Saturday, 6 December 2014

(341) December 7: Daniel 7 & 1 John 5:1-12

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider the main point of this vision.

To ponder:
7v1 returns us to the reign of Belshazzar. Daniel experiences a vision in the context of a dream. This is apocalyptic literature which is highly symbolic. The note that Daniel wrote it down gives insight into how the detail of the rest of the book might have come to us. The sea is scripture is a symbol of chaos and evil. His description of the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea from which four great beasts came, probably therefore implies God’s intent behind their rise (7v2-3). As when Nebuchadnezzar was reduced to a beast-like state, the choice of ferocious beasts shows they represent the inhumane and vicious cruel rule of four kingdoms (7v17), contrasting righteous rule which is to image God. This would have encouraged God’s people in subsequent years that the oppression they suffered, despite God having promised to establish his everlasting kingdom after the return from exile, did not mean he had forgotten them.
The first beast is almost certainly Nebuchadnezzar’s or his kingdom (see Jer 49v19-22), as this lion has wings like an eagle before becoming a man just as Nebuchadnezzar did on repenting (7v4, 4v33-37). This implies the following beasts are specific rulers or kingdoms rather than general symbols of oppression. The bear is pictured as ready to pounce and eat (as Medo-Persia was during Belshazzar’s reign, 5v30-31). But it is portrayed with prey already in its mouth from elsewhere – perhaps three conquests (7v5). This would make the leopard Greece, which followed Medo-Persia in dominance (see 10v20). Its four wings and heads may express it seeking out prey in the four corners of the earth, or the four empires that would stem from it under four of Alexander’s generals (see 8v8). The choice of leopard may emphasize the speed of its rise (7v6). This could be why we are told it is given authority to rule – explaining how quickly Alexander conquered. The fourth most terrifying beast with iron (signifying strength) teeth (as the iron in 2v33) is less certain. Again, a good case can be made for Rome. But to my mind, the apparent chronology of the accounts works best if it is the Seleucid Empire, founded by one of Alexander’s generals, and that grew to cover much of the known world (7v23, confirmed by 8v8-11 with v21-24 and 11v2-32). Particularly significant is that Seleucus established his centre in Babylon (where Alexander died), maintaining the sense that these are the successive kingdoms at some point be ruled from Babylon. This beast is different in being more a monster than a known animal. And it is stressed that it will devour and trample on its victims throughout the earth (7v7, 23).
            Horns signify power as those of a rhinoceros. The ten horns are probably therefore equivalent to the ten toes (2v42), representing ten kings or rulers who would grow out of this kingdom (7v24). The little horn that uprooted three of the ten, is a different king or ruler who will subdue three of the other kings. The note that he had the eyes of the man may imply that at first he might have looked like a good God-imaging ruler, perhaps deceiving some. But we are told he spoke boastfully (7v7-8).
            It is at this point that the vision changes, and Daniel sees a plurality of thrones set in place (in context probably two). The Ancient of Days (God) took one that had wheels (consider Ezek 1), implying his mobile presence. The description stresses his purity (white), burning justice (river of fire) and greatness (the ten thousand times ten thousand standing before him). Most likely the great number refers to the angelic host, being ready to do his bidding. The picture is therefore of God as Sovereign, enthroned to execute justice according to the books of people’s deeds (7v9-10). No wonder Daniel kept watching because of the little horn’s boasting, it was no doubt to see how God would respond. Here, we should not assume this vision refers to the final judgement, although its concepts are based on this vision (as Rev 20v11-12). The sense is more that this is a temporal judgement on this particular kingdom. And so the fourth beast (ie. the Seleucid Empire), which would include the horn, is seen destroyed and thrown into the fire flowing from the throne, implying the irreversible destruction of the boasting ruler’s power (7v11, 26). The note that the other beasts were stripped of their authority but allowed to live for a time (7v12) doesn’t necessarily imply they continued after this. It could simply mean that after their power or dominance had been removed they were allowed to continue in some form for a while, whereas this fourth beast would be wholly removed.
            What is said to follow is a perfect ruler, who is not beast like, but truly Adam-like, yet travelling God’s way – on clouds! Indeed, he is led to God and given his glory and sovereignty, over all peoples who are said to worship him. It seems then, that he is the occupier of the other throne (as 7v9). And we are told his kingdom will endure forever (7v13-14). NT teaching strongly suggests this refers to the ascension of Christ to sit at his father’s side. The point that the beastly rule of the fourth kingdom will be destroyed and superseded by Christ’s righteous rule as God and King, which will never be destroyed.
In response Daniel speaks to one of the angelic host who explains the vision. Its point is to tell God’s people suffering oppression under each successive kingdom, that with each one the establishment of God’s kingdom was closer, and would come sometime after the fall of the fourth. Moreover, from this last kingdom (the Seleucid Empire) there will come a king or ruler who will wage war against the saints and whose boasting will take the form of speaking against God. Indeed, he will oppress God’s people to the point of trying to change their set times (probably festivals) and laws. If our understanding is right, this was fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes. In 167BC he attacked Jersualem, outlawed certain Jewish rites and traditions, ordered them to worship Zeus, and eventually destroyed the city. The note that God’s people will be handed over to him for three and a half “times” (half of seven, the number of completion) implies a set time in God’s purposes, perhaps one of two key times of extreme oppression before all is complete (7v25). We are told this will end as God judges in his people’s favour, removes this king’s power forever, and hands the greatness of all the remaining kingdoms throughout the earth over to the saints, as God’s kingdom is established and all rulers worship and obey him (7v15-27). It is striking in the light of this, that the Jews rebelled against the Seleucids, forcing them to re-establish Jewish worship. And Antiochus Epiphanes died suddenly of disease 3 years later. From this point the Empire then gradually declined as Rome became dominant. This should have raised expectation in the Jews that God’s kingdom was soon to be established, so preparing them for the coming of Christ. And in the light of this, 7v27 should be understood as speaking of how all the kingdoms of the earth would then bring their power and greatness into the service of Christ’s people as they offer God their worship and obedience alongside them. This is fulfilled in the mission of the church.
Relating all this to today isn’t easy. As is often the case with apocalyptic literature, and salvation history in general, the literal fulfilment of the four kingdoms may be paradigmatic of the beastly essence of those kingdoms being displayed throughout subsequent history, but being overcome by the kingdom of God. If this is correct, we are reminded that as history progresses, so we come nearer to the judgement of all who oppress God’s people and to the perfected visible reign of Christ. So we should be encouraged to patient perseverance, as the returning exiles would have been, and to ensuring we are amongst those of 7v27.
The chapter ends with Daniel deeply troubled at what this future will mean for his people.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he restrains evil and will establish his kingdom. Pray for Christians to persevere as they await this.

Thinking further:
None today.

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