above all the other wise men and as ruler of the province of Babylon. (2:46-49)
This account of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is early in Daniel. In a way it is uncharacteristic of that part of the book. The early part of the book is generally concerned with the narrative of how Daniel and his friends lived in Babylon (chapters 1-6), and not with visions of the future, though it does include other cases of Daniel’s gift of interpretation of revelations. However, the material in chapter 2 serves not only to reveal prophetic information, but also to provide a framework for the entire book, especially the prophetic portion. Its inclusion in the narrative section reminds us of the situation of the Jews. As I have already commented, they were now living among the powerful empires of the Middle East. Daniel and his friends serve as representative Jews in this situation. They were in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. When the viziers failed to comply with Nebuchadnezzar’s demand, Daniel was in the path of the King’s wrath, just as the Jews of Babylon were vulnerable to the Babylonian political situation. However, Daniel served a God who was greater than Nebuchadnezzar and all the gods of Babylon. Moreover, as the image of many metals was crushed by the rock, so the present empire and any empire that might take its place were destined to be destroyed by the God of the Jews and His Kingdom.
Keep in mind that Daniel was not able to look back at the succeeding empires of history as we can. So, he could not name those empires. Nevertheless, we have that vantage point. The succeeding empires of the Middle East and Mediterranean world were Babylon, the Medes and Persians, the empire of Alexander (generally called the Greek empire), and the Roman. The identity of the feet of iron and clay could be interpreted in more than one way.
The 10-toed mixture of iron and clay could be the European empires of the Middle Ages, such as the Holy Roman Empire. However, that empire did not include the Middle East, which came, eventually, to be dominated by the Muslims. Moreover, it is difficult to see the Kingdom of God as crushing that supposedly Christian empire.
The most accepted interpretation is that the feet and toes represent an empire that has yet to arise in history. It would be related geographically to the Roman Empire, probably encompassing Europe and the Middle East (and perhaps North Africa). This is often considered to be a confederation (represented by the ten toes). Thus, verse 2:44 mentions “in the days of those kings…” This confederation is identified with the ten kings of Revelation 17:12-14 who are associated with the Antichrist/Beast of Revelation.
Thus, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue of many metals presents to us an amazing sweep of history from about 600 BC to some time that will be future to AD 2013. It tells us that God has a plan to end human empire-building and to establish a Kingdom that will be a blessing to all the earth.
THE SECOND VISION/DREAM: THE FOUR BEASTS (CHAPTER 7)
Daniel received this revelation directly and, in fact, did not share it with others, perhaps until it was written down (7:1 and 7:28). He describes it both as a dream and as “visions of his head” (7:1). The vision begins with the churning of the sea (the sea often represents vast numbers of people) by the “four winds of heaven” (7:2). Then four beasts, in succession, come up out of the sea.
· The first is like a lion with wings that walked upright like a man (7:4).
· The second is like a bear. It was raised up on one side and had three ribs in its teeth (7:5).
· The third is like a leopard with four wings and four heads (7:6).
· The fourth beast is not compared to any animal. It is different from the other beasts. It has iron teeth and ten horns. It is “terrifying and dreadful.” It devours with its teeth and stamps with its feet. Among the ten horns, a little horn springs up, displacing three of the others. It has eyes and a mouth that speaks great things. (7:7-8)
Now, Daniel sees a different scene: a royal court in session. On the throne is the Ancient of Days 7:9-10). Then, his attention returns to the fourth beast and to the little horn and its “great words.” Then, the beast is killed and its body is burned. The first three animals lose their dominion, but they remain alive for a while. (7:11-12) Then, a new person appears. A “son of man” comes with the clouds and is presented to the Ancient of Days. He is given a Kingdom that has an eternal dominion. (7:13-14)
Daniel inquires of one of those who are present in the vision as to the meaning of all this. The one who answers him gives, first, a brief summary and, then, an expanded interpretation.
The brief explanation is that the four beasts are four kings that will “arise out of the earth.” (7:17) However, “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.” (7:18) (Scripture quotations are from English Standard Version.) Note that the kings come from the “earth.” In the vision, they are depicted as coming from the sea (7:3). We can infer that the origin of these kings is not from God, but rather from what the New Testament refers to as “the world” (I John 2:15-17) with its base motivations. The narrative of the vision indicates that each of these kings only lasts a finite time. In contrast, says the interpreter, the saints will possess the Kingdom forever. This statement in 7:18 is not really consistent, at first sight, with the narrative of the vision, for the vision states that the Son of Man will have an eternal dominion. I infer that the Son of Man’s dominion is a dominion for the benefit of the saints, not simply a dominion that dominates. This is in contrast to the manner in which the world dominions operate. Jesus made this contrast during the Last Supper (see Luke 22:24-30). Thus, for God’s man—the Son of Man—to reign is a triumph for the saints and they, too, shall reign. The word “saint” or “saints” is generally thought of as referring to Christians, but it is used in the Old Testament to refer to the Hebrew people of God.
