Daniel 7 – The Saints Will Inherit An Everlasting Kingdom

Daniel 7 is another dream of four beasts such as we found in chapter 2 which represent four great empires: Babylon, Mede-Persian, Greece, and Rome. The purpose of this dream is to give the Jewish exiles hope, as is the whole book of Daniel. A generation of exiles had arisen that don’t even remember the land of Israel or Jerusalem. The pious among them must have wondered if they would ever get back, or if God’s covenant promises had failed. Daniel is written to assure them that this is most certainly not the case. The Lord, as we’re reminded over and over again in the preceding chapters, is the Lord of history, of empires, and all that happens. They, and we, can trust that he will bring everything to its perfect conclusion, that good will triumph over evil in the end.

Conservative Christians (liberals and skeptics believe Daniel was written in the second century BC, and is thus not prophecy at all, but history), especially since the rise of premillennial dispensationalism about 150 years ago, have treated Daniel 7 and following as a speculation factory. There are no doubt certain passages that lend themselves to speculation, but much or all of that speculation arises from the assertion that such passages must be taken “Literally.” Since I was introduced to amillennialism, I’m much more comfortable taking such passages metaphorically or symbolically. Witnessing the “speculation wars” about prophecy over my lifetime has convinced me that “literal” is a fool’s errand.

The big picture purpose of Daniel 7, then, is confirmation that God himself will reign forever with his “saints” (verse 18). Contra the Catholic church, saints or holy ones are not believers who do some miraculous work, but those who have been made holy by God. That is the clear implication of all of Scripture. We also get a picture that this reign includes the work of the Triune God. Verse 9 speaks of the “Ancient of Days” being seated on his throne, and multitudes before him as “the court is seated and the books were opened.” Judgment is coming. Then comes into the picture what Jews interpreted as a Messianic figure:

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority,glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Both of these figures are clearly divine. One of Jesus’ favorite monikers for himself was “son of man.” It’s used 86 times in the gospels alone. Throughout his ministry Jesus was clearly saying that this “one like a son of man” is him! This one, and Jesus, must be divine because you don’t worship a man. Everlasting authority, glory, and sovereign power are not human attributes either. The problem for the Jews of Jesus’ time is that they were expecting this Messiah, and not the Messiah of Isaiah 53, even though he told them over and over again he was going to suffer and die. This Messianic expectation was why his disciples found it so hard to believe in the cross and resurrection, it was so contrary to their expectations.

The rest of the chapter is the interpretation of the dream, which is told to Daniel by one of those multitudes attending the Ancient of Days. The point of this dream is the end game:

27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the saints of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

To the people living in Daniel’s time, they are being given hope that they will not be exiles forever. God has a plan for his people, and it is to rule with him forever. Our is, and must always be, an eternal perspective. On this side of the resurrection, we know how God the Father accomplished this. We wait patiently through the toils, struggles, and tears of this life for “They kingdom come . . . “

Daniel 6 – Daniel in the Lions’ Den: Trusting God in the Face of Danger

We find the final of the supposed tale tales of Daniel in chapter 6. Daniel is one of the few people in Scripture who everything written about him is positive. He has lived a long time in Babylon and earned a spotless reputation. King Darius learns about this, and decides to appoint him a ruler over his whole kingdom. But some jealous administrators hear about this and scheme to have Daniel discredited before he can be appointed. In this they fail: “They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” So they go after his religion.

The administrators trick the king into issuing a decree that no other God except he is to be worshiped for the next 30 days. Because of his pious, Jewish reputation, they know Daniel will never do this, and thus be sentenced to death. As soon as he hears about the decree, he goes home, opens his window toward Jerusalem, gets on his knees and “gives thanks to his God.” Even though he knows he is likely to be executed he gives thanks! He knew what Paul would command to us some 500 years later, “in everything give thanks.”

Daniel must have been familiar with I Kings 8, or knew of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple. Numerous times in that chapter Solomon says something like this:

 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

Not only did Daniel do what it said, he had a reputation for doing what his God required. His enemies knew this. They catch him praying on his knees three times a day as is his custom, and go tell the king, whose response it interesting:

14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.

We don’t know what those efforts were, but a king who made a decree could not annul his own decree. So he ordered him thrown into the lions’ den, and the king says to Daniel: “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”

The king has a fitful night and can’t sleep. First thing in the morning he “hurried to the lions’ den” and calls out “in an anguished voice”:

 “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Daniel answers, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions.” Overjoyed, the king orders him out, and “no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” Trusting God doesn’t always lead to the results we want, but we trust nonetheless.

