November 15, 2011 David Balzer

Daniel 8: What is the world coming to?

Another chapter of Daniel, another DREAM. Another dream about KINGDOMS COMING AND GOING.

Are you someone who REMEMBERS your dreams? I can’t. VERY occasionally, one will stick in my mind as being particularly memorable.

I reckon Daniel’s dreams were a bit like that. A couple of weeks ago we looked at Ch 7 – a dream Daniel had in the FIRST year of King Belshazzar. 553BC.

Today, in Ch 8, we’re looking at a dream Daniel had in THE THIRD year of Belshazzar’s reign. 551BC. 12 years before he was overthrown by Darius the Mede.

Two years between the dream of Ch 7, and that of Ch 8. So, he probably doesn’t have dreams like this every often. Which is just as well, considering how much it shakes him up.

And, while the dream in Ch 7 was more of a NIGHTMARE. With scary hybrid, mutated animals. And more about GENERAL PRINCIPLES, rather than specific kingdoms.

This dream is more of a POLITICAL CARTOON. With NORMAL animals. And we’re told EXACTLY WHO it’s about. But it’s just as scary.

When you think of it like a political cartoon, perhaps it’s not so strange AFTER ALL. Here’s a cartoon where ANIMALS represent COUNTRIES. Russia’s A BEAR. China’s a PANDA.

The idea is the ANIMALS share some characteristics with the KINGDOM. It COMMUNICATES something about the KINGDOM by representing it as an ANIMAL.

And that’s what we’ve got here in Ch 8. And just to make it easier. Just like some of those cartoons have LABELS on them to help the reader. We get some help from the angel Gabriel. From v17, he explains what everything stands for.

So, v2. In Daniel’s dream, he’s in the city of Susa, the capital of PERSIA. It’s not that significant at the MOMENT. But, in the third year of Belshazzar, word is Persia’s a kingdom on the rise. The newly established combined state of the Medes and Persians are going to be a big player.

And that’s where Daniel’s transported to in his dream.

And he sees (v3) a ram with two horns, one longer than the other. It charged towards the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against him, and none could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.

Down in v20, Gabriel tells Daniel the ram represents the kingdoms of Media and Persia. Perhaps not that hard to guess, since it’s standing beside the city of Susa.

Not great at the moment, but before long, they’ll take the world by storm. None can stand in its way. Including Babylon. Which, significantly, is nowhere to be seen.

But there’s more. Because ANOTHER animal appears. V5. Jump forward FURTHER in time. It’s a goat with one prominent horn. It races across from the west, not even touching the ground. V7. It crashes into the ram, shattering its two horns. The ram’s powerless and there’s no one to help.

Down in v21. Gabriel the angel tells us it stands for GREECE.

So, the mighty kingdom of the Medes and the Persians crushes Babylon in its path. But then, in turn, Media-Persia’s no match for GREECE.

Then in v8.

8 The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off,

And history tells us that’s just how it worked out. The large horn was Alexander the Great, the King of Greece, who raced across the world, conquering everything in his path. In a ten year period, he conquered every nation from Greece to India.

But then, in 323BC, he died suddenly at the age of 33, having burned intensely, but quickly. That’s the horn being broken off in v8.

But the dream continues.

In its place FOUR PROMINENT HORNS GREW UP toward the four winds of heaven.

Alexander died so young, there was no heir. So, on his deathbed, he divided his kingdom among his fellow generals. Eventually four successors assumed control over the kingdom. Cassender ruled Macedonia. Lysimachus got Asia Minor, Ptolemy got Egypt. And Seleucus got Syria, which included Israel.

And those kingdoms lasted until Rome rose to power around 180BC.

But Daniel’s attention in the dream is drawn by SOMETHING ELSE. V9.

9 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and TOWARD THE BEAUTIFUL LAND.

“The beautiful land” is Israel. And, so, what this little horn does next is important to Daniel. He’s got a vested interest. The little horn STARTS small, but his impact on God’s people is HUGE.

10 It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. 11 It set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host; it took away the daily sacrifice from him, and the place of his sanctuary was brought low. 12 Because of rebellion, the host [of the saints] and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.

The dream describes dark days in Israel’s history. 400 years after Daniel. One of the ancestors of Seleucus, Antiochus Epiphanes, rose to power in 175BC on the back of imprisonments, deceit, assassinations, political deals with Rome, even killing his own baby brother. His nickname, Epiphanes, means “God made manifest”. You could say he had a very healthy ego!

And he was BRUTAL in his treatment of the Jews. He plundered the temple utensils, outlawed circumcision, and temple sacrifices, as well as the possession of Scriptures.

He murdered many Jews. He erected a statue of the Greek God, Zeus, in the temple and forced the Jews to worship it. He even sacrificed A PIG on the temple altar! Which is probably what’s meant by the “rebellion that causes desolation” in v13.

What’s the point?

That’s pretty much the dream. They were dark days in the pages of Israel’s history, and I’m sure Daniel would much rather not have dreamed them.

But they were all described 400 years before the event. A long time after Daniel. So what was the point? Why did God reveal it to him?

1. The FIRST reason was to show that God not only FORESAW it, but BROUGHT IT ABOUT.

Back up in Daniel’s dream, in v13, a holy one asks how long the terrible events will go on for – “the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, and the surrender of the sanctuary and of the host that will be trampled underfoot?”

