Sunday, November 27, 2016

Daniel 10: Angels Watching Over Me

Even though we did some combined work on these last 3 chapters, I'm going to break them apart for the purposes of writing. There's a lot to look at, even though all of this happened consecutively. (Thank you, Bible editors, for chapter breaks!)

We are in the time of Persian rule over Babylon. The Jews have been returning to Jerusalem since the time of the takeover. This is year #3 of Persian rule when Daniel receives this particular vision. We are also told that he has been in mourning for 21 days--a fact which doesn't mean much here but has great significance later on in the text.

My big question was "Why is Daniel mourning?" Not just a sadness kind of mourning, but what would seem an intentional time of mourning--denying himself food and wine, and not grooming. Remember, he's hardly a young man anymore. Not bathing for 3 weeks?! Why is he doing this?

"Some think that the particular occasion of his mourning was slothfulness and indifference of many of the Jews, who, though they had liberty to return to their own land, continued still in the land of their captivity, not knowing how to value the privileges offered them; and perhaps it troubled him the more because those that did so justified themselves by the example of Daniel, though they had not that reason to stay behind which he had. Others think that it was because he heard of the obstruction given to the building of the temple by the enemies of the Jews...."
--Matthew Henry

Matthew Henry goes on to comment that mourning accompanies one who so passionately loves the church. Daniel was steadfast in his prayers for his people, in their re-establishment of Jerusalem and the Temple, in their future--even if he would not be joining them. He would certainly want to know what and how to be praying for them.

It is in this time of mourning when Daniel receives a vision of "a certain man dressed in linen." In our group time, I likened him to the Oscar statue, because all the references to gold were overwhelming! But, there is actually some discrepancy as to who this "man" is. We pursued the text with the notion that he was the angel Gabriel. Certain commentaries--Matthew Henry's among them--suggest that the "man" is actually Jesus Christ. Wow, right!?

Can we be OK with not knowing, exactly? I hope so. Because what happens from verse 5 to the end of the chapter is not so much about the affairs of the world as it is about Daniel and his receiving of this word. Whomever he saw completely takes Daniel away from consciousness. God has designed the onset of this vision to be for Daniel's eyes only, somehow removing Daniel's earthly attendants from him.

"Then I heard the sound of his words; and when I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in a deep sleep, with my face toward the ground." (10:9)

Keep in mind these words as we continue on through this description of Daniel. The next voice he hears would not be the same as the one who uttered the words above. “...O Daniel, you highly regarded and greatly beloved man, understand the words that I am about to say to you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you....” Whatever transfixed state Daniel had previously been in, he was going to be lifted from it with the help of an angel. Here, there is more general agreement that this is the angel Gabriel, as there is an air of familiarity with Gabriel and Daniel since they have encountered each other before.

"Note, Before God gives strength and power unto his people he makes them sensible of their own weakness."
--Matthew Henry

OH, I love this quote! Daniel definitely recognizes that he has been, literally, laid flat in the presence of the man in linen. With Gabriel, he is unsteady and "trembling" (10:11). Daniel may be in the presence of an angel, but he does not immediately receive strength simply by being in his presence. Do you recognize that with your own circumstances? I might have the Word of God open, and be praying and humbled, but that does not mean that I am suddenly strengthened and ready to head off into battle. Most of the time, I'm still pretty down. Not that I don't believe God is at work, but I am in a place in which I recognize my weaknesses--and that's a GOOD thing! Remember, we can do all things IN CHRIST who GIVES US STRENGTH! (Philippians 4:13, slight paraphrase, emphasis mine :-) .)

Gabriel comes to Daniel to encourage and strengthen him. He tells Daniel how greatly he is loved. How can you not be encouraged by hearing how much you are loved! "Highly-regarded," too, is Daniel. And then, those words that fill the pages of Scripture: "Do not be afraid." After all that Daniel had experienced, this vision may be one of the most personally devastating for a good way, which is what may well lead you to believe that the golden man is Christ. God recognizes this, because He knows Daniel's heart so intimately--so, He sends Gabriel to reassure him, twice. And, if that's not enough, the archangel Michael comes along, too!