Then something happens that seems incredibly harsh and unjust to us:

24 At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

I found this commentary that tells us why this happened:

This was obviously severe, but it was also according to ancient customs among the Persians. An ancient writer named Ammianus Marcellinus wrote of the Persians, “The laws among them are formidable . . . by which, on account of the guilt of one, all the kindred perish.”

Heathen justice is not biblical justice. But notice what the lions do, whereas Daniel spent an entire night with them and not a scratch was found on him.

The chapter ends with King Darius issuing a decree for all peoples and nations to worship (“fear and reverence”) Daniel’s God. Sorry, king, it doesn’t work that way. But good try. Daniel prospers throughout the reign of Darius and then Cyrus (who may have been one in the same), which is in the 530s BC.

One thing about the supernatural in Daniel, which to unbelieving scholars proves it’s all made up. Supernatural acts in Scripture are rare. God only acts directly in history for a reason, and it’s not to impress people at what he can do. They always have a redemptive-historical purpose. Maybe the supernatural interventions in Daniel (there really aren’t many given Daniel’s long life) are to lend credibility to his eschatological prophecies in the rest of the book. We have seen that the Lord has a direct line to Daniel’s mind, which we’ll see more of in coming chapters.

 

 

Daniel 5 – The Writing on the Wall

We read in chapter 5 yet another of the famous Daniel stories, this one about Nebuchadnezzar’s son (or descendant), Belshazzar. He’s having a party, and in the midst of the festivities for some reason he thinks it’s a good idea to have the gold and silver goblets that his father took from the temple in Jerusalem brought in so everyone can drink from them. Actually for him, it’s a very bad idea. As “the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines” drink from the goblets, “they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.” Bad ideas all around. Not only do they take sacred items to use for their pagan bacchanalia, but use them to praise false gods which are no gods at all.

The next paragraph is where the phrase “the handwriting is on the wall” comes from (although many of our youngest generation will have no idea because of their biblical ignorance):

Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.

A total buzz kill. As his father had done, he calls on all the wise men to interpret these words on the wall, which they cannot do. It’s not that they don’t know what the words mean, because they’re in Aramaic, but what they are meant to mean as a message to the king.

This incident happened right before the fall of Babylon to the Medes and the Persians, after which the exiles returned to Jerusalem, and which we know was after 70 years in captivity. So Daniel having been taken to Babylon as a teenager, would have been an old man. Over those years he had developed a reputation for “the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems,” and the king’s mother tells him to call on Daniel to explain what the words mean.

The king starts by telling Daniel he’ll lavish wonderful gifts on him if he can explain the words, but Daniel tells him that he can keep his gifts. Then he proceeds to rebuke him to his face. He recounts the life of Nebuchadnezzar, and how God humbled him when he lived in the wild as an animal. Daniel says Belshazzar knew all this, but that he refused to humble himself before God. In fact he says to the king these chilling words: “you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven . . . . But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.”

Daniel tells him that the three words on the wall mean that it’s curtains for the king. Word one, his days are numbered. Word two, and I love this phrase, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” Like I said, chilling. And word three, his kingdom will be divided and given to the Medes (northern Iran) and the Persians. That very night the king is killed. It must have been some kind of battle because “Darius the Mede took over the kingdom,” and with the added seemingly unimportant detail that Darius did this “at the age of sixty-two.” (Such seemingly unimportant details are all over the Bible because it’s a document that records true history.)

I read that “critical scholars” (i.e. those that come to the Bible assuming it is merely a human book) don’t believe Daniel existed, that he is an historical fiction. Of course he was as real as you and me. The problem with such scholars is that if something cannot be explained or corroborated from some other historical record, it must be fiction. And if the Bible records a supernatural event, like Daniel does over and over, it is obviously fiction. Their a priori commitment to naturalism destroys their credibility for me. And also how often they’ve been proved wrong. These same claims that have been made for probably 150 years, that such and such never happened, or that so and so never existed, have proved bogus over and over again. The growth in archaeological knowledge has made sure of it.

The Lord, as Daniel says, is sovereign over history, and he is so for one reason. Paul says this in Galatians 4:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Amen!

