September 12, 2015.
Daily Reading: Daniel 7-12.
Background: Daniel 1-6.
Concepts and Connections.
The vision of the four beasts, the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man: The first six chapters of Daniel are very different in form and content from the last six chapters. The first six deal with history and stories, whereas the last six embody visions and prophecy of things to come, revealed directly to Daniel. There are different interpretations and ideas on these prophecies, and it would be difficult to weave all of them in in this context, so the stories will be highlighted with perhaps a few ideas of what they could mean and what message they would send to the people of God.
Here we find two visions given Daniel, one of four beasts and a second part of the Ancient of Days who destroys the beasts and the Son of Man, who is given dominion. Daniel receieved this vision in the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, which would place this vision somewhere before chapter 5. This vision is somewhat similar to the one given to Nebuchadnezzar in the second chapter of this book, though it may not exactly relate to the same kingdoms. The first three beasts are perhaps the easiest to figure out, as they would be very similar to the first three kingdoms that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his vision, Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. The four heads of the leopard would represent the four commanders that were given the kingdom of Greece when Alexander the Great died. The fourth beast, however, is unlike any of the other three. There are a few different ideas as to who this beast represents, wether it be Rome or Syria (a nation who practically persecuted the Jews in the time period just before Christ that fits many of the characteristics given here), or a combination of both, leading to a double fulfillment. Regardless as to who the fourth beast represented, the message to the people of God was clear: things would be bad, but the Ancient of Days still sat in judgment, and would destroy the beast. There is a Messianic reference here to the Son of Man (see Matthew 26:64, Mark 14:62, Revelation 1:7, 14:14) who is given dominion and an everlasting kingdom that would never be destroyed. This is the kingdom of God, who’s head is Christ.
The vision of the ram and the goat: This visions contained in this chapter were given Daniel in the third year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, which would place it two years after the vision recorded in the previous chapter. This chapter is recored in Hebrew, as will be the remaining chapters of the book of Daniel, which is different than the Aramaic that was used to record chapters 2-7 (see intro to Daniel). In this chapter, we read of Daniel’s vision of a ram with two horns, the latter that was bigger than the former, that dominated every direction it went until a male goat came from the west, took down the ram and then had its one horn that was between its eyes broken, to be replaced by four horns. This vision was interpreted to Daniel as what was going to happen in the future with the coming kingdoms. It describes the ram as the Medo-Persian empire, with one horn being larger, that would dominate everywhere it went at the time. Then Greece would come in, depicted as the male goat, and take down the ram and become great. The first horn is the great king, who we know as Alexander the Great, who would conquer every part of the known world to him at the time, until he had no more to conquer. After Alexander’s death, his kingdom would be divided to his four commanders, the four horns that came out after the large horn was broken. There would be a time of silence of the prophets of God, from Malachi until John the baptizer, but God would not leave Himself without witness, as the visions of this chapter and some from the ones to come would be fulfilled during the period of silence.
1. Daniel’s prayer for his people: Now we find Daniel in a kingdom that is ruled by a new nation, the Medo-Persian empire, no longer in Babylonian rule. Note that Daniel is a diligent student of the word of God, as he consults Jeremiah’s prophecies (see Jeremiah 25:12) and the law of Moses (v. 11, see Leviticus 26:14-45 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68) before and during his prayer to the Lord. He notes that in the prophecy of Jeremiah, the Lord had numbered the years of His people’s captivity, and those years were about to expired (this would be fulfilled by the decree of Cyrus recorded in Ezra 1:1; note that the next chapter of Daniel is dated in the third year of Cyrus). After calculating the time, Daniel turns to the Lord in prayer, as is his diligent custom (see chapter 6, as this seems to be about the same time frame as this vision), and prays for his people. Note the emotion that is in this prayer, and also the confession. Daniel asserts that the Lord is righteous in His dealings with His people, for they had turned away from Him to other gods and idols, and brought this calamity on themselves. Daniel confesses both his sins and the sins of the people to God and pleas for mercy. Daniel asks the Lord to make His face shine on His sanctuary, no down in reference to the ending of the seventy years that they were to be in captivity. Note that just because the Lord had already spoken the end date of the captivity did not discourage Daniel from praying for it, but rather encouraged his prayer and petition to God. As he is praying, Gabriel is send to him to answer him.