And the answer is given (v14) 2,300 evenings and mornings. EXACTLY. God KNOWS. He sees it all. And brings it all to pass according to his timeframe.

Terrible events, but he knows their length. He’s ticking off every missed sacrifice. Every missed prayer. They’re MEANINGFUL to him.

And, in his perfect timing, he’ll BRING it to AN END. And RESTORE the sanctuary. Jump down to Gabriel’s explanation of the dream in v25.

25 He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, BUT NOT BY HUMAN POWER.

Despite the unspeakable evil of what will happen, God’s still got it all in control. And brings it to a close.

Which is pretty much the same point as all the other dreams we’ve seen. It’s God who raises kings and kingdoms. And it’s God who brings them DOWN. They’ve all got a use by date. And God’s the One who stamps the packet.

2. You see, there’s A PATTERN to the world. Again and again. Kingdoms LOOK permanent and indestructible. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media & Persia, Greece and Rome.

They fight against God and his people. We shouldn’t be surprised, or disappointed when it happens.

Because the reality is they ALWAYS come to an END.

You know, from Daniel’s perspective these visions look ahead to a future ruler who’ll stand against God and destroy the sanctuary. Antiochus – who set up the rebellion that causes desolation.

But he’s just PART OF THE PATTERN. A couple of hundred years later, you get to Jesus. And HE looks ahead to a future time for HIM, and sees the same pattern repeating. And he borrows the language of Daniel. And he says in Matthew 24:15-16:

So when you see standing in the holy place, the abomination that causes desolation spoke of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

See, Jesus uses the language of a proud and evil leader from Daniel to speak of ANOTHER future king. Same pattern.

Another one after Jesus will come who’ll be like Antiochus. And that’s perhaps the Roman emperor Caligula in the first century AD who orders statues of the god of Zeus to be set up in the Jerusalem temple.

It’s the pattern of the world. Leaders are proud and powerful. They arrogantly set themselves up against God. And they make God’s people suffer. Happened THEN, and it’s happening TODAY.

But there’s ANOTHER lesson that brings GREATEST hope. And it’s one Daniel received TOO.

The greatest comfort for God’s people when they suffer at the hands of powerful rulers. Is that there’s SOMEONE ELSE with all the power. And Daniel’s already seen him in Ch 7. The Son of Man – who’s establishing his kingdom FOREVER.

In Ch 7 we saw the Son of Man coming on the clouds before God’s throne, and being given all authority and power. He’ll sit on the heavenly throne and all peoples, nations men of every language will worship him.

This is Jesus. God crowned him with glory and honour after his death and resurrection and ascension.

And if we go back to Matthew’s gospel again. We can read about Jesus looking FORWARD to that event.

We heard him speak about the SUFFERING to come (24:15)

So when you see standing in the holy place, the abomination that causes desolation spoken of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

But further down in the same chapter Jesus says (v30)

At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see THE SON OF MAN coming on the clouds of the sky, with POWER AND GREAT GLORY. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the others.

Dark days ahead. But Jesus will put an end to ALL of them when he comes with glory and power. And he’ll gather all those who belong to him. Everyone who’s suffered under powerful evil kingdoms. From every age and place.

Which is a wonderful hope to look forward to. It gives PERSPECTIVE for us when we’re in the middle of the sort of suffering that’s being described.

And it strengthens our resolve to stick it out. To fix our eyes on the goal. The prize. The finish line.

Whether our persecution is life-threatening like our brothers in Egypt or Nth Korea or Laos. With physical and mental suffering. Even death.

Or perhaps it’s just the insults and shame and mockery of friends and family and workmates. Who disown us. Who snigger and roll their eyes. Who go quiet when we walk into a room. Who tell us to keep our stupid beliefs to ourselves.

We’re NOT alone. We’re NOT unique.

About the king’s business

The Apostle Peter wrote his letter to people experiencing the very same persecutions Jesus was looking ahead to. And he had these words of comfort and perspective.1 Peter 4:12.

Dear friends, DO NOT BE SURPRISED at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something STRANGE were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed WHEN HIS GLORY IS REVEALED.

It’s a perspective WE’RE able to have THIS side of the cross. That Jesus’ glory WILL one day be revealed. And all his people vindicated.

Daniel didn’t have THAT. And the events he’d seen were SO TERRIBLE, it knocked him for six. But even so, there’s a little hint at the end of the chapter about how we can learn from Daniel’s attitude.

It says there in v27.

27 I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I GOT UP AND WENT ABOUT THE KING’S BUSINESS.

He processed it all. He prayerfully worked through it. And then he got up, and went about the king’s business. He got on with living faithfully in God’s world for his glory.

And we have a MUCH GREATER king whose business WE are to be getting on with. There ARE dark days ahead. No doubt. But we’re not to get depressed. Not to be paralysed in fearful indecision, or withdraw into a holy huddle.

We’re to get out into the world that belongs to the King of kings. And declare that his Son Jesus has WON the victory. And he’s bringing it to bear.

It’s advice Peter gave to the persecuted Christian reading his letter. To get on with the King of king’s business. A bit further on from the verse we just read, he says (5:7)

7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Be about the king’s business. Living as salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. Live out the truth.

We’re NOT alone. We’re NOT unique. We’re just PART OF THE PATTERN. The pattern God’s controlling. The pattern God will, one day, bring to an end. When his Son, the heavenly exalted Son of Man, is revealed to everyone in all his glory and power.

At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see THE SON OF MAN coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the others.

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