Daniel 4 – The Lord is Able to Humble the Pride of Man

In this chapter we read another great Daniel story related to king Nebuchadnezzar. The king has another dream, and this time instead leaving Daniel guessing, he tells him exactly what the dream is about. The whole chapter is a letter from the king: “To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth,” and how he starts it may surprise us coming from a pagan king:

It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.

How great are his signs,
    how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
    his dominion endures from generation to generation.

Obviously, Yahweh got his attention. The dream is about the greatness of his rule, and how it will be taken from him until he acknowledges that “Heaven rules.” Daniel implores him to renounce his “sins by doing what is right, and [his] wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.” Does he listen? Of course not. The greater the pride, the greater the downfall must be to humble the one who possesses it.

The dream is about the king losing his mind, and being driven out into the wild to live like an animal. A voice comes from heaven telling him the dream will be coming true, and then this:

Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.

That’s a long time to live like an animal (times equals years). But at the end of that time he gets it: “Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.” He then acknowledges the “Most High” as one who has absolute almighty sovereign control over “the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.” Nothing in spiritual or temporal reality is beyond his will. Whether he wills it directly or allows it to happen, who knows how that works. But we can rest in the confidence that the Lord orchestrates everything toward his glorious ends, which means ultimately for our, his people’s, good, and all leading to when every knee will bow . . .

The Lord then restores his kingdom back to Nebuchadnezzar even greater than before. His conclusion to the letter it beautifully true:

37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

The takeaway from the story? It’s far better that we humble ourselves before the God of the universe, then having to be humbled by him.

Daniel 3 – A Fiery Furnace And God’s Faithful Servants

This chapter has to be one of the great stories in the entire Bible, which is saying something. It seems the dream Daniel interpreted for King Nebuchadnezzar went to his head, and he commands a gold statue 90 feet tall and six feet wide be built and worshiped by everyone. Remember in the dream that the head of the statue was pure gold and represented the king himself, so he’s letting the world know he’s the man. He then decrees that anyone who “does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” That sounds reasonable to me.

His hubris, however, does not intimidate Daniel’s buddies (Daniel is not part of this story), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They refuse to bow down and worship the image of gold, and when the king hears about it he is “furious with rage.” Seems to me Nebuchadnezzar has anger issues. So the three are brought before the king and he commands them to their face, these Jews (the Israelites are first referred to as Jews during the Babylonian exile period), to “fall down and worship the image” he made. Their reply is perfect in its perspective:

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

God can deliver them from a blazing furnace, but even if he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. They will do the right thing and reject the king’s decree. The king’s response? Of course he is “furious.” He orders the furnace heated seven times hotter than it already is, and has the three men bound and tossed into it. In fact, it is so hot the soldiers who throw them in are killed by the heat and flames. Then Nebuchadnezzar gets a glimpse of this God he’s messing with:

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

I love the way the scene is portrayed after they are called out of the furnace. All the nobles of Babylon “crowded around them,” and not only was not a hair of their head singed, but there wasn’t even a “smell of fire on them.” This is child’s play for the Almighty Creator God of the universe. He controls every atom, every cell, every molecule, every photon and quark, all of it! And, sadly, most of the time we really don’t believe it. We are so conditioned by our fear or imagination or circumstances, and by the assumptions of naturalism (as if matter was all there was and it had its own power apart from God’s providential will), that we lose the “peace which transcends all understanding” as Paul calls in in Philippians 4.

Then the king praises the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and says this about them:

“Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.

Even if he did not rescue them, all praise and glory and honor is still due the God of Israel. The point is that they trusted him regardless of the result because they must have known (even though there is not a lot of talk of heaven and eternal life in the OT) that there is more going on than this mortal coil we inhabit. Now we know this for sure because of one who rose bodily from the dead for us, and we have the whole of the canon at our fingertips to tell us what this whole mess called life means, and means forever. What’s our excuse?

Daniel 2 – God’s Providential Rule Revealed in a King’s Dream

This chapter is a lesson in how easily we fall into believing that the world and all that happens in it is controlled by forces outside of the providence of Almighty God. It actually affirms God’s Sovereign purposes in history, but in doing that it also forces us to admit how often in our daily lives, in our emotions and imaginations, we really don’t buy that. Shame on us!

Daniel 2 tells the story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and he demands that his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, etc., interpret the dream for him. The only problem is that he won’t tell them what the dream is. They have to figure out what it means without him telling them what the dream consists of in the first place. Their reply:

10 The astrologers answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. 11 What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.”