2. The seventy weeks prophecy: After Daniel’s prayer to the Lord, Gabriel is sent to him to explain what will happen in the future. He then gives Daniel the seventy weeks prophecy, which has been widely discussed as to what the time frame of this prophecy is. Here we are given a time period of seventy weeks, or more literally, “seventy ‘sevens'”. It is widely agreed that this period of time is in reference to Sabbatical years, or seventy periods of seven years, which would encompass a time span of 490 years. These years are further split into three different durations, seven sevens, 49 years, sixty-two sevens, 434 years, and one seven, 7 years. The final seven is divided in two, 3 ½ years and 3 ½ years, denoted by the coming prince (not to be confused with the anointed one (the Messiah) who would come before) making a covenant with man and putting an end to sacrifice and offering. There have been many suggestions for the beginning and ending dates of each of these periods of time, such as an appealing one that allows for a gap of time between each of the periods (which is how the text reads) and marks each period at the point at which the text denotes. This interpretation takes the first period of time, 49 years, to start with the issuing word of the Lord though Jeremiah in 587 BC that houses and vineyards would be bought again in the land (see Jeremiah 32:1, 6-9, 13-17, 24-27) and to end with Cyrus’ decree in 538 BC (see Ezra 1:1). The second period of time, 434 years, is taken to start at Nehemiah’s rebuilding of Jerusalem (see Nehemiah 2:1), estimated at 440 BC, ending with the birth of Christ in 6 BC (a common held date for the birth of Christ). After this period of time, the Messiah would be cut off (the crucifixion) and the city and the sanctuary would be destroyed (the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70). This interpretation leaves the final period of seven years to the future, as the time period and prince that is talked about here seems to be the same time period or person noted in eschatological passages (see II Thessalonians 2:1-12 and Revelation 11:2-3; 12:6, 14). Jesus also makes reference to the abomination of desolation in this passage in Matthew 24:15-31 which is followed by the coming of the Son of Man. This interpretation, however, is just that- an interpretation. The passage and vision have a determined meaning, a meaning and time frame that is absolute. We, however, as men may or may not be able to determine this absolute meaning with fully certainty. The importance of this passage to us should inevitably be the prediction of the coming Christ, which was fulfilled by Jesus, our Lord.
Opening to Daniel’s final vision: Chapter 10 begins what will be a three chapter explanation of the final vision that Daniel records for us to read. This first chapter of the series records the opening and background to the vision. Daniel had been praying and fasting (not in the full sense, but in a restricted diet) fervently for three weeks when what would seem to be a terrifying being came to him. There is a division of thought as to who this man was, wether it be Jesus (because of the strikingly similar description of Jesus in Revelation 1:12-16) or an angel of very high rank (assuming it is this same being that proceeds to tell Daniel the vision, which would not seem to be indicative of deity, yet a being of great power). Regardless, Daniel is so frightened at this vision that his strength leaves him and he falls into a deep sleep. He is strengthened by the one who was sent to tell him the things that were to happen to his people in the coming days. There is great indication of the spiritual warfare that goes on around us, mostly unnoticed by us today. Note that to see this, Daniel drew near to the spiritual realm for thee weeks of fervent prayer and self-denial. Then what he saw was terrifying. But Daniel is called one greatly loved, and he is about to be revealed prophecy that would pertain to the times ahead for the people of God.
A prophecy of history: This chapter continues what was started in the previous chapter with a revelation given to Daniel of the coming kingdoms and rulers. This chapter lays out the details of the things to come in great detail, beginning with the next kings of Persia, then noting the dominion and power of Greece and finally zooming in on what would be known as the Grecian Seleucid Empire, ruled by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a malicious and prominent enemy of the Jews who the latter portion of this prophecy deals with (there are many sources of information and resources about the historical content of this prophecy for further study). The amount of detail that is given here about these kings/kingdoms is truly remarkable, and would give the honest seeker an opportunity to find the prophetic word of God to be true even in a time period of silence from the prophets of the Lord (from Malachi to John the baptizer). Prophecies in the book of Daniel have often been used as apologetic tools to confirm canonical scripture as the word of God.
The time of the end: The culmination of this prophecy that was begun in chapter 10 is here, as Daniel is told about the time of the end. It would seem that this passage is describing a time that has yet to happen, one that would mean a great tribulation for the people of God, but one that would end in the deliverance of those whose names are found written in the book (see Exodus 32:32-33, Luke 10:20, and Revelation 20:12). This is one of the few passages in the Old Testament that make such a distinct reference to hell, or even the resurrection to everlasting life (see Matthew 25:46 and John 5:28-29). Daniel is told to seal up these words in a book until the time of the end, when it would be more useful and the wise would understand. Jesus makes a reference to note the prophecy of Daniel about the abomination of desolation mentioned here in Matthew 24:15-31, noting it as a sign of the end of the age. Finally after he asks different questions concerning the prophecy, Daniel is told to go his own way till the end, that he might stand in his place in the end of days. It is good advice to us too, that no matter what the absolute meaning of these prophecies turn out to be, we should go our own way and do what we should be doing in the kingdom. Prophecy can be both intriguing and terrifying, but we need not spend all our time worrying a out the exact fulfillment when there is likely more productive work to be done in the kingdom to call all those who will to come to Christ, and to help one another along the way.
Tomorrow’s Reading: John 5-6.
The Lord be your guide.