Monday, 8 December 2014

(343) December 9: Daniel 10-12 & 2 and 3 John

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

To discover:­
As you read consider what response in God’s people seems to be intended by these visions.

To ponder:
10v1 dates this vision to 537BC after the first exiles had returned to Jerusalem. It seems Daniel first received a revelation about a great war (we are not told how), that caused such despair that he mourned for three weeks, before receiving understanding of it in a vision by the river Tigris (10v1-4). The man in priestly linen is similar to that seen by Ezekiel (Ez 9v2), with symbolism that elsewhere describes God’s glory (Ez 1v26-28), and so could be the angel of the LORD or the Son of God himself. Daniel notes only he saw the vision, but those with him were filled with terror – perhaps at instinctive awareness of the presence of God, or on seeing Daniel in a trance, losing strength and turning pale (10v5-8). When the “man” spoke Daniel fell into a deep sleep face down, before a hand touched him so he could get onto his hands and knees trembling (as 8v18). The man told Daniel he was highly esteemed and should listen carefully, as the man had been sent to him. As if reassured, Daniel then stood. It all focuses our attention on the awesomeness of the event, and the importance of what we are about to read. The man tells Daniel not to be afraid, saying his prayers were heard from the moment he sought to gain understanding and humble himself before God – and so he has come in response (10v9-12). Clearly these are the qualities that God esteems and commend our prayers (see Is 66v22).
            The reason we are given for the delay in coming is that the “prince of Persia” resisted the man for 21 days, until a chief prince called Michael helped him, so he could tell Daniel what will happen to his people in the future (10v13-14), which we are later told is written in the book of truth  (10v21), implying that it is ordained and so fixed by God. Overcome with anguish, Daniel then bowed down speechless, only for the man to touch his mouth so he could speak and express this, asking how when he could hardly breathe, could he talk to this man (10v15-17). It seems this man is more awe inspiring than Gabriel was. He then gave Daniel strength, repeating his reassurances and telling him to be at peace and strong. It seems his words actually effected the strength needed, further implying this was a manifestation of God himself (10v18-19). After Daniel invited him to speak, he then said he would have to return to fight the prince of Persia, before that of Greece would come, stating no-one supports him against them except Michael, Israel’s prince. Indeed, he adds that he took a stand in supporting and protecting Michael the very year Darius took Babylon and the first decree was made for the exiles to return. The point is that God had done what was necessary in the heavenlies to ensure this (10v20-21).
All this strongly implies angelic beings somehow represent the nations of the earth in heaven, and can even, by God’s permission, affect what is worked out on earth (see Eph 6v12)! It is noteworthy too, that the more significant being is for the humanly insignificant Israel, as in God’s purposes this nation is the most critical.
We do not have space to relate the historic fulfilment, but it is commonly accepted that what follows in 11v2-35 at least, is a detailed account of the interaction of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Empires, based in Egypt (the south) and Syria (the north) respectively, and founded by two of the four generals who divided Alexander’s kingdom between them (as 11v2-4). This interaction is significant because Israel lies between the two, and so would be threatened by and drawn into the events in various ways (see 11v14). In particular we can note how the northern kingdom will take control of Israel (11v16), a “contemptible person” will gain the throne (Antiochus Epiphanes), sweep away “a prince of the covenant” (probably the High Priest Onias III), and set himself against the “holy covenant” (Israel’s religion), eventually venting his fury against it, favouring those who forsake it, desecrating the temple, abolishing the sacrifice and setting up “the abomination that causes desolation” – whilst those who know God will resist him (11v21-31). At this time those classed as wise (see 12v3) will instruct many – no doubt in how to honour God, even though for a time they will be harmed. We’re told they will receive a little help, but many who join them will be insincere, perhaps doing so for purely political ends rather than in order to honour God. The stumbling of some of the wise, may refer to them buckling in faith for a while, only to be refined by the experience. Or it may refer to them dying, so they are immediately made spotless (11v32-35). This vision would have greatly encouraged the faithful when these events occurred, as it should encourage us to act with the same wisdom when we are persecuted.