...Peace be to you; take courage and be strong.” Now when he had spoken to me, I was strengthened....” (10:19)

"When he had spoken to me I was strengthened. Note, God by his word puts life, and strength, and spirit into his people; for if he says, Be strong, power goes along with the word. And, now that Daniel has experienced the efficacy of God’s strengthening word and grace, he is ready for any thing: “Now, Let my lord speak, and I can hear it, I can bear it, and am ready to do according to it, for thou hast strengthened me.”
--Matthew Henry

Don't we wish we could have the assurance of the angel Gabriel, speaking the life-giving words of God to us, every time we have a crisis? Oh, don't we wish we could be as truly committed to everything Daniel had committed himself to in the name of our Lord? I don't think it's impossible, gals. Not that we would have Daniel's calling, but God does call us to something for His Kingdom. When we need to be strengthened in what we're doing, do we remember the Source of our strength? He is the same as the Source of our peace.

At the end of the chapter, we get a glimpse into the spiritual world behind our world. Gabriel explains that he knew of Daniel's prayers, but he was fighting with the spiritual prince of Persia for the past 21 days. Aha! The same amount of time Daniel had been in mourning, praying, the angel Gabriel was carrying on spiritual warfare with a demon of Persia. Angels and demons do not have the same attribute as God to be in multiple places at the same time. Gabriel may have known or have been apprised of Daniel's state, but there wasn't much he could do about it while fighting this battle.

[And, no, I cannot explain the realm of the spirit world. Again, we get but a glimpse, and probably one of the larger glimpses that you'll find in Scripture. Just be careful what you read about the work of angels in places outside of Scripture. Thank Daniel for writing down his experiences and thank God for His preserving that text in His Word!]

Gabriel will continue to speak into Chapter 11, which we will tackle here as a whole next week. But, I can't leave Chapter 10 without a look at this wonderful word:

"Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words." (10:12)

When we want to hear from the angels, when we want to discern God's direction, we need to consider what His humble servant Daniel did. He set his heart on understanding. For Daniel, it was understanding God's will for His people, the future of the Church. He also humbled himself before God. Not just for a day. Really, not just for 21 days. Daniel lived humility! And, he was heard, and to him who was faithful came a response from the Lord.

When you sing "Angels from the Realms of Glory" this Advent season, consider the text from verse 4 of the song, and remember Daniel's vision. We should pray it for our own.

Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear:
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Daniel 8: Carrying on the King's business

As we begin our look into Daniel 8, we need to remind ourselves about the language in which this book was written. There was that point, getting into Chapter 2, when the book switches from Hebrew to Aramaic--thus, the emphasis of the content being more driven to a Gentile audience. Here, in Chapter 8 and throughout the rest of the book, Daniel reverts back to writing in Hebrew--and so, the message contained here and for the remainder of the book is largely for a Jewish audience. We will read many things about the various kingdoms of the world, but the implications of the events and future happenings were meant to resonate with the Jews.

Why is there all this turmoil at this time? Why is everyone trying to take over the world? This has been a question in the last couple weeks within my group. Honestly, I'm not sure things are that much different today. In our lifetime--even in the lives of those most senior in our families--hasn't there always been someone looking to have "one/new world order"? Conquering the world was a reasonable goal for certain folks. It was Alexander the Great's full-time vocation!

Alexander studied under Aristotle. His father, Philip, was a great reformer of Greece, in that he conquered large areas of Macedonia (northern Greece) and updated the military with the latest equipment. Alexander came up as his natural successor and completely dominated the world map for a bit. Nebuchadnezzar's situation in Babylon was similar, although he didn't conquer as much and his kin didn't fare as well either. Alexander was "two" strong for the Medes and Persians, who could not hold their own alone or together (thus, the splitting of the ram's horns so soundly by Alexander's goat). When Alexander died (at 33)--leaving his entire kingdom to four generals who became kings [Note to better think things out in the will!]--Antiochus, the "little horn" would emerge from the goat's Syrian domain with the same determination to conquer but with a much more evil intent.

That's the short summary of the world scene with some of Daniel's received imagery thrown into the mix. Would that be frightening to you? Even though he received an interpretation, Daniel still didn't know the time all of this would begin nor who the actual players were. It covers a couple hundred years of history! The Medes and Persians rule for 100+ years. (Esther isn't made queen in Persia until 478 B.C., and Nehemiah doesn't try to get support from the Persians to help rebuild Jerusalem for 30 years after that.) Alexander the Great is present in the early 300 B.C. years. World conflict exists for a long time on a major scale--and then Jesus comes!

