March 17, 2013
Background Scripture: Daniel 8:19-26
Devotional Reading: Psalms 91:1-12
Two weeks ago we were introduced to Daniel by way of his apocalyptic dream in Daniel 7. Last week we met him again in a prayer for his people and nation. This week, in chapter 8, Daniel shares a revelatory vision.
Again, he uses a past period in Israel’s history (6th century B.C.) to speak in code about a present crisis (2nd century B.C.): The desecration of the Jerusalem temple by the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV, who is represented in the imagery of a “little horn.”
(I believe there is tongue-in-cheek humor here, because Antiochus IV certainly did not see himself as a “little horn.” He preferred to be known as Antiochus Epiphanes, meaning “the Manifest God.”)
In Daniel chapter 7 the current kingdoms were represented as wild animals. In Daniel 8 the principal kingdoms are represented by the image of a goat and a ram and their horns. He pictures two “holy ones” (possibly angels) who are giving him a formula to provide an answer to the real question: How long will Antiochus Epiphanes’ degradation of the temple last?
Daniel encounters the Angel Gabriel, who says to him: ”Listen, and I will tell you what will take place later in the period of wrath: for it refers to the appointed time of the end” (8:18-20). Does he mean the “end” of time, or the “end” of the era of Antiochus? We don’t know.
What we do know is Daniel’s vision is telling him this “king of bold countenance will conquer all in his path. His power shall be great, and he shall cause fearful destruction, and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people of the saints” (8:24).
This king shall not only be powerful, but also evil: “By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall magnify himself.” Hearing this, Daniel fainted and became ill. The vision, however, comes to him again: “But by no human hand he shall be broken” (8:25).
In other words, God will break the power of Antiochus Epiphanes and all powers and kingdoms; empires must eventually fall to God’s eternal purpose. That is Daniel’s good news to us and to all generations of humankind.
It is God’s assurance that “This, too, shall pass.” God alone will prevail.
Keep the vision
“As for you,” the angel tells Daniel, “seal up the vision, for it refers for many days from now.” In other words, keep this assurance of final divine power in your memory, for eventually this day will come.
Daniel was dismayed by the vision because he could not understand it. But I think it is apparent to us from the viewpoint of the 21st century A.D. that the vision tells us even the most powerful of rulers and nations will not prevail, because only God alone will accomplish that.
As students of history, this is what history teaches us. As disciples of Jesus Christ, this is our hope: A view into the future that is in God’s hands. But how can we prove that God’s kingdom will someday come in all its fullness?
The answer is, we cannot prove it. At the same time, neither can anyone disprove it. So the answer to this question is a matter either of unproven faith or unproven disbelief. All any of us can do is to live as if we trust our expectation, one way or the other.
Still, despite our lack of access to proof, there is evidence available and the persuasion that trusting in God’s kingdom makes life immeasurably better.
In his book on Martin Luther, Heinrich Boehner wrote: “Like a horse whose eyes are (limited by blinders), nations and their princes also rise and fall, and just when they think they are acting more shrewdly and wisely, they know least of all what they are doing.”
And I am comforted by the assurance that God knows.
History and prophecy
It greatly frees us to be assured that in God’s time the Hitlers, Mussolinis and Stalins will not prevail. Whenever we fear that the tyrants are here to stay, we must remember Daniel’s prophecy: “But he shall be broken, and not by human hands” (8:25).
A newspaper editor during the French Revolution who was about to be beheaded commented wryly: “It is too bad that I will lose my head; I wanted to see how this thing was coming out.” But I am convinced we all will see, hear and know how this thing, this world, will come out in God’s time.
It was St. Augustine who found in the Christian faith a radically new outlook on time; history and prophecy are linked to the Creator. Bernhard Anderson wrote of a prophetic history: “A progression of unique, creative unrepeatable events in a purposive drama which has a beginning and an end … the redemptive activity of God discerned by prophets and fulfilled in Christ.”
Neither history nor prophecy are just accidents happening along the way. Both are directed toward one ultimate goal.
One day a group of tourists were admiring a lovely English garden on a magnificent country estate in Norfolk and happened upon a groundsman caring for a century plant. Beaming, he explained his father had made the planting some 40 years earlier.
“He never saw the blossom, but he tended this plant with great care. I shall never see the blossom either; but if I do my work well, perhaps my son someday will.”
But with the kingdom of God, while we may not see the blossom on this side of life, we will on the other side.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.