Nonetheless, he’s so angry they can’t do it, he wants them all killed. In steps Daniel, who goes to the king asking him to wait and give him a chance to interpret the dream. We see here again Daniel’s God orientation to life. He immediately goes back to his house and asks his three buddies to pray for God’s mercy. He knew that only God alone, and not “the gods” because “the gods” don’t exist, could reveal to him the dream and the interpretation. I love Daniel’s response:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
    wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what lies in darkness,
    and light dwells with him.

Nothing is too hard for Israel’s Almighty Sovereign God. Because we so easily become practical Deists, we tend to think the rise and fall of nations is just a matter of the natural (read God’s not relevant to the process) order of things. But our God, the creator of all things, is providentially working all things toward his perfect ends, including our little, seemingly insignificant lives.

So Daniel goes to the king and says that nobody could reveal the dream to the king, but that “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” He proceeds to tell him about a large statue that represents the kingdoms of the earth to come after Babylon. Commentators have speculated that these are the Medo-Persian empire that came right after Babylon, then the Greek empire of Alexander the Great, then the Roman empire. Interestingly, the latter is represented as having feet of iron and clay, at once strong and brittle. The greatest empire the world had ever known, and it too will fall. The final part of the dream is interpreted as such:

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.

We are at this very moment living in that kingdom! Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Notice that this happens “In the time of those kings.” When the Roman empire was at the height of its power, this God broke into history through a virgin’s womb to slay the powers and authorities and establish his kingdom on earth. One day the glimpse we get of it now will become an earth that “will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14, Isaiah 11:9).

The king is blown away and exclaims, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” He makes Daniel a ruler of the kingdom at the royal court, and he brings along his buddies in faith who become administrators over the province of Babylon. From a potential death penalty, to ruling the kingdom, God’s will shall be done through those who trust him.

Daniel 1 – Our God is the Lord of History

The Prophet Daniel, considered one of the “Major Prophets” (along with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), was a contemporary of both Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It deals with the history of the time of Daniel’s life,  and has detailed prophecy about the future of Israel and the world. It is also the only book of the Bible written in two languages. The first chapter, and the beginning of the second is written in Hebrew. From there through chapter 7 it’s written in Aramaic, with the final five chapters back in Hebrew. (The only other book written in Aramaic is Ezra.) There is a lot of speculation as to why. (Most critical scholars don’t even believe it was written by a “Daniel,” of course.) I learned Aramaic was a language spoken by the Babylonians (who spoke more than one it seems), so Daniel had some reason to switch. One commentator thought maybe it was to remind the people that they were exiles because of their sin. Whatever the answers to all the questions the book of Daniel raises, there is much that points to Jesus, and much on how we ought to live in exile as followers of Jesus in a fallen world.

Chapter 1 starts with historic specificity, as we’ve seen with the other prophets:

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.

Jeremiah witnessed this and stayed behind in Jerusalem until the bitter end, but King Nebuchadnezzar ordered some young nobles, including Daniel and a few of his friends, to be taken to serve in the king’s palace (Ezekiel was also taken to Babylon, but lived well outside the capital city). They are promptly given new names, and told to partake of all the luxuries of living in the king’s palace. But Daniel will have none of it, and he “resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” So he asks the chief official not to defile himself this way, and the man allows them a 10 day test. They will only eat vegetables for those days, and if they look any worse than the rest of the men their age, it’s the king’s food for them. They pass the test, of course, and go into the king’s service. Here is the key to the book:

17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

In the heart of the civilization of the nation that destroyed their country, the Lord puts four young men who will help steer the course of its history. God’s sovereign providence and purposes are the driver of all of history. We tend to think the events that make up history, the elevation and destruction of kingdoms, elections and wars, all of it just happens. In this we become practical Deists, as if God set things going like a pinball machine ages ago, and it’s just one thing knocking against another till time runs out. No, he is the Lord of history and of time, and all things are within his sovereign control and happen according to his purposes. We who know Jesus already know how it all ends.

The chapter ends saying that Daniel remains there until the first year of King Cyrus, which means he had a good, long life. And which also means he lived to see the fall of Babylon. Cyrus was king of Persia when it conquered Babylon, and he allowed the Jews to go back to Israel after 70 years of captivity. Just as the Lord promised.