Daniel inquires further concerning the latter part of the vision, in which the fourth beast, its horns, and the little horn are described. The interpreter expands the earlier summary to explain that the fourth beasts and its horns represent three successive powers, as follows:
· The fourth beast is an especially ferocious empire that will conquer all.
· Out of this beast will come ten kings. No other detail is given. The little horn is described as a successor to the ten kings, so I infer that the ten kings are in a confederacy.
· The little horn will “put down” three of the other kings. He seems to leave the other horns behind and becomes the focus of attention.
Verse 7:25 gives us some additional information about the little horn. This little horn is noted for its big mouth. It speaks “great things” (7:8), and it speaks against the most high (7:25). He shall “wear out the saints” (7:25). Perhaps this is an expression implying harassment or persecution that is combined with massive propaganda—all designed to wear down the spirit of the saints. There is an odd statement included: he “shall think to change the times and the law” (7:25). The Septuagint uses “chairos” and not “kronos” for “time” in this verse. Chairos is time with respect to its significance. It may at times be translated “opportunity” or “opportune time.” It also may be translated “season.” NIV translates it “set times.” However, the Hebrew does not necessarily have this kind of connotation if one compares the uses of the Hebrew word (zeman). So, the odd statement is difficult to interpret. Miller believes that this little horn will try to destroy religion (“law”) and religious holidays (“times” or “set times”). He bases this, really, more on his identification of the little horn with the Antichrist/Beast. I do not disagree with that identification. One must agree that within the context of chapter 7, one cannot immediately conclude that the little horn will destroy religion and religious holidays. The latter part of verse 7:25 states that “they” will be given into his hand for “a time, times, and half a time.” The antecedent of “they” could be the “times and law” or the “saints.” NIV indicates that the “they” is equivalent to the saints. The strange expression a time, times, and half a time will be dealt with a little later in the article.
The interpreter continues by summarizing the events of 7:9-12 in 7:26: “But the court shall sit in judgment…” The little horn’s dominion is taken away. In verse 7:27a the dominion is given to the saints of the Most High. Thus, the very ones the little horn tries to wear out are the ones who receive the dominion that the little horn seeks to control. Though this dominion is a gift to the saints, it is also the dominion of the Most High, who reigns forever (7:27b).
Daniel concludes with a description of how this vision has affected him: he is alarmed and his color changed. These visions of Daniel were not just pleasant day dreams. They were borderline nightmares that deeply disturbed him emotionally and physically.
As we progress through Daniel, we see an accumulation of information that tends to add layer upon layer to the original patter set in chapter 2. The four beasts of chapter 7 parallel the four metals of chapter 2. In chapter 7 we find greater detail and new information that builds upon what we already know. The ten toes and the iron and clay mixture in chapter 2 are similar to the ten horns in chapter 7. Moreover, as we progress through Scripture, we see other parallels to this pattern. We see the Man of Lawlessness in II Thessalonians 2 and the Beast of Revelation 13. Both of these descriptions seem to be about the same person that is described as the little horn in Daniel 7. The blasphemies of Revelation 13 and the exalting of himself in that chapter and in II Thessalonians 2 correspond with the “mouth speaking great things” of Daniel 7. The fact that the little horn of Daniel 7 persecutes the saints parallels the persecution described in Revelation 13. The Beast of Revelation 13 is allowed 42 months of authority. If the expression “a time, times, and half a time” is interpreted as “a year, two years, plus half a year,” or 3 ½ years, then 3 ½ years equals 42 months. Thus, the parallels between the little horn and the Man of Lawlessness (II Thessalonians 2) and the Beast (Revelation 13) are striking. It is very likely that these three are the same person.
If we equate the empire of iron (chapter 2) and the fourth beast of chapter 7 with the Roman Empire, then we are led to further inferences. The ten toes are “those kings” (2:44) and equivalent to the ten horns that are also ten kings that come from the fourth kingdom (7:24). These ten kings are a confederacy that arises from the Roman Empire. Out of that will come the little horn who will dominate that confederacy. So, we can infer that the little horn and its associated confederacy are somehow related to the Roman Empire. Nothing like that has occurred in history, and so we infer that it is a future development. I would say that the ten nation confederacy will be in the Mediterranean world, perhaps encompassing at least part of Europe and the Middle East.
The vision of chapter 7 adds detail to the outline of history that the statue of chapter 2 presents. There are two important persons introduced by chapter 7, as follows:
· The “little horn” among the ten horns of the fourth beast. This person is an arrogant blasphemer who persecutes God’s saints. He dominates the ten-nation confederacy, but comes to an abrupt end. His description parallels the description of the Man of Lawlessness of II Thessalonians 2 and of the Beast of Revelation 13. He is the Antichrist who is to come (I John 2:18).
· The “son of man” who comes with the clouds and is given the Kingdom. Jesus would designate Himself as the Son of Man. At His trial He would announce that He would return on clouds (Matthew 26:64).
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 211553-211554). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.