11v36-39 record the ultimate arrogance displayed by this king in magnifying himself above all gods and speaking unheard of things against the LORD – the God of gods (see 7v8, 20). And we are told he is only successful until the time of wrath is completed. So this is all according to God’s purposes in judgement, perhaps against the South, but also, as implied in previous chapters, against Israel. The problem in 11v40-45 is that it is difficult to relate to what we know of Antiochus Epiphanes. Of course our historical knowledge is limited, and it is possible these events were fulfilled in a general sense in his reign. “The time of the end” has certainly seemed to refer to the end of the time of wrath culminating in Antiochus Epiphanes’ oppression (11v40, see 8v17-19, 11v27, 35). However, some suggest that 12v1-2 imply that these verses jump to the end of history, in which a ruler (or anti-Christ), patterned on Antiochus Epiphanes in some way, will fulfil these particular details, just as Israel’s great destroyers have previously come from the north (see Ezek 38v1-6). We have already seen this paradigmatic approach in how Antiochus Epiphanes’ acts proved a pattern for those of Titus in the sacking of Jerusalem (9v27).
Whatever the case, we are told this ruler will encamp in readiness to attack the holy mountain, only to suddenly come to his end (11v45). 12v1 implies his defeat will be because the angel Michael arose to protect God’s people. And so, although this will be a time of unsurpassable distress, all whose names are written in God’s book (recording those who are his) will be delivered. Whether this refers to the end of Antiochus Epiphanes or the end of history, 12v2 certainly speaks of the final resurrection. The point is that then, how God’s people responded when oppressed will matter. Some will be raised to everlasting shame and contempt (implying they are everlastingly conscious of it), and others to everlasting life. The latter are the “wise” who remained faithful and sought to lead others to honour God (as 11v33). And they will then shine (with God’s glory) forever.
            Daniel is then told to seal the words until “the end” – ie. the time these things refer to. It is added that people will seek all sorts of places to increased knowledge, when it is found in these visions. Two others then appear, and one asks the man speaking to Daniel how long it will be until these things are fulfilled. He solemnly swears by heaven it will be three and a half “times” (see 7v25), which is when the holy people have finally been broken. Confused, Daniel’s question is then what the outcome will be. The man’s response implies this is not to be revealed until the end, but that what can be known is that many will be purified by what is to come and understand at the right time, whilst the wicked will continue in their wickedness and ignorance. The timescale then quoted in 12v11-12 could be literal (1,290 is just over three and a half years), stating how long after Antiochus Epiphanes sets up the abomination, his oppression would end (as 7v25). But three and a half years is also the symbolic time remaining on the 70x7s after the abomination of 70AD (9v25-27). Perhaps both are in mind, encouraging first the Jews in 167AD and then Christians from 70AD onwards to persevere whatever oppression comes, so that they live beyond “the end” (1,335 days, a month and a half longer). This is the sense of 12v13. Daniel is to set the example by persevering to his end, so that he might rest in death and then rise to inherit his portion at the end of time. 

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he will raise from death to eternal life all who remain faithful to him. Pray for the perseverance of Christians experiencing hardship.

Thinking further: The book of Daniel
We’ve seen that the key point of the book of Daniel is to reassure the Jews of God’s sovereignty over the events from the exile to the desecration of the temple in 167BC. The reason is that the prophets compacted their predictions giving the impression that God’s everlasting kingdom would be established soon after the return to Israel. Daniel’s visions make clear that would not be the case, but that it would be established at some point after the fall of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Seleucid Empire, yet be marked by not only another abomination, but the killing of the Anointed One, followed by the destruction of the temple and city itself. The intent of the book is to enable God’s people to endure through these times of great distress. As such, it encourages Christians to do the same whatever times of distress they live through before Christ returns.

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