"The Jewish church, from its beginning, had been all along, more or less, blessed with prophets, men divinely inspired to explain God’s mind to them in his providences and give them some prospect of what was coming upon them; but, soon after Ezra’s time, divine inspiration ceased, and there was no more any prophet till the gospel day dawned."
--Matthew Henry

It must seem like I'm digressing a bit, but I think it helps us step into Daniel's head as we read about what he experienced. God gave him this vision--a 2nd vision--to explain the course of human events, especially as it pertained to his people, the Jews. This gives us perspective on God's hand in the events of the world (i.e., "I DID tell you this would happen") and how monumental a time the arrival of Christ into the darkness of world domination should have been. Something to think about as we get ready to celebrate Advent shortly!

"They are not expressly named, or prophecies must not be too plain; but they are here so described that it would be easy for those who understood scripture-language to know who were meant; and the Jews, having notice of this before, might be awakened to prepare themselves and their children beforehand for these suffering trying times."
--Matthew Henry

Most of what we read is now familiar; the images in the vision have changed. Statue-Beast-Ram/Goat/Horns are all pointing to the shifting in power. But, the description of the "little horn" becomes something to look at more intently, especially as it relates to the Jewish people. The horn itself grew "toward the Beautiful Land" which your Bible may have identified as Palestine--which, a long, long time ago used to be called Canaan, aka "the Promised Land." As mentioned a bit ago, this is the rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which means "the illustrious," says Matthew Henry. But, some folks called him Antiochus Epimanes ("the furious"). He ruled in the Syrian part of Alexander's empire, which contained Palestine.

Antiochus had it in for the Jews, and verses 8:10-14 speak of the things he would do to the people of God, not the least of which was that he [it] "magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host." This is the direct opposite of what Jesus says of His relationship to God in Philippians 2:6--"...Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage."

Keep in mind that the Temple had been completely rebuilt, but Antiochus took the daily sacrifice away.

"No doubt he took away all other sacrifices, but only the daily sacrifice is mentioned, because that was the greatest loss of all, for in that they kept up their constant communion with God."
--Matthew Henry

He would desecrate the Temple in 168 B.C. All of this to gain control of more land (and beat the Romans to it) by unifying all of his territories to a single cultural, social and religious framework and mindset. The Temple funded his military. But, when the Roman Empire threatened, Antiochus backed off, and he beefed up his rule and aggression of his own kingdom. Internal rebellion at the hands of those he appointed led to Antiochus killing thousands of Jews and abolishing Judaism. (Facts from My Jewish

I know, we're getting away from Daniel, right? But, we aren't, really, because this was the vision he was told to keep "secret, for it pertains to many days in the future." (8:37) As horrible as the future looks, God is giving His people that look. What a gift! Which is why we wonder if God still speaks to us through prophecy. Will someone in our future look back and say our times are a fulfillment of x? [I know; some are already talking like that, right? Pray, ladies! Pray before going there....]

There's a really important phrase to pull out in the midst of this--"And on account of transgression the host will be given over to the horn...." (8:12a, emphasis mine)

"God would not have permitted it if his people had not provoked him to do so. It is by reason of transgression, the transgression of Israel, to correct them for that, that Antiochus is employed to give them all this trouble. Note, When the pleasant land and all its pleasant things are laid waste, it must be acknowledged that sin is the procuring cause of all the desolation."
--Matthew Henry

As difficult as it was to hear of the little horn's work, how sorrowful for Daniel to hear that the transgression stems from the people themselves. Have you worked for a cause for yourself or for others only to see things fail because of your own doing or the sins of the group? God's discipline takes various forms. Remember that this discipline, via Antiochus, comes after 70 years of captivity. After all the prophets had spoken.

Not that Antiochus was simply a pawn. He met his own discipline from God when he was struck with a bowel disease (worms; dropping flesh; stench; UGH!) and said, "It is meet [suitable, proper] to submit to God, and for man who is mortal not to set himself in competition with God." (Ussher’s Annals, A.M. 3840, about 160 years before the birth of Christ)

Again, is it any wonder "...Daniel was exhausted and sick for days"? (8:27a) A most difficult vision regarding his people. The presence of an angel--Gabriel, of all the angels!--to deliver the message. Hearing the voice of God (8:16). And then being told to keep things under wraps.

"Then I got up again and carried on the king's business; but I was astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain it." (8:28)

We may be astounded by the works of God. We may be at a loss to explain why things are happening the way they are. We may have received a word from God that forthtells some difficult times in our future. We may be exhausted and sick for days of what life looks like. What do we learn from Daniel? We get up again and carry on the business of the king.

Let's go, gals!....